Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Standards, Measures, and emoticons

How long did it take for businesses, practitioners and the academic community to incorporate Hofstede's work on cultural dimensions?  It was a pretty nifty idea in the business culture of the 1980s to assert that a spectrum of cultural values should play a role in decisions and workplace dynamics.  Because you can have a meeting in London and then a few hours later in Rio or even simultaneously via video conference, connecting with partners and clients, not to mention multi-national workforces assembling from migration, defining cultural elements in our interactions allowed for individuals to become more cognizant of culture.  

2 Interesting reads review the prominent role Hofstede's Dimensions have come to play in business communication culture. 

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions 30 Years Later: A Study of Taiwan and the United States
Ming-Yi Wu, Western Illinois University

A Quarter Century of "Culture's Consequences": A Review of Empirical Research Incorporating Hofstede's Cultural Values Framework
Bradley L. Kirkman, Kevin B. Lowe and Cristina B. Gibson

And of course you can go back to the source:
Culture's Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations Across Nations

Culture's Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations Across Nations (2001) By Geert Hofstede

By today's standards, Hofstede sampled a thimble of individuals to represent 'world cultures' which he surveyed from IMB offices.  There have been many papers written about the shortcomings in methodology, as well as the vision he showed in developing the concept in the first place.  It has certainly endured, but perhaps that is because business loves benchmarks, and no other standard for this difficult concept, culture,  has emerged as a viable rival.

The workplace environment has changed.  Beyond the face-to-face communication that this measure was conceived to describe, the online interaction, even with webcams approximating face-to-face meetings, plays an enormous role.  Isn't it time to develop a measure of cultural context, a way to gauge those inherent qualities of communication which are so easily misunderstood across technologies even between users of the same cultural background?

The demand for this feature has superficially been filled by emoticons whose form and use are culturally derived, so they are not terrific at crossing cultural boundaries.  Perhaps compiling attributes worth leveraging as cultural translation guides could be done with crowdsourcing.  Or perhaps the algorithms tracking and stacking every digital breath we take could determine an index, something not static but informed by today's data flow, which would enhance translation of text and voice by adding context, background, and connotation.  This is a necessity of global communication we should be working towards, something beyond translation.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Visualizing Violence

This was the title of a call for papers I received recently: Visualizing violence in francophone Africa.   More and more researchers are taking an interest in aesthetics surrounding conflict.  In particular, from cultures where art is not Art, but rather the richest contributions on the spectrum of drama, music, literature, visual space, etc... Topics include:
  • Cityscapes-- architecture and city planning post-conflict, especially to assert national or cohesive identity
  • Urban murals to counter criminal activity
  • Artists employing new technologies to combat post-colonial ideologies-- Do transient, mobile images transcend place and geographically-based descriptors, like African?
  • Verbal art in transitional areas
  • How does Human Rights manifest in literature, cinema, music, the internet?
  • Negotiated space for art itself, the new museum in Africa 
These topic choices for research come from cultures where art is not separated from life in the way it is where I grew up.  I came to know art as something which must be visited in a museum or purchased or created with special intent.  If you encounter it free from these confines, it is considered, in my culture, bohemian, exotic, rare.  Not every culture shares this narrow view of art.  But there seems to be reflection about the power art has in our lives, and perhaps power enough to be considered in the range of approaches to dissolving conflict and relieving suffering.

Take a look at this feature in Al Jazeera English where they provide regular space to discuss politics and social issues from an artist's perspective.

In discussions with Congolese colleagues, I have asked how art might destabilize the banality of violence in the east.  Could there be an aesthetic format which shatters the cycle and engages communities at the level of emotion?  The history of censorship for artists' perspective on the human experience suggests the breadth of their influence.  In a recent conversation, a friend shared her frustration with the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.  While possessing the skills of a lawyer and a human rights activist,  she decided to confront this issue with her writing, her creative invention, her most dangerous weapon. 

These contributions will not immediately yield solutions, and for that reason they are difficult for many who work in policy and conflict resolution to incorporate into a strategy.  The impact of art is not easily quantifiable or even named; however, this impact is perceptible, felt, experienced, and undeniable.

Beyond battling with logical, practical solutions, communities should develop and support artists who bring emotional energy to these crucial subjects.... visualizing violence could dismantle violence.