Psychological Distance and Culture: Towards a Socially-Constructed Individual-Level Cultural Framework

Psychological Distance and Culture: Towards a Socially-Constructed Individual-Level Cultural Framework

Michael Joseph Dominic Roberts (Mount Royal University, Canada)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0214-3.ch002


This chapter introduces psychological distance into cultural studies as an alternative way of conceptualizing individual differences. Unlike most cross-cultural frameworks that are at the group level, psychological distance provides an individual level conceptualization of distance. This conceptualization can complement the more group level and static frameworks that dominate management theory. The framework is rooted in knowledge theory. By developing the concepts of socially embedded tacit vs. explicit knowledge, the chapter demonstrates that explicit models of cultural difference, such as Hoftsede's Cultural Dimensions, do not capture the lived tacit experience of managers working in a cross-cultural setting. This chapter is conceptual, but the framework that is developed here emerged from fieldwork conducted by the author on returnee executives in Korea. Psychological distance consists of four dimensions: time, space, social relations, and probability. These dimensions relate to the level of mental construal between an individual and a foreign knowledge practice.
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Models of cultural differences tend to take a static view of culture. These static models include psychic distance as developed by Dow and Karunaratna (2006) as well as the cultural dimensions model of Hofstede (1983), which were subsequently converted to measures of distance by Kogut and Singh (1988). This static view is in contrast to the lived experience of many firms and individuals who experience shifts in cultural distance over time. By abstracting culture into explicit dimensions, these static models sees culture as relatively stable over time, view individual members within a culture as substantially homogeneous, and conceptualize culture as an abstraction rather than a continually negotiated individual experience. In this respect, the lived experiences of individual members are not seen as significantly altering them from their home culture. In doing this, these models do not capture the fact that individuals within a culture can, through their own internationalization journey, reduce the cultural differences and thus distances between themselves and a target group. In addition, by creating abstractions, the models oversimplify the relationship between actors in a cross-cultural setting. Thus, the purpose of this conceptual chapter is to introduce an alternative approach to cultural distance that is more fundamentally rooted at the individual level rather than the group level, and is based on a knowledge practice approach to culture.

The first section of this chapter examines the dimensions of knowledge as explicit vs. tactic and independent vs. socially embedded. The argument here is that cultural knowledge practices are socially embedded, and as such, resist attempts at being made explicit. Thus, cultural models that have the goal of explicating cultural differences into static models fail to address the tacit nature of cultural practices. The second section develops a more tacit model of cultural distance that is based on the framework of psychological distance as developed in the field of psychology (Trope & Liberman, 2010; Trope, Liberman, & Wakslak, 2007).

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