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One of the courses I’ve been teaching this semester is an upper-level seminar on Postcolonial Literature, mainly books and films from British/Commonwealth and former British colonies.

Nita’s Wide Angle View of India posted this interesting summary of a comparative study of “cultural variables”:

Hofstede laid out certain ‘dimensions’ of culture which he used to compare different nations. These “dimensions” are not individual traits…but simply “averages” or “tendencies” of whole groups. The Hofstede dimensions are as follows:

  • Power Distance (PD) The attitude of people towards differences in power and wealth …countries with a great power distance will have strict hierarchies and this will be accepted by those in the lower levels of the hierarchy.
  • Individualism Collectivism (IC) This measures the ability to live in groups or choose ones own path, regardless of what the group/community is thinking or doing. Individual achievement is highly valued.
  • Masculinity (MF) This measures a culture’s “masculine” traits like competitiveness, aggression and giving importance to material things and “feminine” traits like sensitiveness, empathy, importance given to quality of life. This masculine/feminine terminology has also been dubbed as Quantity of Life vs. Quality of Life. […]
  • Uncertainty Avoidance (UA) This dimension (added later by Hofstede) shows how people react to uncertainty in their environment. This dimension also shows the level of tolerance in a society for differences

Where does your culture or the culture where you grew up fall on the these scales? But note the possible exceptions and criticisms of these hypotheses, footnoted at the end of the post.

In case anyone’s interested the Postcolonial Lit seminar, three intrepid explorers*, has read:

  • Possession, by A.S. Byatt (England)
  • Anthills of the Savannah, by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)
  • The Secret River, by Kate Grenville (Australia)
  • The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy (India)
  • Running in the Family and Anil’s Ghost, by Michael Ondaatje (Sri Lanka and Canada)
  • Foreign Bodies, by Hwee Hwee Tan (Singapore/Netherlands/USA)
  • Tsotsi (film–South Africa)
  • Lagaan (film–India)
  • My Brilliant Career (film–Australia)
  • The Dish (film–Australia)

In retrospect, I think (and students agreed) I would have chosen Rabbit-Proof Fence or Whale Rider as one of the films representing Australia/New Zealand. Nevertheless, overall it has been a horizon-expanding semester. Also, I chose Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, because I figured most of us had already read Things Fall Apart. Anthills is so oblique, however, and depends much more on the reader’s being fairly familiar with modern African culture. We all agreed that re-reading Things might have worked better.

*The small size makes the class, officially, three independent studies meeting simultaneously. Still worthwhile, though.