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CultureNeutral® Key Number 3 – Sovereignty


The concept of neutrality at operational levels also requires recognition and understanding of sovereignty. Logically, a CultureNeutral® framework would likewise require recognition and understanding of cultural sovereignty.

One of the few definitions of cultural sovereignty was phrased, “The right of a culture to assert certain authority over property, rules of conduct, laws, and other matters affecting its members.”  Human capital, for example, would not be exempted from the authority of organizational culture.

There are many ways in which societies are organized, by religion, polity, class, color, family (common descent), geography (territory rights), and more.  Some perceived that the global economy was driving the mixing of cultures and subcultures to the extent of pushing the concept of cultural sovereignty toward irrelevance or even to extinction.

In contrast, Sam P. Huntington observed the reorganization of global cultures into a higher order, what he termed “civilizations” back in 1993. [link]  “A civilization is thus the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species.

It is defined,” Huntington continues, “both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people…The civilization to which [one] belongs is the broadest level of identification with which [one] intensely identifies.”  Huntington identified eight major groupings of cultures as civilizations, though he did not deem his shortlist as comprehensive, static or permanent.

Huntington’s concept was so insightful as to be counterrevolutionary, and it was hotly debated.  After all, no civilization had begun handing out identification cards to its membership.  A harsh critic, the late Edward Said argued against Huntington’s assertions, stressing that “it consolidates the immense, unrestrained pseudopatriotic narcissism we are nourishing” in a post 9-11 environment.

Huntington’s specific assertions aside, non-physical entities, including culture, are far from difficult to embrace as sovereign.  Similar to a national borders and sovereignty, too varying extents cultural sovereignty is also considered inviolable short of declaration of war.  A prominent application of cultural sovereignty is in connection with indigenous peoples, defined by as “an indigenous counterforce to the dominant society’s narrative of the meaning of tribal people’s collective existence.” [1]

In an impassioned plea, Wallace Coffey and Rebecca Tsosie, call for reconceptualization of “Native sovereignty from a model that treats sovereignty as a strategy to maintain culture, to a model that analyzes culture as a living context and foundation for the exercise of group autonomy and the survival of Indian nations.”

Cultural sovereignty has been discussed in many contexts, but only obtusely in the context of corporate or organizational sovereignty.  For example, the shock headline, “I Fire Those Who Don’t Fit Our Company Culture,” a Toni Hseih, CEO quote emphasizing the top priority of employee “fit” in the Zappos culture, and inspiring the culture in others.

Other than profitability itself, it would be difficult to find a more persistent theme over the last half-century than that of organizational culture and its impact on performance. And yet, the Hseih quote was sensational in its fierce loyalty to an entity in the form of “The Zappos Culture” that had a clear set of parameters and requirements apart from the base qualifications and skill set necessary for the work itself.

That philosophy literally cries out for an examination of the issue of Corporate or Organizational Cultural Sovereignty for more than the now mundane matter of diversity. It bears the potential to crystalize the Zappos-style application of cultural sovereignty as one of a number of important business issues that would fall under a rubric of corporate sovereignty or organizational sovereignty encompassing broader and higher level issues than staffing decisions. Forgive that digression.

CultureNeutral® relates to cultural sovereignty, but more broadly to a continuum of entities that can be and are often treated as sovereign and inviolable.  A mouthful of a term, “Entitativity,” [2] relates to our perception of the integrity of an entity, our impression of it, and ultimately our loyalties, commitments and ability to invest in it, either emotionally or financially.

The CultureNeutral® framework integrates the concept of “The Entitativity Continuum.” [2][3]  Building on Key’s #1 and #2, the frame includes these as major entities on the Entitativity Continuum:

– CULTURE (Affinities, Civilizations)
– CITIZENSHIP  (Governance, Allegiance, Behavior)
– TEAM and GROUP (Functions)
– INDIVIDUAL (Identities)

The primary reason for referring to each as a “sovereign entity” is to translate a perceiver’s sense of relative right to inviolability of each entitative identity.  The other crucial driver is that almost no one, including this author, can say “Entitativity” without resorting to the verbal equivalent of finger-counting to make sure all seven syllables were uttered.  So, from here, it’s “sovereign entities.”

These sovereign entities map roughly to what Hofstede refers to as “levels of sociality.” [4]  CultureNeutral®, however, relies more heavily on Steward’s anthropological “cultural ecology” views.  Deploying the CultureNeutral® frame as a human adaptive technology and operational tool for sociocultural (and often physical) environments might be assessed quite differently under the “ecology” framework of Hofstede vs. Steward.  Rather than viewing the sociality construct as levels, as does Hofstede, the CultureNeutral® framework maps to what can be understood as sovereigns, or more precisely, sovereign entities. We’ll work with each of these separately in other articles.

In what ways are they sovereigns?

Few individuals would argue that their own set of beliefs, values, customs are any less important or worthy of protection than another’s.  The same would hold at the high end of the sovereign entities list.  At the top of the list, the definition can still read, ““The right of a culture to assert certain authority over property, rules of conduct, laws, and other matters affecting its members.”  Zappos’ deportation policy is the final response of the authority granted under the cultural sovereignty of Zappos.  That same authority is exercised in varying ways, by the members of a culture, or by one’s own hand.

Going to new heights in experimentation,  “Zappos recently announced that it will eliminate the traditional manager role throughout the company to flatten its hierarchical chain of command. Zappos is morphing into a “holacracy” — an organizational structure intended to eradicate bureaucracy and politics, promote self-governance, and distribute power more evenly. After the transition, employees won’t have formal job titles. And instead of forming conventional teams based on hierarchy and work function, they will move among 400 “circles” in which they can assume various roles based on project needs.”  (Gallup Business Journal, April 2014)

This kind of move reflects a deep belief that the sovereignty of an organization extends to its internal work structures and the management of power within, regardless of external norms.

In tandem with the term “culture,” adjusting for grammar, insert any other sovereign entity, and its relative definition in application works equally well. In example, “The right of an organization’s culture to assert certain authority over property, rules of conduct, laws, and other matters affecting it.”  Tony Hseih might affirm.

The first three CultureNeutral® Keys lead us toward the weighty discussion of neutrality, the foundation of the CultureNeutral® Framework.  But not yet.  There’s one more that cannot be decoupled from sovereignty or ignored.

CONTINUE with us for CultureNeutral® Key Number 4 – Citizenship

View or review all the CultureNeutral® Keys:

Key #1 Culture
Key #2 Conflict
Key #3 Sovereignty (Top of Page)
Key #4 Citizenship
Key #5 Neutrality


Copyright Robert D. Jones 2013 – All Rights Reserved

[1] (Wenona T. Singel, Cultural Sovereignty and Transplanted Law: Tensions in Indigenous Self-Rule, 15 Kan. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 357, (2005-2006).

[2] “The Entitavity Continuum” (Hamilton, D. L., & Sherman, S. J. (1996). Perceiving Persons and Groups. Psychological Review, 103, 336-355; Hamilton, D.L. (1998).

[3] Dispositional and Attributional Inferences in Person Perception;  Hamilton, D. L., Sherman, S. J., Maddox, K. B., Dualities and Continuua, Implications for Understanding Perceptions of Persons and Groups. Dual-Process Theories in Social Psychology, Ed. Chaiken,S., Trope, Y., Chapter 30.

[4] Hofstede, Hofstede, Mikov, “Cultures and Organizations, Software of the Mind,” p. 466

[5] Steward, Julian H., “Theory of Culture Change, the methodology of multilinear evolution,” (1990) University of Illinois Press


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