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^ Academy ol Maaagem»nt Review

1999, Vol. 24. No. 1781-796.


Stanford University

Chinese University of Hong Kong

University of California at Berkeley

University of California at Santa Barbara

We analyze forms ol synergy between emic and etic approaches to research on culture
and cognition. Drawing on the justice judgment literature, we describe dynamics
through which the two approaches stimulate each other's progress. Moreover, we
delineate ways in which integrative emic/etic Irameworks overcome limitations of
narrower frameworks in modeling culture and cognition. Finally, we identify advan-
tages of integrative frameworks in guiding responses to the diverse justice sensitiv-
ities in international organiiKations.

In the study of cognition in organizations, and tages of frameworks integrating emic and etic
in social science more broadly, there are two accounts—both as middle-range theories of cul-
long-standing approaches to understanding the ture and cognition and as applied guides to
role of culture: (1) the inside perspective of eth- responding to diverse justice concerns in inter-
nographers, who strive to describe a particular national organizations.
culture in its own terms, and (2) the outside per-
spective of comparativist researchers, who at-
tempt to describe differences across cultures in EMIC AND ETIC PERSPECTIVES
terms of a general, external standard. Pike (1967) The emic and etic perspectives have equally
designates these approaches the emic and etic long pedigrees in social science. The emic or
perspectives, respectively, by analogy to two inside perspective follows in the tradition of
approaches to language: phonemic analysis of psychological studies of folk beliefs (Wundt,
the units of meaning, which reveals the unique 1888) and in cultural anthropologists' striving to
structure of a particular language, and phonetic understand culture from "the native's point of
analysis of units of sound, which affords com- view" (Malinowski, 1922). The etic or outside per-
parisons among languages. The emic and etic spective follows in the tradition of behaviorist
perspectives are often seen a s being at psychology (Skinner, 1938) and anthropological
odds—as incommensurable paradigms. In this approaches that link cultural practices to exter-
article we argue that these two approaches to nal, antecedent factors, such as economic or
culture are complementary. Drawing on the jus- ecological conditions, that may not be salient to
tice judgment literature, we delineate forms of cultural insiders (Harris, 1979).
synergy between the two research perspectives
that go beyond those identified previously (e.g., The divide between these two approaches
Berry, 1990; Brett, Tinsley, lanssens, Barsness, & persists in contemporary scholarship on culture:
Lytle, 1997). We first analyze ways in which emic in anthropology, between interpretivists (Geertz,
and etic research programs have stimulated 1976, 1983) and comparativists (Munroe & Mun-
each other's progress. Then we analyze advan- roe, 1991), and in psychology, between cultural
psychologists (Shweder, 1991) and cross-cultural
782 Academy oi Management Review October

psychologists (Smith & Bond, 1998). In the liter- Etic and emic approaches traditionally have
ature on international differences in organiza- been associated with differing research meth-
tions, the divide is manifest in the contrast be- ods. As Table 1 summarizes, methods in emic
tween classic studies based on fieldwork in a research are more likely to involve sustained,
single culture (Rohlen, 1974), as opposed to sur- wide-ranging observation of a single cultural
veys across many {Hofstede, 1980). Likewise, in group. In classical fieldwork, for example, an
the large body of literature on organizational ethnographer immerses him or herself in a set-
culture, there is a divide between researchers ting, developing relationships with informants
employing ethnographic methods (Gregory, and taking on social roles (e.g., Geertz, 1983;
1983; Van Maanen, 1988) and those who favor Kondo, 1990). Yet, emic description also can be
comparative survey research (Schneider, 1990). pursued in more structured programs of inter-
The conceptual assumptions with which Pike view and observation (e.g., Goodenough, 1970).
(1967) defined the emic and etic dichotomy are Methods in etic research are more likely to
summarized in Table 1. Emic accounts describe involve brief, structured observations of several
thoughts and actions primarily in terms of the cultural groups. A key feature of etic methods is
actors' self-understanding—terms that are often that observations are made in a parallel manner
culturally and historically bound. For example, across differing settings. For instance, matched
emic studies of justice perceptions in North samples of employees in many different coun-
American organizations today might center on tries may be surveyed to uncover dimensions of
such constructs as "age-ism" and nondiscrlmi- cross-national variation in values and attitudes
nation, whereas studies of Japanese workplaces (e.g., Hofstede, 1980), or they may be assigned to
might be couched in qualitatively different con- experimental conditions in order to test the mod-
structs, such as amae and gimu (see Kashima & erating influence of cultural setting on the rela-
Callan, 1998). In contrast, etic models describe tion among other variables (e.g., Earley, 1989). In
phenomena in constructs that apply across cul- sum, although the two perspectives are defined
tures. For example, a country's level on the cul- in terms of theory, rather than method, the per-
tural dimension of individualism-collectivism spectives lend themselves to differing sets of
might be linked to the prevalence with which methods.^
managers reason about justice in terms of the Given the differences between emic and etic
equity rule (i.e., rewards received should be pro- approaches to culture, it is not surprising that
portional to contributions). researchers taking each perspective have ques-
Along with differing constructs, emic and etic tioned the utility of integrating insights from the
researchers tend to have differing assumptions other tradition. A common tendency is to dismiss
about culture. Emic researchers tend to assume insights from the other perspective based on
that a culture is best understood as an intercon- perceived conceptual or methodological weak-
nected whole or system, whereas etic research- nesses (see reviews of this tendency in particu-
ers are more likely to isolate particular compo- lar research areas by Harris, 1979, and Martin &
nents of culture and state hypotheses about Frost, 1998). On one side, emic accounts based
their distinct antecedents and consequences. Al- on ethnographic observation are often dis-
though, of course, the emic/etic contrast is, in counted on the basis of inconsistency across
practice, a continuum, this dichotomy has
played a central role in the metatheory debates
in many social science disciplines (see Head- 1971). Although there may be a correlation in some research
land, Pike, & Harris, 1990).' areas between the emic versus etic perspective and orien-
tations toward control (e.g., in studies of "organizational
culture"; Martin & Frost, 1996), there is no necessary link and
no strong correlation in the literature on national culture—
' Some scholars have used the terms emic and etic in our focus.
ways that depart irom Pike's definitions (see Headland et al.. ^The association between perspectives and methods is
1990). A narrower usage refers to the contrast between cul- not absolute. Sometimes, in emic investigations of indige-
ture-specific versus culture-general constructs. This misses nous constructs, data are collected with survey methods and
the essence of the distinction, because culture-specific con- analyzed with quantitative techniques (Farh, Earley, & Lin,
structs do not necessarily resonate with cultural insiders' 1997; Yang, 1986). Likewise, ethnographic observation and
self-understandings, A broader usage refers to the underly- qualitative data are sometimes used to support arguments
ing interests of understanding versus control (Habermas, from an etic perspective (Nelsen & Barley, 1997: Sutton, 1994).
1999 Morris, Leung, Ames, and Lickel 783

Assumptions of Emic and Etic Perspectives and Associated Methods
Features Emic/Inside View Etic/Outside View

Defining assumptions and Behavior described as seen from the Behavior described from a vantage external to
goals perspective of cultural insiders, in the culture, in constructs that apply equally
constructs drawn from their self- well to other cultures
Describe the cultural system as a Describe the ways in which cultural variables
working whole fit into general causal models of a
particular behavior

Typical features of methods Observations recorded in a rich Focus on external, measurable features that
associated with this view qualitative form that avoids imposition can be assessed by parallel procedures at
of the researchers' constructs different cultural sites
Long-standing, wide-ranging observation Brief, narrow observation of more than one
of one setting or a few settings setting, often a large number of settings

Examples of typical study Ethnographic fieldwork; participant Multisetting survey; cross-sectional

types observation along with interviews comparison of responses to instruments
measuring justice perceptions and related
Content analysis of texts providing a Comparative experiment treating culture as a
window into indigenous thinking quasi experimental manipulation to assess
about justice whether the impact of particular factors
varies across cultures

reports (Kloos, 1988) and for inheriting miscon- proach serves best in testing hypotheses (e.g.,
ceptions from cultural insiders (Marano, 1982). Greenfield, 1996).
On the other side, etic accounts based on survey In a more explicit selectionist proposal. Berry
data are often dismissed because researchers (1990) endorses a three-stage sequence. In the
remained at a distance from respondents, poten- first stage, initial exploratory research relies on
tially insensitive to how respondents were af- "imposed-etic" constructs—theoretical concepts
fected by their questions (Geertz, 1983). and measurement methods that are simply ex-
Yet, not all arguments against integration are ported from the researcher's home culture, In the
staked on critiques of either approach. Separat- second stage, emic insights about the other cul-
ism has been defended as a means to protect ture are used to interpret initial findings, with
less well-institutionalized traditions from being an eye to possible limitations of the original
assimilated by mainstream traditions. Writing constructs, such as details that are unfamiliar or
about organizational culture, Martin argues that meaningless outside of the home culture. On
"pressures toward assimilation would under- this basis, then, the constructs in the model are
mine a perspective's inherently oppositional filtered to eliminate details that cannot be mea-
stance . . . threatening its conceptual and politi- sured with equivalence across cultural settings.
cal integrity" (1992; 187). In sum, both partisan The factors that survive this filter—"derived-
and protective agendas have led scholars to ad- etic" constructs—are culture-general dimen-
vocate keeping emic and etic insights about a sions of persons, such as value orientations, or
phenomenon somewhat separate. of their environments, such as economic or eco-
However, not all previous scholars hold that logical factors. In the third and final stage, the
emic and etic approaches should be kept apart. researcher tests an explanation constructed
Some have suggested that researchers should solely of derived etic constructs.
select between approaches, depending on the Brett and colleagues (1997; Lytle, Brett, Bars-
stage of a research program. For example, it has ness, Tinsley, & Janssens. 1995) describe another
been argued that an emic approach serves best proposal based on a three-stage sequence.
in exploratory research, whereas an etic ap- These scholars differ from Berry in sharply dis-
784 Academy of Management Review October

tinguishing cultural factors from ecological and much a witnessed reality as a constructed inter-
economic factors in analyzing cross-national pretation.
differences. Also, they suggest that etic con- Fortunately, frameworks for understanding
structs may not always require measurement how observers interpret fairness have been de-
equivalence. However, as in Berry's model, the veloped in research on the psychology of justice
end state is an explanation drawn in terms of (Sheppard, Lewicki, & Minton, 1992). The primary
etic constructs; emic insights guide the initial tradition in this research concerns distributive
steps but are not retained in the final explana- justice judgments—that is, responses to partic-
tion.^ ular distributions or allocation patterns (Adams,
The sequential selection models of Berry 1965; Deutsch, 1985). Although there is increas-
(1990) and Brett et al. (1997) have been influential ing evidence that justice perceptions depend
in guiding psychological and organizational re- greatly as well on the procedures through which
searchers in their approaches to culture. Yet authorities bring about these distributions (Lind
these analyses only begin to explore the syner- & Tyler, 1988; Thibaut & Walker, 1975; Tyler &
gies between perspectives. Although they ad- Bies, 1990), we restrict our attention, for reasons
dress the role of emic insights in refining etic of brevity, to distributive justice.
explanations, they say little about how etic in- Judging the fairness of resource allocations in
sights stimulate emic investigation. Although organizations involves two major components:
they address the interplay between perspec- (1) selecting a rule to serve as the principle or
tives within a given research program, they do "scale" of justice and (2) construing the actions
not analyze long-term interplay across research of the persons involved. This distinction can be
programs within a general research area. To lay illustrated in terms of the traditional metaphor
the groundwork for a long-term analysis, we that justice is weighed on a scale (see Figure 1),
now introduce the research area of justice judg- The figure represents elements of the stimulus
ments. event that spurs a justice judgment (on the left)
and the corresponding elements of an observer's
subjective interpretation (on the right). When a
lUSTICE lUDGMENT resource allocation occurs in a setting, an ob-
server applies a scale that is appropriate to the
Judgments of justice occur whenever authori- setting (i.e., a rule is selected from the observer's
ties in a group allocate resources or rewards stock of justice principles). At the same time, the
among its members. For instance, when a man- observer does interpretive work in order to de-
ager gives a larger bonus to an energetic young cide what to place on each side of the scale. The
salesperson than to her more senior and expe- observer must construe the meaning or rele-
rienced colleague, observers will evaluate this vance of the rewards allocated by the manager,
manager positively or negatively, depending on on the one side, and construe the deservingness
whether they judge the rewards to be in balance of the employee, on the other. This observer can
with the employees' respective contributions. then weigh the manager's actions against the
Managers and others who wish to be perceived employees' actions to check for balance (justice)
positively need to understand how observers ar- or imbalance (injustice). Although other cogni-
rive at justice judgments. This is not a trivial tive steps enter into justice perceptions, this
task, however, because it is not always self- framework captures the core components.
evident what is fair or balanced; justice is not so Before turning to cultural differences, let us
review the key points about each component of
justice cognition that have emerged from main-
^ Brett et al. (1997) describe a second form of emic-etic
stream research—that is, research in the North
interplay in research conducted by a multinational research American and Western European settings,
team. Team members rely on emic understandings of their where almost all psychological and organiza-
respective local cultural environments when developing in- tional research has been situated. Research on
struments and yet rely on etic frameworks when communi- how people select a principle of justice began
cating with their collaborators from other cultures. Although with tests of the notion that fairness perceptions
less explicitly than in the first sequence model described by
these authors, the authors suggest that the end state is an generally follow an equity rule that rewards
etic perspective on the phenomenon. should be proportional to contributions (Adams,
1999 Morris. Leung, Ames, and Lickel 785

Components of Distributive Justice Judgment*^
Stimulus event Observer judges

In a particular social Observer selects a

context... principle of fairness
(e.g., the equity rule).

a manager allocates construes the level of

resources, tangible reward conferred by the
and intangible,... manager's actions,

to an employee . . . and construes the

whose attributes and level of deservingness
actions contribute to of the employee
the organization

" Principle application is like selecting a scale for weighing justice; con-
struing human behavior is like judging what belongs on the scale.

1965). For example, when a piece-rate compen- quantitative performance measures may not be
sation system seems fair, it is because the ob- the only attributes of employees that are rele-
server applies the equity rule and sees the man- vant. Interpreting the overall contributions may
ager's allocation of rewards as balanced with require a detailed knowledge of the setting. De-
the employees' contributions. pending on the local norms and practices, fac-
Research then progressed to incorporate other tors such as effort, attitude, or seniority may
principles. Deutsch (1975) argued that principle figure prominently in assessments of contribu-
selection depends on the primary goal in the tions.
context: productivity goals, primary in the work- Moreover, in construing the rewards provided
place, are linked with the equity rule; interper- to employees by a manager, an observer must
sonal harmony goals, predominant in friendship first interpret the ways that the actions of the
groups, call for the equality rule; and personal manager benefit employees. This may involve a
welfare goals, as in the family, are linked with great deal of concrete, specific knowledge, such
the principle of need-based distribution. On the as cultural scripts, roles, and symbols. Addition-
whole. Western researchers have assumed that ally, the meaning of some resource allocations
equity is the primary principle in work organi- may be affected by the context of other alloca-
zations, and other principles are applied only in tions. For instance, Martin and Harder (1994)
contexts where the resource exchange has to do found that, in the United States, a manager's
specifically with cultivating employee relation- unequal distribution of financial resources, such
ships (e.g., invitations to an office party) or with as salary, is tolerated when accompanied by
ensuring welfare (e.g., health insurance plans). equal distribution of intangible, socioemotional
In addition to selection of a principle, justice rewards, such as friendliness. Evaluating the
judgments also require interpretation of the rel- meaning of a manager's action, then, requires
evant contributions and rewards. In construing more complex interpretative processes than a
what an employee contributes, for example, an simple tallying across the tangible resources
observer must determine which attributes and provided.
performances of the employee are relevant. A In sum, mainstream Western research on the
salesperson who generates no sales for her com- psychology of justice over the past two decades
pany may not have contributed as much as the has identified increasingly subtle relationships
company's top performer, yet sales and other among contexts, resource allocations, and ob-
786 Academy of Management Review October

servers' reactions; these, in tum, have spawned uncovered a strong theme of harmony in Chi-
applied frameworks to help managers antici- nese cultural discourse concerning groups, rela-
pate justice sensitivities (Sheppard et al., 1992). tionships, and justice. Nevertheless, the impact
Yet, at the same time, researchers in non- on researchers of justice was slight for several
Western settings have begun to provide increas- reasons. First, ethnographic descriptions of har-
ingly compelling evidence that culture influ- mony remained somewhat vague. Also, some
ences the process of justice judgment. Some ethnographic evidence, such as that from histor-
findings indicate differences in selecting princi- ical studies of Chinese negotiations with other
ples of justice (e.g., Leung & Bond, 1984). Other countries, showed a seemingly deliberate lack
findings indicate differences in the interpreta- of concern for harmony (Pye, 1982), challenging
tion of actions by authorities and employees the generalization.
(e.g., Redding & Wong, 1986). We now review There is also a long tradition of etic perspec-
how this research has progressed. tive research examining cultural differences in
general values related to principles ot justice.
The first wave of such studies involved compar-
RESEARCH ON CULTURAL INFIUENCE isons with translated survey instruments that
To illustrate the kinds of cultural differences had originally been developed to measure work
that arise in organizations and to lay the foun- values in Western settings, such as individual
dation for our analysis of forms of synergy be- freedom, equality, and the welfare of the group.
tween etic and emic approaches, we briefly re- In several studies scholars found that Chinese
view findings concerning differences in how respondents give more weight to group-oriented
justice judgments are made in East Asian cul- values than do North Americans (e.g., Singh,
tural settings, as opposed to Western settings. Huang, & Thompson, 1962).
Although certainly the cultures within the gen- Although these studies produced sharply de-
eral area of East Asia vary greatly, there is a fined and replicable differences, a limitation of
common heritage of Confucian values and insti- the approach is that inappropriate Western con-
tutions that makes some general comparisons structs may have been imposed onto other cul-
and contrasts meaningful. We proceed by exam- tures. A step forward was Hofstede's (1980) study
ining selected results from the two key compo- of 40 countries, in which he distilled value di-
nents of distributive justice perception: select- mensions, such as individualism-collectivism,
ing principles and construing behavior. from a factor analysis of country means. Rather
than a general orientation toward other people,
the individualism-collectivism dimension taps
Selecting Principles the extent to which individuals conceive of
The idea that the justice of a given event may themselves as embedded in particular ingroups
be judged by different principles in different and follow a norm of sacrificing personal bene-
cultures is a theme raised in emic studies of fit for ingroup others. Hofstede (1980) placed 40
justice in East Asian settings. For instance, eth- countries on several major dimensions of value
nographers in East Asian cultures have sug- orientation and linked these positions to ante-
gested that the principle of harmony is salient in cedents in economic and ecological conditions
Confucist cultural settings (Hsu, 1953). Whereas and to consequences in social behavior.
Western common sense and theory (Deutsch, Triandis, Hui, and others developed derived-
1985) distinguish the goal of harmony from that etic instruments to measure individualism-
of productivity, descriptions of Chinese concep- collectivism at the individual level. In these
tions of groups suggest that harmony is central studies the researchers consistently found that
to social organization and productivity (Hsu, individuals socialized into Chinese and other
1971). This idea that harmony is a means to Confucian-influenced cultures held more coUec-
productivity, rather than an opposing goal, is tivist social values and beliefs than individuals
expressed in a proverb by the Confucian scholar in Western settings and placed more emphasis
Mencius; "Weather is less important than a on the ingroup/outgroup distinction (see Trian-
fertile field, and a fertile field is less important dis, 1995, for a review).
than human harmony." In sum, early emic Although both emic and etic studies sug-
scholarship—fieldwork and textual study— gested that Chinese culture may be associated
1999 Moiris, Leung, Ames, and Lickel 787

with different conceptions of justice, there were has revealed subtle distinctions in the kinds of
no striking findings that challenged main- relationships that trigger particular principles
stream research on the psychology of justice. of justice in Chinese societies. Of course, these
The first findings concerning Chinese culture to newly noticed emic distinctions are candidates
have a major impact on mainstream justice for new derived-etic constructs. For instance,
scholarship came in studies that brought to- Leung (1997) has drawn on emic insights about
gether the emic insight concerning the central- harmony motives and has distinguished the
ity of harmony concerns with the etic insight concern for maintaining a tie to a peripheral
that the ingroup/outgroup distinction matters ingroup member, which triggers an equality
more. Leung and Bond (1984) tested the hypoth- rule, from the concern for enhancing harmony in
esis that, for Chinese individuals, harmony con- a close relationship, which triggers a generosity
cerns will shape the justice principles applied rule. Although this proposal about harmony
in interactions with ingroup members. The ex- goals in different kinds of relationships derives
periments varied whether participants com- from emic studies of Chinese culture, Leung of-
pleted a shared project with ingroup versus out- fers it as a potential etic hypothesis about
group members and varied the contribution highly coUectivist societies.
level of the members. Results showed that Chi- Thus, in summary, research on the principle-
nese participants, like U.S. participants, apply selection component of justice judgment has in-
the equity rule with outgroup members, but, un- volved an active interplay between emic and
like U.S. participants, apply a more complex rule etic insights. Although most of the research on
with ingroup members. With ingroup members, this component has been from the etic perspec-
their pattern is one of generosity: allocating by tive, findings from the emic perspective have
the equality principle when the other has con- spurred insights. Emic research has revealed
tributed less than oneself but allocating by the novel constructs (e.g., generosity as a means to
equity principle when the other has contributed harmony), has challenged etic constructs (the
more than oneself. A virtue of these findings, notion that individual's adherence to individu-
relative to early survey findings, is that they alist and collectivist values is captured by a
reveal the dynamics of cultural influence by un- unitary dimension), and has suggested new so-
covering how culture interacts with contextual lutions (e.g., distinguishing types of ingroup re-
variables (e.g., ingroup versus outgroup). These lations). Before delineating these forms of emic/
findings were also bolstered by replications in etic interplay, let us similarly review cultural
other East Asian settings (Kim, Park, & Suzuki, research on the other component of justice judg-
1990; Leung & Iwawaki, 1988), and extensions ment.
have uncovered further relevant contextual fac-
tors (Chen, 1995).
In recent years the strategy of linking the Construing Behavior
choice of justice principles to broad cultural Insights concerning cultural influence on the
value dimensions has come under critique. interpretation of behavior relevant to justice
Anomalous findings within the etic tradition comes mostly from emic studies. A recurrent
have resonated with long-standing conceptual theme in field studies and ethnographies of or-
challenges by emic researchers (for a review see ganizations in East Asian settings (e.g.. Redding
Earley & Gibson, 1998). The controversy has & Wong, 1986; Rohlen, 1974) is that, compared
sparked a wave of emic studies in which re- with Western settings, assessment of employ-
searchers have taken a closer look at indige- ees' contributions is based less strictly on task-
nous conceptions: Chiu (1991) conducted a fine- relevant performances. In analyses of cultural
grained content analysis of popular Chinese differences in policies and practices of firms,
sayings about injustice, and Ho and Chiu (1994) researchers have noted related tendencies, such
uncovered relations among the many concep- as the relatively large weight placed by Japa-
tual components of individualism-collectivism nese and Korean organizations on an employ-
through a similar content analysis. ee's seniority when assessing the employee's
To a greater extent than in early exploratory contribution (Pascale & Athos, 1981) or the con-
studies or in studies with derived-etic con- cern in Chinese societies for the value of a per-
structs, this new wave of focused emic analyses son's social connections (Redding & Wong, 1986).
788 Academy ot Management Review October

Such emic analyses have suggested the possi- ever, little direct evidence has accumulated for
bility that even when there is agreement across etic hypotheses concerning how interpretation
cultures on the principle of justice that applies of deservingness hinges on collectivism and in-
(e.g., the equity rule), there may be disagree- groups.
ment in justice judgments that arise from dif- Perhaps the closest development is research
ferences in what observers count as appropri- comparing how an individual's network is eval-
ate contributions (e.g., performance versus uated across cultures, exploring parallels to
seniority). guanxi in other collectivist cultures. For exam-
Emic analysis of how culture shapes judg- ple, a form of relation known as compadies is an
ment of deservingness has gone furthest in stud- important link in business interactions in some
ies of indigenous Chinese constructs. Although Latin America cultures (Stephens & Greer, 1995).
there can be no doubt that an employee's social In a step toward an etic analysis, Xin and Pearce
connections enter into appraisals in many West- (1994) have argued that emphasis on guanxi
ern settings, the role of an employee's connec- functions to protect against fraud and, hence,
tions in an evaluation of his or her worth gener- that it arises in settings lacking institutional
ally is left implicit and unarticulated by protections (i.e., strong courts). Although these
Western observers. In Chinese culture, in con- authors have presented supportive evidence for
trast, there is a rich lexicon of lay constructs for this functional relationship within China, cross-
articulating how an individual's network con- cultural evidence has yet to emerge. Morris,
fers worth or value (Hsu, 1971). Guanxi (which Podolny, and Ariel (1998) have used a survey of
translates literally to "connections" but has employee networks in an intemational organi-
more positive connotations) is a construct that zation to compare how an employee's network
guides the ascription of credit to people with made others obligated to that employee. These
extensive networks (King, 1991). Within tradi- authors did not observe a general tendency for
tional Chinese commercial settings, an individ- relationships to be valued in collectivist societ-
ual's guanxi plays a key role in that person's ies; rather, different kinds of relationships in-
social face or mianzi (Hu, 1944). Although guanxi curred value in different collectivist settings
has received particular attention, other con- (e.g., dependence relations in Hong Kong, as
structs, such as renging, which concerns how opposed to friendship relations in Spain). In
much one person owes in a relationship, have sum, although etic analyses of the role of rela-
also been analyzed (Gabreyena & Hwang, 1996). tions in perceptions of employees' deserving-
Hwang (1987) presented a general model of Chi- ness have exposed interesting questions about
nese social and organizational behavior as a the function, they appear to miss some impor-
function of these relational constructs. tant details.
Although the bulk of emic research on inter- Overall, research on how observers interpret
preting action involves qualitative data from actions in terms of justice-relevant rewards and
ethnographic observation and study of texts, contributions has moved forward through the
some emic analyses have applied quantitative mutual influence of researchers working in the
methods while still taking the emic approach. emic and etic traditions. Interestingly, however,
For example, predictions about justice behavior the majority of cultural research relevant to this
from Hwang's (1987) model have been tested ex- component has been from the emic perspec-
perimentally. Emic predictions about relation- tive—the opposite of what we observed concern-
ships have also been approached with quanti- ing the abstract component of principle selec-
tative survey tools; for instance, guanxi has tion. This may reflect that in a more concrete,
been modeled in terms of relational demogra- knowledge-based cognition, there are fewer rel-
phy (Tsui & Fahr, 1995). evant etic constructs—constructs with an equiv-
Some scholars have proposed etic hypotheses alent meaning across cultures. It may be that
about construal of employee deservingness. For construals of deservingness vary across cul-
instance, Hofstede argues that in collectivist so- tures in so many specific ways that generalities
cieties "promotion decisions take employees' in- in terms of etic constructs, such as the ingroup,
group into account," whereas in individualistic fail to capture the variance.
societies they "are supposed to be based on Having reviewed major cultural findings re-
skills and rules only" (Hofstede, 1991: 67). How- lated to justice perception, we now are in the
1999 Morris, Leung, Ames, and Uckel 789

position to draw some conclusions about how with those from the other tradition. When pre-
emic and etic insights complement each other. liminary exploratory studies from either per-
spective suggest the possibility of cultural influ-
FORMS OF SYNERGY ence on a judgment, this often spurs a second
generation of studies, which often come at the
Drawing on our example of the justice judg- problem from the opposite perspective in order
ment literature, we now analyze several general to critique or challenge the initial claims. In
forms of synergy that can occur between emic providing apt challenges to the limitations of
and etic research programs within a topic area. initial claims, second-generation studies in one
We start by analyzing how emic and etic contri- tradition often evoke new formulations that syn-
butions stimulate each other's progress. We thesize the original claim with the critique. This
then suggest that the emic and etic approaches ongoing, mutually enriching relationship be-
are partly able to counteract one another's the- tween the two kinds of research is illustrated in
oretical weaknesses in describing culture. Fi- Figure 2. A general theme is that different
nally, we argue that a full psychological model strengths of the two approaches create comple-
of judgment may only be possible and meaning- mentarities. Let us now describe these specific
ful when etic and emic insights are combined. paths of influence between perspectives in more
Mutual Stimulation First, we examine the different merits of ex-
ploratory studies in the emic and etic traditions.
The primary form of synergy is the stimulation Emic exploration proceeds through open-ended
that emic and etic insights can provide to each and long-standing observations of ethnogra-
other. Differences between the perspectives phers who immerse themselves in a particular
mean that there are lessons from exploratory culture. The strength of this method is in the
studies in one tradition that are not redundant wealth of detail conveyed in "thick description"

Interplay Between Emic and Etic Research'
Emic perspective Etic perspective

Initial exploration Initial exploration

Ethnographic Translated survey

study of one setting across many settings

Later refinements Later refinements

Structured study of Tests of an account in
distinctions emphasized derived-etic constructs
by cultural insiders

Dual-perspective account of cultural influence

on justice judgment

Applied framework to guide responses to justice

concerns in culturally diverse organizations

° Paths of mutual influence between the two research perspectives, leading to an

integrative explanatory framework.
790 Academy of Management Review October

(Geertz, 1983). The ethnographer aims to under- enced by second-generation etic research, be-
stand the culture on its own terms, rather than cause they are directed toward the goal of
through imposition of prior theories. This en- uncovering the contextual variables omitted in
ables the discovery of novel features. Yet, a these etic studies. For example, studies repre-
weakness is that subjectivity in what the re- senting individualistic and coUectivistic values
searcher notices and how much he or she on a single dimension gave rise to focused emic
chooses to generalize can easily distort the por- studies of the structure of these values in Chi-
trait. However, flawed and conflicting ethnogra- nese culture (Chiu, 1991; Ho & Chiu, 1994). These
phies can serve a valuable function in provok- studies, in tum, provided a strong challenge to
ing further research. For instance, Hsu's (1953) etic researchers, in that they were based on sys-
descriptions of all-pervading harmony concerns tematic data collection and were operation-
and the conflicting descriptions of others (Pye, alized quantitatively. Indeed, these studies
1982) sparked Leung and Bond's (1984) etic inves- have been incorporated into new etic proposals
tigation of the social contexts that moderate cul- (e.g., Leung, 1997). In sum, the emic critiques of
tural differences in the justice principles. etic work drew attention to important concerns
underemphasized in the original etic scholar-
Exploratory studies from the etic perspective
ship and suggested tools for a subsequent wave
often take the form of imposed-etic surveys. The
of etic accounts.
dubious equivalence of measuring instruments
and the lack of sustained first-person observa-
tion mean that nuances of meaning can be lost
Richness in Models of Culture |
in translation. Nevertheless, there is often a re-
liable signal through the noise, and the broad Whereas our first point concerned how find-
outlines of cultural differences and their associ- ings from the two perspectives challenge each
ations to other variables (such as ecological and other and stimulate each other's new questions,
economic factors) are identified. The images oi our second point concerns how the two kinds of
culture produced by exploratory etic studies are explanation complement each other in contrib-
like the crude maps of world geography uting to rich accounts of culture. A fault line runs
sketched centuries ago, based on the reports of through the disciplines concerning culture. On
returning sea navigators. Such maps simplify one side are disciplines like history or cultural
the terrain, but in doing so provide a guide to anthropology, rooted in a historicist logic of
which places might be interesting for a closer seeking local regularities within a bounded mi-
look. lieu. On the other are disciplines like econom-
An example of how etic maps spur closer, ics, driven by a functionalist logic of seeking
emic study can be seen in the aftermath of Hof- transhistorical generalizations. Organizational
stede's (1980) findings that even the most highly behavior involves both of these logics (e.g., Bur-
industrialized East Asian societies differ rell & Morgan, 1979). Yet, the emic and etic per-
sharply from the West. Until this study, many spectives each provide only half of the story.
social scientists believed that, regardless of tra- Because emic studies tap into the explanations
ditional cultures, wealthy industrialized societ- held by cultural insiders, the emic perspective
ies were fast converging in their social values inherently leads to an emphasis on the causes
(Inkeles, 1980). Emic studies generally focused of phenomena that are internal and local to the
on less industrialized societies. Hofstede's find- cultures and organizations being studied. Be-
ings provoked a renewed interest in emic stud- cause etic perspectives attune one to relation-
ies of Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and other indus- ships between external structural variables and
trialized East Asian societies. behaviors, a functionalist story is more likely to
We now examine the interplay between sec- result.
ond-generation studies in each tradition. In sec- However, a richer account of culture can re-
ond-generation emic studies, as we have seen, sult when an integrative explanatory frame-
researchers retain an interest in understanding work arises. One way this happens is when
a culture through the constructs of cultural in- emic findings from several cultures reveal
siders, yet they focus more narrowly on one part parallel patterns. Etic researchers often re-
of a culture than do researchers conducting ex- spond by attempting to capture the pattern in
ploratory studies. Often, these studies are influ- terms of more general factors that can be as-
1999 Morris, Leung, Ames, and Lickel 791

sessed through parallel constructs and mea- The tendency of etic perspective research to
sures. For example, emic studies of employee omit all but the most abstract components of a
relationships in Chinese societies and other cognitive process is, in fact, rooted in the very
societies have led to more general functional- procedure for identifying derived-etic con-
ist accounts of when relationships are valued structs. Derived-etic constructs (Berry, 1990) are
(e.g., Xin & Poarce, 1994). These attempts supposed to be the common denominators of the
rarely succeed in full, but they raise the valu- variables involved in a psychological process
able question of why a given historically across cultures. Identifying behavioral events
rooted practice persists in its contemporary with equivalent meanings across cultures is
form. These accounts, in turn, spur emic stud- easier to do if the behavior and meaning are
ies highlighting unique details not captured
conceptualized abstractly. As a result, all of the
by functionalist generalizations. In this exam-
concrete details that are not equivalent across
ple we see that looking at the same phenom-
cultures drop out of the description. In other
enon from two perspectives adds depth and
words, the search for constructs with measure-
richness to the explanatory framework. The
ment equivalence across cultures creates an up-
emic account of guanxi highlights the embed-
ward pressure toward abstract descriptions.
dedness of Chinese conceptions of distributive
justice in other aspects of Chinese culture. The Concrete details differ qualitatively in ways
etic account illustrates that these constructs that prevent comparison with parallel method-
and this culture exemplify a diffuse but recog- ological procedures.
nizable syndrome of collectivism that has par- Let us consider why an etic approach is able
ticular ecological and economic antecedents. to illuminate the abstract component of apply-
An account of culture that acknowledges both ing justice principles but not the concrete com-
historicist and functionalist logics is important ponent of interpreting actions. There seems to
in organizational behavior, in that many re- be a finite list of basic justice principles across
searchers have agendas that are both intellec- cultures; a workable derived-etic model is pos-
tual and practical. For instance, many organiza- sible. Event construal, however, involves a large
tional researchers are aligned with the critical number of overlapping constructs concerning
interest of exposing power relations, which re- social roles, relationships, symbols, and so
quires understanding informants on their own forth. Endless variation seems possible—not
terms but also going beyond their reports to merely in the frequency with which constructs
describe economic and other conditions that are evoked but in the qualitative content of the
"envelop" the informants' world (Jermier, 1998). constructs. As we have seen, etic hypotheses
Accounts of culture serving a critical agenda or about construal of deservingness have not
other change agendas require the richness of found empirical support. In sum, an etic ap-
integrating emic and etic insights. proach leaves us with a highly abstract and
incomplete view of culture and cognition that
fails to offer predictions about any particular
Comprehensiveness in Models of Judgment Turning to the other side of the problem, we
Another way in which an integrative, emic- can see that a purely emic approach is no better.
etic framework serves better than a single- With purely emic studies, like early ethnogra-
perspective explanation is in capturing the phies of Chinese harmony, researchers have a
kinds of cognition involved in justice and other difficult time distilling the key principles. It may
judgments. A pattern revealed in our review of be that seeing the behavior in two different cul-
research on culture and justice was that most tures makes it easier to spot the abstraction that
etic research activity has focused on the more unites them. In sum, although the two perspec-
abstract component of applying a justice princi- tives often bring researchers' attention to the
ple. Conversely, most emic research activity has same phenomenon, it is also true that they are
focused on the more concrete component of con- complementary, in that they draw researchers'
struing the deservingness of the people in- attention to different components of justice judg-
volved. Quite likely, these biases of etic and ments, making it more likely that all of the im-
emic perspectives are inherent ones. portant aspects of cognition will be recognized.
792 Academy of Management Review October

ADVANTAGES OF INTEGRATIVE Identifying and Choosing Policy Options

FRAMEWORKS IN APPLICATION One of the implications of the preceding dis-
In addition to the benefits of an integrative cussion is that managers who have anticipated
framework in basic theory, there are also bene- cultural differences in justice sensitivities may
fits in applied problems. The practical need for a need to adjust their policies from country to
framework to guide managers in coping with country in order to respond to diverse justice
cultural differences in justice judgments has sensitivities. Yet, this localization of policies
never been greater. Organizations increasingly works against another goal of many organiza-
span many cultures, both because of the diver- tions, which is to standardize policies across the
sification of the workforce in many nations and globe. Increasing numbers of organizations fol-
because of the globalization of organizations low the model of Citicorp, Philips, Sony, and
themselves. other global firms by maintaining coordination
There are advantages of an integrative emic- through the rotation of managers from one coun-
etic framework at several points in managing try to another. Standardizing or globalizing pol-
across cultures: (1) anticipating the justice sen- icies greatly facilitates the process of employ-
sitivities of employees in other cultures, (2) iden- ees moving from one unit to another. Hence,
tifying and choosing policy options, and (3) suc- firms face a tradeoff.
cessfully implementing a policy option. When considering this tradeoff in policies rel-
evant to justice, one needs a framework that
incorporates cultural influences on each compo-
Anticipating Cultural Differences in Justice nent of justice judgment. That is, firms have to
Sensitivities contend with differences not only in the princi-
ples or rationales that employees endorse but in
Etic research has had a high stature in organ-
the concrete beliefs that guide how employees
izational research in part because it seems prac-
construe behavior of management and of their
tical and efficient. The hope has been that the
peers. The four possible combinations are rep-
myriad cultural traditions in an international
resented in Figure 3. Although research re-
organization might be reducible to a few simple
garding when and how to develop global or-
cultural dimensions. Interestingly, however, the
ganizational standardization is advancing,
popular literature of cultural training guides for
understanding of this issue (particularly how to
managers has not been influenced much by the
implement standardization) remains limited
etic research found in management journals.
(Shenkar & Zeira, 1987: Sullivan, 1992; Taylor,
Managers still tend to learn about cultural sen-
Beechler, & Napier, 1996). Let us see how an
sitivities in a country-by-country fashion (e.g.,
encompassing framework for conceptualizing
Cushner & Brislin, 1996).
cultural influence helps clarify the options.
Training guides convey potentially relevant
points by referring to recurrent roles and situa- Using our framework, we can think of differ-
tional scripts. These guides include little in the ences in justice perception (and many other or-
way of etic generalizations, such as that collec- ganizational domains) as being one of three
tivist cultures promote a harmony-preserving types: (1) a difference mainly in concrete beliefs
distribution rule in ingroup interactions. Al- related to event construal, (2) a difference
though an etic generalization may allow a man- mainly in applying abstract principles, or (3) a
ager to make general predictions about many difference in both. Firms deciding to apply a
cultural groups, it does not allow a manager to policy across cultural boundaries will face dif-
make precise predictions about any of them. ferent issues, depending on which kind of differ-
That is, to apply etic predictions in such terms ences exist. When no differences exist, of course,
as ingroup, these terms must be fleshed out or the firm can "go global" in its policies.
instantiated into the concrete details of a local A difference only in construal-related beliefs
cultural setting. Without the cultural specifics may be the least difficult to manage toward a
identified through emic analysis, the abstract global policy since employees already share a
principles identified by etic methods are un- common framework of principles. For example,
likely to be sufficient for developing organiza- employees in both cultures might use equity
tional policies. principles for distribution but in one culture re-
1999 Morris, Leung. Ames, and Lickel 793

Framework for Decision Making About Cross-Cultural Standardization"
Construal oi Deservingness
Same across cultures Diflerent across cultures

e.g., weight placed on tenure

Same versus shorf-ferm per/ormance
across - Easy to standardize policies - Difiicult to standardize
cultures - Stress principle similarity
and construal definitions

e.g., equity versus equality

Different - Very difficult to standardize - Most difficult to standardize
cultures - Stress that some resources • To standardize may require
are distributed by the explicit programs; worthwhile
culturally favored principle only if policy is core to firm

° Distinguishing types of cultural influence on justice judgment clarifies a

firm's options in the tradeoff between globally standard versus locally sensitive

gard seniority as the key contribution, whereas cross-training (rather than individual special-
in the other culture count performance as the ization), continually increasing (rather than
contribution. Firms would be advised to stress fixed by contract) performance standards, and
the similarity in the shared principles as the security of employment (Florida & Kenney, 1991;
basis of fairness and develop clear definitions Fucini & Fucini, 1990; Wilms, Hardcastle, & Zell,
of what counts as a contribution or input. In sum, 1994; Young, 1992). However, North American
the firm can "think globally" about the princi- and Japanese workers favor quite different prin-
ples of fairness in its organization, yet "act lo- ciples and possess different beliefs about how
cally" in explaining how these principles are to construe workplace events, which made
instantiated into concrete practices. transferring these policies difficult. As shown by
A difference mainly in principles makes it the experience of Japanese auto companies,
more difficult to employ a globally standardized standardization in such instances entails exten-
policy and achieve uniform perceptions of fair- sive cultural training and efforts to make clear
ness. An example would be a case in which one the reasons for organizational policies (Florida
culture favors an equity principle for salary and & Kenney, 1991; Wilms et al, 1994), to avoid cre-
the other favors an equality principle. One pos- ating feelings of injustice (Fucini & Fucini, 1990).
sible strategy here would be to stress other re- When developing such training programs, it is
sources that fit the culture's preferred principle. necessary for organizations to review emic anal-
If global salary policy were moved toward being yses of local cultural beliefs in order to develop
equity based, other resources still distributed training programs that properly translate con-
based on equality, such as respect and benefits, cepts into terms that local workers find accept-
could be stressed in the equality-oriented cul- able.
If strong differences exist in both construal
and principle selection, substantial investments Successfully Implementing a Chosen Policy
are likely to be required for successful standard- Having chosen to either globalize or localize
ization. For example, Japanese auto manufac- compensation policies, a firm still has to imple-
turers have implemented many Japanese organ- ment the policy. A key idea in the implementa-
izational policies in their North American tion of a policy is assuring the "buy in" of the
factories, including an extremely small number employees affected and of the managers over-
of job classifications and intensive functional seeing the policy. A plan that reflects assump-
794 Academy of Management Review October

tions held in mutual agreement by all relevant Berry, J. W. 1990. Imposed etics, emics, derived etics: Their
conceptual and operational status in cross-cultural psy-
parties has the greatest chance of success. chology. In T, N. Headland, K. L. Pike, & M, Harris (Eds.),
When a policy based on an outsider understand- Emics and etics: The insider/outsider debate: 28-47.
ing is imposed from on high, insiders affected by Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
the policy often put up resistance (Drazin & San- Brett, J. M., Tinsley. C. H., Janssens, M,, Barsness, Z. I,, & Lytle,
delands, 1992; Dunbar & Ahlstrom, 1995). Manag- A. L. 1997. New approaches to the study of culture in
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Social Psychology, 131: 655-665.
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Deutsch, M. 1975. Equity, equality, and need: What deter-
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Michael W. Morris is an associate professor of organizational behavior at Stanford

University's Graduate School of Business and a research affiliate of the Institute for
Social and Personality Research at the University of California at Berkeley. His
current research topics include cultural influence on social cognition and action,
interpersonal and intergroup conlUct resolution, and judgment and decision making.
Kwok Leung is professor ol management at the City University of Hong Kong and
president of the Asian Association of Social Psychology. His research interests include
justice, conflict, joint ventures in China, cross-cultural psychology, and research
Daniel Ames is completing his Ph.D. in social psychology at the University of Cali-
fornia at Berkeley, where he earned his M.A. His research interests include culture and
social cognition.
Brian Lickel is a graduate student in the Social Psychology Program at the University
of California at Santa Barbara. He conducts research on social cognition, groups, and
perceptions of justice. He was formerly an associate consultant at the Boston Con-
sulting Group.