The cultural boundedness of theory & practice in HRD

McGuire, David and O'Donnell, D and Garavan, T and Saha, S and Murphy, J (2001) The cultural boundedness of theory & practice in HRD. In: Global Human Resource Management Conference, June 2001, Barcelona. (Submitted)

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The impact of the forces of globalisation on managerial practices across national boundaries has renewed interest in examining the degree to which culture impacts on the effectiveness of such practices. Increased employee interaction with global customers and the growth in cross-cultural training and international assignments demands the development of an ever wider range of employee skills. While research exists on the role of culture in the areas of recruitment, organisational socialisation and training transfer, there is a critical lack of theoretical rigour related to the impact of cultural issues in the field of human resource development (HRD). Culture is a highly complex and intangible concept. Hofstede (1981) quotes Hall (1959) who noted that “possibly one of the many reasons why the culture concept has been resisted is that it throws doubts on many established beliefs. Fundamental beliefs ... are shown to vary widely from one culture to the next. It is easier to avoid the idea of the culture concept than to face up to it.” We argue here that cultural influences may affect not only a professional’s implicit concept of what constitutes effective practice, but may also affect researchers’ explicit theories. At its core, culture encompasses a set of fundamental values that distinguishes one group from another and these values can act as a strong determinant of managerial ideology that consequently affects both HR practice and performance (Laurent, 1983). It is probable, therefore, that much of the existing literature on HRD and related domains may be as culturally bounded as are the actual processes, procedures and practices of language, learning and HRD in particular contexts. This is the argument at the heart of this exploratory paper. With increasing globalisation, e-marketplaces, and intense competition a dawning awareness is emerging of the centrality of cultural issues and a greater acceptance of the fact that strong cultural traditions have their own incommensurable criteria of the true and the false, the productive and the unproductive. Contra this acceptance of relativism and an increased focus on contextualism there is also a resurgence of universalist tendencies, driven by the same forces of globalisation, a certain modicum of ideology, and by the internet and e-business in particular. The convergence-divergence debate continues to have relevance in the field of HRD. In this paper we explore some of the reasons underlying the increasing importance being placed on cultural issues by multinational companies. We touch on a number of theoretical and epistemological debates in looking at how culture is increasingly viewed as a potential source of competitive advantage and the convergence–divergence debate is reviewed in the context of societal, critical and globalisation theories. We draw no firm conclusions as this is a tentative attempt to locate various positions and boundaries, including our own, on the universalism-relativism continuum.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions: School of Arts, Social Sciences and Management > Business, Enterprise & Management
Date Deposited: 16 Feb 2009 11:34
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2017 15:37


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