Missing Relations: Incorporating Relational Constructs Into Models of Culture

By Joel Podolny
1998| Working Paper No. 1527

In this chapter, we argue that a better understanding of how individuals are affected by national culture is achieved when the subjectivist analysis of internal attitudes is supplemented with the structuralist approach of focusing on the external social relations that constrain behavior. More specifically, we suggest that the concepts developed for studying patterns of social relations are useful in cultural research. Some relevant relational concepts refer to the form or geometry of an individual’s relations. Destiny, for example, refers to the degree of inter-connectedness among the other people in one’s networks, and density has been linked to the cultural difference between “loosely knit” and “tightly knit” societies (e.g., Fischer & Shavit, 1995). Other concepts involve the content as well as the form of relations. Multiplexity, for example, refers to whether one exchanges personal friendship and instrumental resources in the same relationship or not, and this relational dimension has been suggested by several theorists to explain cultural differnces in workplace behavior (e.g., Dore, 1983 Gluckman, 1967). We review the sparse literature on cross-national differences in relational variables and conclude that there is a great deal of unexplored potential in capturing the differences between cultures in terms of the differeing relations in which individuals are embedded. However, we also review theoretical arguments against the notion that culture can be reduced to a purely structural analysis.