Kluckhohn and fred strodtbeck model

Florence Kluckhohn and Fred Strodtbeck (1961) introduced the concept of space orientation which dealt with private-mixed-public space in a society. They were influential in identifying core elements of culture more generally, which they considered arose from responses and, ultimately, solutions to eternal and universal problems faced by all societies.

Brief summaries of their work can be found in a number of cross-cultural management books, including Tayeb (2003). E hill (2002) examines their model in greater detail and takes a perspective grounded in the discipline of psychology. Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck put forward six value orientations based on how societies typically dealt with the following core issues: relationship with nature; attitudes to time; views of human nature; activity; relationships between people; and space.

Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s model was formulated as a result of research conducted among five cultural groups including Navaho Native American Indians, Mexican-Americans and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), all of whom were at that time to be found in the south-west of the USA. The six generic problem areas set out above are of such a profound nature that they are faced by all social groups and consequently form the basis for a group’s values. Nonetheless, it should be recognized that the sixth problem – how to relate to space – was not fully incorporated into their findings (French, 2008).

Gupta, (2007) concluded that the solutions to these problems could be conceptualized within a range of possible choices. For example, the problem of how to relate to time ultimately comes down to a choice of past, present or future orientation So The problem of how to relate to others is resolved according to either a preference for hierarchical relations, by which people will tend to defer to those they perceive to be in authority, or collateral relation in which the emphasis is on consensus among people who are seen as largely equal- although there is finally a third alternative: an individualistic orientation in which the emphasis is on individuals who make decisions independently of others.

The dimension relating to how we regard nature is worthy of particular consideration at this time. Where groups respond to problems of nature by exercising mastery, they go beyond both being submissive in the face of natural and/or supernatural forces and merely existing in harmony with the forces of nature, to attempting to exert control over nature (Triandis, 1994). The attempt to conquer space resulting in the moon landings achieved by US astronauts has often been cited as an example of the assertive attitude to nature displayed in American culture. The sharp angles of the Bank of China building in Hong Kong were contrastingly said to have violated principles of feng shui, and there have been documented fears that the building’s shape will attract ill fortune, thus providing an illustration of the need for harmony with nature expressed in Chinese culture.

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However, this dimension can also be related to sub-groups within a single society – as was Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s original intention. If Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s work continues to find echoes in contemporary world events, their legacy is more in the specific area of cross-cultural organizational studies. In a recent historical review Fink et al (2005) state that ‘The fundamental approach of Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck provided the basic principles for all further research in the area of cross-cultural research aiming at quantitative measures of cultural values. Since the effective research was, limited by scope and scale, further research based on Kluckhohn/Strodtbeck offers variation by sample, context and the set of values/dimensions used to describe cultures.’ Put another way, their work can be seen as the building-blocks on which contemporary models of cross-cultural differences at work have been constructed. No overview of cross-cultural aspects of business can be complete without a thorough appreciation of their ground breaking work.


There are several important implications of Hall’s work for people engaging in intercultural communication, including those listed below:

Particular care should be given to decoding messages in high-context societies since meaning is wrapped up as much or more in the wider social setting – for example, power relationships – than in the chosen communication code (Triandis, 1994).

Non-verbal communication is a particularly rich source of meaning when attempting to understand messages in high-context settings.

Hall (1976) distinguishes between high context and low context cultures. Members of High context cultures depended heavily on the external environment, situation and non-verbal behaviour in creating and interpreting communications. Members from this culture group, learn from their birth to interpret the covert clues when they communicate so much meaning is conveyed indirectly. These high context cultures are Arabic, Chinese and Japanese, were indirect style of communication and ability to understand the same is highly valued.

But in low context cultures, like US, Sweden, Britain etc., the environment is less important, and non-verbal behaviour is often ignored. Therefore communication has to be quite explicit and clear. A direct and blunt style is valued and ambiguity is disliked in managerial communication. People pay more attention to words then to gestures. People publish their experiences, which are widely read and commented. While in East, experiences are not published put passed on to close individuals (Gupta, 2007).

In high-context situations information is likely to be more closely contained within networks; certain people will have greater access to information. Communication may therefore be highly restricted, and it may be difficult for an ‘outsider’ to gain access to the communication network. The notion of guanxi could provide a relevant example of such a situation – we refer to this concept again shortly.

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Once more all societies contain situations which can be located within the high-flow-context dichotomy. All four of the bullet points above would be relevant within a close family setting in a low-context society like the UK. Equally, Hall claimed that certain societies could themselves be categorized as high- or low-context, and their members (or those who grow up within them) would exhibit behaviors’ consistent with the style of communication inherent within that society.

There are wide-ranging implications of Hall’s theory and scope for further research in many areas of business studies. One interesting recent study was carried out by Wurtz (2005), examining the content of McDonalds’ corporate websites in high- and low- context countries, with reference to Hall’s typology. Her conclusions – confirming her original hypotheses – were:

  1. In high-context societies, human presence was a greater feature of McDonald’s websites.
  2. The websites in high-context settings included relatively more imagery and less written text than their counterparts in low-context locations
  3. Chosen imagery reflected values associated with the cultural category – for example, the use of family pictures in Asian countries.
  4. More technically, there was greater divergence in terms of page layout in high-context settings, low-context websites exhibiting greater levels of consistency.

Critical Analysis

Indian culture has several strengths which have sustained it and which have been acknowledged in various periods in various parts of the world. These strengths not only sustained the culture, but helped it to become a unique one and to make significant contributions to other parts of the world. However, this is also a society with a long history of feudalism, casteism, and foreign oppression, and has acquired several weaknesses. If we are to transform India into a strong nation, capable of providing global leadership in the current century, it is necessary that we look at both its strengths and weaknesses, and then plan to reinforce the strengths and reduce and, if possible, eliminate its weaknesses (Paul and Kapoor, 2008).

The strengths of Indian culture can be grouped under three cognitive-value-behaviour clusters-universalism, ambiguity tolerance, and self-restraint. Universalism In the first cluster are included four strengths-universalism (love and respect for all forms of life and for ecology), extension motivation (involvement in large gods), respect for learning and intellectual pursuits, and openness to learning from others (Pareek, 2007).

The second cluster has three strengths-context sensitivity (high ambiguity tolerance), diversity (leading to synergic pluralism, and androgyny (equal emphasis on and integration of cognitive and emotional aspects). Self restraint the third cluster includes three strengths-self-restraint (willingness to postpone gratification of immediate needs for long-term goals), role-boundless (giving more importance to the role than the self, and equanimity (steering between two extremes and not being swayed by extreme emotions of joy or sorrow). (Gupta, 2007; Rugman and Hodgetts, 2004)

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The weaknesses of Indian culture can be grouped into three clusters narcissism, power concern ration, and attributional thinking. Narcissism is reflected both in self-seeking behaviour as well as in an inward-looking tendency. In this cluster are included five weaknesses-in-group infatuation (concern for the self, i.e., self-seeking or confinement of interest to the family or kin), unreality orientation (orientation towards fantasy or substitutes of reality), non-involvement (attitude of indifference and reluctance to engage in confrontation), lack of detailed planning, and an oral culture (resulting in low reading and writing skills) (Gupta, 2007).

Hall provides a distinctive starting point for his analysis – namely, identifying communication as the underlying factor in explaining culture and culture different – it is evident that his work has produced some findings similar to those of the other writers. Indeed the underlying issues dealt with in Hall’s work could be seen to have their antecedents in Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s fundamental problems – example: of how to conceptualize time and how to deal with others.

The other commonality with emerges from Hall’s contribution lies in his clustering of countries into types, thereby both linking the societies within a group and distinguishing them from those in other categories. It is important to realize, however that Hall accepted that there are incidences of both high and low context communication in all societies. Hall’s work contributes another reminder for us that because a very high proportion of theory regarding management and business has emanated nature of the difference he uncovered, we must question the worldwide applicability of much of the business studies canon. Many of the generic criticisms of cross cultural work in this area can be seen to apply to Hall, including the scientific status of his work in terms of obtaining the original data and some measure of over generalization in both his findings and consequent clusters. The Hall’s model is useful in understanding how members of different cultures develop business relationships negotiate with insiders and outsiders and implement contracts.

The Kluckhohn-Strodtbeck model has few limitations, so far as, the manager is concerned –

  1. The author did not carry out this research with implication for management n mind
  2. the orientations and variations are imprecisely defined
  3. interpretations are bound to be subjective

Nevertheless this model is very useful for comparing the cultures

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