Critical reflection follow-up post 1

You ask;

“You mention Hofstede (1986) related to your experience, and while I agree that to stereotype nations based on his concepts of power distance and collectivist versus individualistic cultures might not have been helpful in avoiding cultural suicide, perhaps there is a cultural dimension to how such behaviour is received?”

This is a fascinating question that merits some critical reflection. In all such discussions–and I did this during my failed attempt at cross-cultural conversation–it is helpful to remember Hofstede’s caution regarding stereotypes (2011) that, “there is a wide variety of individual personalities within each national culture, and national culture scores should not be used for stereotyping individuals” (p. 8). Although ultimately Allik (2005) defends the ability of large-scale cross-cultural personality scales and provides evidence for their statistical robustness, he does point out that, “cross–cultural differences [between cultures] turned out to be very small in their magnitude, about one–third of the magnitude of individual differences within culture” (Allik, 2005, p. 212). In statistical terms, the height of the relatively flat bell curve for cultural means turns out to be approximately a 1/3 of that of the sharper one for individual differences.

Aspinall (2015) provides an excellent case study of how Western ideas (the notion of children’s rights in this case) are approached by a non-Western state (Japan). Within Japan, multiple, nuanced and complex views on the issue of rights are present. Some of these views match the Western (ironically presented as a monolithic entity!) position, while others align more with previously existing Japanese ideas. Reading Aspinall’s study is a clear reminder that ignoring the local, and often non-English, thought only to prioritse Anglo-American positions opens one up to serious criticism. Behind this risk lie many assumptions. One of which is the systematic expectation that serious academics publish in English and that somehow English becomes the repository of the best, most up-to-date and most robust theory available. Academic ranking tables reflect this as “English speaking countries tend to dominate global rankings that rely on bibliometric measures of research productivity” (Shin, Jung Cheol Shin Toutkoushian, 2011, p. 7). Maintaining this attitude during a conversation is not only patronising and insulting to one’s fellow colleague, its ethical position is questionable.

Yet Aspinall (2015) describes how the Japanese dominant narrative (i.e. at the governmental level) rejects a key aspect of children’s rights, the third ‘p’ in the ‘provision’, ‘protection’ and ‘participation’ triad, and how trust is interpreted within a framework of societal relationships, duties and responsibilities rather than within the Western notion of individuality. The take-away message for reflection is the recognition that any particular individual may or may not align themselves either privately or publicly with or support the dominant narratives. As for a methodology for knowing, Kathy Charmaz’s advice about reflecting on bias and avoiding directional questioning when creating interview questions is useful here (Charmaz, 2006).


Allik, J. (2005). Personality dimensions across cultures. Journal of Personality Disorders, 19(3), 212–232.

Aspinall, R. W. (2015). Children’s rights in a risk society: the case of schooling in Japan. Japan Forum, 5803(December), 1–20.

Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. London: Sage.

Hofstede, G. (2011). Dimensionalizing Cultures : The Hofstede Model in Context. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2, 1–26.

Shin, Jung Cheol Shin Toutkoushian, R. K. (2011). The Past, Present, and Future of University Rankings. In J. C. Shin, R. K. Toutkoushian, & U. Teichler (Eds.), University Rankings: Theoretical basis, methodology and impacts on global higher education. Dordrecht: Springer.


About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a private university.
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