Leadership Part 3: A Theory of Order
Concerning the Grounded Theory Method
Hierarchies of Purpose is based on the theory of maintaining order, which is the foundation of my dissertation. It is a grounded theory study. To develop it, I utilized the grounded theory method of research to discover a core variable in my substantive area of study, which was the country of Laos. I followed the process of data collection and analysis outlined by the method’s founders: Glaser and Strauss. (Later in its development these two split into separate camps: Glaserian and Strausian grounded methodologies emerged. I follow the Glaserian model.)
Glaser and Strauss developed grounded theory in the early 1960s. To some extent, it was a response to the prevailing research ideology of the day that was driven by validation studies of existing “grand theories” (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Glaser and Strauss thought that these verification studies often rehashed existing ideas and discovered little. As a result, they developed a process that generates theory from data while incorporating their belief that theories are not stagnant but dynamic concepts capable of being modified into forms that coincide with the realities of changing social interactions. They felt that an inductive process grounded in data could lead to studies that would give the social sciences new concepts that could be applied immediately to an existing social system for the purpose of change and improvement.
Glaser and Strauss compiled a series of monographs using the method. This led to the 1967 publication of The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research and the formal introduction of the method. The method has been used successfully in the study of a wide range of organizations including health, education, and business.
The purpose of this type of study is to allow theory to emerge inductively from data so that analysts can discover what is actually happening in the substantive area. This is achieved through the translation of the data into useable, practical theories. Glaser (1978) stated that, “The goal of grounded theory is to generate a theory that accounts for a pattern of behavior which is relevant and problematic for those involved” (p. 93).
For instance, in Lee’s (1975) study of prisoners called “Doing Time,” a core variable emerged that depicted prison time as something to be feared, counted. The author concluded, “‘doing time’ is the major thing one does in prison” (p. 284). To prisoners, time, which is something that for most people flows seamlessly throughout their adult lives, becomes an enemy that robs them of the hub of their existence. Lee’s complex, yet identifiable explication of the process of “doing time” helped to clarify how prisoners behave when confronted with this tedious and often dangerous prospect. But although tied closely to the problems inherent in the substantive area, theories like this had potentially broader functions, as the concept of “doing time” could be extrapolated to other social domains. Thus, although a key aspect of sociological research, especially grounded theory is that differences exist between types of theories, it is possible for a substantive theory to have broader, more formal applications. Glaser (1978) stated that the difference between substantive theory and formal theory is that,
by substantive theory we mean theory developed for a substantive or empirical area of sociological inquiry—such as patient care, race relations, professional education, geriatric life styles, delinquency, or financial organizations. By formal theory we mean theory developed for a formal or conceptual area of sociological inquiry—such as status passage, stigma, deviant behavior, socialization, status congruency, authority and power. (p. 144)
These differences indicate that most grounded theory is substantive but does not prohibit or preclude the possibility of formal theory being generated from grounded theory studies.
Grounded theory is grounded in the analysis of data. It is a conceptual interpretation of a substantive area that is systematically induced from the collection of various data. But in order to successfully apply the grounded theory method to the study of a substantive area, analysts must minimize preconceptions so that the analyst’s views do not influence the data. This helps to increase the analyst’s ability to receive data that are relevant to the participants. Concepts must be allowed to emerge through data collection, coding, and ongoing comparative analysis, without any forcing of concepts. Forcing data occurs when the analyst combines what may be actually present with internal expectations.
Generating the Theory
In 2005 I withdrew from my post-graduate studies in California and took a position teaching at a private international preparatory school in Shanghai, China. The opportunity to live and work in a country that is in the process of experiencing one of the most incredible social transformations in world history was too intriguing to pass up. So I put my studies on hold and spent the next year in China. Near the end of that stay I realized it was time for me to reconnect with my doctoral program and begin my dissertation. As someone who has worked extensively with at-risk students at struggling secondary schools, my first thought was that my dissertation should concern school reform, and as a student of comparative education and a seasoned traveler, I began to think that it might be possible to actually do a study in a foreign country. Of course China seems like it would have been the perfect solution, but I had another idea.
In the summer of 2006 I visited the cities of Vientiane and Luang Prabang in Laos. I was impressed with the people and culture of that country and interested in its rapid pace of economic and social reform. It seemed to me to be a perfect place to conduct a study. As one of the least developed and poorest countries on earth it faces a multitude of societal and educational challenges and I felt that a study there might be pertinent to other countries struggling with the pressures of rapid development. It is also a deeply traditional society, bound to the spiritual philosophy of Theravada Buddhism, but still in the grips of a communist government installed at the end of our war with Vietnam. I felt that these conflicting factors could offer some intriguing perspectives.
Other considerations weighed on my decision. First, it seemed a practical thing to pursue. I was already in Asia and when I visited Laos in July 2006 I had received an invitation by a Lao friend to volunteer at one of its public teacher colleges. Since I’d be working in the English Department, I would have access to many English-speaking Lao. Also, Laos is a small country, and I felt that its size would make my work more manageable. Aside from these practical reasons, my other consideration was a personal one. I had the time (I gave myself one full year away from work to complete my dissertation), so this was the perfect chance to give something back. As a volunteer I could offer my services to a country in need of professional, experienced assistance, and on the chance that my study proved useful, it might also offer some insight into a struggling country’s quest for economic advancement.
In September 2006 I contacted my mentor and asked her opinion about using my Laos as my substantive area and she agreed that it was worth a try. She also agreed to give me help as I moved along. I quit my job and arranged to fly to Luang Prabang and volunteer at public university for 2 months at the end of 2006. Although my Lao friend gave me every indication that this would be simple to do, I would learn that this wasn’t the case. Thus began two of the most incredible months of my life.
My journey through Laos gave my study a unique foundation. Because of the nature of independent travel, I became embedded into Lao society. In effect, I lived with Lao people. I shopped at Lao stores, ate with Lao people, took walks and bike rides through Lao neighborhoods and into the Lao countryside. I taught Lao students, worked with Lao administrators, and dealt with Lao officials at every step of my 56 days there. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t have foreign interaction. I did. It amounted to some of my richest data and on this end I considered myself a bit lucky since one of the foreigners I interviewed is arguably the foremost foreign expert on Lao life and education.
What I didn’t know when I got on that plane was exactly what would occur. Traveling in a developing country can be unpredictable, and although I normally cope well with uncertainty, I wasn’t sure how it would affect my study. But I got involved with grounded theory because it is a method that is aimed at discovery. Hence, I felt that whatever happened would simply be what it must be. I also felt that no matter what occurred, the results might have some impact on Lao organizational progress and could be generalized enough to have applications in other countries and other contexts. But I had no idea what would happen, what I might discover.
After 2 months in Laos I had a great deal of data and although my study was not fully saturated, I felt it was time to leave. I went back to New York to spend a month with my family and then decided that living in another country/culture while I began to write up my theory would give me a greater opportunity to sample outside my substantive area. I chose Argentina and spent 2 ½ months there working on my theory. My time in Argentina did not include any volunteer work, but I made sure that I was out observing behaviors and interacting with people as much as possible.
I stayed in Buenos Aires, Rosario, Cordoba, and Mendoza, four of Argentina’s largest, most modern cities. Quite a bit of data came from that trip, and at some point my cultural and linguistic isolation became useful as I began to work through my theory daily. By this time my core variable, maintaining order, had emerged. It was a productive period. I was beginning to see that my theory might have broader applications and without this chance to observe and think in another distinctly different society, I doubt that I could have properly finished my study. I also found that social observation in a foreign country or culture can in some ways be far easier because certain behaviors that I may take for granted in my own culture can be easier to discern in a foreign one.
Finally, after returning to New York again for a month I went back to Shanghai to finish the theory section of my draft. I felt that life in China, a country with closer cultural ties to Laos, might possibly shed some light on the last few chapters of my work. After 2 months in Shanghai, I returned to New York and finished the first draft of my theory section. In all, I interviewed more than 20 people, some in great depth, interacted with numerous others, and made observations in five countries on three continents. I also utilized the notes I made during my year living in the Republic of South Korea (I worked for the South Korea Ministry of Education in 1995-1996.).
As my mentor stated near the end of my time in Laos, my substantive area was not the Lao educational system, but Laos itself. Thus, this theory attempts to explicate behaviors that occur to some degree, in one form or another, in all societies, yet it is not limited to societies. It has potential applications to any social system. But most importantly, it can be applied to educational organizations such as school districts and schools.
Like most grounded theory studies the course of my research did not take a simple linear trajectory. When I made my plans to volunteer at a Lao public university, I hoped for the best, but many factors came to influence that situation. My grand tour question was, “Tell me about your experiences teaching at a Lao public university.” Although I would eventually ask this question when I began my volunteer stint at a private college in Vientiane, it would take me nearly a month before I could actually pose it.
The first 2 ½ weeks were taken up mostly in Luang Prabang trying to arrange my volunteer work. A few days after I arrived in Bangkok (I spent a week there prior to going to Laos) I received an email from my Lao friend explaining that she was mistaken in assuming I could just volunteer. I would now need official approval before I could work. Quickly I found some names on the Lao governmental website and sent out emails concerning my situation. I got a response from one official saying he would be glad to help if I could come to see him when he returned from Canada in 2 months. I couldn’t wait 2 months. I gave myself only 2 or 3 months to complete this section of the project. I decided to fly to Luang Prabang to see if I could sort it out on my own.
Soon after I arrived, my contact (a teacher at the university) arranged a meeting with the head of the English Department. I met with him, explained my situation and qualifications, and he told me that if I could stay a year he might be able to help. Of course, I could not afford such a lengthy venture. He then said I should talk with the Australian who was placed there by her government a few months earlier. We met and she told me that someone like me was sorely needed but that without official backing it would be difficult to get me in, but she’d do everything she could to help.
For the next 2 weeks I emailed and called officials in Vientiane and met with anyone in Luang Prabang who could help get me placed, but nothing was settled. During this time I kept extensive notes on all my meetings, calls, emails, and observations. Although I was allowed to come to the university’s library one day and work independently with students, no formal answer to my request had been offered. The university’s Dean was mostly silent about my situation, which I interpreted as a negative indication. Finally, I decided that I should go to Vientiane and meet officials at the Ministry of Education face to face.
In Vientiane I met with four officials within the Ministry. The last two finally informed me that no one had ever been given permission to volunteer at a public university in Laos without the backing of a government or N.G.O. and even in those cases usually 6 or more months were required just to gain approval and prepare the proper papers. It took me over 3 weeks to get this information. They were very sorry and suggested I go to the U.S. Embassy. There I spoke with a few people. One official put me in contact with the Dean of a private college in town. I called her and she told me to come right over. Since it is a private university, no official authorizations were needed. At the end of that day I had a sponsor. I would spend the next 5 weeks volunteering at the college for a few hours each weekday. I also made contact with an American teacher at a public university and met two school officials there. Although they could not offer me work, I came in on three occasions to help them write memos and guide them through the use of literacy development software which I installed on their computers.
I met with government officials, schools administrators, teachers, students, N.G.O. and independent volunteers (I found someone who through dogged persistence was able to create her own library and learning center in Luang Prabang). I even taught a film class for 3 weeks during my stint at the private college in Vientiane. Lao students predominantly attended the class. My observations included numerous classroom visitations and interactions with Lao in a variety of settings: in class, in school and public libraries, in taxis, on basketball courts, walking through towns, cycling through the countryside, staying at guesthouses, eating at restaurants and cafes, negotiating with street vendors, conversing with novices, visiting Buddhist shrines, and informally discussing impressions of Laos with Lao nationals and foreigners.
I spent 56 days in Laos, splitting my time between the cultural capital, Luang Prabang and the governmental center, Vientiane, the majority of it in Vientiane. My time in Argentina was taken up mostly with general observations and the writing of my theory. I took daily walks and observed behaviors every chance I could get. Some important data came from those observations. Likewise, my time in Shanghai served to help elucidate many of the concepts that I had already outlined in my theory, as did the notes that I kept from my year of work in the Republic of South Korea. Thus, Argentina and Shanghai were both critical in aiding me in the collection of new data; the sorting of my data and the writing of my theory, while my notes from Pusan, South Korea provided additional data and examples for my study.
Substantive Area: The People’s Democratic Republic of Laos
The UN’s Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing Countries (2007) ranks the Lao People’s Democratic Republic as the 23rd least developed country in the world.
Population: 6, 521,998
Life Expectancy: 55.89 years
Religious Breakdown: Buddhist, 69%, Animist, 32%, Christian 2%
Literacy Rate: 68.7%
Government type: Communist State (CIA World Fact Book, 2008)
Figure 1. General facts about Laos.
Laos is a small, landlocked country in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Thailand. It is an ancient country with a rich culture. Its population consists of both Lowland Lao and Highland Lao. Lowland Lao comprise both the political and religious majority in the country. Most Lao are either Theravada Buddhists or Animists.
Beginning in the 14th century, the ancient kingdom of Laos, known an Lan Xang, ruled over portions of what is today Cambodia and Thailand. This continued for nearly 300 years, after which the Lao kingdom suffered through centuries of steady deterioration until it came under the control of Siam, modern Thailand. This lasted from the end of the 18th century until the 19th century when the French invaded and created Indochina.
By seizing the government in 1975, the Communist-fueled Pathet Lao was able to institute a rigid socialist regime and eliminate the monarchy. They were closely allied with the Vietnamese. In 1986, the government began to turn its interest to opening its struggling economy by increasing foreign investment and invigorating private enterprise (CIA World Fact Book, 2008). Soon after, Laos opened relations with Vietnam in the hope to privatize enterprise and benefit from the rising tide of economic growth in the region.
Culturally Laos began to open as well. It’s worth noting the level of influence Thailand has with its poorer neighbor, Laos. As Evans (2002) observed,
The Lao are equally ambivalent about the Thai. On the one hand they admire their modernity and sophistication, which since the late 1980s they have avidly followed via Thai TV. On the other hand, via this same medium, they are exposed daily to all of the most unattractive and frightening consequences of Thailand’s rapid economic ascent—which the Lao characterize as typically Thai, whether they be problems of drug addiction, gangsterism, prostitution, corruption or marital breakdown. Lao leaders seem to think that authoritarian rule is the way to protect Laos from these dire consequences. (pp. 226-27)
Today most Lao who live in major cities have increased expectations about their country’s future, but with 74.1% of the population living on less than $2 a day (United Nations, 2007), and the country ranked 168th from the top in a worldwide index that compares perceived levels of corruption (Transparency International, 2007), Laos still faces many difficult economic and social issues.
Overview of the Theory
This heart of this book is concerned with a theory I developed for my doctoral dissertation detailing the process of maintaining social order titled, “The Grounded Theory of Maintaining Order.” The prime data for this book comes from that study. For my dissertation, I used classic grounded theory methodology as outlined by Glaser and Strauss (1967). This methodology attempts to conceptualize the patterns of behavior in a substantive area in order to locate a core variable that accounts for the most variation among concepts. It is an inductive method that involves the collection of data that are coded and then compared with other data until a theory emerges. Data for this study came from formal interviews, informal ones, and extensive observations in and outside of the substantive area which was the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos).
The theory of maintaining order details the process social systems utilize to maintain stability, structure, and hierarchy, so that they can remain secure, viable entities. Maintaining order is a basic social-psychological process that allows members of a social system to exist within an environment that is conducive to success; that follows the main edicts of the system: its factors of purpose.
The stages of the process are defining, fortifying, obviating, and resolving. The defining stage accounts for the creation and refinement of the factors of purpose. The fortifying stage strengthens members’ attachment to its factors of purpose, while during the obviating stage conflicts are either averted or defused. Finally, the resolving stage is utilized to clear conflicts or to neutralize offenders.
This theory attempts to explicate the patterns of interaction rooted in the process of maintaining a social system’s order. In its outline of these complex behaviors it may offer insights into the functions of this process that could possibly lead to changes in how members perceive issues connected to power and culture that help to shape a social system’s relation to order.
The theory of maintaining order may have practical applications. By focusing on key concepts like refining the factors of purpose instead of imposing behavioral change, it might be possible that the theory could be utilized by practitioners to help sharpen clarity of purpose within moribund organizations, while helping to expose the often misdirected course of organizational “reinforcement.”
In addition, it may help organizations in the examination of their members’ relationship to conflict. Using it leaders may better understand the transformational nature of organizational conflict and the potential of optimal conflict to inspire creative, dynamic thinking.
The theory posits that most social systems express some form of order and that members strive to maintain it while the quality and the degree of order is shaped by critical dimensions that give each social system its unique characteristics. In other words, the structure exists but it is defined by context.
It is a grounded theory and therefore it explores the recurring patterns of behaviors that influence how members of a social system live and, most importantly, interact. It is those interactions that account for what is to follow. As a consequence, the complexity of human interaction serves as the medium for understanding how and why people maintain order within the social structures they inhabit.
Although I gathered the majority of my data in the country of Laos, my substantive area, this theory is not about Laos (my data from Laos do provide numerous examples included for the purpose of illustrating key concepts). It is concerned with the analysis of the patterns of human behavior examined in that domain, but these have been de-contextualized and generalized into theory.
The theory of maintaining order has separate, yet interlocking sets of dimensions. One set denotes the dimensions associated with power, while the other is concerned with culture. Power includes issues of leadership and authority, while culture incorporates matters of communication and time.
By influencing the creation and maintenance of the factors of purpose and methods of practice, both the power and culture sets are connected by their ability to shape the development of meaning in a social system. These are almost always set during the defining stage as a social system creates and refines its factors of purpose and methods of practice. Once these are instituted and the social system begins the fortifying stage, it will strive to recognize what it may take for its members to maintain order. Power and culture then influence the shaping of the methods of practice at each stage of the process.
Power is an essential dimension of maintaining order. It includes leadership and authority. Leaders are those who are in power. They are accountable for making intentional choices for the good of the organization. In the context of maintaining order, leaders are responsible for supporting order. This could mean strict adherence to the status quo, or endeavoring to overhaul a moribund organization. They are the keepers of order and are responsible for applying and/or modifying the sets of rules established by the membership. But power is not concentrated solely in the leadership. Members at varying levels throughout a social system are often vying to increase their status and power. As a result, some form of power flows through most interactions.
All members possess power to some degree. Raffanti (2005) asserted that, “everyone in an organization possesses power….Thus the ability to exercise power does not depend solely on hierarchical roles” (pp. 29, 30). But although the flow of power is not focused exclusively on those mandated to lead, order is maintained by the membership’s ability to respect hierarchical composition and the rules and orders that provide structure. This usually means that directives follow a downward current. Although, the degree of structural rigidity may vary, the concept of order and the general direction of flow remain constant.
During the process of maintaining order, power outwardly asserts itself at all stages except the obviating stage when power may be seen as having more of an internal presence often influenced by fear of reprisals. During the defining stage, leaders are expected to guide the decision-making process. They are instrumental in deciding which goals, values, and tenets are included in the factors of purpose. In the fortifying stage leaders are responsible for developing activities and outlets that allow members to strengthen their identity to the organization, and during the resolving stage they are called on to pass judgment on members who have strayed. Importantly, the process of conflict resolution can act as a means for the examination and modification of power bases: “Internal conflict can also serve as a means for ascertaining the relative strength of antagonistic interests within the structure, and in this way constitute a mechanism for the maintenance or continual readjustment of the balance of power” (Coser, 1956, p. 154). Consequently, as Golembiewski (2001) observed, “although some may see conflict as an endemic, but controllable, part of organizational life, created by the dysfunctions of a functional drive for efficiency, others explain conflict as arising from inherently inequitable power relationships in wider society” (p. 293).
Thus, if leaders can conscientiously control a social system’s primary mechanisms–those that define, refine, and fortify meaning, and those that avert and defuse and resolve conflict–the potential for persistent order exists. According to Schein (1985),
Less powerful, more ambiguous, and more difficult to control are the messages embedded in the organization’s structure, its procedures and routines, its rituals, its physical layout, its stories and legends, and its formal statements about itself. Yet these six secondary mechanisms can provide powerful reinforcement of the primary messages if the leader is able to control them. (p. 270)
Properly exercising power entails the creation of a leadership core imbued with the type and level of authority that the membership deems appropriate for the maintenance of order. Authority is one individual or a group’s ability to wield power and influence over an entire social system: “Power is the ability to control or influence others; authority is the right that an individual has earned or has been given to control or direct others” (Harris & Hartman, 2002, p.212). The existence of legitimate authority can be a necessary ingredient in maintaining order as it consists of the application of decision-making that helps to generate a hierarchical order. But if leaders have too much power and fail, the social system may be headed for disorder: “Leaders have authority as part of an exchange: if they fail to deliver the goods, to meet people’s expectations, they run the risk of authority being removed and given to another” (Doyle & Smith, 2001, p. 1).
The type and level of power exerted can be different from social system to social system. Those that allow leaders to develop high levels of power may be open to higher levels of leadership abuse. In some the product may not necessarily be the ultimate goal; the maintenance of power positions may be the primary objective. In social systems like this, a set of behaviors developed to obviate the risks of conflict may be extensive. In effect, existing within a structure like this can be so difficult that without a clear purpose and an enormous quantity of shared tenets it would be nearly impossible to maintain. On the other hand, social systems that utilize shared decision-making may exercise a type of power management that helps to alleviate leadership abuse, but may also lengthen timeframes required to develop and institute modifications, as well as potentially diluting the effect of change initiatives. Members usually strive to balance these factors when evaluating the quality of leadership:
Power can be, and often is, used to promote self-interest, but it is also used to achieve outcomes favorable to most or all members of the organization, or to society at large. Thus, the use of power is not inherently selfish or evil, only potentially so. (Hatch, 1997, p. 283)
The theory of maintaining order necessitates hierarchy to help establish the rules that regulate behaviors in support of the factors of purpose. Members will confer upon leaders the type and level of power which they need to sustain stability. Finding the optimal balance between leadership and authority so that the exercise of power fits the social system is an important objective.
Culture is the other critical dimension of the process of maintaining order since it helps to shape the factors of purpose that guide and direct behaviors in each stage. Culture is a pervasive dimension and is actively engaged throughout the theory of maintaining order as it guides purpose, meaning, and methods and regulates behaviors at every stage. “Culture then is central in governing the understanding of behavior, social events, institutions and processes. Culture is the setting in which these phenomena become comprehensible and meaningful” (Alvesson, 2002, p. 4).
In the theory of maintaining order, during stage 2, within the substage of identifying, culture’s influence is prevalent as branding, myths, and rituals are produced and members’ devotion to the social system strengthened: “Culture is understood to be a system of common symbols and meanings” (Alvesson, 2002, p. 3). It supplies the means for members to interpret, through symbols, the myths and stories that give them meaning. External and internal cultures help to define the degree and composition of these group behaviors. Hence, religious, political, and social ideologies help to shape organizational identifiers, as well as the individual characteristics of the members involved.
During the process of maintaining order a social system seeks to stabilize its components. Culture aids in this goal by instituting a pattern of behaviors that are predictable and controllable. As Wuthnow (1987) noted, uncertainty is an essential factor when social systems begin to fray and social movements adversative to the existing order take form:
Ideologies and ideological movements, therefore, acquire special significance, as do the ritual aspects of social behavior. In both cases, the degree of uncertainty present among moral obligations is a significant consideration in attempting to understand the conditions giving rise to cultural forms. (p. 332)
Culture is of critical importance throughout stage 1 of the theory of maintaining order during which social systems are defined through the creation of factors of purpose. These factors respect the established values and beliefs in the society they occupy. External culture guides the development of goals, values, and beliefs and may emerge as an influence in the modification of the factors of purpose, after which internal culture reshapes these in unique, yet context-appropriate ways. Alvesson (2002) argued that, “A sense of common, taken for granted ideas, beliefs and meanings are necessary for continuing organized activity. This makes interaction possible without constant confusion or intense interpretation and re-interpretation of meanings” (p. 10). Hence, organizations utilize goals, values, and beliefs legitimized by the dominant culture to generate the factors of purpose members use to guide them through interactions. Additionally, Schein (1985) explained that,
When one brings culture to the level of the organization and even down to groups within the organization, one can see clearly how culture is created, embedded, evolved, and ultimately manipulated, and, at the same time, how culture constrains, stabilizes, and provides structure and meaning to the group members. (p. 1)
In other words, factors of purpose usually fit their cultures: The prevailing external social culture influences the formation of the factors of purpose in a developing social system, while internal culture helps to set the intricate web of behaviors associated with maintaining the organization’s structural order.
In my substantive area the country strived to maintain social hierarchy and harmony. While frustration may exist concerning external aspects of the government, the level of personal contentment displayed by most citizens appeared to be high. Many visitors come away from Laos with similar feelings; the people are friendly and happy. The success of the society has been engineered over centuries, during the time required to develop its brand of Theravada Buddhism. This religion inculcates a defining purpose to the people–to be calm and aware:
The way, a middle path between the extremes of conduct, is characterized ideally by gentleness, acceptance of nature, avoidance of conflict, and respect for all life, but within these bounds there is freedom of choice and, by implication, the right to have this choice respected by others. (Lebar & Suddard, 1960, p. 96)
From this purpose a series of goals, values, and beliefs (factors of purpose) arose and from these a distinct brand, rituals, and myths were created fortifying the already collectivist approach of the people with a mutual identity. Since its members strongly associate with their social system, it works. They do not feel the need to risk change unless the change fits the existing structure.
In the obviating stage societal culture affects the manner in which conflict is approached. Certainly Lao culture is far more averse to conflict than American culture. These external cultural cues are transmitted to the internal culture where they are integrated into an approach to conflict. Of course, other outside conflicts may enforce outcomes that detract from the membership’s ability to remain ordered. As Deutsch and Coleman (2000) explained, “Such conflict is usually found in international situations but may also occur between peoples within heterogeneous nations, as illustrated by current conflicts among ethnic and religious groups in newly independent states—the former Yugoslavia, Ireland, Sudan, and Sri Lanka, for example” (p. 471). But the way in which members relate to conflict is a byproduct of external and internal cultural signals: “Conflict prevention can involve individual decisions as well as group-level phenomena. In actuality, individual and group prevention measures are intertwined, as reflected, for instance, in the fact that individuals internalize the values and beliefs of their cultures and then act accordingly” (Aureli & De Waal, 2000, p. 338).
Finally, while in the resolving stage the external pattern of cultural influence continues. The process of resolving conflicts is impacted by numerous cultural factors. Shared norms help decide acceptable levels of punishment. In the U.S. the death penalty is viewed as an acceptable punishment for some crimes by many states, whereas in the France this measure is generally viewed as unacceptable by the government and the people.
Differing social norms create unique intellectual and emotional environments that act as cultural filters. These filters influence behaviors and generate outcomes conducive to the concordance of extant, shared norms. In the theory of maintaining order, culture acts as the behavioral bond that social systems require to help keep them stabilized and regulated.