Is it culture? A pragmatic approach to cross-cultural analysis

H. van Herk, Ype H. Poortinga

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


The further we travel away from home the more striking the differences that we find in overt behavior and, as far we can make out, in covert behavior. In the social and behavioral sciences there have been numerous attempts to map out such differences, especially between countries. Some of these maps are in terms of economic variables, such as GDP. Other maps are based on sociological and psychological variables, such as indices of corruption, institutional and interpersonal trust, and values and norms. To make sense of such differences, reference is made to “culture”, which can represent more or less any aspect of context and of behavior in context. Culture tends to be seen as something big and real, and perhaps mysterious, as illustrated by the frequently mentioned metaphor of three blind men who are touching the trunk, the side of the body and the tail of one and the same elephant, and report totally different observations, even though they are dealing with the same thing. This metaphor, which points to the difficulty of grasping culture is fine for everyday parlance and perhaps for narratives aiming at a deeper understanding of the intricacies of cross-cultural differences. In this chapter we advocate a pragmatic approach, oriented primarily towards the prediction of differences between countries. In this approach the emphasis is more on the proportion of variance that can be accounted for by a variable in empirical data than on culture’s specific meaning or even its validity for a targeted construct.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCross Cultural Issues in Consumer Science and Consumer Psychology
Subtitle of host publicationCurrent Perspectives and Future Directions
EditorsHester van Herk, Carlos J. Torelli
Place of PublicationCham
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9783319650913
ISBN (Print)9783319650906
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • GDP per capita
  • Hofstede
  • Inglehart
  • Schwartz
  • culture
  • explained variance
  • external culture
  • internal culture


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