SR article

Cultural Analysis

In the book by Otto Kroesen, “Planetary Responsibility: An Ethics of Timing” (see 'Literature'), he describes seven dimensions, introduced by Hofstede and Trompenaars, in which cultures differentiate: Collectivism vs. individualism, hierarchy vs. egalitarianism, uncertainty avoidance vs. voluntarism, synchronic vs. sequential, status by position/tradition vs. status by achievement/labour and diffuse vs. specific. We will discuss the dimensions that we found relevant for our project.

Collectivism vs. Individualism

In a collectivistic society, people act based on the needs of the entire group (family, friends, tribe, etc.) while in individualistic societies, individuals think mostly of their own needs. In Valaramkunnu, the village we’re going to for the project, the men are individualistic. In general, the men do daily labour and most of the money they earn will be used for buying alcohol. On the other hand, the women are more collectivistic. Most women stay at home to take care of the household and the children. If the prototype is working and producing lemongrass oil, we need to take into account that the men and women think differently. If we want the project to succeed, we need to convince the men that they don’t spend the earnings on things like alcohol. This can hopefully be done by getting to know them and starting a dialogue about the long-term benefits. Another approach is to convince women to work on the project. The biggest problem with this approach is that the women take care of the household and don’t have the time to work during the day. Either way, the women need to be a little bit more individualistic or the men more collectivistic if this project wants to succeed.


Hierarchy vs. Egalitarianism

To come into a small village as Valaramkunnu as European students, it is imaginable that (some of) the villagers are not interested in the project. The people that we will encounter are older than we are, which, in Indian society, gives them a higher status, and probably have been working on the land their entire lives. You can imagine that they won’t just accept anything two students, without any experience of working on a farm, for example. The challenge for us is to convince them of the fact that we have their best interest in mind and we have the knowledge to back up our plans.


Uncertainty avoidance vs. voluntarism

This is a cultural barrier we might run into during our project. Since the farmers in Valaramkunnu have been working on the fields for generations, they might find it scary to suddenly start a new occupation, that being the distillation of lemongrass oil. They have never done it before and aren’t sure of the consequences. We will have to try to make them see the long-term benefits of the project, and that what might be felt as uncertain now, can bring much more stability than working on the fields, which is a very uncertain source of income. On the other hand, we also have to be patient with the farmers and try to understand their hesitance. Coming from Europe, we are excited to work on this project, to try something new and in the end, we don’t have much to lose from this project. For the villagers, this project means something completely different than for us. It is normal that it might seem invasive and scary to them at first. This is why patience and communication is key. We shouldn’t be too pushy with our plans.


Synchronic vs. Sequential

Being European students, we are very used to having a certain time planning every day and being under pressure to get things done. In the village, however, people have a completely different rhythm. Their days are less predictable and less planned out. People live much more on a day-to-day basis and therefore manage time and tasks differently. This could cause for misunderstandings and delays on our project. The most important thing here is to be understanding of this and adapt to each other. We shouldn’t rush through the project, since this could cause irritations on both sides and end up less efficient. The best idea would be to meet in the middle: We have to be patient and make very clear appointments and agreements. Asking whether we will meet “ 10 AM Indian time” or “10 AM European time” could be an effective and humorous way to make sure you’re on the same page. For certain activities, we need to consider that it will take more time than initially planned, focussing on the effectiveness of the activity and not on the speed. We are positive that with time, when mutual trust and understanding has been built, that teamwork will be possible and that the villagers will work hard as well.


Status by position/tradition vs. Status by achievement/labour


This is an issue that will most likely play a role in our project. For us, it is normal that you will gain recognition for your work. However, in India, your status is often determined by other factors. First, you have the caste system; of which the presence is not too strong in Valaramkunnu compared to other regions, however it is still part of the culture. If you’re born in one of the lowest castes, your chance of gaining a high social status is pretty small. Your family roots determine your profession and your opportunities. This can cause for complications during our project, since the people appointed to the project by the village might not be the most suitable for the job. We have to realize that we can’t just change the structure of their society, so we will have to try work with whomever they appoint to the project and adapt to them and try to create good teamwork. If we spot a very qualified person that generally doesn’t have a high status within their society, we can try incorporate this person into the project by giving them a smaller role, and try to make the locals realize how the most important thing is good work and dedication, however, this is something that can only be proven in hindsight so we have to be patient with this.

Secondly, women generally have a lower status than men. This can be a problem since we have a woman on the team, and in Europe, this doesn’t have an influence on her role in the project. However, in India, men might assume that she is less qualified and educated than the male participant. This is something we can’t get frustrated about and that we have to accept. The key is for the European woman to be discrete and not come on too strong. She has to accept that the villagers will always go to the men for questions or advice. By remaining in the background, but delivering input and hard work, often by communicating through her male European group members, the locals will realize with time that she is just as qualified and they can thus also learn from our culture, that involving women can be beneficial as well.


Specific – Diffuse

This dimension measures how far people get involved in each other’s life space. In specific-oriented cultures, personal and professional lives will be clearly distinct while in diffuse-oriented cultures, these lines are more blurred. Often, diffuse-oriented businesses produce less of a turnover. Since the tribes are such small communities, there is a big likelihood that working conditions will be rather diffuse, meaning that the people know each other well and will not only see each other as colleagues but also as friends or family. This can be positive in terms of trust, but can also cause complications if personal issues get mixed up in the professional relations. This is not really something we can do anything about in this project, however we can try to communicate to them how much the whole community can benefit from this project, and hope that this will persuade them to settle any personal issues outside of the workplace.

Even though working conditions will probably be rather diffuse internally, we expect working conditions between ourselves and the Indians to be rather specific. We are Westerners coming from Europe, and so they will be more distant and hesitant towards us. On top of that we can’t communicate with them easily since we don’t speak the same language. If they do show interest in our personal lives, we must understand that this is part of their culture to be curios about this, and we are definitely willing to become friendly with them to a certain extent and tell them about ourselves and our background if this means building a good working relationship with the locals.



Otto Kroesen, Planetary Responsibility: An Ethics of Timing. Wipf and Stock, 2014. Chapters 1, 6 & 7