From Cultural Models to Cultural Categories: a Framework For Cultural Analysis

Nitish Singh, Saint Louis University
[ to cite ]:
Nitish Singh (2002) ,"From Cultural Models to Cultural Categories: a Framework For Cultural Analysis", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 239-240.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 239-240


Nitish Singh, Saint Louis University

In an attempt to analyze the phenomenon of culture, researchers (Hall 1976; Hofstede 1980; Trompenaars 1994) have proposed cultural categories, which can in some way operationalize and measure culture. But one limitation of all these cultural categorization and cultural measurement studies is that they categorize and measure culture only on basis of dominant cultural value orientations. In fact, according to Strauss and Quinn (1997) cultural meanings are created and maintained by interaction between an extrapersonal world of objects and symbols and the intrapersonal world of individual’s mind. Thus, to understand and analyze culture in totality we need to take into account both the intrapersonal world of cultural values and cognitive structures of mind and the extrapersonal world of cultural symbols and artifacts. The main objective of this paper is to propose a conceptual framework, which derives cultural categories by analyzing culture at perceptual, behavioral, and symbolic levels of cultural formation, so as to provide a broader and more complete framework for researchers in marketing to analyze culture.

In an attempt to understand how culture is formed, shared, and interpreted, the paper compares and contrasts various schools of cultural thought, and proposes a synthetic approach to study culture. The synthetic approach proposes to study culture both at intrapersonal and extrapersonal level of cultural formation. The paper argues that knowledge is organized in the mind in form of schemas, or simplified mental structures. These schemas of the worldly knowledge cause us to react to certain situations in certain ways and perceive the world in accordance. Schemas lead to emergence of cultural forms and cultural propositions, which are basic cultural filters used by individual’s to make sense of the surrounding environment and society. When complex cultural schemas are infused with feelings, emotions, and positive and negative reinforcements, they become well established and motivate us to act or behave in certain way. Thus complex cultural schemas or models backed by emotions and feelings and powered by motivations lead to the emergence of cultural values and beliefs. Beliefs, values and norms that are intersubjectively shared, tend to be transmitted from generation to generation and acquire public meaning and stability over time. Thus to preserve, propagate, understand, and establish generational norms, beliefs, values, and ideas, private matters are given public form and portrayed as symbols, codes, texts, and traditions of the society.

In summary, the framework proposed in thi study analyzes culture at various stages of cultural formation, and categorizes culture at three distinct levels.

The Perceptual Level: According to Hutchins (1980) and Quinn and Holland (1987), propositional schemas and image schemas are two categories in which knowledge may be cast. Propositional schemas specify the basic concepts and the casual relationship between concepts (Hutchins, 1980; Quinn and Holland 1987), while image schemas account for the visual inputs and kinesthetic information (Quinn and Holland 1987). Propositional and image schemas can be operationalized in terms of 'forms’ and 'propositions’. According to Goodenough (1981), forms help individual in a society to discern directly with senses. Form categories can include color, shape, taste, and other perceptual forms. While 'Propositions’ help us to see the casual relations between the forms. According to Goodenough (1981) these 'propositions’ can be relations of inclusion, exclusion, space relations, temporal relations, semantic relations, and symbolic relations. Thus at perceptual level culture can be analyzed by studying forms and propositions of the society. Some examples of cultural variables, which can be studied at this level of analysis are Language structures, language translatability, color perceptions, color categories, ecological perceptual styles, field independence, and orthographically based perceptual differences.

The Behavioral Level: In cognitive anthropology there is a consensus that complex schemas and cultural models have the ability to instigate action (D’Andrade 1992; McClelland 1951; Quinn and Holland 1987). According to Quinn and Holland (1987), higher-level cultural models may carry motivational force, which in turn influences an individual’s behavior. Thus, when the cultural knowledge and beliefs become a part of inner sense of a being they become goal driven and acquire motivational force. These cultural beliefs and values are then reflected in a sense of responsibility in the system (Dreysus 1984), and needs or obligations to do something (D’Andrade 1984). To study cultural phenomenon at this level of "cultural models + motivational force", is to analyze the directive force of beliefs and values cherished by a particular culture. According to Pollay (1983) values determine virtually all types of behaviors, from simple purchasing to religious ideologies. Thus, at this level of schematic analysis, cultural values are proposed as an operational measure. Some cultural variables which can be studied at this level of behavioral analysis are the cultural values proposed by Hofstede (1980) and Hofstede and Bond (1988), a set of forty-two common cultural value appeals in advertising developed by Pollay (1983), Cultural Values proposed by Hall (1976), and Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961).

The Symbolic level: The extrapersonal world of objects, events, and structures acquire meaning in a cultural context because they serve as a conduit of cultural information from one generation to another. Furthermore, according to Hutchins (1995), when people are faced with tasks, problems, and challenges, they invent culturally shared solutions called "mediating structure." Such mediating structures can be preserved in the form of artifacts, symbols, routines and systems of social interaction. Thus at the symbolic level of cultural analysis the cultural phenomenon is represented in form of signs and symbols of the society. Some symbolic variables that can be studied at this level of cultural analysis include, codes of the society, metonyms, myths, color symbolism and other socio-culturally determined symbols, mores, taboos, rules, rituals, ceremonies, and different forms of semiotic structures.

In conclusion, an attempt was made in this paper to provide a holistic framework for cultural analysis so that future researchers in marketing and advertising would not be restricted to a few standardized cultural value orientations to study culture, but also might take into account the perceptual, behavioral, and symbolic dimensions of culture.


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