Cultural change: What? Why? How?
With globalization, urbanization and the heightened accessibility of information, the world is changing rapidly – resulting in less satisfied people and an increase in their demands to attain a better society. But one of the main challenges to reaching the revitalized expected society is not whether or not to change, but how to apply this change to effect a “cultural change.” So what is culture? What is change? According to Edward Taylor, an English anthropologist and the founder of the discipline of cultural anthropology, culture is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, moral, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of a society.”
Change is something that occurs to make things different. The need for change comes from the feeling of dissatisfaction with a current situation or problem. Dissatisfaction may be the result of several factors. For instance, in some countries, dissatisfied citizens may be the result of the procedures, rules or the ideologies of the country. In his book “Organizing the World” Brunsson stated that, in order to overcome an unsatisfying situation in a country, “prompts for the adoption of a reform proposal which contains or describes the vision of an improved state” may be the solution.
So what is “culture change?”
Culture change is the term used by public policymakers to show the effect of cultural capital on the behavior of the individual and thus the behavior of the community. But why is it so hard to achieve cultural change?
Cultural change is considered a millstone because each country has its own cultural characteristics. According to Geert Hofstede, a professor and social psychologist who studied culture across nations and locked the countries into a six-dimensional model for cultural differences.
The model divides countries between six fundamental factors of human behavior, which are power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, uncertainty avoidance, long-term vs. short-term and indulgence vs. restraint. For instance, people in countries with low uncertainty avoidance depend on inductive methods to learn or change a practice. They need to see samples and best practices from another country to start thinking of change. On the other hand, people in countries with high uncertainty avoidance depend more on the deductive way of thinking. They first need to understand theories and principals before they act.
Thus, the six-dimensional model of culture shows the key differences between nations, which may help in applying and then accepting change. When leaders take into consideration the tremendous values characterized in Hofstede’s dimensional model, they will understand that it will take so much time and energy to apply change in this world and that each country should be treated differently.
Although cultural change could be considered a burden, it can be successful if it is carried out step-by-step. Therefore, various factors should be taken into consideration before applying any change and then several initiatives should be undertaken in order to overcome entrenched cultural behaviors in our society, such as beliefs, habits and rationales.
Nahla El-Zibawi is the Project Coordinator for the Outreach and Leadership Academy at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.