Not one, or none, but all.

The column below was first published in De Psycholoog – Dutch magazine for Psychology December 2015 under the title: Niet een of geen maar allemaal. A PDF of the Dutch version can be found here: PSY1512_WisselColumn.

You do not come across it often as a specific direction within a faculty and the annual congress is small. In 1972, a group of academics in social psychology and anthropology established the international association for cross-cultural psychology. Cross-cultural psychologists are mainly concerned with whether psychological findings have universal validity.

gezichtengalerij300-283x225

For example: if a psychologist used the Christmas story to measure a child’s thinking level through his or her ability to recount details, is it unfair to apply this in a country where Christmas isn’t celebrated? Or are we comparing apples and oranges when we measure the spatial understanding of two groups and one group, as Marshall H. Segall and colleagues describe so beautifully, grew up in a ‘carpented world’, and the other group only knows the plains and round huts in the Kalahari Desert?
Our findings are time and context bound. Much of our thinking and doing is uncharted territory and this is what makes psychology an exciting science. A recent meta-analysis shows that the balance of ‘nature versus nurture’ is about 50/50, but this relationship may change with the development of better and more culturally intelligent research methods.

For, how ‘Western’ is the diagnosis that people outside of Europe and America are more prone to go with the opinion of a group that deliberately gives the wrong answer (i.e., they don’t think for themselves) of Simon Ash’s famous
experiment on conformity? As Bond and Smith suggested: maybe this concerns a different phenomenon and collectivists find loss of face more important than being right
“Gestalt psychology is THE psychology, according to supporters (Duijker, 1959, p.191) and is a matter of identity and distinction. But why? Psychology has to do with communication within all views; not just about what we measure, but also how we share our knowledge with the world. And we can do better if we try to explain the chaos together. We should perhaps reconsider why Japanese students are deemed to be superior at mathematics since they only need to learn ten words (43 four-ten-three and 14 is ten-four versus the Dutch three-and-forty and fourteen)? What psychology do we use to explain a phenomenon – communication, social, neuro,
or …?

That’s the lesson, according to cross-cultural psychologists; if we diagnose, we must be aware of our own perspective. The lenses with which we observe are not neutral. As Ramses Shaffy sang: “Sing, fight, cry, pray, laugh, work and admire, not without us.” But in the world of Psychology nobody escapes the chaotic context. In this we are one.

http://www.biosciencetechnology.com/articles/2015/05/depth-look-historys-largest-genetictwin-
study
Bond, R. & Smith, P.B. (1996). Culture and conformity: a meta-analysis of studies using Asch’s (1952b
1956) line judgement task. Psychological Bulletin, 119(1), 111-137.

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No analysis needed

Every day I’m thankful where I was born and where I live now, especially when winter is kicking in.
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/03/refugees-horror-calais-jungle-refugee-camp-feel-like-dying-slowly
“Jennifer Wilson, a teacher from Harare who has been volunteering for more than a month, is sorting through the clothes, discarding useless fake fox scarves and ripped, dirty castoffs. During the week she has been teaching English in a new schoolroom on site. “In my class I’ve had doctors, teachers, engineers and architects. They are educated people. I would like people to know that, that they are not just coming to milk the state,” she says.”
If you want to donate the right stuff, people need trainers and walking boots (particularly sizes 41 and 42 – 7 and 8 in UK sizes), sleeping bags, and small men’s trousers (waist sizes 26-32). http://www.calaid.co.uk/
If you want to help through a donation, Doctors of the World is the only large charity stationed in Calais long term https://www.doctorsoftheworld.org.uk/
I am enormously in awe of the volunteers who work in Calais, on Greek islands, on Malta, in Italy, on the Med sea and everywhere else to help refugees. Finally, I am so sorry. I am to apologise to those who thought that once they’d brave a sea, cross a land, climb a barrier and escape corruption, no job, violence and no hope that they’d be helped by leaders of this world, anno 2015. I’m so so sorry that this isn’t happening purely because you have the wrong passport or the wrong kind of bank balance.
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Race, gender & cultural appropriation

Recall the fires on gender and race that were flaring up? In response to Tim Hunt’s dinosaur joke on women in labs and falling in love and crying, another scientist had put up an image of a tree house with ‘no girls allowed’ – which reminded me of the all male meetings Tumblr blog and the Calvin & Hobbes G.R.O.S.S. cartoon. Interestingly, the argument now goes that it has highlighted women in science more than any other campaign ever managed – with many women taking selfies in the lab, at fieldwork etc. It cost Prof Hunt his metaphorical head but perhaps he sort of deserves a bronze version of it – displayed in UCLs gardens maybe…

So, following on from that Twitter went nuts over Mr Jenner turning Ms Jenner and how she now needs to return her Olympic medals because in the past he “always felt he was a she” and so competed under fraudulent circumstances. That said, she got congratulations for being herself and being honest – even from Obama.

Not so much for Rachel Dolezal who is white but feels black. A woman who campaigned for black rights but then was outed as her parents as white. Cultural appropriation is complex. It means that if you wear Dutch clogs without knowing the meaning of it or being of Dutch heritage, I can be offended. ‘Can’ because it’s not actually about the item of cultural representation but the underlying power relations. So in the Dolezal case another twitter storm ensued. I’m standing on the sidelines trying to think it through – it seems the liberals have accepted transgender people more than transrace people but only in one direction of the latter – white to black, as black to white is a matter of power struggle.

Cultural appropriation (Pepper the Dog with Dutch clogs)

But, in the words of Radiohead, do we do it to ourselves? Segal and people argue that race isn’t biological – it’s a category we invented. So if we’re on a spectrum, we are not bound by categories. When we continue mixing, it’ll get increasingly complicated to categorise the world.

Thus if cultural appropriation includes racial appropriation and are we then saying race is a culture (system of shared meanings – not biological?) and if a white woman dying her hair black is outrageous, can offence be taken by women about gender appropriation when transexuals find it feminine to don theatrical make up, wear tiny skirts and lacy tops as it is not representative of what women are and, in some eyes, ridicules it? But isn’t the transexual being exposed to a non-empathetic outside world and thus such cultural appropriation isn’t the same as somebody wearing  sari without understanding  the cultural values behind it?

Through the process of differentiating, we set boundaries and tell others, just as there was a move to be politically correct/inclusive/multi-cultural that they can now not take on that (part of) identity. We then engage in ‘othering‘ ourselves for the purpose of highlighting that the external (skin, clothes, ceremonies) are part of a deeper underlying system of shared values (culture). It takes a bit of conscious thinking and lower gear shifting to fully understand the hurt. As Bill Withers sang in the 1970s “who is he and what is he to you?” applied to a 2015 context.

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Work in progress

The recent UK election results made me decide to sit on the fence before any comments are made on what lies ahead. I am concerned about a BREXIT and the Human Rights Act. I worry about zero-hour contracts and wonder how we can support small/medium business entrepreneurs in the next five years. I’m currently working on a set of papers (co-authored with two very talented people, both former students from Middlesex University) about work in this interconnected world.

One of the main conclusions from these papers (abstracts below) is that PERCEPTION is very important. It’s a skill that we may take for granted, especially if we occupy managerial and/or leadership roles. Being mindful of one’s position and how this impacts others and how others perceive us is a talent but it can be cultivated. I hope these papers will contribute towards that. And isn’t it odd that some of us are ‘expatriates’ whereas others are ‘immigrants’?

Below it you can see an image from the campaign “I am an immigrant”. I went to the launch and it was great – so much positivity around the idea that we’re all international now. See more here Movement Against Xenophobia

Paper 1

Working title: How can we help you, Odysseus and Odessa? An investigation of the effects of personal characteristics and of organisational support, family support and support from host country nationals on the cross-cultural adjustment of international expatriates

As a consequence of the globalisation in today’s markets, organisations frequently use expatriate business managers to maintain their position and competitiveness across borders. With increased transfers of expatriates follows the consideration of how the assignee may be successful in the assignment. The aim of the study was to investigate the effects of three forms of support, namely support from the organisation, family support and the support from host country nationals, on cross-cultural adjustment with a qualitative approach to increase the in-depth understanding of the relationships. Findings from semi-structured interviews conducted with 24 expatriates transferred to eight different host countries point to a relationship between all forms of support and general, interaction and work adjustment. Expatriates’ personality also had an impact, with three additional antecedents for adjustment emerging through the interview process: previous experience, cultural novelty and self-effort to acquire knowledge. We suggest that organisations should aim to pursue a more holistic selection process, taking into account support available additional to skills and abilities to work towards to higher performance abroad.

Paper 2

Working title: The Influence of Transferring HRM Practices on Employee Commitment and Intention to Leave: A Study of Hybridity within British MNCs in Saudi Arabia.

The awareness of context within which Human Resources Management (HRM) practices are managed in Multinational Corporations (MNCs) has become a critical issue, especially in unfamiliar territories. The present study explores how MNCs adopt transferred models of HRM by examining hybridization in Saudi Arabia. Qualitative data from two British MNCs in Saudi Arabia showed that the hybridization process and faith have a distinct influence on local employees’ organizational commitment and intention to leave. These results are explored in the macro-level context (World Bank, Hofstede, 2001) to propose practical and theoretical contributions of the study in terms HRM hybridity.

 xeno

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Too many of us?

When I travel on the London underground and take an escalator up or down, I watch the faces of the people across going into the opposite direction. Usually, these faces are expressionless, on their way to something that will require some engagement but for now, on this metal vertical carpet ride, they’re in rest. I see people ahead of me getting off and I wonder about their lives, their goals and how that face is meaningful to someone somewhere. Then, forgive the morose thought, I sometimes wonder about the impact of a terrorist attack. In one blast, 100s of peoples’ lives would be ended or forever changed. I wonder how this would have an impact on those nearest to them and how community or government leaders (have to) respond. But there are so many of us. 7 billion in fact. What exactly is the impact of such a loss?

When the Charlie Hebdo illustrators were killed, discussions flared up about a value of a life. For some we hold vigils, for others we just read the headline and move on. Much of this is about proximity – we care about those similar to us, near us and less so about those further away. It’s an ingroup/outgroup phenomenon that is much studied in social psychology.

My work, in part, is to understand when and how people sense a belonging as part of their nation (Person Nation Fit). I’m currently analysing qualitative and quantitative data from people from a range of backgrounds and asked them questions about their own citizenship but also when they think someone else becomes a citizen and when the other should lose his/her citizenship. When international students were asked “When you hear the word ‘citizenship’ do you think of a person who is a member of a community or someone who has rights and duties’, the 107 who answered the question were split down the middle.

citizenship rights duties MDX

When asked to explain their answer, the replies varied but one respondent who opted for ‘member’ said “More than just being in the community residing and spectating, a citizen is an active member of the community” and one of the respondents who opted for ‘rights’ said “citizen is someone who have a right in voting and sharing the benefit with other citizen [sic] within the country”. Some felt it was a combination of both: “Actually I think about both. As a citizen, a person not only belongs to a community but also has the right and duties.” For now, I’m hypothesizing that the former (member of a community) definition is more tribal, linked to a sense of belonging whereas the latter (rights & duties) is transactional.

In our globalised world, migration is a hot topic, despite the fact that humans have been moving around for as long as we can track back records. Perhaps we are more bothered now, since the volumes of people have grown. Yet, I doubt many of the people who ride the escalator up or down think about their citizenship much, unless they’re in the process of pledging their allegiance, if they’re a refugee/asylum seeker or if they’re about to migrate elsewhere. I’m unsure the majority can remain ‘laissez faire’ about migration, in that, if we’re not opposed to it, we cannot choose to remain neutral. If I invite you to my home, I show you where the kitchen and bathroom is. I don’t let you get on with it and figure it out so you make mistakes and then I get annoyed, especially if you brought your husband and parents too. One needs to invite the other to the proverbial fire, sit with them, share with them. The rules of pragmatic multiculturalism have changed and that requires engaged and culturally intelligent management.

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Oh that’s why?

Cross cultural management is the ability to handle issues between people from different backgrounds effectively. In our current globalised environment, any individual with responsibility over or for others, i.e., a leader and decision maker, would do well to take heed of the cultural differences that exist but it can be a minefield . We are never neutral, and all that we perceive is through a filter coloured by our cultural background.

However, it is also often ignored by people in leadership roles because the benefits of training can be difficult to translate into a hard cost-benefit analysis and it goes against the general idea that we live in a global village, where modern people think similarly and where there is no need for understanding cultural differences.
In this report, I summarise the knowledge that I have taught to (MBA) students and researched over the years as an expert in Cross Cultural Management and Psychology. The report was developed with the aim to inform decision makers in businesses and organisations, who work in an international context. Since it is impossible to track who reads my blog, journal articles, chapters and lecture notes, I wrote this report for you, which I hope you will read but also actually use. I genuinely believe in ‘Evidence Based Management’, which is essentially the idea that people should manage by gaining some evidence to back up their decisions. So, if this report is useful to you and you implemented some of it in your working life, all I ask is for you to put that in writing and send this to me via n.van-meurs@mdx.ac.uk

Identity Research for impact

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A poem for James Foley

For James Foley
from an Iraqi poet

I dreamed
that Iraq was a sea.
Her wars high waves,
her sorrow dark sand,
the blood
a distant sunset.

I dreamed
that the Sunnis of Iraq
were sharks,
the Kurds starfish,
the Christians dolphins,
the Yezidi goldfish,
the Shiites octopuses
and you, James,
a high-flying seagull.

I dreamed
that Iraq was a sea,
Saddam Hussein a salty tsunami,
ISIS
black rats on a sinking pirate ship

and I

a boat with millions of holes,
broken masts
and burnt sails,
which no one can push out to sea.

– Rodaan

Rodaan Al Galidi (1971) is a Dutch writer and poet, born in South Iraq

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Under organizational wings

How the universal need for certainty in nations under socio-economic stress can be satisfied by greater formalization within organizations.

Addressing debates about a) the negative correlations between cultural values and practices and b) the controversial effect of formalization and bureaucracy on organizational citizenship behaviour (OCB), we developed a cross-level theory specifying that formalization at the organizational level buffers negative effects of uncertainty at the nation-level on OCB of individuals.  Drawing upon organizational and psychological literature, we argue that a universal need for certainty in nations characterized by high levels of uncertainty can be satisfied by greater formalization within organizations. A three-level hierarchical linear modelling analysis of data from 7,537 employees in 267 organizations across 17 countries supported our hypotheses. In nations with greater levels of uncertainty practices, formalization is positively associated with voice OCB. Our theory and findings open new avenues for re-addressing the debate around negative correlations between cultural values and practices and offers new insights into the complex role of bureaucracy in a global context.

This paper is accepted for the IACM conference in Leiden, The Netherlands July 2014

 

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Person-Nation Fit and group equality

If Multiculturalism ‘has failed’, then a better understanding of what concepts such as citizenship, tolerance and value congruence mean to society is required. Modern societies are hybrid versions of the traditional culture and new influences (Claeye & van Meurs, 2013) and within each society, in/out group dynamics among subcultures may cause ethnocentric tension (e.g,  Berry, 2009; Pratto et al, 1994). Johnston et al., (2004) found that respondents’ views on citizenship reflect complex mixtures of liberalism and communitarianism. This paper explored how individuals perceive themselves to fit in with their nation based on adapted work from the Person-Environment Fit theory in order to establish societal level Person-Nation Fit (P-N Fit). Citizenship, cultural intelligence and perceptions of intercultural encounters were linked to P-N Fit and belief in group equality. The qualitative study involved 16 participants from anti-fascist groups in Britain. Results showed a denouncement of national identity but a sense of citizenship based on proximal factors. For the quantitative study, 238 students were surveyed. Results showed that Demands-Abilities Fit and cultural intelligence positively predicted a belief in the equality of groups, whereas having experienced negative emotions when meeting people from other cultures linked negatively with beliefs of group equality. Having these negative emotions, low genetic essentialism and strong political leanings predicted citizenship as “A person who has legal rights and duties”. The results highlighted the complexity of communitarianism and liberalism in terms of views on citizenship, and a requirement to re-negotiate the conceptualisation of a multicultural society.

This abstract, titled “Person-Nation Fit and group equality: Defining an individual’s tolerance in a multicultural society“, has been accepted for the annual meeting of the International Association of Cross Cultural Psychology in Reims, France this summer.

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Happy 2014!

Time, perspective and remembering to take in the here and now, here is an interesting video to realise that: “The birthday of the oldest person on earth is closer to Napoleon than to 2014” http://lnkd.in/dfEMEgm  and we need to be in the moment to enjoy life.

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