The Lewis Model of Culture

As humanity rapidly continues its assent into a truly global community, it is imperative that we make sense of the many cultures and societies that will inevitably interact, engage with one another, and even clash.

One interesting approach to making sense of our multicultural world is the Lewis Model, devised by British linguist, polyglot, and world traveler Richard D. Lewis.  Presented in his 1996 book, “When Cultures Collide“, it offers a roadmap of the world based on the general “national characteristics” of particular countries — their beliefs, values, behaviors, mannerisms, and prejudices.

Explicitly cautious about avoiding stereotypes and neglecting to acknowledge individual and sub-national exceptions, the Lewis Model organizes countries based on their relationship to three categories:

Linear-actives — those who plan, schedule, organize, pursue action chains, do one thing at a time. Germans and Swiss are in this group.

Multi-actives — those lively, loquacious peoples who do many things at once, planning their priorities not according to a time schedule, but according to the relative thrill or importance that each appointment brings with it. Italians, Latin Americans and Arabs are members of this group.

Reactives — those cultures that prioritize courtesy and respect, listening quietly and calmly to their interlocutors and reacting carefully to the other side’s proposals. Chinese, Japanese and Finns are in this group.

Here is a full breakdown of each category:



With these details in mind, here is the world according to the Lewis Model:


Moreover, Lewis argues, perhaps provocatively, that these attributes are largely immutable, even when material conditions or ideological paradigms change:

The behavior of people of different cultures is not something willy-nilly. There exist clear trends, sequences and traditions. Reactions of Americans, Europeans, and Asians alike can be forecasted, usually justified and in the majority of cases managed. Even in countries where political and economic change is currently rapid or sweeping (Russia, China, Hungary, Poland, Korea, Malaysia, etc.) deeply rooted attitudes and beliefs will resist a sudden transformation of values when pressured by reformists, governments or multinational conglomerates.

This is in contrast to another culture map I shared in a previous post, that of Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, which argues that cultures emerge from the interaction of several dynamic and changing factors, both material and ideological — for example, high socioeconomic development combined with historic Protestant Christian norms creates societies that value secularism, reason, and individual self-expression.

Granted, both maps are very different in structure and categorization, but it is interesting to try and compare their interpretation of certain countries and regions.


What are your thoughts about these two guides to the world’s cultures?



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