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Cultural Knowledge

An Ethical Deconstruction of the Concept as a Foundation for Respect for Cultural Differences from a Post-Colonial and Levinasian Perspective

Masterarbeit 2010 80 Seiten

Pädagogik - Wissenschaft, Theorie, Anthropologie


Table of Contents


1 Introduction
1.1 Background and Problem Statement
1.2 Interest and Approach of the Thesis
1.3 Research Question and sections of the analysis
1.4 Structure of the Thesis

2 Methodology
2.1 Critical Management Research
2.2 Deconstruction
2.3 Data collection
2.4 Validity and Reliability of the Data Used

3 Literature Review
3.1 Post-Colonial Theory
3.1.1 Historical Development
3.1.2 Main Arguments
2.1.3 Suggested Solutions
3.2 Emmanuel Levinas and his Philosophy on Ethics
3.2.1 Life and Key Writings
3.2.2 Main Arguments Levinasian Ethics Levinas’ Critique of Western Philosophy as an Ontology
3.2.3 The Levinasian Perspective on Business Ethics

4 Analysis of Cultural Knowledge
4.1 Historical Background
4.2 The Content of Cultural Knowledge
4.2.1 Key Research and Influencing Factors
4.2.2 Dominant Interpretation
4.3 Deconstructing Cultural Knowledge
4.3.1 The Post-colonial Perspective on Cultural Knowledge The Constitution of Cultural Differences as a Threat Binary Oppositions and Underlying Interpretations Homogenization and Simplification Synthesis of the Post-colonial Perspective
4.3.2 The Levinasian Perspective on Cultural Knowledge Replacing Individual Responsibility with Knowledge Constructing Knowledge as a Totality Synthesis of the Levinasian Perspective

5 Conclusion and Future Outlook
5.1 Conclusions of This Paper
5.2 Limitations
5.3 Future Research



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1 Introduction

1.1 Background and Problem Statement

Recent global economic developments have led to a shift in focus from the local to the global level and international companies are sending more and more of their employees abroad to take on international assignments ((Caligiuri 2000), (Dumont, Lemaître 2005), (Shaffer et al. 2006)). Simultaneously, the interest in inter- and cross-cultural topics has increased in response to the significant changes that have occurred in the context of business operations. One consequence of these changes entails that employees are increasingly exposed to situations where they deal with people of various cultural backgrounds.

Recent global economic developments have led to a shift in focus from the local to the global level and international companies are sending more and more of their employees abroad to take on international assignments ((Caligiuri 2000), (Dumont, Lemaître 2005), (Shaffer et al. 2006)). Simultaneously, the interest in inter- and cross-cultural topics has increased in response to the significant changes that have occurred in the context of business operations. One consequence of these changes entails that employees are increasingly exposed to situations where they deal with people of various cultural backgrounds.

Scholars in the field of cross-cultural research have investigated the processes underlying intercultural encounters. They strive to come up with strategies that help dealing with such situations. Authors state that intercultural communication may lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication when people of different cultural backgrounds interact (for example (Black, Mendenhall 1990), (Gudykunst, Mody 2002), (Soderberg, Holden 2002)). Miscommunication arises if one is unaware of cultural differences and therefore perceives the counterpart’s perspective to be similar to her/his own. Culture may function as a “filter” when the sender encodes and the receiver decodes a message. Meaning is distorted and interpreted in a wrong way if the filter is not understood (Loosemore, Lee 2002).

The common solution suggested by cross-cultural researchers is the accumulation of knowledge on cultural differences. The latter is seen to have an impact on intercultural communication. The knowledge in turn is assumed to make the situation transparent and “manageable” (for example (Gudykunst 1995), (Leiba-O'Sullivan 1999), (Morris, Robie 2001)). Consequently, the supply of knowledge about cultural differences has grown extensively. Thereby represent cross-national comparisons the most influencing stream that focus on the variation of values across national cultures (Sackmann, Phillips 2004).[1] The most widely known research on the subject is that of Geert Hofstede where he introduced the concept of “cultural dimensions” (see (Hofstede 1980), (Hofstede 1991)). In Hofstede’s study, five different cultural dimensions that affect the communicative behaviour of individuals were identified. The popularity of his approach is impressive mainly because it is easily replicated, extended, and confirmed (Soendergaard 1994). Hofstede’s research represents the most cited and popular theory when it comes to intercultural differences (Morris, Robie 2001). However there are two more important scholars in the field: Edward T. Hall and Fons Trompenaars. All three scholars developed cultural dimensions that are supposed to influence the individual in (intercultural) communication. Their research has been identified with the paradigm of “structural functionalism” (Westwood, Jack 2007). Structural functionalism emphasizes “the view that culture, including the social order, composes a coherent, inclusive system” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2010). Following this definition, a culture is understood as a closed system that shares norms, values and customs with all members of that cultural group. This means that it is possible to observe differences among different cultures.

The acquisition of knowledge as introduced by Hofstede, Hall and Trompenaars mainly takes place in Intercultural Training (ICT). The “founder” and father of the ICT concept, Edward T. Hall, explains its goal:

“Preparing people for service overseas is to open their eyes and sensitize them to the subtle qualities of behaviour […] that so often build up feelings of frustration and hostility in other people with a different culture. […] We need a frame of reference that will enable us to observe and learn the significance of differences in manners” ((Hall 1955), p. 89).

Hall states that ICT aims to prepare people for intercultural settings in order to prevent emotional discomfort. However ICT also serves as a foundation for future success in intercultural environments in order to be competitive in the international market ((Black, Mendenhall 1990), (Morris, Robie 2001), (Tung 1987)). Cultural knowledge presents the main content taught in ICT.

Cultural knowledge as it is taught in ICT constitutes the main interest of this paper. The expression is therefore used many times. This term is operationally defined in the study as scientific knowledge on cultural dimensions that has an impact on intercultural communication. In this context, it therefore does not pertain to anthropological aspects or “do’s and don’ts” in a foreign culture. It merely represents a comprehension of the most important factors influencing intercultural communication in the business world. (for a detailed explanation see 4.1 and 4.2).

This paper will take a closer look at cultural knowledge as it is used in ICT and critically reflect on the foundations of its conceptualization. I will investigate cultural knowledge in terms of its contribution to the development of intercultural relations based on respect for cultural differences. The use of the word “respect” in this context connotes tolerance for cultural differences. Respect for cultural differences occurs if one is willing to ascribe equal rights to other culturally influenced ways of doing things. Differences are recognized and their freedom is granted.

The idea for this paper was inspired by a lecture on “Diversity Management” at Copenhagen Business School. During this lecture, the students were introduced to the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. The lecture made me, the author of this paper, immediately experience an enormous respect and appreciation for his theory. Levinas claims that everybody is radically different and any attempt to comprehend differences will result in a closed system (totality). He argues that ontology cannot account for the otherness of the other person. His main interest concerns the ethical relationship between individuals where otherness is given room. In that way one is able to responsively interact with other individuals without trying to comprehend differences.

Due to the appreciation of Levinas’ theory I started to reflect on cultural knowledge. During my time as a student I was introduced to cultural knowledge researched by Hofstede, Hall and Trompenaars. So far I had always assumed that this knowledge on cultural differences would be enough to develop relations based on respect for cultural differences. However, Levinas introduced me to a different perspective. I started to wonder whether the knowledge I had acquired would actually facilitate – as I had always assumed and was taught by my professors – or rather hinder a relation to members of foreign cultures in a responsible way. Because of this I decided to take a closer look at cultural knowledge as a subject introduced in the university as well as it is taught in ICT. The interest and approach of this paper are hereby outlined in the following section.

1.2 Interest and Approach of the Thesis

This section of the chapter outlines the main focus of interest of this paper and the approach used in dealing with the subject matter.

As earlier stated, the researcher’s fascination with Levinas’ philosophy was inspired by a lecture on Levinasian ethics. He advocates interpersonal interactions based on respect and openness for differences. Further he denies any ontological approach to difference since it cannot account for the otherness of the counterpart. Ontology is therefore questionable when it comes to the treatment of others in a respectful way. Since cultural knowledge represents an ontological approach I started to wonder how these theories promote interactions based on respect for cultural differences. All the while, I had assumed that cultural knowledge represents the most important foundation for respect since it creates consciousness of cultural differences. In this manner it creates an imaginative room where a person can respect another person regardless of cultural differences.

Cultural knowledge has extensively been lectured at university and in ICT while the latter is mainly conducted in business environments. This shows an enormous trust in the potential of the discourse to support individuals in intercultural encounters. I intend to investigate cultural knowledge with the end view of finding out how cultural knowledge is representative of cultures and whether this is put to use in a respectful way. Acquiring knowledge of cultural differences is commonly equalized with respect for the same (Day 1998). Hence, the acquisition of cultural knowledge should serve as a significant foundation for intercultural encounters based on respect. Reliance on cultural knowledge can provide insight into cultural differences that one can apply in order to respectfully interact with people from other cultures. The term “respect” in this paper does therefore not only account for intercultural interactions but also for the representation of cultures. Respect in this manner is understood as a description of cultural dimensions that give an accurate and true reflection of reality. In so doing, people pay respect to cultural difference by giving room to the same. Respect in interactions is achievable if the individual who has adopted cultural knowledge is given the means to respectfully interact with members of foreign cultures. This means that the individual tolerates the difference without any intention to change or manipulate and acknowledges the existence of the difference as an equal right. A respectful representation therefore becomes an important basis for respecting cultural differences.

In effect, this paper aims to investigate the limitations of cultural knowledge and points out the consequences for its practical transition in intercultural encounters. It will be argued that scholars consider cultural knowledge as a threat. The study will further reveal how cultural dimensions are accompanied by subliminal interpretations and are homogenized as well as simplified in what they represent. This might seem harsh to the reader but it is important to note that despite the critical approach adopted by the study, there is no intention to generally question the idea to deliver some kind of support for intercultural encounters. Support is considered as a very important and helpful factor since cultural differences can be very confusing and intimidating for the individual in a foreign country or intercultural setting. The intention of this paper is to disrupt the ongoing unquestioned dominance of cultural knowledge by pointing out limitations that accompany this concept. Further, the implications for the idea of intercultural encounters based on respect will be discussed. The main argument here is that the limitations are rooted in the West’s predominant interest on control. This prevents a respectful representation of cultures since the goal of control is ascribed high(er) importance. Respect is facilitated as long as it does not compromise interests of control. This ultimately leads to consequences that rather prevent than support interactions based on respect.[2]

It is my conviction that a critical stance on cultural knowledge will provide impulses for the liberation of the discourse and open ways that advance respectfulness in intercultural encounters. If ICT and university courses on intercultural management continue to use and lecture about cultural knowledge as extensively as they have done in the past, it is time for such a critical reflection.

At the end of this paper, the reader shall understand the extent to which cultural knowledge represents cultures in a respectful way and whether this helps or prevents the development of intercultural encounters based on respect for cultural difference. To attain such, the paper invokes Post-colonial Theory (PCT) and its main argumentation. PCT will be of help in this paper to address and reflect on cultural knowledge. PCT describes how a Western perspective has framed cultural identities and how these representations are flawed by colonial thinking. It concerns itself with the “effects of colonization on cultures and societies” ((Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin 1998), p.186). The term signifies the political, linguistic and cultural experience of former colonized societies. However it is not only the description of these processes, but also, as Westwood et al. remarked, the

“[deployment of] diverse theoretical and political resources to interrogate, intervene in and transform the continued power asymmetries, imbalances and repressions, and effects of contemporary neo-colonialism, and other forms of imperialism” ((Westwood, Jack 2007), p. 247).

Since cultural knowledge has mainly been developed by Western scholars, it is also the interest of the paper to investigate how their (cultural) background influenced cultural knowledge and the extent to which interests on power and control are an issue. PCT represent a valuable theoretical background for this paper, because it critically reflects on Western rationality. In particular, it discusses how the West was engaged with former colonized countries and today with the rest of the world. Since cultural knowledge represents a Western “engagement” with (all) cultures in the world there is an interesting connection between the two. The study will point out observations regarding the extent to which cultural knowledge mirrors some of the PCT-arguments. Afterwards the researcher is going to discuss the consequences for intercultural interactions based on respect. These consequences particularly affect the students of cultural knowledge.

The study further invokes Emmanuel Levinas’ philosophy of ethics. Levinasian ethics represent merely an approach towards an ethical experience of the Other.[3] While PCT mainly focuses on revealing aspects of power and control, Levinasian ethics approaches an ethical relation to difference. It therefore also represents a suggestion or solution in that regard. However Levinas’ work is rooted in a critical stance towards knowledge creation about the Other and this is where PCT and Levinas agree. His philosophy of ethics represents a meta-theory of PCT since both share a fundamental criticism of how cultures are rendered and represented in a limited and one-sided way in today’s Western world. Levinas however questioned the idea of representing cultures and gathering knowledge in general (Critchley, Bernasconi 2002). He believes that the Other is transcendent to us. There is always something we cannot comprehend with our understanding and frame in categories. He declared that comprehension in that regard is beyond our understanding. If one tries to comprehend the Other, it will happen in one’s own categories. The Other would turn into a different version of the same and incomprehensible aspects could not be accounted for. Instead, Levinas advises each individual to act “re-sponsibly” towards the Other by being open to “otherness”.[4] This means that everyone is able to give attention to an ethical relationship to difference. Thus, any attempt to understand the Other would be harmful and cannot account for an ethical experience of the Other.

Levinas’ approach is rooted in a critique of the scientific representations of the Other. In this sense, Levinasian ethics can further inform the discussion on cultural knowledge and supplement the analysis done from a PCT perspective. Levinasian ethics can contribute to an understanding where intercultural relations are interactions between human beings that deserve first and foremost attention to respect and humanity instead of control and management. In that regard, Levinasian ethics could be understood as a “best practice example” when it comes to interactions based on respect. However, the philosophy of Levinas is very complex and challenging to put into practice. And it is not the intention of this paper to suggest how one is supposed to interact ethically with others considering their cultural differences. Nonetheless, it employs his theory in so far as it is a reminder to all regarding the importance of ethics in (intercultural) human interactions. The analysis of cultural knowledge will mainly refer to the critique of Levinas on knowledge gathering in terms of (cultural) representations. However, a thorough understanding of his philosophy is necessary in order to follow his critique. The philosophy of Levinas is introduced in the literature review. The researcher will also integrate the main points of his approach in the analysis of cultural knowledge.

The analyzed data in this paper mainly consists of cultural knowledge itself. The paper will analyze the main research in the field and cite authors who have discussed the purpose of cultural knowledge. Further qualitative data was obtained from questionnaires and interviews with people who are extensively exposed to intercultural settings in their daily work and/or have learned about cultural knowledge in ICT or at the university. The interviews will serve to illustrate the arguments made. Hence they are not supposed to lead to any new insights. Rather they are applied to serve as illustrations and “prove” the points made since they show how cultural knowledge is understood and applied in practice. A thorough description of the data used in this paper will be given in the chapter on methodology.

This thesis aims to open avenues for viewing cultural knowledge from new perspectives. The results shall help those who conceptualize, teach, study and adopt, meaning researchers, trainers and students of cultural knowledge respectively. This paper attempts to make them reflect on the concept and perhaps improve on it. If cultural knowledge will be used as extensively in the future as it has been so far, this paper shall particularly be of interest for those who teach and acquire the knowledge in order to stimulate continuous dialogue and learning regarding the phenomenon.

1.3 Research Question and sections of the analysis

A number of companies, mainly Western, intend to prepare their employees for situations where they interact with others who belong to foreign cultures. The idea of providing cultural knowledge in the framework of ICT is supposed to help these people get acquainted with the unfamiliar cultural setting and therefore “get to know” the cultural background of people they will interact with. But what does culture actually mean? Since Hofstede and his approach will be of central interest for this paper, his definition is herby cited:

Culture is “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another” (Hofstede 1991), p. 4).

Culture in his understanding is organized in groups that can be distinguished from each other according to their programmed patterns of behaviour. These specific patterns are taught to students of ICT in order to become aware of the differences between their own “programming” and that of other cultures.

Cultural knowledge aims to facilitate individuals to become familiar with other cultures. The knowledge gained shall help prevent miscommunication, conflict or failure in intercultural encounters (for example (Caligiuri et al. 2001), (Earley 1987), (Jaeger 1995)). Hence there is an interest to guarantee a smooth communication between individuals coming from different cultures. The central interest in this paper examines the claim that cultural knowledge does not only increase comprehension but also fosters respect for other cultures and their members (Day 1998). Acquiring knowledge about cultural values and habits is regarded as the foundation for one to show respect as soon as (s)he is capable to see the culture from its “vantage point”. “Non-respect” is defined as ignorance towards cultural differences. It is the intention of this paper is to critically assess whether cultural knowledge contains respectful representations that contributes or prevents interactions based on respect for cultural differences. Hence, the paper is guided by the following research question (RQ):

How does cultural knowledge represent cultures and how may this prevent rather than encourage interactions based on respect for cultural differences?

The RQ is composed of the following sub-questions:

What are the conditions that constitute the basis of cultural knowledge?

What does the post-colonial and Levinasian perspective on cultural knowledge reveal?

What are the consequences of interest for interactions based on respect?

In order to answer the RQ, the analysis of cultural knowledge will be mainly composed of three parts:

The first part will introduce cultural knowledge by describing its historical development and briefly explaining the contributions of the most important scholars. After which, the “dominant interpretation” (see deconstruction for explanation of this term) of cultural knowledge will be highlighted.

The second and main part focuses on the post-colonial perspective on cultural knowledge and outlines the limitations endemic to the discourse. The paper will analyze how PCT’s main arguments are reflected in cultural knowledge and outline the consequences accordingly in terms of the RQ.

The third part focuses on Levinasian ethics and analyzes how the philosophy of Levinas can inform the deconstruction of cultural knowledge. In that regard the paper will particularly turn to two aspects that Levinas makes us aware of. On the basis of the post-colonial as well as the Levinasian perspective, a conclusion will drawn that reflects on the RQ investigated.

1.4 Structure of the Thesis

The overall structure of the paper will be as follows:

Chapter 2 explains the methodology used in the study. This paper will contribute to critical management research and employs deconstruction as a critical reading of cultural knowledge. The data gathered for this thesis will be described in this chapter. As well as how the data will be used to critically assess cultural knowledge.

Chapter 3 gives a cohesive overview regarding the literature on PCT and Levinas. The part on PCT contains a section on the suggested solutions of PCT-scholars that aim to deal with the main criticisms outlined. These theories represent important contributions of PCT that embody valuable ideas for a constructive engagement with cultural knowledge. By way of the outline, I aim to guide the reader of this thesis towards the approach introduced by Levinas. In that regard it shall once more become clear why Levinasian ethics makes an important contribution to the analysis of cultural knowledge and to the process of answering the RQ.

Chapter 4 addresses the analysis (deconstruction) of cultural knowledge. The historical development of cultural knowledge and its main contributors are introduced prior to actual analysis. Some initial remarks on the constitution of cultural knowledge and the discussion of the terms “understanding” and “respect” represent the starting point of the deconstruction.

The researcher applies firstly PCT in the deconstruction of cultural knowledge. The main points of consideration will be the following: PCT takes the view that the West has constructed “far-off” places, meaning very foreign cultures as being wild and undeveloped. It therefore portrayed them as a threat to the West. Further, PCT criticizes the tendency to structure the world in binary oppositions since they are highly influenced by a Western perception of reality. As a consequence, the voice of the Other has been silenced. Scientific Western research understands itself as a superior knowledge system while other knowledge systems or self-understandings are excluded or not even considered (Jack, Westwood 2006). The knowledge is therefore one-sided. Last but not least PCT indicates that Western knowledge creation has undergone processes of homogenization and simplification of the object it studies. The process of representation manipulates difficult and complex material into something that can easily be grasped and controlled (Cooper 1992). The paper will discuss the consequence that such knowledge implies for individuals who have acquired it and what this means concerning the idea of interactions based on respect.

The paper will next focus on Levinas and his philosophy on ethics. His approach will illustrate that (cultural) knowledge replaces individual responsibility. Further it creates totalities that represent a closed system and therefore a limited picture of reality. Levinasian ethics suggests a way on how one can relate to difference in an ethical way and build up a relationship with one’s counterpart without falling into the “traps” of cultural knowledge.

In chapter 5 the main points of the thesis shall be briefly summarized and a conclusion will be drawn. The conclusion will also include a discussion of limitations on theory and methodology used. Further it will point to possibilities for future research.

2 Methodology

2.1 Critical Management Research

In this part of the paper all methodological considerations and the collection and analysis of qualitative data is outlined. In order to answer the RQ, the study adopts the critical approach in an attempt to make a contribution to critical management research.

Alvesson and Deetz have paid enormous attention to the research paradigm of critical management research in their book, “Doing Critical Management Research” (Alvesson, Deetz 1999). They also aimed to define the paradigm. However, they stated that there is no tight relationship between a particular theoretical framework and a certain methodology. Therefore Alvesson and Deetz proposed for critical management research

“a relatively loose framework characterized by a set of comments, reflections and possible guidelines for qualitative management research with a critical edge.”

((Alvesson, Deetz 1999), p. 2)

It is the purpose of critical research that frames the research paradigm. Critical research disrupts social reality in order to liberate it from certain dominant streams and to consequently encourage new ideas. The object of interest is usually contextualized in a wider framework so that asymmetrical relations in society are exposed. This paper uses the “framework” of PCT and Levinasian ethics to analyze and discuss cultural knowledge in terms of the RQ.

Alvesson and Deetz see in management a significant interest to govern and manage. They stated that management as a concept and category presents a social construction, which has significantly been impacted in particular by history and political motives. The interest to control and govern has driven the development of knowledge – including cultural knowledge (Alvesson, Deetz 1999). Adorno et al. claimed in the 1970s that modern discourse favours technological rationality over social life and in that way accounts for the interest of a new dominant group (Adorno, Horkheimer & Cumming 1979). Hence it is the task of critical research to reflect on Western knowledge creation and discuss to what extent it contains exclusions, concealments and silenced voices. I will analyze how these aspects are reflected in cultural knowledge and in which way streams of power interests of Western management have influenced it.

Besides the mentioned points, the study will also look at the epistemological beliefs of functionalist research. Cultural knowledge accounts for this paradigm. It believes that nature of reality consists of stable patterns and natural cause-effect laws and can therefore be generalized. The ontological belief of critical research however sees the nature of reality influenced by a variety of social, cultural and economic streams (Voce 2004). Critical research brings restrictive structures to light. In doing so it challenges the key assumption of positivist research that believes knowledge can be put into systems, reoccurs in situations and is true for a large group of people. We will see throughout this paper that cultural knowledge has been put in systems and is understood to be stable over time. This is due to the implicit requirement asking for fixation and systematization for the sake of control. Or to put it in Alvesson’s and Deetz’s words: powerful agents produce a ”frozen social reality” in order to serve certain interests ((Alvesson, Deetz 1999), p. 5).

With reference to PCT and Levinasian ethics, I will engage in a “critical reading” of cultural knowledge in order to analyse the extent to which respectful representations are manifested and therefore contribute to interactions based on respect. For the analysis deconstruction is employed, particularly ethical deconstruction as introduced by Simon Critchley.

2.2 Deconstruction

This chapter will give an introduction to “deconstruction” as developed by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930 – 2004). After which, “ethical deconstruction”, which was introduced by Simon Critchley in his work, “The Ethics of Deconstruction” will be presented ((Critchley 1999), if not stated otherwise, his book presents the reference for all of the following explanations in this section). Critchley pays close attention to Derrida’s theory of deconstruction. He considers the representation of an ethical demand as its ultimate claim since the goal and horizon towards which Derrida’s work tends is ethics. His point of view will be explained throughout this section of the chapter. To understand this, deconstruction in the Derridian sense is first discussed.

Deconstruction interrupts and gains insights into a particular text in order to reveal its blind spots and therefore open it up to new perspectives. Alvesson and Deetz indicated that deconstruction pays attention to “the dominance of a particular unity or point of view over others” ((Alvesson, Deetz 1999), p. 143). It deals with the uncovering of oppositions and denies univocal forms of knowledge. A text is seen to be dependent on hierarchical, oppositional positions and deconstruction aims to loosen them up (Kelemen, Rumens 2008). The oppositional position this paper intends to reveal is as follows: cultural knowledge claims to constitute the foundation for comprehending cultural differences. At the same time it presents itself as the foundation for respect for cultural differences. Understanding and respect are demonstrated to be in consensus with each other. However by deconstructing cultural knowledge it will be revealed that these are rather treated in hierarchical ways, meaning, one of them is ascribed more importance than the other. It will become obvious that there is what Alvesson and Deetz call “privileged understanding” (Alvesson, Deetz 1999). In the case of cultural knowledge this is accounted for by the comprehension of cultural differences for the sake of control. Respect turns into a “nice to have” attribute and is subordinated to the former.

Deconstruction does not point at an ultimate truth, but rather strives to make the author aware of the limits of his role (Derrida, Habermas & Thomassen 2006). It is opened through reading that consists mainly of two steps: first, as Derrida explains, it aims to depict a “dominant interpretation” in a text. In the case of cultural knowledge and in reference to the RQ, the dominant interpretation accounts for the idea that cultural knowledge represents cultures in a way that constitutes the foundation for understanding and at the same time respect for cultural difference. Section 4.2 will explain the “dominant interpretation” and how it is assumingly taken care of, meaning how cultural knowledge is composed to represent a foundation for respect. Furthermore multiple contexts need to be taken into consideration in order to understand the dominant interpretation. In this regard, I will particularly inquire into how the historical development and corporate environment and its corresponding conditions have led to the way cultural knowledge has been conceptualized.

The second step reveals “blind spots” within the dominant interpretation that have been “silenced” so far. Critchley further takes the view that deconstruction sees a point of otherness within a text. The latter is deconstructed in order to reveal that the point of otherness nonetheless exists. It has simply been concealed. Hence deconstruction does not point at a new ultimate truth, it rather discloses a point of otherness. In this paper the earlier mentioned term “blind spot” will be applied in order to depict the point of otherness. The revealed blind spots ultimately destabilize the stability of the dominant interpretation. The blind spots revealed to open the discourse on cultural knowledge are limitations outlined by PCT and Levinas. I will discuss the respective consequences for the individual who studies cultural knowledge in order to assess how the dominant interpretation is affected by the limitations of the concept.

This paper does not precisely focus on the deconstruction of one text but on a concept and discourse. In particular cultural dimensions as introduced by Hall, Hofstede and Trompenaars will be analyzed. In addition, the study will refer to scholars who have discussed the purpose of cultural knowledge. This needs to be done since the knowledge cannot explain its purpose by itself. Thus the concept analyzed consists of more than one “text”. It is the conviction here that a proper deconstruction will still be possible since they have been composed in the same way and aim for the same goals.

It is important to note that deconstruction does not come along with the denial of the dominant interpretation. It aims to challenge its stability in the first place, but does not question its existence per se. To put it in the context of this thesis: the dominant interpretation of cultural knowledge claims that it presents a foundation for understanding and respect at the same time. To challenge this interpretation does not involve the abrogation of the idea to deliver some sort of support (foundation) to increase understanding and develop respect for cultural differences. Most of the people interviewed in the study confirmed that some kind of help towards an understanding of other cultures is needed. However the point of deconstruction is to reveal how cultural knowledge has aimed to represent the foundation for encounters based on respect, but has derogated the same by deciding on particulars ways over others. Johnson clarifies:

“Deconstruction is not synonymous with ‘destruction’, however. It is in fact much closer to the original meaning of the word 'analysis' itself, which etymologically means ‘to undo’ - a virtual synonym for ‘to de-construct’” ((Johnson 1981), p.5)

Hence by deconstructing cultural knowledge, I do not bring “destruction” to the idea of delivering support. Despite all the effort to delve beneath a concept’s surface and point at the “blind spots”, there is still sympathy for the text (Kelemen, Rumens 2008). Deconstruction merely opens a text for blind spots that have undergone dissimulation or appropriation by a logo-centric text. It therefore does not aim to list criticisms that completely overrule the dominant interpretation.

Simon Critchley and his ideas on ethical deconstruction are hereby presented. He takes the view that deconstructive reading demands responsibility. It represents an ethical demand towards the reader of texts who “applies” deconstruction. Hence, me as the reader of cultural knowledge am encouraged to make sure that the patterns of my reading have an ethical structure. Ethics is therefore incorporated in reading and not a potential result of deconstruction. What this implies is reflected in Critchley’s understanding of ethics. Here he refers to Levinas’ conceptualization of the term. A thorough introduction to Levinasian ethics is given in the literature review. In order to understand what his approach means for the idea of deconstruction, here a few points are highlighted: Levinasian ethics frames ethics as first philosophy, meaning that it is prior to ontology. By placing ethics prior to any nature of things, Levinas does not, however, reject ontology. The same applies for the deconstruction in this paper since it does not intend to overcome the idea of delivering support for intercultural encounters. Rather it gives room for the discussion of its limits. Ethics unfolds in the process of interrupting ontology in its claim to account for universality and absolute vision.

Derrida frames the process of deconstruction as “critical reading”. Critchley suggests the term “clotural reading” for his approach of ethical deconstruction. It is the same process as critical reading and also occurs as double reading (dominant interpretation and blind spots). However it includes the question of ethics. Ethical deconstruction similarly searches for a point of otherness (blind spot) within a text. As it aims to create consciousness of and respect for the other, it also pays respect to the dominant interpretation. This means that it preserves the matter a text is composed for.

Deconstruction is merely interested in pointing to the vulnerability of a text/concept in order to enable ways towards new perspectives. It is a form of critique and analyzes,

“an understanding, which is achieved without full consideration of alternative discourses and guiding principles of social life” ((Alvesson, Deetz 1999), p. 144).

Hence, it acts as an advocate for alternative discourses and guiding principles of social life. In this paper deconstruction serves to promote the principle of respect. This is accomplished by revealing a hierarchical disparity in cultural knowledge that does not give the same importance to respect as well as to understanding for the sake of control.

A few words on the dilemma, deconstruction entails: if the critical reader seeks to point at otherness (alterity) in a text, (s)he needs to communicate, possibly write down what (s)he intends to say. But as soon as (s)he puts it into words, something is constituted, which does not respect alterity anymore. Deconstruction reflects the desire to always make alterity possible; ideally there is no final argument or absolute vision. The same accounts for me as the author of this paper, as my arguments and conclusions may appear to be final. However, in terms of (ethical) deconstruction none of my words can be considered final. Thus, the possibility of deconstruction is challenged since it is burdened with a methodological problem. Despite these concerns I will attempt to employ deconstruction since it will be of great help in this paper in dealing with the RQ.


[1] Other streams focus on binational (two particular cultures) settings or engage a multiple culture perspective (including professional culture for example). For an overview see Sackmann and Philips, S. 2004.

[2] I will state the term “the West” many times in this paper and in that regard refer to the “Western world”, meaning North America and most of the European countries.

[3] The “Other” is written with a capital letter in order to point at the Levinasian understanding of the term. An explanation what this means will follow.

[4] The word “re-sponsibly” is cut in order to emphasize Levinas’ idea to respond (to answer, react) to the Other in a responsive way.


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Institution / Hochschule
Copenhagen Business School Handelshøjskolen – Intercultural Management, Business, Language and Culture
unterschiede dekonstruktion postkoloniale theorie emmanuel levinas hofstede



Titel: Cultural Knowledge