Making the Case for a Post-National Cultural Analysis of Organizations

Anne E. Witte, EDHEC Business School, published “Making the Case for a Post-National Cultural Analysis of Organizations” in the Journal of Management Inquiry. This article appeared on September 13, 2011 on OnlineFirst. Ms. Witte kindly supplied the following responses to her article.

Who is the target audience for this article?

Scholars interested in cross-cultural research, research design, scholars looking for alternatives to national approaches to understanding culture and those interested in critical theory and how it may be used to hold cross cultural management theory up to analysis.

Many professionals have far too little background in the complexity of cultural environments and the changing face of human geography and have little time to take in-depth courses about all the world’s cultures.  The traditional university approach to resolving this problem has been to offer area studies courses aiming to make managers regional “specialists.” Expatiate training may be offered to fill gaps in cultural knowledge relying on “do’s and don’ts” short courses.  But cataloguing and comparing cultures promotes forms of essentialism that can be counterproductive in a multicultural and globalizing work environment. My article examines how that traditional approach to culture  is changing with less focus on national differences and more on the complex and interdependent factors that determine personal, social, institutional and civic values across the world today. This search for integrated, cross-disciplinary paradigms is a quest not only to sustain business models, but also to enhance human prosperity and link geographically distant people and conceptually diverse ideas into sustainable eco-systems.

What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

The abuse of stereotypes and national clichés in management literature has become unacceptable as a matter of ethics and as a matter of truth.  All of the humanities and social sciences have retired the use of “nationality” as a valid form of cultural discussion and the managerial sciences have been late to move past it. I explored this subject in a book length monograph entitled Past and Future Culture published in 2010, (ISBN:  1-4392-6133-4; ISBN-13: 9781 439261330 )  written for a less specialized audience.  In this book, I elaborate on some of the vocabulary that I find useful.    For example, the term “post-cultural” is a leitmotif in the book describing the contemporary period when territory, region, nation, religion and language – the traditional measures of culture – no longer encapsulate the cultural “essences” of multi-cultural people influenced by history, diversity and global consciousness.

Were there findings that were surprising to you?

Yes it is surprising to me that a lot of published research on culture in the managerial sciences is considered valid only through the use of sophisticated testing and quantitative analysis.  I think there is considerable added value in looking at the “cultural” from a different epistemological lens.  Also, it would be useful to go beyond the framework proposed by Hofstede which continues to be the main paradigm in cross cultural analysis.

How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

My hope is that it will make quantitative and ethnographic methods more credible and valuable for the management community and that applications in marketing, organizational strategy and leadership can be investigated in new ways thanks to some of these insights.

How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?

My publications have all centered around applied anthropology and move from literature and linguistics to management and educational research.  In this article and in my book I pursue two opposing rationalizations about culture.  The first is that culture exists and is a historical and normative reality of human societies that can be described, transmitted, criticized and apprehended by members and outsiders.  It is a repository of myths, events, objects, practices and values that serve as sediment for local identity and the projection of that identity to neighbours.  This portrayal of culture can easily be undermined by a second perspective – one that sees culture as an inherently political, imaginative and temporary device, more a matter of planned representation than of spontaneous, ethnic reality.  This culture is actually a syncretic by-product, a conflation of traditions and philosophies combined in such a chaotic way that any attempt to re-construct a stable social history meets failure.

How did your paper change during the review process?

The review process helped structure the paper and put forward the truly novel and ground breaking ideas.  It was very helpful to have an experienced editor and skillful reader steer me through the process of bringing forth my best ideas.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?

Actually, this is my best piece of work to date.  I’m going to use the experience to try other ideas and work on them in similar ways. I’ve learned a lot in the process of researching and writing this article and feel that I wouldn’t change a thing!

Other articles that are available on OnlineFirst can be viewed here. To learn more about the Journal of Management Inquiry, please follow this link.

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