Posted by: tylergaston | October 21, 2019

Cultures Clashing: Rethinking American Factory (2019) through Hofstede’s Lens

In the chapter, Explaining Theories of Culture, in our text, Applying Communication Theory for Professional Life (Dainton & Zelley, 2005), the authors explain Hofstede’s cultural dimension of “individualism-collectivism.”  Using this aspect of Hofstede’s theory to think about the new movie, American Factory (2019), is both instructive and entertaining.  

This documentary film, the first release from Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground Productions, follows the story of the rebirth, retooling and reeducation of a shuttered factory and its employees in a down and out suburb of Dayton, Ohio.  The film predictably begins with brimming optimism of both management and labor, as a Chinese windshield manufacturer, Fuyao, comes to town promising new jobs and a renaissance of the rust belt economy. The high hopes quickly fade, as the cultural hurdles continue to grow and the combination of the two vastly different corporate cultures painfully grinds to a halt.  

The American workers are firmly placed on the “individualism” side of the continuum.  Failing to adhere to the new workplace regulations and priorities, they have a difficult time accepting change, especially because they feel left out of the decision making processes. The Chinese managers, steeped in self-sacrifice and conformity, are baffled at what they see as laziness and ingratitude of the American worker.  Contempt grows and profits fall. The movie is a tragicomic tale of seemingly insurmountable cultural barriers and a stark warning to all workers of the coming of the machine age. Instilling more resilience in the American labor force is necessary and urgent, as we move into an uncertain future.   

References:

Bognar, S (Producer) & Bognar, S. & Reichart, J (Directors). (2019). America Factory. [Motion Picture]. United States: Higher Ground Productions. 

Dainton, M., & Zelley, E. D. (2005). Applying communication theory for professional life: a practical introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.


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