The melting pot vs. the salad bowl: a call to explore regional cross-cultural differences and similarities within the U.S.A.

Author:Bertsch, Andy


Culture impacts nearly every aspect of business, including managerial decision making, planning, organizing, leadership, human resource management, marketing, and consumer behavior to name only a few. Researchers within the field of management have made significant contributions in terms of inter-national cross-cultural studies (Adler 2008; Hofstede 1980a, 2001; Hofstede and Hofstede 2005; House, et al. 2004; Kirkman, et al. 2006; Trompenaars 1993a; Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner 1998). These same researchers have called for intra-national or regional studies based on validated models used in cross-cultural research. Despite this call, little research has been performed on regional or intra-national cultural comparisons within countries.

This call for intra-country cultural research recognizes that the vast size of some countries, along with immigration patterns, and varying sources of cultural influence can result in regional cultures. Alesina (2003) states that geographic borders that define nations are a manmade institution and, as such, should not be taken as part of the natural landscape. In fact, even the geographic nature of a country is man-made. Alesina goes on to discuss how borders change with relative frequency. In 1946 there were 76 independent countries in the world. At the time of Alesina's article in 2003, there were 193. Is it reasonable to assume that the cultural impact of a Russian child growing up in Moscow (which, according to Figes (2002), has received much of its cultural heritage from the West) would be the same as the cultural impact of a Russian child growing up in a region influenced by the Buriats or the Tatars? The significant size of Russia would likely result in regional cultures or national subcultures. Similarly, would a French Canadian school-aged child growing up in Quebec have the same cultural nurturing as a Canadian school-aged child growing up on the other side of Canada in Vancouver, British Columbia? There have been several critics of past research that treats larger societies as one single homogeneous culture (Kirkman, et al. 2006; Lenartowicz, et al. 2003; Sivakumar and Nakata 2001). It is easy to see the validity of such critiques. Huntington (1993) and Schwartz (1999) are two examples of how the international management literature has treated national cultures. Collectively, it has been offered that political boundaries do not necessarily correspond to the shared cultural boundaries of societies. National cultures seldom reach 100% homogeneity (Holt 2007).

Regional Cultures in the U.S.A.

Within the U.S., Garreau (1982) offers the concept that the U.S. culture is not homogeneous but that the North American continent is actually segmented into distinctly different regions. It stands to reason that Scandinavians and Germans who settled the upper Great Plains of Garreau's "Breadbasket" may very well have had a cultural impact, transcending the generations from settlement to contemporary times, that is significantly different from the ethnic makeup and history of the regional culture of Garreau's mid-Atlantic "Foundry" or southern "Dixie" states. Borders, at least as they define the collective nature of the United States, may very well be arbitrary when it comes to the impact (or at the very least, the existence) of local or regional cultures. Why is this relevant? As Garreau (1982) stated concerning sub-nations of North America: "Each nation has a distinct prism through which it views the world."

Much of the published research treats the cultures within an entire nation homogeneously. One would be hard pressed to believe that the vast size of the United States, along with immigration patterns, settlement, dates of statehood and the like would lead to one homogeneous culture. Yet, the literature seems to suggest that there is, indeed, only one collective American culture (e.g. the melting pot) that has been studied in the management literature. Other than demographic studies (e.g. Jewish culture, Black culture, generational studies, etc), there has been little done in the realm of cross-cultural studies based on geographic or regional comparisons within the U.S.A.

Indeed, the international management literature treats the United States as a culturally homogeneous society. Based on the assumption that this is incorrect and that Garreau's (1982) concept of distinct cultural regions in North America has value (e.g. the salad bowl), this paper suggests the need to explore further Garreau's sub-nation hypothesis. Specifically, researchers should explore similarities and differences between samples of managers drawn from different regions within the U.S.A. Such research should explore perceived values as held by adults born, raised, and currently residing in different regions within the United States. To help create hypotheses in such cross-cultural comparisons, criteria such as population density, wealth per capita, latitude, ethnicity, immigration patterns, religion, and length of time since initial settlement are important determinants (Hofstede 1980a, 2001; House, et al. 2004; Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner 1998).

Melting Pot vs. Salad Bowl

As editors of a compilation of anthropological, psychological, and business works in 2000 titled Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, Harrison and Huntington (2000) offer discussions of black culture, gender-based cultural comparisons, the culture of certain groups who have something socially in common such as homelessness, membership in a gang, race, etc. Glazer (2000) suggests that discussions of cultural differences in the United States have been avoided because such discussions may communicate the idea that some cultures are better than others, at least in the sense that they do more to promote human well-being. Glazer implies that the risks of pursuing cultural comparisons, at least within the United States, may be greater than the gains and may further be of little long-term significance as the supposed melting pot model of the U.S. tends to attenuate cultural differences (Harrison and Huntington 2000, p. xxxi). Additionally, researchers have concluded that some immigrants can be acculturated to a new dominant culture yet hold on to their own cultural identity (Ogden, et al. 2004). Some may give the impression they have become assimilated into the host culture but, in fact, are simply modifying their behavior to fit in (Shackleton and Ali 1990).

Barlow, et. al. (2000) mentions that European immigrant groups may identify themselves as being American because the United States is their chosen country of residence. However, they may still not want to assimilate because, in doing so, they might lose valued cultural characteristics from their countries of origin. This desire to hold on to a native culture is, in turn, instilled in the younger generations resulting in greatly resisted dilution and change despite prolonged exposure to the host culture. Culture develops in the course of social interaction, is taught from early infancy, and results in deeply held values (Hansen and Brooks 1994; Hofstede 1991; Hofstede 2000; Weisner 2000).

Hofstede (1985) hypothesizes that Latin European and Mediterranean countries' pattern of large Power Distance and strong Uncertainty Avoidance was set in Roman days as all these countries are the cultural heirs of Emperor Augustus. Additionally, modern day Latin American cultural patterns are a result of the merger of 16th century colonists' values and those values which were prevailing in the local civilizations at the time of colonization resulting in hybrid cultures between immigrants' cultures and host cultures. Hofstede (1985) concludes with several questions. One most interesting and applicable to the thesis of this paper is, "To what extent are problems of migrants and minorities transferred to the next generation (if they remain in the host country) and are their children stigmatized or integrated into the host culture?" Expanding on this question from Hofstede, several questions are relevant to this call for further research: (i) "Is there an eventual hybrid in the local region's culture influenced by the country of origin of the ancestral immigrants?"; (ii) "Can it then be hypothesized that the modern day regional cultures within the U.S.A. are derived from the respective immigrants (along with influence from American Culture) to make a unique local hybrid of cultures?"; (iii) "Are the local modern day cultures geographically unique?"; (iv) "Are the local cultures an amalgamation of the predominant groups' countries of origin?"

The concept of immigrants creating a hybrid culture within the host country is, at times, supported within anthropological studies. For example, Glazer (2000) suggests that cultural descendents of every ethnic or racial group now in the United States may no longer represent their ancestor's native cultures; while at the same time, they may not be representative of the "American" culture either. An American visitor to Ireland will not encounter the same culture as the Irish of Boston, MA. Therefore, culture in a large society (e.g. modern day "U.S.A.") must be disaggregated to the very specific variants that characterize the ancestral immigrants' native cultures (Glazer 2000).

Many social scientists believe that the world is converging toward a single core global culture, citing interracial marriages, religious conversions, and global travel as primary reasons that people of one culture are adopting behaviors and practices of other cultures. In this regard, it has been said that one can more easily adopt a new culture even if they cannot change their race or ethnicity. At the same time, social scientists agree that people are becoming more aware of their own inherent culture and such local interpretations are becoming more popular, resulting in an increasing resistance to cultural change and assimilation. In effect, culture does...

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