Fellows, R and Liu, A M M (2013) Use and misuse of the concept of culture. Construction Management and Economics, 31(5), 401-422
This paper is available for free download until 31 December 2013.
Abstract: Culture is an all-pervading construct of human existence but its conceptualization is contested. As such, it is problematic to define or measure culture as different paradigms adopt radically different approaches. Emic approaches are, essentially, inward-looking and, via a constructivist paradigm, assert that a culture can be investigated validly only from that culture’s own perspective (idiographic). Etic approaches are concerned with an outside view, especially for cross-cultural investigations, and so tend to adopt a positivist perspective using surveys, models and dimensions (nomothetic). With increasing acceptance of varying conceptualizations, multiple methodologies and methods of research, founded on alternative philosophical stances, differing approaches to researching culture are pursued. However, several important issues of debate remain and are addressed, especially surrounding the seminal work of Geert Hofstede. Further concerns relate to levels of analyses (notably, the ecological fallacy and its reverse), scales of measurement for data collection and analysis, and their combination into indices. How people adapt to and accommodate different cultures is addressed, including structuring of organizational relationships (alliances, etc.) and the enduring debate over whether culture can be managed and the likely consequences of cultural management endeavours. Thus, the approach of positive criticism is adopted in this review of theory and literature to address the main issues in both the topic of culture and its philosophical underpinnings, and of how research methodologies and methods have been used in researching culture. Aspects of good practice and of less good practice are identified throughout to assist researchers and to stimulate further rigorous research into culture in construction. Primary findings emphasize the imperative of coherent and consistent uses of models and levels of analysis, care and rigour in use of scales and attention to the impacts of language and culture on data from respondents.