Bipolar or 3D?
Here is a thought provoking post to kick of the month. If you are prone to displaying strong emotions – you will enjoy this article as there is something for everybody to react to…
I am still surprised to see intercultural diagrams showing bipolar dimensions populated with country flags. The historical starting point for this was the pioneering work at IBM carried out by Dr. Geert Hofstede. His premise was that countries were a valid and useful unit of comparative culture and that, further more, over time they have produced unique conditions that, in turn, shape country cultures. Additionally we were told that country culture is, mostly, a constant and unchanging phenomenon.
The thoughts and filters of scientists and engineers are subconsciously influenced by their environment. Certainly various conditions present in the 1960’s helped to support early interculture theory.
When viewed from the present day, populations 50 or 60 years ago were relatively sedentary. Air transport was prohibitively expensive and not available to all, the Iron Curtain was in place, China was closed and the technology did not exist to promote affordable multicultural exchange or the viable existence of remote and virtual teams. There were many fewer transnational corporations and, most importantly of all, social ranking represented the status quo and this norm was not questioned or challenged as much as it is today – more on that later.
NOW – while there are many aspects of modern life that disgust us – perpetual war, wealth inequality and massive social injustice, there also exist things that represent forces for liberation and progress. A byproduct of these positive changes is that we can enjoy a more holistic view of culture.
Borders – A hundred year’s ago, French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot and Brit, Sir Mark Sykes secretly settled the political areas of influence in Asia Minor drawing up a new map favouring government expedience over cultural sensitivity. This document demonstrated the awesome power wielded by posh white men. The resulting map was to have profound consequences for the whole of the Middle East. The effects of its creation continue to be felt today.
Travel – The availability of travel is exemplified by my children. They can match their age with the number of countries visited – It is now taken as part of their human right to move and experience geographical contrasts. Cheap airlines, airbnb and cash machines facilitate the massive modern movement of people. And, 2004 and 2014 had profound effects on the movement of people seeking employment within the EU countries.
Technology – virtual videoconference equipment, Skype and Facetime are shrinking the world and giving us access to more experience – instantly. A trivial example happened a few Christmases ago – we had a Facetime call and saw into a German home – with real candles alight on a Christmas tree. We even joined in the singing. And, we did not have to leave London to experience this.
Awareness and diversity – the secret and overt revolution that is moving culture training away from sophisticated country stereotypes toward something more nuanced and layered centres on diversity. Via education and experience, we are moving from acceptance of social rank, to question and investigate both privilege and marginality. We are looking for answers. Pioneering work in this field has enabled a mindful generation to form and own their identity based on more than 70 aspects of diversity, moving us beyond country of origin.
In some cases this represents a journey from oppression to deeper community membership.
Dogged communication is exposing the mechanisms and social cost of old colonial systems and historical country power structures. This is creating possibilities for many, formerly excluded, people.
Social media – put simply, the democratic forces of the web can transcend the historic barriers of class, education, wealth or gender oppression. The absence of a dominant country passport is no longer fatal. More are allowed participate in the richness of our world via travel and virtual connectivity
So, in the last 60 years we have moved from a rigid white Anglo Saxon Protestant male authored power map with its world of self drawn borders and fixed countries, to a richer and increasingly multifaceted reality where each individual’s net privilege and marginality combine with other connections and relationships to give currency and access to virtual communities, education and economic possibilities.
On offer is membership of something shared and beyond being from a winning or losing country.
The shift from dimensions to a world of 3 dimensional participation makes the bipolar scales used by interculturalists look a little dusty – like a museum exhibit.