A homogenous society is one where people share a largely similar outlook.
In these societies, there is one dominant way of thinking and acting, which is shared by most people.
Homogeneity in cultures is often the result of geographical isolation, shared cultural history, or government policies. Examples include Japan, Native American Tribes, North Korea, etc.
In contrast, heterogeneous societies are characterized by a diversity of groups, with varying cultural values. The United States and Canada are prime examples of these. Let us discuss the concept in more detail and look at some examples.
Definition of Homogenous Society
Cathy A. Enz defines a homogenous society in the following way:
“A homogeneous societal culture is one in which the shared meanings are similar and little variation in beliefs exists; that is, the culture has one dominant way of thinking and acting.” (1986)
She adds that diversity exists in all societies and cultures. However, what matters here is the degree of variation in the shared meanings within the society. In homogenous societies, she writes, the “degree of consensus is strong”.
Within such cultures, there is an integrated set of values/beliefs that guides behavior. Enz also writes that the cultural meanings of society are also reflected in the legal/economic systems; they, therefore, play a key role in business.
Enz mentions Saudia Arabia, China, and Japan as examples of a homogenous society. Not adhering to societal values is seen, not simply as different, but deviant. This has real-life consequences, especially for organizations, which we will discuss later.
Examples of Homogenous Society
- Japan: Japan is often cited as the prime example of a homogenous society, and its residents also take a certain pride in it. In a Washington Post article, John Burgess discussed how most Japanese feel that ethnic diversity “creates confusion and discord” (1986); cultural homogeneity, on the other hand, allows societies to perform at their best. Indeed, the racial composition of Japan is quite uniform (with over 98% people of Japanese descent), and for many centuries, the country limited its immigration, preserving its cultural traditions. Even business organizations in Japan reflect the country’s culture, which we will discuss later.
- Tribal Societies (Native Americans): Tribal societies, both in the past and the present, represent homogenous cultures. A good example of this would be Native American tribes, who have lived in America for thousands of years, sharing a history of similar experiences & challenges. As such, they often trace their lineage back to a common ancestor, and kinship ties play a big role in shaping their identity. Native American tribes share several spiritual beliefs, such as reverence for ancestral spirits, a deep connection with the land, etc. Today, the United States government also recognizes their sovereignty and has given them a unique legal status.
- Amish Communities: The Amish community lives a life of simplicity, rejecting much of modern technology. Forget mobile phones & computers, many Amish people do not use electricity and some even reject indoor plumbing. They dress plainly, believe in Gelassenheit (submission to God’s will), and try to achieve self-sufficiency through manual labor. Ian Birrell, in his article for The Guardian, discusses how despite being at odds with today’s world, the Amish community is expanding (2018). In 1989, there were about 100,000 of them in 179 settlements across North America. By 2018, this number increased to 330,265, making it the fastest-growing faith group in the continent.
- Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia has a high degree of cultural homogeneity, which is reflected in its common language (Arabic) and religion (Sunni Wahhabi Islam). The monarchy played a major role in promoting the country’s religion in its political culture. The present values of Saudi Arabia are deeply influenced by their institution of family and its associations with Arabian tribal society. As in the tribe, the family identity is tied to the father, and this patrilineal nature is supported by Islamic family laws. Besides family, the values of Islam are also highly prized, such as generosity, self-sufficiency, etc.
- Iceland: Iceland has historically been a homogenous society, although it is now opening up slowly. Being a remote island in the North Atlantic, Iceland has largely been isolated and homogenous. The majority of Icelandic people are descendants of Norwegian settlers, who came there in the 9th century. The country has a small population of about 376,248 (as of 2022), who primarily speak the Icelandic language. However, in recent years, Iceland has experienced enormous economic growth, becoming one of the richest countries in Europe. This has rapidly increased tourism and also brought immigrants, who are revising its culture. (Heleniak, 2018).
- Bhutan: Located in the hills of the Himalayas, Bhutan has actively worked to be a homogenous society. First, its geographical isolation itself has protected it from outside influences. Secondly, for centuries, Bhutan has maintained a policy of strict isolationism, both economically and culturally. Their goal is to preserve their cultural heritage, which has its roots in the 17th century. Until the 20th century, foreigners were not allowed to enter the country, and even now, limited numbers are permitted. Dzongkha and Sharchop are the primary languages, and Buddhism is the country’s main religion.
- Vatican City: Vatican City is the smallest independent state in the world, and its deeply religious aspects make it a homogenous society. It is the spiritual & administrative headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and also the home of the Pope. Most residents are religious officials, and the church shapes every aspect of daily life and activities of the state, creating a deeply homogenous environment. Many people working in Vatican City commute from outside, so the remaining residents (less than 500 people) form a tight-knit community, sharing both religious & cultural values.
- Inuit Communities: Innuit is a group of indigenous people living in the Arctic and Subarctic regions of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. Despite some differences, these groups have all historically lived in extremely cold weather, and they rely on hunting-fishing for survival. Their languages may have some regional variations but are all part of the same language family, Inuit-Yupik-Unangan. As with all other close-knit tribal groups, modernization has significantly impacted Innuit communities in recent times, reshaping their cultural values & practices.
- North Korea: Although there is limited information about North Korea, it is believed to be one of the most homogenous societies in the world. The entire Korean peninsula is ethnically homogenous, with the Northern half made up almost entirely of Korean people and a small number of Chinese. The residents speak the Korean language, and there has been a systematic effort to remove foreign loanwords. The North Korean government promotes the idea of “juche” (self-reliance) and tightly controls all cultural institutions—from education to media—to enforce ideological conformity. Moreover, they also restrict the movement of people in and out of the country.
Organizations in Homogenous Culture
Organizations reflect the homogeneity/heterogeneity of the society in which they exist.
Cathy A. Enz argues that organizational culture is highly dependent on the nature of the wider society. The dominant values of society are reflected in the legal and economic system of society, thereby playing a major role in businesses.
In a homogenous society, the organization’s cultural diversity is constrained, and there is a “much tighter fit” between social and organizational culture. Deviant organizations also face the risk of ostracization or might even be forced to adhere to the dominant values/beliefs.
Enz argues that management is comparatively easier in such cultural contexts because society dictates behavior—the organization plays only a passive role. However, in such societies, organizations that try to be “active” (that is, differ from society’s values) face challenges.
She cites Muna’s study, which argues that Arab executives are unable to separate their business and social lives, unlike their American counterparts. Similarly, she points out how Sanko Steamship in Japan was denied help by the government.
Although the Japanese government is usually paternalistic, it refused to help the company, most likely because of its deviance: “Sanko’s independence wasn’t appreciated” (1986). So, in homogenous societies, organizations suffer when they do not follow the larger social values.
A homogenous society is one where people share similar cultural values and practices.
Such homogeneity is often the result of geographical isolation, shared cultural history, or government policies. Organizations within such societies also reflect cultural values. Examples include Japan, Vatican City, North Korea, etc.
Birrell, I. (15-12-2018). “‘Our faith will be lost if we adopt technology’: can the Amish resist the modern world?”. The Guardian.
Burgess, J. (1986). “Japanese Proud of Their Homogeneous Society”. The Washington Post.
Enz, C. A. (1986). “New Directions for Cross-Cultural Studies: Linking Organizational & Societal Cultures”. Indiana University.
Heleniak, T. & Sigurjonsdottir, H. (2018). “Once Homogenous, Tiny Iceland Opens Its Doors to Immigrants”. Migration Policy.