Metaphors of Culture

Here is a brief table that I created for use in  the current edition of Interpersonal Messages to stimulate different ways of thinking about culture and also about metaphors. I thought it might be useful more generally in a variety of different courses/classrooms.  These insights are taken from a variety of sources including Edward Hall's Beyond Culture; Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, and Michael Minkov's Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind; and the websites of Culture at Work and Culturally Teaching: Education across Cultures.
Seven Metaphors of Culture

Metaphor’s Claim/assumption
Salad/Jelly beans
Like items in a salad or bag of jelly beans, cultures are individual; yet, they work together with other cultures to produce an even better combination.
Like the iceberg, only a small part of culture is visible; most of culture and its influences are hidden from easy inspection.
Like the tree, you only see the trunk, branches, and leaves but the root system, which gives the tree its structure and function, is hidden from view.
Melting pot
Cultures blend into one amalgam and lose their individuality. But, the blend is better than any one of the ingredients.
Culture dictates what we do and don’t do much as does a software program. Out of awareness, people are programmed, to some extent, to think and behave by their culture.
Culture, like an organism, uses the environment (other cultures) to grow but maintains boundaries so its uniqueness is not destroyed.
Like a beautiful mosaic is made up of pieces of different shapes, sizes, and colors, so is culture; the whole, the combination, is more beautiful than any individual piece.



Anonymous said...

thanks, I used the tree metaphor and it was helpful.

Anonymous said...

I needed a metaphore for school. My teacher already gave us a few but we had to come up with one of our own. I found it difficult so I used the mosaic one. It is very beautiful.

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Anonymous said...


I used the mosaic metaphor for an essay I had to write for my English clas. A truly unique perspective was given comparing a mosaic to culture. Thank you!

Joseph DeVito said...

Wonderful to hear. Thanks for letting me know.