Hofstede’s Power Distance Index

Geert Hofstede and others produced Cultural Dimension theory to explain six dimensions of culture “that society needs to come to term with in order to organize itself.” source Of particular interest to anarchism is the Power Distance Index (PDI), and maybe the Masculinity and Individualism indexes. Whether they are actually useful remains to be seen, and it is not without flaws and critics. The other dimensions/indexes are worth investigating as well, but for now the PDI is the focus.

PDI is a take on power relationships across a cultural context in which power distances (in a word inequality) are respected or rejected. The power distances occur within or between family, friends, organizations and institutions…anywhere humans interact. PDI considers or defines power from the people at the bottom or with little power, not from the top, yet also how both the bottom and top respect or reject and continue these cultural traditions or dynamics. Of course one problem is that there are outliers in all cultures, and how do you point to one culture in a place where many cohabitate and mix?

This [PDI] dimension is thought to date from the advent of agriculture, and with it, of large-scale societies. Until that time, a person would know their group members and leaders personally. This is not possible where tens of thousands and more have to coordinate their lives. Without acceptance of leadership by powerful entities, none of today’s societies could run.

Power Distance

The “advent of agriculture,” I can hear Zerzan, Edward Abbey and the anti-civ crowd cheering. Besides that, the idea that “none of today’s societies could run” seems like a stretch, and as an anarchist it’s not language I like or feel should go unchallenged. First, we don’t have to accept leadership or “powerful” leadership, and we can still go about our daily lives and “run” our own affairs without leaders or power. Power ultimately still rests locally, if not with the individual whether connected, isolated, discordant, or unified. Of course if power can oppress or crush individuals from being just that, or free individuals at any rate. Ultimately individuals are unique and it is the combined choices and sometimes solo acts of individuals that can move or challenge power. there is the possibility of accepting leadership, but not power differentials, and “society” could still “run” It runs differently nearly everywhere, within a cultural framework of course, good, bad, and ugly. Is it really a “society” if it is “run” by a powerful or strong entity or leader? Or is society really a place where self-interested individuals go about their days where leaders are led, and do not lead because people can run as they wish rather than being told or culturally coerced into running with the flock? The idea that we need leaders and power entities is the beginning of the end or the end of society. Just where are we going if we think we need “powerful entities,” Autocracy? Sadly this seems to be on the rise as of late (the world is experiencing a new form of autocracy).

We can think of it this way:

There is simply freedom or constraint. Liberation or rulership. This common empathy in liberty is the foundation that makes anarchy a coherent idea, that makes a world without rulership conceivable…Anarchism does not represent a final state of affairs, but a direction, a vector pointing beyond all possible compromises. As the old saying goes we don’t want bread or even the bakery, we want the stars too…

The state is in short a forcible simplification of human relations, a system caught up in feedback loops that strengthen its tyranny. Rather than building tolerable and fluidly responsive agreements from the ground up, the state imposes one rigid vision from the top down. Its monopoly on overwhelming violence provides a shortcut to accomplishing things that bypasses full negotiations; not only does this approach suppress freedom in the name of expediency it encourages everyone to do the same. Once the state exists it presents a tool that cannot be ignored — if you want to get a given task done the state makes it enticing to do it through competing for, seizing, and directing the state’s coercion. Nearly everyone becomes invested in expanding the power of the state so that it can assure or enact their desires.

The state that is so often defended as a means of solving collective action problems is itself a catastrophic collective action problem, with mass murderous consequences. The state suppresses us all, chains us in service to a limited number of tasks, inherently simplistic directives that can never fully reflect our complex array of desires. The state rules us, but it always seems easier to fight for control of the state, to struggle to win the lottery for its hamfisted power, than to dissolve its chains.

…Anarchism is not and has never been a proclamation that if we overthrow a given state — wherever the extent of that state is to be drawn — utopia will immediately result. Anarchism is not a claim about “human nature” or a simplistic reflex of negation. Anarchism is daring to see beyond the suffocating language of power.

William Gillis

Putting these ideas and PDI in relation to Pierre Bourdieu’s Cultural Capital and Michel Foucault’s Biopower is a means to seeing what underlies Geert’s assertions.

In the end it seems Hofstede is trying to put numbers on what Bourdieu and Foucault laid out prior (more below). However, Geert said that ‘dimensions do not exist’ as they come from the imagination, and that they are nonetheless useful for understanding the world and actual differences in power. It that so, it seems true only if the dimension scores accurate and then actually useful. According to Geert’s website “each new study uses new respondent sets and different countries. Even if it used the same questions, these questions might have come to mean different things…Actually it is rare for different studies on different data sets to yield the same dimensions.” source Then of what use are the PDI or other index numbers? Can they actually be dangerous and point more to what powerful entities want or use to control populations rather than what the populations or individuals want? Anecdotally some of the PDI scores seem to represent reality, but for the index score numbers to end so neatly at borders is peculiar.


Could these scores or colors be flipped on their head if we thought about military and police power, hegemony, and strategic goals within and beyond borders, even those of towns and cites? Of course that is not what the PDI measures, at least not directly. Does it measure local or national class power differentials, which is the essence of state power? Maybe, though that is not explicitly stated, nor does it seem to be reflected in the map scores. As far as state power to individual power is concerned I tend to see it as Micheal Parenti does:

…no ruling class could survive if it wasn’t attentive to its own interests, consciously trying to anticipate, control, or initiate events at home and abroad, both overtly and secretly. It’s hard to imagine a modern state in which there would be no conspiracies, no plans, no machinations, deceptions, or secrecies within the circles of power…

Our rulers themselves explicitly call for conspiratorial activities. They publicly admit it. Except they don’t call them conspiracies. They call them covert action, clandestine operations, special operations, and national security. If for some reason you don’t want to call these undertakings conspiracies, don’t call them conspiracies. Give them another name. Call them peekaboo operations, surprise initiatives, call them whatever you want. But recognize them for what they are—willfully planned actions whose real intentions are almost always denied. If they’re not conspiring, why all the secrecy?

…class interests permeate issue politics: tax policies, subsidies to corporate investments, corporate plunder of public lands, any number of issues. But issue politics do not encompass the totality of a class system. Class rule is not achieved solely by pressure-group politics, by interest-group politics. Class rule is not achieved solely by big campaign donations, lobbyists, and other manifestations of interest-group politics. Interest group
politics operates within a systemic totality of power and class interest. It operates within the dynamics of a capitalist state system, which, over and above the desires of any individual elites, imposes its own necessities.

These systemic imperatives are things that must be taken care of if the system is to be maintained. If value is to be extracted from the labor of the many to go into the pockets of the few, this system has to be maintained. The conditions of hegemony must constantly be refortified. That’s something that no one IBM or ITT or General Motors could do for itself. So there has to be central financing and subsidizing. There has to be regulating and cushioning competition. There has to be a lot of new research and development that must be carried out at public cost with the benefits of it then privatized and handed over to corporations. There has to be transfer of public-domain resources into private corporate hands for their exploitation and profit.

That system also has to do something else: It has to act as the agent of class control. It has to mobilize repressive forces at home and abroad, it has to limit and suppress dissent, it has to control information and manipulate opinion. This is the essence of the state. That’s what the state is about, is to act as an overarching, conscious agent for maintaining the entire system, doing what no private interest group can do to buttress class hegemony. To put it simply, the function of the capitalist state is to sustain the capitalist order. And it must consciously be doing that.

…state power is used in gangster ways by gentlemen gangsters who defend imperialism and the national security state.

Micheal Parenti, Conspiracy and Class Power, April 2, 1993

It goes without saying that the state influences culture and the PDI, and power is “written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire” (Chapter 26: The Secret of Primitive Accumulation, Capital Vol. 1).

Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas of cultural capital, habitus, doxa, and fields

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas of cultural capital, habitus, doxa, and fields map oppression much better than Intersectionality theory, and necessarily leads to challenging oppression. His concepts and analysis represent a depth and scope lacking in Intersectionality theory.

Cultural capital, a form of capital:

  1. Embodied state: learned habits and culture via socialization (i.e. dialect, eating habits, musical tastes, etiquette and  the way someone carries themselves etc.)
  2. Objectified: the durable goods we own, from the clothes we wear to where we live and what we surround ourselves with, that ultimately point to the status symbols that might put us in an economic class
  3. Institutionalized: our labels or qualifications and/or skills that get us recognized as occupying a certain role in society or the job market, which might include certificates, diplomas, and the like that show or make official, or measure us, in some hierarchy of competence or authority

A person’s cultural capital gives them a certain status in society (or their social circles), perhaps the status Intersectionality tries to point to, albeit crudely. Cultural capital + economic capital  + social capital = Power, and the ability to exchange those three with each other to buy status in a society’s social hierarchy (to a certain intersection if you like). They help drive the divides of society itself.

The volume of the social capital possessed by a given agent thus depends on the size of the network of connections he can effectively mobilize and on the volume of the capital (economic, cultural or symbolic) possessed in his own right by each of those to whom he is connected. This means that, although it is relatively irreducible to the economic and cultural capital possessed by a given agent, or even by the whole set of agents to whom he is connected, social capital is never completely independent of it because the exchanges instituting mutual acknowledgment presuppose the reacknowledgment of a minimum of objective homogeneity, and because it exerts a multiplier effect on the capital he possesses in his own right.

The Forms of Capital, Pierre Bourdieu 1986
  1. Habitus: The “subconscious” habits, tastes, and know-how resulting from cultural capital that helps (or hurts) someone’s ability to navigate in a given society
  2. Field: The areas in a culture, or subculture, where cultural capital and therefore power and habitus are played out, often between doxa (the orthodox and heterodox norms of a given field) [(habitus) × (cult. capital)] + field = practices

Bourdieu argues that all actions by individuals in social arrangements are interest-driven, regardless of the specificities of a given concrete context. As a result of this first premise, he maintains that while self-interest is the driving force of human behaviour, the final result is that social struggles are the main facet of social arrangements in any specific field, because individuals try to maximise their gains and accumulate resources under different forms of capital (economic, social, cultural, symbolic). The historical outcome of this persistent search for accumulation of resources is to entrench hierarchies that in their turn require a permanent vigilance to legitimise these social differences – hence a continuous effort to keep ‘misrecognition’ about the origins of these asymmetries. This is the reason why Bourdieu’s theory is essentially political and deals with power relations as its core objective.

A second foundational principle in his theory is the notion that culture is not only the very ground for human interaction, but is also an especial terrain of domination. He argues that all symbolic systems are anchored in culture and thus determine our understanding of reality. They both ensure  communication and interaction, but also create and maintain social hierarchies. Culture, in the form of dispositions, objects, institutions, language and so on, mediates social practices by connecting people and groups to institutionalised hierarchies. Thus it necessarily embodies power relations. Whenever a given society changes and develops through social differentiation and growing complexity, culture and symbolic systems may become relatively autonomous arenas of struggle for difference vis-à-vis other fields. This is encapsulated in the word ‘distinction’ which is a crucial concept (Bourdieu 1984). Thus, cultural capital in some specific concrete situations may be of immense value to perpetuate social differences and hierarchies.

…Power is present in all fields, but Bourdieu argues that there is a specific field of power, in two usages: as a ‘meta-field’ that organises differentiation and struggles through all fields and, second, it also represents the dominant class. Since he considers that conflict is the fundamental dynamic of social life, at the heart of all social arrangements is the struggle for power – not only over material resources but also over symbolic power. The study of the field of power is, as a result, crucial to unearth a clear interpretation about the origin, the meaning and the consequences of power and power relations in any specific society.

…A cultural theory of power, therefore, following the analytical possibilities offered in the model of Bourdieu, is a promising tool to illuminate society as it really is, in its ensemble of multiple forms of human interaction, and to reveal the foundational premises of any social order. …If rigorously applied to concrete realities, Bourdieu’s model uncovers the nature of power relations and their social basis. Through emancipatory knowledge, power asymmetries might be the subject of action by those who object to social inequalities promoted and secured by the most powerful groups in society. Social struggles may then ensue, thus forcing change and a redistribution of power.

In Search of a Cultural Interpretation of Power: The Contribution of Pierre Bourdieu

More than just pointing to abstract, non-existent, or essentialist-like divisions or “intersections” as is the case with Intersectionality theory, understanding cultural, economic, and social capital will go further in making real change possible rather than highlighting and possibly strengthening divisions and cultural capital itself which perpetuates social differences and hierarchies.

Michel Foucault’s Biopower

Like Bourdieu’s Cultural Capital, Foucault’s Biopower can help understand PDI, if that is PDI is even valid in its output. Biopower is “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations” (The History of Sexuality Vol. 1 p. 140). This is what Bourdieu asserts, not sure that it’s what Geert cared to explore. Foucault saw technology and untouchable authority coming from an invisible or elusive panopticon-like set of Disciplinary Institutions that perpetuate the narratives and myths necessary to control populations, often the institutions of the state that Parenti alluded to above. This situation is covered in Cultural Capital, but perhaps more explicit in Biopower as school, prisons, police precincts, churches, barracks, hospitals, mental health services, and the like however they might fit together to create power over populations. Both Foucault and Bourdieu lay the groundwork to understanding the numbers Geert’s indexes produce. Whether the latter is useful or relevant is questionable at this point.

It’s not that we need any of these theories to explain what is obvious to many, that power relations are played out in cultural contexts and (disciplinary) institutions that humans believe in. Of course the goal here or for most people concerned with freedom should be to “block the chains” of authority and vanguardism. “All power to all people” (Black Panther slogan), is the same as no power for anyone, which translates to blocking the chains of authority, equaliberty that would make the PDI useless, one number or color, null.

One way to consider all the above and how power differences ultimately play out, if not how it is framed is as follows:

Ellerman pointed to the Forest (green) and the Trees (blue) as the current classical liberal framing, but primarily missing the trees. The framing can be expanded or re-framed to consider the black text, perhaps the oxygen of the forest. more on “rights”

This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself. Robert G. Ingersoll, The Liberty Of Man, Woman And Child

The “leadership of powerful entities” can be seen as helping or hurting equaliberty depending on where you stand. It’s hard to say what an anarchist society “will” look like, as that seems as impossible as determining the trajectory and outcome of the current ‘order’ and disorder and PDI unfolding from governments. This site houses some ideas on what it “might” look like (or not look like e.g. democratic failure).

David Graeber alludes to a key factor of power in Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology that is central to libertarianism:

Even more than High Theory, what anarchism needs is what might be called Low Theory: a way to grappling with those real, immediate questions that emerge from a transformative project…normally in mainstream social science this sort of thing is generally classified as “policy issues,” and no self respecting anarchist would have anything to do with these.

against policy (a tiny manifesto):

The notion of “policy” presumes a state or governing apparatus which imposes its will on others. “Policy” is the negation of politics; policy is by definition something concocted by some form of elite, which presumes it knows better than others how their affairs are to be conducted. By participating in policy debates the very best one can achieve is to limit the damage, since the very premise is inimical to the idea of people managing their own affairs. (p.9)

…What sort of social theory would actually be of interest to those who are trying to help bring about a world in which people are trying to govern their own affairs?…First,…”another world is possible.” (p.10)…The second, …reject self-consciously any trace of vanguardism. David Graeber

Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, pp.9-10

What is policy if not vanguardism? Suffice it to say that I think these are valid claims, and not much different than what many anarchists have set out to do or ask for, states and power = null.

Libertarianous or “Block the Chains” was inspired by block chain technology, and in a way block chain does, or can, block the chains of vanguardism.

The idea behind “proof of work,” according to Daniel Krawisz, of the Satoshi Nakamoto Institute, is that it is “an added complication, like a ritual, so as to make blocks more difficult to generate…. [It] is…a means for a group of self-interested people, none of whom is subordinate to any other, to establish a consensus against a considerable incentive to resist it.” Because it takes so much computing power to find this number, miners are motivated to ensure that the transactions they are processing are valid and non-conflicting.

The Proof-of-Work Concept

This is a beautiful thing, and similar to “all power to all people” where we operate with no central authority. “One cannot protect society from coercion, theft and murder by institutionalizing and legalizing coercion, theft and murder… and renaming them “law,” “taxes,” and “war.” Larken Rose

Anarchy is Order, like a fractal in Chaos Theory, Order generated from the ‘Chaos’ of the many paths crossing to seek Order. If the paths are libertarian in nature they will shed minimal turbulence to disturb others, and find order via liberty if they have also shed the fetters of Authority in their wake. Anarchism is more process and ethic than final solutions to land a monopoly in control of process and the outlook. The solution is in an evolution around moving forward as needed to preserve a better world with liberty and justice in tow.

“Anarchism, to me, means not only the denial of authority, not only a new economy, but a revision of the principles of morality. It means the development of the individual as well as the assertion of the individual. It means self-responsibility, and not leader worship.” Voltairine de Cleyre

“The real revolution is the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character. The only real emancipation is individual…” Will Durant

“There is nothing intrinsically wrong about utopias, the problem is if you just have one of them, we need as many utopian visions as possible…” David Graeber

Good luck on your journey. Leave us some bread crumbs, bakeries, and stars in your wake.

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