On February, 12, 2020, Geert Hofstede, long time member and Honorary Fellow of the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology (IACCP) passed away. We honor him in a personal memoir of our former president and Honorary Fellow Michael Harris Bond.
Geert Hofstede – a personal memoir by an appreciative colleague
As Geert wrote in an earlier autobiography: “I owe a lot to my Promotor, Human Hutte. He built up my self-confidence; after all, I entered the field of psychology as an amateur; but he took me seriously, and taught me to think as a social scientist.” (Hofstede, 1997, p. 49). Well, dear Geert, teacher san pareil, as your collaborator on many papers, I say the same, but at a generational remove: I owe a lot to you, my Promotor. You reinforced my flagging self-confidence; after all, I entered the field of cross-cultural psychology as an amateur; but you took me seriously, as I faced the daunting mystery of Chinese behaviour in multi-cultural context, and taught me to think carefully as a cross-cultural psychologist.” The results of your investment in me were 9 co-authored papers, an appreciation for how to craft a productive working relationship with colleagues, and an enduring hope that I would pay forward your inspiring example to other social scientists. For, are we not all trying to figure out our place in this world of cultures and their consequences for each of us, born whenever and wherever?
Reflecting on our almost quarter century of collaboration, three themes emerge for me to characterize Geert’s working style:
1. his questing enterprise, worthy of an Odysseus – Geert changed professions by dint of effort, travelled widely in foreign cultures with “eyes wide open”, and invited inputs from scholars of all cultural backgrounds in order to supplement his own cultural grounding (see his rarely read appendix 6 of “Culture’s consequences”, 1980). It was this spirit of discovery that intrigued him about the development and administration of the Chinese Value Survey (Chinese Culture Connection, 1987). Geert believed that its results could enlarge our disciplinary discourse.
2. his empirical focus and insistence, worthy of an Aristotle. Geert worked from the ground up with people, demanding that each respondent’s cultural perspective be honoured and respected, just as it was reported back to him through the instruments employed to generate the observations he was considering. To this end, he showed in his operating procedures that the data must be carefully analysed in ways that allowed it to speak its truth, unconstrained by the researcher’s own theoretical ethnocentrism. I remember pouring for hours over various factor solutions to our data from the combined Rokeach and IBM value surveys to find how we could best represent the results of our exploration (Hofstede & Bond, 1984). We undertook the same due diligence with the results of our analysis of the factor solutions of data from his survey of organizational culture (Hofstede, Bond, & Luk, 1993). “The truth is in the data; just listen to it speaking”, Geert would assert.
3. His conceptual imagination, worthy of a Ptolemy. Geert was open to alternative ways of mapping the universe. He simply needed to persuade himself and the social scientific community that it was useful. Just as a geographical map helps us to navigate the physical world more effectively, so should a cultural map of the world allow us to work with our social world more judiciously. The enlargement of our social scientific understanding must be established, however, by demonstrating an openness to extending our conceptualizations and an improvement in our predictive powers. Geert enacted these commitments by expanding his original four-dimensions of national culture to include Long-term Orientation and Indulgence-Restraint (Minkov, 2013).
But wait; i omit from this list Geert’s humanity, evident throughout his life with his fellow members of planet earth. He, like many teens during the second world war, suffered through invasion and occupation of their countries by Axis powers and their quisling pretenders in other countries. Ikje Smit’s touching documentary of Geert’s life, “An engineer’s Odyssey”, suggests that he absorbed the chastening insult of foreign domination and barbarity by heightening his own understanding of culture’s possible consequences and his compassion for those whom culture may victimize. His personal experience of cultural insult was transmuted into an openness of sensibility about cultures and a generosity of spirit towards each of us, thrust unmasking into the culture of our youth but soon sharing a world with others.
So, Geert (you always insisted I call you “Geert” despite my earlier cultural training to call you, “Professor Hofstede”), what more can I say? How about, “Thank you, dear colleague” and this quotation from a favourite poem, “Ulysses” by Tennyson; it sums up your amazing life for me, and perhaps for those who will read this appreciation:
… Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
Michael Harris Bond
Chinese Culture Connection (1987). Chinese values and the search for culture-free dimensions of
culture. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 18, 143-164.
Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s consequences” International differences in work-related values. Beverly
Hills, CA: Sage.
Hofstede, G. (1997). The Archimedes effect. In Bond, M. H. (Ed.) (1997). Working at the interface of
cultures: 18 lives in social science (pp. 47-61). London, England: Routledge. (Reprinted 2015).
Hofstede, G., & Bond, M. H. (1984). An independent validation of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions using
Rokeach’s value survey. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 15, 417-433.
Hofstede, G., Bond, M. H., & Luk, C. L. (1993). Individual perceptions of organizational cultures: A
methodological treatise on levels of analysis. Organization Studies, 14, 483-583.
Minkov, M. (2013). Cross-cultural analysis: The science and art of comparing the world’s modern
societies and their cultures. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.