Culture, an excuse? A critical analysis of essentialist assumptions in cross-cultural management research and practice

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The essentialist cross-cultural management paradigm legitimizes a discourse that undermines

the agency of people with different cultural backgrounds. The assumptions that underlie the

essentialist conceptualization of culture are investigated from an attribution theory perspective.

The assumptions are largely based on making culture a valid predictor of action at the expense of

the actor’s agency. The manifestation of the essentialist discourse in an international management

context is investigated through an attribution theory framework on project professionals’

accounts of intercultural encounters in large-scale construction projects. The analysis shows

that culture is used as the cause of actions but also as a means to excuse that actor for his actions.

The analysis further shows how the essentialist conceptualization of culture creates a framework

for using culture as both a cause of actions and an excuse. The article provides a nonessentialist

conceptualization of culture and shows how the assumptions it rests on undermine the

assumption that culture is a valid predictor of action. The essentialist assumption of culture can

shroud the issues that underlie the challenges currently attributed to culture. Therefore,

managers are encouraged to move from an essentialist conceptualization to a nonessentialist

conceptualization of culture.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)293–308
JournalInternational Journal of Cross Cultural Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • cross-cultural management
  • Cross-cultural research
  • cross-cultural paradigms

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