Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Cultural Variation in Australia: Ethnicity, Host Community Residence, and Power-Distance Values

Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Cultural Variation in Australia: Ethnicity, Host Community Residence, and Power-Distance Values

Article excerpt

Abstract

Effective communication within a multicultural society necessitates an understanding of how people's values might vary according to their cultural background and immigration history. Etic approaches to the study of culture have indicated that national cultures are differentiated on the dimension of power-distance. Power-distance refers to the degree of inequality or hierarchy that people believe to be appropriate in societal and organisational authority structures. Recently, researchers have begun to investigate power-distance at an individual level. However, psychologists have not yet investigated systematic variation in power-distance within multicultural communities. This study examined whether power-distance varies within Australian society according to race/ethnicity. Based on previous research, we hypothesised that systematic variation in power-distance values would emerge within a university sample surveyed in Sydney, Australia. Results indicated that participants' power-distance values varied across ethnic groups, but did not always correspond with power-distance indices of participants' reported racial/ethnic backgrounds, qualified by length of residence in Australia. The power-distance variations described in this paper are discussed in terms of their implications for multicultural communities, and in particular, the way that people of different ethnic backgrounds within Australian society comprehend and evaluate their interactions with authority figures, such as employers.

Key words: Acculturation; Power-distance; Cultural values

1. CULTURAL VARIATION IN AUSTRALIA: ETHNICITY, HOST COMMUNITY RESIDENCE, AND POWER-DISTANCE VALUES

Effective communication in multinational or multicultural organisations requires an in-depth understanding of the ways in which cultural variation in personal characteristics and values affect people's interactions with one another, as well as their perceptions of authorities' behaviour and decision making (Chevrier, 2009). Psychologists have engaged in such in-depth study, documenting the ways in which value dimensions vary across cultures, as well as the behavioural consequences of this cross-cultural variation in value dimensions. In 1980, Hofstede collected data from over 100,000 participants in 40 countries, and developed a model that identified four primary value dimensions on which national cultures may be differentiated. They were: power-distance, individualism-collectivism, masculinity-femininity and uncertainty avoidance (Hofstede, 1980). Subsequent data collected from 23 countries resulted in the addition of a fifth value dimension: long-versus short-term orientation (Hofstede, 2001). Although those data may be considered relatively old, and while some have disputed the addition of the fifth value dimension (e.g., Fang, 2003), the comparative standings of cultures on the original Hofstede variables have remained generally stable for over twenty years (Hofstede «fe Peterson, 2000), with a recent meta-analysis incorporating 598 studies of these variables (Taras, Kirkman, «fe Steel, 2010).

Notably, the definitions of these cultural variables and relationships between them have grown increasingly complex with further research. For example, Gelfand, Triandis and Chan (1996) suggested that individualism and collectivism were not opposite poles of a continuum. Using multidimensional scaling, they found that participants perceived authoritarianism as the opposite of individualism, whereas collectivism was orthogonal to individualism. Furthermore, Triandis and Gelfand (1998) found theoretical and empirical support for the notion that individualism and collectivism are polythetic constructs, and can be more precisely defined in terms of horizontal and vertical individualism and collectivism. In recent years, the Hofstede (1980) dimensions have generated an enormous body of literature that has investigated these variables with increasing specificity.

Complexity is also increasing in the frequency and kinds of interactions between members of different cultural groups. …

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