Whiteness Studies in Cross-cultural Management Research

There are very few American studies of American culture, particularly in management studies, which are specifically introspective. That is, quite often the ‘American culture’ is taken for granted in management studies of organizations in America, with an assumption that this is what is done everywhere. As cross-cultural management studies has grown, particularly in the United States as a sub-discipline of management studies, these views may be questioned by studies that investigate if particular theories, principles or practices work in other countries (quite often with reference to Hofstede in terms of exploring the differences between the US and other countries being studied). Yet ‘American-ness’ is still very much taken for granted. Similarly, there are few contemporary studies by management scholars from other countries that specifically examine American management from a (cross)cultural perspective. In other words, American culture is largely ‘invisible’.

This is not in itself strange, as America is a dominant economy within the world, and most management academics are in the US. But the assumption in management studies of a unified ‘culture’ is curious given the history of the US, despite the ‘melting pot’ thesis. One of the few explicitly cross-cultural studies of America, Edward C. Stewart and Milton J Bennett’s (1991) American Cultural Patterns (Intercultural Press) feels able to describe the American culture as an homogeneous whole, for example: ‘Americans naturally assume that each person is not only a separate biological entity, but also a unique psychological being and a singular member of the social order. Deeply ingrained and seldom questioned, the dominant American self, in the form of individualism, pervades action and intrudes into each domain of activity.’ (p. 129).

It is these types of assumptions, of invisible cultures, that have been challenged by Whiteness studies. For example Monica McDermott and Frank L Samson write in their article ‘White racial and ethnic identity in the United States’ (Annual Review of Sociology, 2005, 31: 245–61):

‘Much of the research on white racial identity during the past ten years has focused on how whiteness, and the privileges associated with whiteness, remain invisible to many whites, especially those with limited interracial contact (….). Instead, whiteness is normative (….), an unexamined default racial category. Although many nonwhites, especially African Americans, are confronted with their race on a daily basis (….), many whites do not think of themselves as really having a race at all. In this respect, white is an unmarked identity, such as heterosexual or middle-aged (….)’. (p. 248: original authors extensive references in this quotations have been removed).

Ruth Frankenberg in her essay ‘Mirage of an unmarked whiteness’  (in  B.B. Rasmussen, E. Klinenberg, I.J. Nexica, M. Wray M, Eds. 2001. The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, pp. 72-96) accentuates the situational nature of whiteness, noting that changes in American society has brought racial groups more into contact with each other, urging that the idea of whiteness as invisible should be changed. America, like Britain and countries in Western Europe have changed significantly over the last few decades, rendering both the concept of one American identity, and the basis of cross-cultural studies such as Hofstede’s, GLOBE and others almost facile. It is interesting that in the more recent GLOBE study, South African samples are taken of both White and Black, and in Canada samples are taken from English and French speakers, yet the much larger USA is taken as one sample.  In the 2000 US census, out of a total population of nearly 249 million, 75.1 percent said they were white or Caucasian, 21.36 per cent (60 million) claimed German descent, 12.3 percent said they were black or of African America descent, and 12.5 percent Hispanic. Three point six percent were Asian (US Census Bureau)

Deborah J Schildkraut in her article ‘Defining American Identity in the Twenty-First Century: How Much “There” is There?’ (in The Journal of Politics,  2007, 69 (3): 597–615) suggests that multidimensional studies of American identity are lacking, and are only focused on two components: ‘liberalism (America as a land of freedom and opportunity) and ethnoculturalism (America as a nation of white Protestants)’ (p.597).  Although her empirical study appears to support the melting pot thesis, other studies do not. Take Douglas S. Massey and Magaly R Sanchez’s study for example, described in their article ‘Latino and American identities as perceived by immigrants’ (in Quarterly Sociology, 2007, 30(1): 81-107) which found that Latin American immigrants see a great contrast in the content of the two identities of whites and Latinos. They view American identity as involving bigness and power and saw (white) Americans as being in constant motion and in a hurry, competitive, commercial, cold, distant and impersonal. They saw Latino (American) identity as focused on people and on intimate social relationships. Perhaps too much emphasis shouldn’t be put on these fairly limited studies, yet they attempt to render culture more visible: not in a provocative way, but in a constructive way that provides a critique of the assumption of (white) cultural invisibility, and that whiteness is normative. Frankenberg (2001) points out that when we say ‘American’ we assume ‘white’. The term ‘race’ has tended not to mean ‘white’. In management studies, the norm has been American, white, middle class. As a starting point and normative assumption is it what Bent Flyvbjerg in Making Social Science Matter (2001Cambridge University Press) has criticized the social sciences for doing:  taking a view from nowhere, when we really need to recognize that we are taking a view from somewhere, and attempt to make this explicit. In this respect we might take a lead from Whiteness studies.


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