What are the causes of cultural differences

The iceberg model of culture

The Iceberg model of the Culture is used in cultural studies to visualize the relationship between directly perceptible and hidden culture and the related causes of intercultural communication conflicts.

The iceberg metaphor (iceberg model) comes from E. Hemingway, who used it in the 1930s to illustrate his literary style. He believed that a writer doesn't need to reveal all the details about his main character. It would be sufficient if only the tip of the iceberg, around one eighth, could be seen.

tip of the iceberg

This metaphor was later carried over to S. Freud's theory of consciousness, which is the basis for the iceberg model of culture. Freud developed the theory that human action is only determined consciously to a small extent and, against this background, he designed the structural model of the psyche. The “I” (reality principle) corresponds to the conscious area of ​​the personality, which decides which parts of the unconscious personality areas (“it” (pleasure principle) and “superego” (moral principle)) are realized in the perceptual world. Compared to an iceberg, the conscious “I” only takes up the smaller, visible part, the tip of the iceberg above the surface of the water. The unconscious areas "id" and "superego" make up the larger part hidden under the surface of the water.

Under the surface

Book tip

Based on Freud's instance model, E. Schein further developed the iceberg model in relation to organizational culture. Generalized to
In terms of culture, it looks like this: The smaller part of the iceberg, its tip, stands for the visible and audible, i.e. quickly recognizable, part of the culture (language, appearance, behavior, ...). The much larger part of culture (norms, values, beliefs, ideals, traditions, experiences, role models, ...), however, is hidden “under the surface of the water” and is therefore not immediately perceptible. However, it has a significant influence on the small perceptible part and is therefore often the cause of intercultural communication conflicts due to its "invisibility". Knowing about the hidden cultural aspects and dealing with them sensitively can reduce the risk of such misunderstandings.

Here you can find the fill-in-the-blank with which you can test your knowledge.

Also interesting - the culture shock wave.



Schein, Edgar H. (2006): Organizational culture.

Motsching, Renate; Nykl, Ladislav (2009): Constructive communication.

Further learning material: Communicate and act competently across cultures