When Norwegians do business in Brazil, Lowrider Culture and 9 more anthropology theses (part 1)
Norwegian anthropologists no longer hide their master theses in distant libraries. Most theses are now available online in digital archives. Last week, more than 20 new theses (among them 11 in English) have been put online at DUO, the digital library of the University of Oslo.
On this rainy Sunday, I’ll pick out two studies:
Doing busness in Brazil. An anthropological study of the interaction between Norwegian and Brazilian business people is the title of the theses by Anita Wold. She conducted fieldwork in a Brazilian family company that recently was acquired by a Norwegian company. Furthermore, she interviewed Norwegians working in Brazil and Brazilians working in Norwegian companies.
Her point of departure: The increase in international business has created a demand for books about cultural differences in business that are easy to grasp. But books and teaching material within the field called intercultural communication is dominated by quantitative studies. “I believe anthropological theory can provide a more fruitful analytical framework for understanding communication between people with different backgrounds and knowledge", she writes.
She shows among other things that the dominating figures within the field of intercultural communication use a problematic perspective on cultural difference. For Hofstede (2001), Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1997) national identity is an imprint of values and a collective “software” in peoples’ minds that produces a distinctive national behavioural pattern. Through quantitative studies these researchers have found a small set of value-based continuums of interpretation such as individuality-collectivist, masculinity-femininity, power distance etc. (see for example Hofstede’s country profiles):
I found that most of the Norwegian managers find “the Norwegian leadership style” the best way of practicing leadership. The Brazilian leadership style is considered to be more authoritarian than the Norwegian, and few of the Norwegian managers seemed to be willing to adjust their own practice.
The Norwegians, as owners and managers, are in a position where they can define the use of management techniques and practices in the companies where they are in command. However, whenever Norwegians engage with customers in Brazil, they are not in a position to define the situation and therefore have to adapt to local practices and demands in order to sell their products.
In exploring the interaction between people with different backgrounds, I have argued against the perception of culture as it is postulated by Hofstede (2001), Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1997). In the present study I have argued that business practices are embedded in the local context.
Thus, in order to understand the differences encountered by the Norwegian and Brazilian business people I have demonstrated the importance of placing the practices in a cultural, historic and economic context.Thus, quantitative studies and universalistic assumptions of cultural differences fail to achieve a fruitful understanding of the contextual variations.
Martin Høyem has written the thesis I want my car to look like a whore. Lowriding and poetics of outlaw aesthetics. It as an extremely well written thesis and even fun to read. He captures the reader already on the first pages when he describes his first days in the field, looking for potential lowriders:
I never saw any lowrider cars in the streets, and this surprised me, since I had an impression—gathered from the material I studied before I left for the field—that the streets of LA would be packed with lowriders. I suddenly realized that my plan A of simply walking up to somebody with a lowrider asking to talk to them rested on a missing premise. I also realized I had no plan B.
At one of the first meetings with his informants, they asked him some questions:
“One thing first: Do you like Abba or Led Zeppelin?”
Chuy had presented me to everybody, in plenum, and asked that I talked a little about myself. (…) It was immediately clear to me what the right answer would be. “These guys aren’t Abba fans,” I thought to myself. And as Bourdieu points out: “Nothing more clearly affirms one’s ‘class’, nothing more infallibly classifies, than tastes in music.” (Bourdieu, 1984:18) (…) “I like Zeppelin,” I said. They all nodded and mumbled approvingly. “That was easy,” I thought.
Then one guy asked “What kind of car do you have?”
Not missing a beat—since I felt I was doing so well building credibility—I told them: “It’s a 1989 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. Two doors.” They didn’t like that. “Well at least it has two doors,” somebody mumbled.
For Martin Høyem it was important to contribute with new perspectives in the study of the lowrider culture:
As a result of the tendency in social studies within USA to threat themes in the light of ethnicity and gender, a major part of ethnographical studies portray the population groups they write about as exotic and describes them as physically and culturally isolated—as subcultures opposed to main-stream American culture. The same goes for descriptions of the lowrider culture, both in academic literature and in diverse types of popular culture.
The lowrider cars are traditionally described as products heavily influenced by the owner’s Mexican heritage. While there is obviously much to be said for these accounts, they often fall short of considering the class aspects in the judgment of aesthetical taste. I have pointed to data which illustrate how class background might be just as important, if not more, in an effort to analyze the cars and their owners place in the American consciousness.
Additionally, the outlaw mystique which clings to the cars and their owners is a social problem for the lowriders. (…) Perhaps the outlaw aesthetic in the lowriders play the same role as folklore did for the rise of the European romantic nationalism. Just like the scholars of that time gathered histories to demonstrate “connections with the cultural glories of supposed common ancestry” (Herzfeld 1996) the histories that are told through the outlaw aesthetic are stories seeking to establish an abstract common background.
Although the imagery tells stories of violent conflict solving, loose sexual morals, liberal use of recreational drugs and a strong focus on material values, the everyday reality for the majority of the people who parade this imagery is much more mundane; theirs is a life lived within a framework in agreement with the moral code of society.
And here are the other nine new anthropology theses:
UPDATE 1/10 Even more new theses in English! More in a later post.