Foreword (InDepth Issue 18)
Psychologists have picked up and examined the widelypromulgated view that easterners and westerners have distinct world views. Kipling's Ballad of East and West, reflecting the life experience of the author, celebrated not the difference signalled in his opening line, but a recognition of the common humanity of family loyalties and manly attributes (not least courage, determination and skilled horsemanship) beneath the more discernible differences.
Qualitative researchers find themselves similarly confronted with decoding both distinct world views and common human needs and desires. The prominent perspective of difference is that of an individualistic outlook of the West contrasted to a collectivist outlook of the East. This is a problematic distinction, since within the categories of East and West there are many sub divisions according to nationality, ethnicity, religion, occupation.
At an individual level no single person is always and comprehensively either individualistic or collectivist across the wide range of their life decisions. At a personal level, shifting contexts, and at the societal level, the evolving zeitgeist, influence the priority of values and related behaviours. Nevertheless, the conceptual frameworks that can be built around the idea of an Individualistic vs Collectivist bi-polarity offer a valuable perspective and a range of explanatory constructs that researchers need to be aware of and to give consideration to.
Tunnel Vision West and Wide Angle East
In this, the first of two articles on cultural differences, the Irrational Agencys Elina Halonen describes how frameworks from cross-cultural psychology can help researchers extend their perspective and dig deeper into consumer motivations. To operate without such a framework, she argues, is to run the risk of failing to see patterns in data and of ignoring what could be powerful insights, labelling them as merely anecdotal. Elina sets out the type of framework suggested by Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede, while offering a range of stimulating further reading on the topic.
Mobile map of the mind
The second piece in this issue acknowledges the collectivistic and individualistic differences that exist across an East-West divide, but moves the topic on. Firefishs Martin Smith, by describing a project carried out in China, India and the UK, shows how mobile connectable technology has the potential to provide us with richer, more accurate insights than would otherwise be available through more traditional research methods. It can, he says, unlock behaviours and uncover perspectives in a way that has not been possible before and with a greater clarity than is often offered by more traditional methodologies, making it a technology that needs to be championed and rolled out across other research disciplines.
This article was first published in InDepth magazine, March 2013
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2013