Abstract: How to Describe and Understand Multicultural Management: From Essentialism to History and Anthropology of Business Cultures and Practices?

Eric Godelier


Commentators regularly attribute the failure of mergers and acquisition to cultural differences. The Daimler and Chrysler M&A failed because "German Rigidity" and "American Brutality" were incompatible. Many business academics or managers use the concept of culture to provide explanations for multicultural issues. From the perspective of anthropology or cultural history, most of the so-called cultural explanations can be seen as stereotypes or even racism. Nevertheless, the view is taught in business schools, used by consultants in multicultural management, and by managers involved in business relations with foreign people or companies. Despite its methodological and intellectual falseness, one must understand the origins of the concept's success in the management world. This presentation analyzes concepts of culture in business studies. It will underline the need to employ history and anthropology to describe and provide rigourous concepts and methodologies to analyze the influence of culture on corporate and management lives. This requires at least three steps: 1) The design of basic assumptions. We must agree that culture has a deep impact on management practices and even on tools and instruments, which are not only technical, but also cultural. It imposes modesty, long-term observation, and, because of its complexity, the need for a real multi-disciplinary understanding in order to go beyond cliches and essentialist approaches. 2) An effort of definition. After a long study of management books dealing with culture, I find that, though they realize the difficulty and complexity of this concept, most of them propose a single and simple definition mainly based on an essentialist approach. 3) awareness of bias attached to words, people, professional status, and business problems. The main issue is to take conscious note that, with the same "official position and status," people from different cultures and communities have not followed the same trajectory. This is why history is so important in multicultural management studies.