Sunday, May 29, 2011

Korea "Tighting" ?

According to a recently published study, Pakistan, Malaysia, India, and Singapore would be the only 4 countries with a 'tighter' culture than Korea's ("Differences Between Tight and Loose Cultures: A 33-Nation Study", Science 27 May 2011 - study led by Michele J. Gelfand*).

In this
study's summary, 'tight' countries "have many strong norms and a low tolerance of deviant behavior", a phenomenon sometimes conditioned by the environment (for instance : high population density, resource scarcity, natural disaster zone...). We could venture deeper into 'distal ecological and historical factors and societal processes', or 'proximal/contemporaneous processes', but I'm not in the mood. So why not stick to 'tight' and 'loose' ?

Note that all top 5 countries maintain death penalty, and are not exactly celebrated for heralding LGBT rights. And if it's far less prone to religious conservatism than Pakistan, Korea remains developped a unique set of rules as the most Confucian country in the world. India and Singapore could be considered structurally 'tight' for obvious yet different reasons, even if one cannot sum up India with the Calcutta or caste system cliches, or Singapore with its Orwellian lists of "don'ts and don'ts".

Should we fully trust this study then ? Researchers compiled thousands of interviews led between 2000 and 2003, which may lead to some conjunctural biases. For instance, 9/11 fueled zealotry and conservatism across Muslim Asia. And were Koreans polled in 2000, still recovering from the 1997-98 crisis, or in 2003, doped by World Cup euphoria and the Sunshine years ? Furthermore, I didn't expect Norway to come 6th (with 9.5 on the tigthness score - PAK 12.3, MLY 11.8, IND 11, KOR 10.4), or Israel 30th (with 3.1... only Hungary, Estonia, and Ukraine follow with respectively 2.9, 2.6, and 1.6)**.

This 'tightness' score mostly sounds like a good marketing gimmick to me. And more fundamentally : I tend not to trust mono-dimensional scores that are supposed to grasp complex phenomena (IQ being probably the ultimate imposture : summing up intelligence in one dimension is a criminal nonsense).

That certainly doesn't make Korea a model of 'looseness', but the country keeps evolving at a much quicker pace than its direct 'competitors', not to mention less 'tightish' countries such as Japan, particularly after 2003.

Seoul Village 2011
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* I haven't read it but just got wind of it thanks to the Chosun Daily : "
Korean Society the Fifth 'Tightest in the World'" (Chosun Ilbo 20110530).
** FYI: UK finishes 13th with 6.9, France 18th with 6.3, the US 23rd with 5.1.

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