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Individualism, Collectivism, and the Open Knowledge Palimpsest

The next session is kicked off by Eileen Luebcke, who outlines a research project on intercultural communication in virtual teams. This is a very underresearched area so far, she suggests. CMC research has a variety of weaknesses here: research tends to focus on culturally homogeneous groups even where they are compared with one another, and often takes place in a laboratory environment - and results from student groups are sometimes posited as being representative for general work groups.

There is a need for diversity research, then, which has already taken place in non-CMC contexts. Here, heterogeneous teams appear to produce a greater number of alternative solutions to problems, but can also be a source of conflict; unfortunately, active use of diversity is often backgrounded in favour of an organisational bias towards male Western employees (this may be institutionalised for example through a focus on oral presentations or Western-style brainstorming sessions). Dichotomies between individualistic and collectivistic cultural orientations have various impacts here - communication for expressing own points of view clashes with communication for maintaining group harmony, for example - and individualistic communication patterns tend to dominate in many group interactions, as they enable individuals to place themselves in central positions.

Problems with the methodology also arise here: while measures are formulated in a cultural level, CMC observation tends to occur on an individual or group level. For example, hypotheses developed from Hofstede's work are tested on a group level to predict CMC behaviours, and differences between predictions and observations might be due to this different level of research (where individuals might not necessarily be representative of all the norms existing in their culture); in post-hoc explanations through dichotomies people are all too often reduced to a position of 'cultural dopes' which slavishly follow all applicable cultural norms when the real picture is more complex.

Further, 'individualism' usually describes a certain Western concept of individualism, while there may also exist other forms individualism which standard measures ignore. Any individualism scale which is used to rate participants is therefore measuring their placement in relation to a specific concept of individualism rather than in relation to individualism itself (but what is this 'individualism itself', I would ask?).

And Hofstede has developed dimensions, not dichotomies, but this is ignored too much - there is an aggregation of differences on these dimensional scales to simple points, e.g. 'individualism' and 'collectivism'. Finally, it must also be noted that cross-cultural research is not intercultural research.

Is there a contradiction between global communicative practice within a virtual team and the communicative patterns that work in the local environment of each team member, then? Eileen's project will investigate three groups of students from a German and a Chinese university, and this takes place through qualitative interviews with team members - how do they perceive their communication, and how do skill levels and other aspects of their communicative backgrounds impact on intercultural team work?

A View of the Open Knowledge Network as a Palimpsest

Maja van der Velden follows on with a view of regulatory tactics in a global network. Her case study is the Open Knowledge Network, which also has an online component facilitating exchange between knowledge workers. She begins with the concept of a palimpsest - a repeatedly overwritten text where elements are rubbed out more or less effectively in order to be able to use the writing surface again. This is a layering of texts which brings with it a history of writing, and links well with the layering of knowledge and technology - how can the tracks of local knowledge be drawn across digital technology, then?

Maja went to the Embalam Village Knowledge Centre in India, which is part of the Open Knowledge Network. It works with volunteers to preserve and share local knowledge (for example of medicinal plants). But, who owns this knowledge, and who has the right to use it? This relates to issues of direct and indirect regulation, as described by Lawrence Lessig - markets, norms, architecture, and laws all constrain the use of information, and each can constrain and undermine one another as well.

In the present case, for example, markets are represented by the global digital content industry (which has created negative perceptions and norms against peer-to-peer networks); norms here are the sharing for common good, decentralised editorial control, and protecting local knowledge rights; architecture relates to the development of peer-to-peer networking structures and of a decentralised network of hubs. More broadly, then, there is a regulatory ecology - and in the OKN, there is a regulatory environment in which participants define the way in which they want to share their knowledge; in this, law, market, and norms all feed into the architecture which is used to support open knowledge sharing.

There is also a feeding back into law aspects as the OKN is using creative commons licences which have an effect on overall legal frameworks. Indeed, understanding such ecologies as a palimpsest not only shows the layered nature of this environment, but also highlights the change processes present here: these tools and networks are themselves emergent, and also further affect the norms, markets, laws, and architectures within which they are embedded.

Seken Rather than Individualism as a Driver for Privacy Concerns in Japanese Society

Finally for this session we're moving to Makoto Nakada, who presents on the Japanese information society. To this he applies the term seken, which ispresent in a number of contexts in studies of the Japanese information society, especially in the context of privacy.

Seken is a kind of horizon of meanings consisting of people's attitudes towards nature, natural disasters, and highly valued attitudes such as the denial of material wealth, orientation to good human relationships, and so on. It is the old and indigenous aspect of Japanese culture and society - it is old, but still persists in Japanese minds. This contrasts with shakai: publicness, a national perspective, social benefit, and political opinion. Seken links much more with morality, reciprocity, and social order - human relations based on the feeling of mental obligation or moral indebtedness. Partly because of the presence of such ideas, Japanese culture continues to lack the individualist aspects of modern Western culture.

Seken's importance in Japanese society was rediscovered in the 1980s through empirical surveys of Japanese citizens, which showed a prevalent belief in personal destiny, spiritualism, the value of kindness, the value of honest poverty, and strong criticism of selfishness, of distance from nature, and of the denial of natural science - there was also a feeling that natural disasters were a scourge from heaven in response to non-seken-like shortcomings.

Such negative aspects were also linked to violations of privacy (through the abuse of surveillance technologies, electronically stored information, or the revealing of details about one's private life. Concepts of privacy are not linked strongly with concepts of individualism and independence, on the other hand - it appears that people call for a protection of their privacy not because they fear for their individual privacy, but because it violates seken and also points to an increased distance from nature.

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