Bipolar or 3D?
Here is a thought provoking post to kick of the ITC year. If you are prone to 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 this May, 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 and over cultural sensitivity. This document demonstrated the awesome power wielded by posh white men. The resulting map was to have profound consequences for 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 taken as something like a human right to move and experience geographic contrast. Cheap airlines, airbnb and cash machines facilitate the massive modern movement of people. 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 this Christmas – we had a Facetime call and saw into a German home – with candles lit on the Christmas tree. We even joined in singing. 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 to 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 thus moving beyond country of origin. In some cases this represents a journey from oppression to deeper community membership. Dogged communication exposing the mechanism and social cost of the old colonial system and historical country power structures is now moving the bar 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 via the virtual, connected world.
So, in the last 60 years we have moved from a rigid white Anglo Saxon Protestant male authored power model with its world of self drawn maps and fixed countries to a richer and multifaceted reality where each individual’s net privilege and marginality combine with other connections and relationships to give 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 dimensions makes bipolar scales look a little dusty, like a museum exhibit.