Combining Classification Models for a Comprehensive Understanding of National Culture: Metaphorical Analysis and Value Judgements Applied to Burmese Cultural Assessment

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The cross-culture literature contains many articles assessing the relevance and accuracy of the various models and theories used to describe and explain differences in national culture. Some of these articles focus on ideological struggles and methodological limitations of the targeted research model (Early 2006; Javidan, House, Dorfman, Hange, & Sully de Luque 2006). Some have argued for a more contextual approach to the classification and study of culture (Sackmann & Phillips 2002; Niffenegger, Kulviwat, & Engchanil 2006) in which culture operates in a time-sensitive dimension and may produce multiple "cultures" within one national culture. Still others (Jacob 2005) believe that national cultures are too complex to be explained in terms of the uni-linear dimensions used by researchers such as Hofstede and Trompenaars. This article proposes that a better understanding of national culture can be developed through a combination of approaches in which the weakness of one model can be supplemented by the qualities of another. In particular, an assessment of the culture of Myanmar is made by combining the frameworks of Hofstede and Trompenaars, along with the use of a metaphorical analysis.

Myanmar was not included in the research of either Geert Hofstede or Frans Trompenaars, and no reference to the country can be found in the culture metaphor literature. Myanmar is located in Southeast Asia, bordering Thailand, China, India, and Laos. The country, formerly called Burma (and still referred to by that name by the United States government for political reasons), gained its independence from Britain at the end of World War II, after a hard fought struggle with the colonial power and the Japanese invaders. Burmese nationalist and national hero, Aung San fought for his country's independence and for democratic rule (Khng 2000). His daughter, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi continues the struggle today inside Myanmar, even as she lives under house arrest. While Myanmar interacts with its ASEAN neighbors, a number of Western countries have placed economic sanctions on the country for its lack of democracy. These sanctions have limited foreign investment and other forms of economic exchange. A military junta has ruled the country in one capacity or another since 1962, and Myanmar has operated in various states of isolation from the world over those years (Fink 2001). As a result of its isolation, very little research has been conducted on its culture or values orientation. Myanmar is a strongly Buddhist country which retains many traditional values and cultural practices. A multi-modality approach to its classification allows for the inclusion of these important cultural characteristics.

HOFSTEDE AND MYANMAR

Perhaps the most popular and far-reaching cross-cultural model is that of Geert Hofstede (Hofstede 1980a; Hofstede 1980b; Hofstede 1983; Hofstede 1993; Hofstede 1994; Hofstede 2001). Hofstede's work has been widely cited in a number of different management related academic studies (Kirkman, Lowe & Gibson 2006) and typically forms the basis for cross-cultural analysis in university management courses. Using surveys from the original 72 countries, Hofstede was able to classify 40 of the countries. Later research allowed the addition of 10 more countries and three regions (Arab World, East Africa, West Africa). Hofstede originally identified four dimensions of culture: power distance, individualism, masculinity, and uncertainty avoidance. Power distance represents the degree of a culture's acceptance of inequality among its members. Individualism and collectivism represent a culture's main focus, being either the importance of the individual or the group. Masculinity and femininity represents the stereotypical characteristics of men and women as being the dominant cultural values. Uncertainty avoidance is essentially a collective tolerance for ambiguity for a culture. …