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A Case for Comparing Apples with Oranges

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image of International Journal of Comparative Sociology
For more content, see Comparative Sociology.

In order to compare nations one needs a theoretical justification and framework. Three basic questions arise: What are we comparing? Are nations suitable units for this comparison? Are the phenomena we look at functionally equivalent? Values, defined as broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs over others, are more likely functionally equivalent than institutions. Value differences between nations can be measured by surveys, but the results strongly depend on the way the questions are formulated. An important distinction is between the desired and the desirable. Comparing values across nations does not need to be based on representative samples of the countries' populations, as long as one compares matched samples of individuals from one nation to the next. The equivalence of value measurements at the nation level can only be tested by validation against the results of other measurements for the same set of nations, both national indices and outcomes of surveys by other researchers using other questions at other moments in time. Applying this procedure to different cross-national databases led to the identification of four and later five, basic problems that are resolved differently in different societies: inequality, togetherness, gender roles, dealing with the unknown, and time orientation. The different solutions to these problems represent five dimensions of national cultures. Fifty-three nations and regions could be scored on the first four dimensions, and twenty-three on the fifth.

Affiliations: 1: Institute for Research on Intercultural Cooperation, Maastricht and Tilburg, The Netherlands


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