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Cross-cultural studies and business

Cross-cultural studies and business

Emanuela Ferreri, PhD, Research Fellow and Lecturer (Sociology).
Dep. Political Sciences, Sapienza, University of Rome.

– Prof. Ferreri, would you mind sharing your scientific background? How you got interested in Cross-cultural studies?

– I graduated in Social anthropology (in 1992), I have a PhD in Sociology of cultural and political processes. Currently I am a university teacher of Sociology (from 2012 to today). My specific field concerns the interdisciplinary dialogue between Anthropology and Sociology, also in terms of International cooperation and development processes. I cannot define myself as an expert in Cross-cultural studies, as I am only a scholar of Sociology and anthropology of contemporary societies. I am interested in understanding how relations are established in society between the cultural heterogeneity of people and the structural homologation of social systems.

– Would you mind sharing a little bit about the activity of CSB project?

– The Cultural Studies in Business Project (2018/2020) was born with a partnership led by Sapienza University of Rome with other European universities (Portugal, Lithuania, Albania, Croatia, North Macedonia) as part of the Erasmus plus programs, for the improvement of European higher education. The specific target was both teachers and students. It was a question of designing, experimenting and simultaneously delivering an integrated study program between sociological and economic subjects. I personally engaged in a module of lessons in Sociology and economic anthropology (main references: K. Polanyi for the classics and A. Appadurai for the contemporaries) in order to offer students an interdisciplinary perspective suited to their educational needs. I can summarize that the project started by thinking about the title: Cultural Studies in Business, or how to build a socio-cultural perspective for the study of economics and economic activities today. The partnership operated on the basis of the concrete experiences of each university and each teacher involved. Personally I have listened to and participated in the lectures of my colleagues on: Ethics and Economics, History of Economy, Economic Geography, Sustainable Development, Globalization and Finance, Intercultural Communication and Marketing, Economics of Tourism, Economics and Cultural Heritage, Creativity and Economic Innovation, and it was very interesting and enriching. I was able to visit academic places in Albania, North Macedonia and Lithuania, then, unfortunately, the Covid pandemic forced us to work only remotely, but the project continued with all the partners until the conclusion of all activities provided. To date, the Sapienza Department of Political Sciences has decided to keep the lectures module managed by the Project leader Professor Cristina Marchetti active with me.

– In your opinion, why are Cross-cultural studies essential for International business-economic studies?

– Without a doubt, I believe that it is not possible today to study at university or to engage professionally in international activities without having adequate scientific training on the subject of cultural differences and social inequality. Sociological and anthropological studies are important for the analysis of all social activities, therefore also for the study of Economics. But the real problem begins with the fact that the term “culture”, in the context of the Social sciences and Humanities, has many different meanings and is applied to both descriptive and explanatory use of phenomena. Each specialist must necessarily clarify their references. These clarifications must be made very carefully, but it is not certain that an anthropologist or a sociologist will be able to do so if there is no agreement among the people concerned on what to really face in terms of scientific knowledge on the social importance of culture.

How do cultures and mentalities influence business organizations: in positive and negative ways?

– In my experience, it is not a question of discovering or rediscovering how culture influences people’s economic or political activities, since this is completely taken for granted, indeed, it is basic and inevitable. Instead, it is a question of understanding why some people, in a given context, faced with a specific problem, believe that they have a cultural problem among themselves rather than another type of problem, such as a problem of communication, technology, money, law or simply of mutual respect. I can summarize that in my opinion, many of the so-called cultural problems in organizations and institutions are actually due to the presence of those who believe themselves culturally superior or inferior to others. That is, cultural problems are too often linked to prejudices and stereotypes that we would like not to have to consider as such, or they are the arrogant cover-up of structural problems that we do not want to address as such. For the rest, everything can be understood and explained, but only between people who undertake to do so with mutual respect and clarity of objectives.

Could you share some cases of how cultural differences influenced organizations from your practice?

– I think I answered in the previous question, but I clarify how I can: in any activity we find ourselves engaged, for work, for passion, for political ideals and sentimental motivations, we are all different and we are all the same; we are all the same and different, every day we have to start over from this base, we have to understand if the new problem we want to solve is really new or if it is actually old and deliberately not understood. We must understand if the culture we invoke or seek, as a description or as an explanation of the problem we are facing, is not in reality just a factor of knowledge that we lack, of information, of practical skills that we do not have available or that we have forgotten, ignored, abandoned or that we glimpse but only from afar. Cultural difference and similarity are anthropological conditions of social life, but cultural difference is a universal right, it is not a raw material to be exploited, it is not a resource to be capitalized like many others.

–  In your opinion, what is mentality?

– In my opinion, mentality is a predisposition of the subject (singular or plural, people or groups of people), it is made up of repeated thoughts and reflections, habits to act, memory and experience. It can be an incredible coincidence of old and of new aspirations or vice versa; that is, it can be the new and the old mixed together in a surprising way. But my field of study and research, and I say it once again, is social reality, collective experience, shared or unshared memory, often divisive and conflictual. For me, mentality is culture because it is social, and it is social because it is cultural. Interdisciplinary dialogue on these topics is very important, but care must always be taken not to confuse the different levels of social reality, not to confuse people’s fundamental values. In the first place, we must never confuse cultural difference with social inequality, we must not confuse what the former creates and recreates and what the latter produces and reproduces. Cultural and social processes are interconnected and not easily separable, understanding and explaining all this is the task of the science of society and culture. A tiring and nourishing task for the understanding of social problems, to which I hope to contribute with my daily work as a teacher and university researcher.