Definitions and Origins of Culture

There are many ways to think about culture. Dutch management professor Hofstede refers to culture as the software of the mind and argues that it provides a guide for humans on how to think and behave; it is a problem solving tool. Anthropologist and business consultant Edward Hall provides definition even more relevant to international marketing managers: The people we were advising kept bumping their heads against an invisible barrier, we knew that what they were up against was a completely different way of organizing life, of thinking and of conceiving the underlying assumptions about the family and the family an the state, the economic system, and even Man himself. The salient points in Hall’s comments are that cultural differences are often invisible, and that marketers who ignore them often hurt both their companies and careers. Finally, James day Hodgson, former US ambassador to Japan, describes culture as a thicket. This last metaphor holds hope for struggling international marketers. According to the ambassador thicket are tough to get through, but effort and patience often do lead to successes.

Most traditional definitions of culture center around the notion that culture is the sum of the values, rituals, symbols, beliefs and thought processes that are learned, shared by a group of people, and transmitted from generation to generation. So culture resides in the individual’s mind. But the expression a culture recognizes that large collectives of people can to a great degree be like minded.

The best international marketers will not only appreciate the cultural differences pertinent to their businesses, they will also understand the origins of these differences. Possession of the latter, deeper knowledge will help marketers notice cultural differences in new markets and foresee changes in current markets of operation. Exhibit depicts the several causal factors and social processes that determine and form cultures and cultural differences. Simply stated, humans make adaptations to changing environment through innovation. Individuals learn culture from social institution (growing up) and acculturation (adjusting to anew culture). Individuals also absorb culture through role modeling, or imitation of their peers. Finally, people make decisions about consumption and production through application of their cultural based knowledge. More details are provided below.


But geography exercises a more profound influence than just affecting the sort of jacket you buy. Indeed, geography (broadly defined here to include climate, topography, flora, fauna, and microbiology) has influenced history, technology, economies, our social institutions, and our ways of thinking. Geographical influences manifest themselves in our deepest cultural values developed through the millennia an as geography changes humans can adapt almost immediately. One sees the latter happening in the new etiquette evolving from the HIV / AIDS disaster, or more recently the SARS outbreak in China. The ongoing cultural divided across the English Channel is also representative of geography’s historical salience in human affairs.

The ideas of two researchers are particularly pertinent to any discussion of geography’s influence on everything from history to present day culture. First Jared Diamond, a professor of physiology tells us that historically innovations spread faster east to west than north to south. Before the advent of transoceanic shipping, ideas flowed over the Silk Road but not across the Sahara or the Isthmus of Panama. He uses this geographical approach to explain the dominance of Euro-Asian cultures, with their superior technology and more virulent germs, over African and American cultures. Indeed, Diamond’s most important contribution is his material on the influence of microbiology on world history.

Second, Philip Parker, a marketing professor argues for geography’s deep influence on history, economics, and consumer behavior. For example, string correlations between the latitude (climate) and the per capita of countries. Empirical support can be found as others report climate’s apparent influence on workers’ wages. Parker like Diamond before him explains social phenomenon using principles of physiology. The management implications of his treatise have to do with using ambient temperature as a market segmentation variable.