The World’s Cultures, Mapped

Utilizing the results of the World Values Survey (WVS), one of the world’s leading sources on human beliefs and values, political scientists Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan and Christian Welzel of Germany’s Luephana University created the following “culture map”, a unique attempt to categorize and understand the world’s many unique cultures and societies.

In addition to categorizing countries by shared religious, linguistic, or cultural attributes, the map takes into account four sets of values:

Traditional values, which stress the “importance of religion, parent-child relationships, and authority”. These would be socially conservative positions in the U.S., such as strong patriotic and nationalist sentiment and opposition to divorce, abortion, and euthanasia.

Secular-rational values, which in contrast reflect more progressive and liberal attitudes towards these issues, and are less deferential to religion and historical norms.

Survival values, which prioritize economic stability, order, and physical security, and are characterized by low levels of trust and tolerance.

Self-expression values, which prioritize environmentalism, gender equality, pluralism, and human rights.

Citing the WVS, Business Insider offers a breakdown of the main trends:

A somewhat simplified analysis is that following an increase in standards of living, and a transit from development country via industrialization to post-industrial knowledge society, a country tends to move diagonally in the direction from lower-left corner (poor) to upper-right corner (rich), indicating a transit in both dimensions.

However, the attitudes among the population are also highly correlated with the philosophical, political and religious ideas that have been dominating in the country. Secular-rational values and materialism were formulated by philosophers and the left-wing politics side in the French revolution, and can consequently be observed especially in countries with a long history of social democratic or socialistic policy, and in countries where a large portion of the population have studied philosophy and science at universities. Survival values are characteristic for eastern-world countries and self-expression values for western-world countries. In a liberal post-industrial economy, an increasing share of the population has grown up taking survival and freedom of thought for granted, resulting in that self-expression is highly valued.

For example, Morocco, Jordan, and Bangladesh (all Islamic countries) score high in traditional and survival values, while the U.S., Canada, and Ireland (all English-speaking countries) score high in traditional and self-expression values.

Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Moldova (all Orthodox countries) score high in secular-rational and survival values, while Sweden, Denmark, and Switzerland (all protestant Europe countries) score high in secular-rational and self-expression values.

In essence, both material conditions and ideological development, as well as their interactions with one another, lead to cultural change, often in predictable ways.

For example, most societies with a secular-rational worldview are wealthy and socially stable. Industrialization, followed by a post-industrial shift to a service and knowledge based economy, seems to erode traditional and religious values.

However, when such socioeconomic conditions are combined with Confucian values, as is the case in East Asia, an emphasis on order and security remain, just as they would in, say, Islamic societies that are more religious as well as more law and order oriented.

By contrast, when these conditions are combined with the ideas of Protestant Christianity, which is an increasingly more liberal and cultural identity than a religious one, then self expression and civil liberties count for a lot more.

In short, culture reflects a constant and dynamic interaction between all sorts of forces and conditions, from the state of economic development to the popularity and influence of certain political or religious ideologies.

As one can imagine, such a complex matter is difficult to condense in a single blog post, so I recommend you check out Inglehart’s and Welzel’s 2005 Foreign Policy article about the topic, or read their book published the same year, “Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy“, which I look forward to getting started with soon. It’s all pretty neat stuff, and very relevant in an era of growing cross-cultural relations and interactions.

What are your thoughts?


Source: Business Insider

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s