In this short series of posts on the dilemma Google finds itself in with Chinese censorship, I have attempted to question the idea that it’s all about a clash of national cultures.
In particular, the very idea of a national culture has been called to account for itself. I’ve argued that Grid-group cultural theory offers some insights into the kind of lifting work the concept of the nation is supposed to do for us. It also helps explain why some might not like the idea of national cultures.
The Other Gardener took me to task for apparently supporting censorship. My rely can serve as a conclusion:
I support the line of Amnesty International on Chinese censorship of dissidents, but I’m trying to examine my own biases. This isn’t an idle speculation: we all want the world to be a particular way (in my case, freedom of speech), and find it hard to come to terms with justifications of other ways of being. Is it reasonable to argue that different countries just have different cultures and that this extends to different censorship regimes? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights claims to be, well, universal. Is any regime exempt? If so, how so? If not, how not? If Google is having trouble with the concept of free speech via Chinese gmail accounts, why is this? How does the ‘universal’ nature of human rights get negotiated with a government that only recognises human rights with a Chinese spin ? Can we even talk like this? Is there anything distinctly and appropriately Chinese in internet censorship, or is that just special pleading?
Conversely, where does the idea of universal human rights gain traction? I’ve argued that this can be seen as an Egalitarian, or Individualist, weak-grid approach to national differences. By understanding this, perhaps the international work of groups like Amnesty can be strengthened in a small way.
To shine the spotlight back on the US, we could ask how this ‘freedom loving’ nation ends up executing so many of its prisoners (and how it comes to have so many prisoners in the first place). Is there something peculiarly and appropriately American that makes the penal regime so distinctive (the US along with China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran carry out more than 90% of all executions)? If we are all expected to be free with our speech, as in the US, are we also supposed to be free with our sentencing to death, as in the US?
Cross-cultural theory seems to assume that we would want to fit in with another nation’s patterns of social activity in order to make our business relationships work better. But what if we really don’t agree with those patterns? I’m concerned that to naturalise national cultures is to concede too much, and that we would be wrong to suggest there’s something Chinese about censorship and something American about lethal injections. But if we don’t make national comparisons, what kinds of comparisons can we make instead? That’s where grid-group cultural theory comes in.
Read Part 1
excursus: are the guardians of national boundaries beginning to look pathetic?
Abbott, T (1990) ‘The real issue is the changing face our society’, The Australian, 31 May , quoted in Adam Jamrozik (2002) From Lucky Country to Penal Colony: How Politics of Fear Have Changed Australia . Keynote Address to ‘Refugees and the Lucky Country’ Forum, RMIT, Melbourne 28-30 November 2002 , accessed at http://www.tasa.org.au/docs/public/2002/281102%20From%20Lucky%20Country%20to%20Penal%20Colony.pdf
Ailon, Galit (2008). Mirror, mirror on the wall: Culture’s Consequences in a value test of its own design. The Academy of Management Review, 33(4):885-904. Accessed at http://aom.metapress.com/openurl.asp?genre=article&eissn=1930-3807&volume=33&issue=4&spage=885
Delaney, Rob and Ari Levy (2010) China Bosses Davos as Nobody Discusses What Happened to Google. Bloomberg Online. Accessed at http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aUvrtIRc80JA
Foner, Eric (1999) The Story of American Freedom. New York: W.W.Norton
Hofstede, Geert (1997) Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, New York: McGraw-Hill.
Hofstede, Geert (2005). Cultures and organizations: software of the mind (Revised and expanded 2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Hofstede, Geert (2009) AMR Dialogue: Who Is The Fairest Of Them All? Galit Ailon’s Mirror. The Academy of Management Review, Volume 34, Number 3 (July)
Marcus, Aaron and Emilie West Gould (2002) Cultural Dimensions and Global Web User-Interface Design: What? So What? Now What? AIGA Archives [October 11]. Accessed at http://www.amanda.com/resources/hfweb2000/hfweb00.marcus.html
McSweeney, Brendan (2002) Hofstede’s Model Of National Cultural Differences And Their Consequences: A Triumph Of Faith – A Failure Of Analysis Human Relations, Vol. 55, No. 1, [January], pp. 89-118. Accessed at http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/~sudweeks/b329/readings/mcsweeney.doc
Mill, John Stuart (1869) The Subjection of Women. Fourth Edition. New York: D. Appleton and Company.
Prasad, S. Benjamin, Michael J. Pisanib and Rose M. Prasad (2008) New criticisms of international management: An analytical review International Business Review Volume 17, Issue 6, December 2008, Pages 617-629.
Thompson, M and A. Wildavsky (1986) A cultural theory of information bias in organisations. Management Studies 23 (3), 273-286.
Woodrow, Alan (1998) The Church and Human Rights. The Tablet (January 3). Accessed at http://www.thetablet.co.uk/article/6569