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Zaharna - Kluckhohn notes / working draft 1/28/2000

Overview:  Florence Kluckhohn Value Orientations
R.S. Zaharna, Ed.D.
American University

In her seminal paper "Dominant and Variant Value Orientations," Florence Kluckhohn outlined five basic human problems that were common to all peoples at all times and all places (1953, p. 346). The value orientations Kluckhohn identified speak to the assumptions that we make about ourselves and our relationship to the world, which in turn, guide our actions. Table 1 (found at the END of this piece) provides an overview of Kluckhohn's value orientations.  In 1975, John Condon and Fathi Yousef took Kluckhohn's five basic values and tried to elaborate more on the different categories.  A summary of Condon & Yousef's expanded list taken from their book, An Introduction to Intercultural Communication is found in Table 2.

Professor Condon teaches at the University of New Mexico.  A center was started in Seattle, Washington, called the Florence Kluckhohn Center for the Study of Values.

In this piece I would like to discuss each of the five value orientations and how each relations to the work of public communication. I have also put notes about Assignment #2 that asks you to prepare a Cultural Profile based on Kluckhohn's Value Orientations.


At the time of her study (1953), Florence Rockwood Kluckhohn was a lecturer on Sociology and Research Associate in the Laboratory of Social Relations at Harvard. She now has an institute named after her in Seattle, Washington, which continues her work, The Florence Kluckhohn Center for the Study of Values. (There was another prominent Kluckhohn, Clyde Kluckhohn, who was an anthropologist and author of Mirrors of Man, 1963). Florence Kluckhohn was interested in was identifying the specific patterns of behavior that were influenced by culture. Although she was looking at culture and human behavior, what she remembered for is her study of values. You can think of "values" not in terms of good or bad, but in terms of beliefs that shape and define the world we see.

As Kluckhohn herself noted, "Human behavior mirrors at all times an intricate blend of the universal and the variable" (p. 345). What she meant by that is that all people, because they are homo sapiens, will share common universals of behavior. But, equally characteristic of homo sapiens, is the variety that exists among behaviors. So, we find both similarities and differences in human behavior across cultures. In trying to discern the differences from the similarities, she suggested we think of behaviors as shaped by "dominant" and "variant" value orientations. Toward that end, she developed five categories, or value orientations.

The first value orientation spoke to the inherent nature of man. Is he basically good? Evil? Or neither good nor evil, but mixed? Kluckhohn stated that societies make such distinctions. She added the caveat that such predispositions could be mutable or immutable. For example, human nature could be seen as "evil and unalterable" or "evil and perfectible." Evil and perfectible was how she described the American view of human nature that had grown out of the Puritan heritage. That heritage dictated that "constant control and discipline as essential if any real goodness is to be achieved and maintained," and that "the danger of regression is always present" (p. 347).

There are several ways to try to discern a culture's view of human nature. Religious doctrines and texts, such as the Bible, Torah, or Koran, provide a wealth of insights. Religious tenants are another source for peering into a culture's view of man. If one is familiar with the language or literature, one can look at children's stories, tales of cultural heros and the battles they waged, or cultural myths, all of which carry messages about man's fight with good and evil that exits inside and outside of himself.

How does knowing a culture's view of human nature relate to public communication? This is a tricky one. Because human nature is so fundamental to our view of the world, it will be very hard to see, let alone describe, another view of human nature that is different from our own. This is a problem of beliefs obscuring vision, a common pitfall in intercultural study. The technical term is "ethnocentrism," which means that we use our own culture or ethnicity as a means for judging all other cultures.

What is less difficult to see, and hence work with, is the quality of mutable and immutable. "Mutable," with its notion of change, is very much an American cultural quality. Public communication projects that call for radical or even modest change may encounter resistance in a culture that tends to view human nature as immutable. The project may fail not because it was not viable or valuable, but because the other culture has different beliefs about mutable and immutable aspects of human nature. Planners need to be aware of their own views on human nature and whether it is mutable or immutable. They also need to grasp the culture's view of human nature and its mutability in order to set realistic expectations and steps in their program planning that accommodate this cultural belief.

For Assignment #2 - would you say that the culture you are profiling tends to view human nature as basically good? bad? Or mixed? Would you say that human nature is "mutable" or "immutable"?

Man's relation to nature

In the second value orientation -- man's relation to nature - Kluckhohn suggested that "man is subjugated to nature," "man in nature" and "man over nature." The first passively accepts natural forces as inevitable, the second sees man in harmony with nature and the third sees man as attempting to control nature. The American orientation, as she said, definitely tends toward controlling or conquering approach to nature.

In her discussion, Kluckhohn does not distinguish between "natural forces" and "supra-natural forces." Instead the two are co-mingled and used as substitutions for each other. She provides the example:

"To the typical Spanish-American sheep-raiser . . . there is little or nothing which can be done if a storm comes to damage his range lands or destroy his flocks. He simply accepts the inevitable as the inevitable. His attitude toward illness and death is the same fatalistic attitude. 'If it is the Lord's will that I die I shall die' is the way he expresses it" (1953, p. 347).

Here a storm (a natural force) has been equated with the Lord's will (the supra-natural force). Without this clear, explicit distinction between natural and supra-natural forces, the impression is that natural forces controls man. This is how the West has tended to view non-Western cultures; Man passively accepts natural forces as "inevitable" and man's attitude is described as fatalistic. Another view may be to see the natural forces as a subset (for lack of better word) of a supra-natural force. As such, man is not passively accepting natural forces per se, but both man and nature are accepting the higher dictates of supra-force.

How does man's relation to nature relate to public communication projects? If human nature related to the "change" aspect inherent in such projects, man's relationship to nature speaks to the "control" element. Control is particularly important in development projects that deal with natural phenomena such as fertility (note the name, "birth control"), environment "management", "protection" or "control" (all suggest man having power over natural resources), disease "prevention" (which suggests man having power to ward off death or sickness). Whereas Americans may readily accept the notion that man can control or influence natural forces, not all cultures do. It is perhaps because of the cultural differences that the participatory communication literature that focuses on development projects in non-Western cultures resound with terms such as "empowerment" and "sustainability." Why also, if there is a cultural prerequisite for a supra-force that has power over man and nature, that the public may anoint the government with such responsibility for maintaining the project. American and Western practitioners working on projects involving any natural phenomena need to be sensitive to the issue of control and address this element in the project design.

For Assignment #2: How does the culture tend to view man's relationship with nature? Subservient to nature? Harmonious with it? Or Mastery over it? Who controls the forces of nature? Is the relationship just between man and nature, or does there appear to be a supra-natural force that controls both?

Time Dimension

The third value orientation deals with time. As Florence Kluckhohn stated, "All [societies] have some conception of the past, all have a present, and all give some kind of attention to the future time-dimension" (p. 348). All societies are similar in that all deal with time and have a sense of the dimensions of time. Societies differ in which dimension they emphasize: past, present, or future. She added, "Illustrations of these different emphases are also easily found" (1953, p. 348).

Undoubtedly, the dominant American culture emphasizes the future-orientation and illustrations are plentiful. From the Boy Scout motto, "Always be prepared," to every television commercial that touts "new and improved," to the news reporters speculating "what next," to the Futurists cults riding on the "wave of the future," American life is filled with a future-oriented perspective that looks ahead. A positive perspective is associated with a forward looking perspective and "backwards" has a negative connotation that goes beyond simple direction or location.

In contrast, past-oriented cultures value history, experience, and traditions. Not surprisingly, whereas the "youth culture" may be worshiped in the American culture, past oriented cultures worship their ancestors. Such expressions as "tried and true" has more merit than "new and improved." Whereas the future may be circumspect at best, the past a reliable, steady wealth of information and lessons to guide human action. For some cultures, the future lies outside of man's control and falls under the domain of the supra-natural. This is why one may often hear "In-sha-allah" or "God willing" used by many Arabic speakers, because only God, not man, knows what will or will not happen in the future.

Present-oriented emphasizes the here and now. There is not that pressing need felt by the future-oriented cultures "to change one's (present) situation." The situation is the way it is. It may have been different in the past. It may be different in the future. But, right now, it is the situation. As Kluckhohn described present-oriented cultures, "they pay little attention to what has happened in the past, and regards the future as vague and most unpredictable period" (p. 348). As an indication of how difficult it may be for Americans to conceptualize the present-orientation, one can look at the literature in communication and psychology that urge Americans to "be spontaneous" or "live in the moment." Such admonishments would not be necessary in a present-oriented culture.

How does the different emphasis on time affect public communication projects? The time perspective can determine what is feasible, scope and nature of the project, realistic expectations, or what time frame to phrase the message. Long-range goals may simply not be feasible. Similarly, while a "development" project may be designed to meet future needs, if it does not address present needs it may be of little value.

Kluckhohn described time in terms of emphasis. Emphasis suggests choice or preference. In my work, I have found that one's native time-orientation makes it difficult to conceptualize events in other dimensions. It is not a matter of preference, but of ability. American's tend to dismiss the past-oriented culture's penchant for historical detail as "irrelevant." In reality, Americans tend to have great difficulty seeing the clear conceptual link to past events that past-oriented cultures make so readily.

In contrast, the American forte is in planning, strategizing, forecasting. These all involve conceptualizing activities in the future tense. In a culture I was working with, the people had great difficulty planning because they simply could not envision or imagine action in the future tense. It wasn't real.

Assignment #2: What dimension does the culture appear to emphasize: Past? Present? Future? How can you tell? What clues in the description of the culture suggest this time orientation?

Valued Personality Type

Kluckhohn called the fourth value orientation, "valued personality types." She herself stated that this phasing was "not the 'happiest' of terms." I concur. I understood "valued personality type" to mean self-definition. "Being" orientation refers to self defined by relationships. The being-in-becoming orientation is self defined by relationship but with an element of self-development. The doing orientation defines the self by what the self does.

The activity orientation places a premium on "activity which results in accomplishments that are measurable" (Kluckhohn, 1963, p. 17). Stewart (1972) calls the activity orientation "doing." He noted that such features of "doing" cultures are characteristic of the American culture's emphasis on the importance of achievement, visible accomplishments, and measurement of achievement (1972, p. 36). The proclivity toward "doing" is found in such common American expressions as "How are you doing?" or "What's happening?"

In a "being-oriented" culture, one's primary sense of identity rests on fixed relationships and social structures. Examples of "being" cultures such as the Chinese, Japanese, or Arab cultures. Okabe (1983) contrasts the American "doing" culture to the Japanese "being" culture. He observes that achievement and development are not as important in a traditional vertical society such as Japan where an individual's birth, family background, age and rank is much more important. For an individual of the "being" culture, "what he is" carries greater significance than "what he does" (Okabe, 1983, p. 24).

The being-in-becoming orientation can be seen as a midpoint between the "being" which focuses primarily on relationship and place and "activity" which focuses primarily on doing and the products of activity.

Assignment #2: What self-definition or orientation would you say the culture has: Being? Be-in-Becoming? Activity? What clues lead you to suggest this?

Relationship pattern

Kluckhohn proposed three relationship patterns or orientations: individual, collateral, and linear. In the individual pattern, characteristic of the American culture, the family bond is comparatively limited in scope and intensity. Condon and Yousef called it "slightly more than a biological necessity" (1975, p. 74). The concept of the "nuclear family" is very much indicative of the individual relationship pattern.

The collateral pattern has more intense family bonds than the individual pattern. Also "immediate" family relations extend beyond the nuclear family to include grandparents, uncles, cousins, etc. In a collateral pattern one would not think of a "family" event without all of the extended members of the nuclear family of the individual pattern.

The linear pattern appears very much like the collateral, except the family extends even wider to encompass distant relatives, both genealogically as well as chronologically. This means the tribe, the klan, or all those that are related by blood and family ties. That's among the living. The linear pattern also extends across time to include ancestors who are regard as an important member of the family. Few decisions, especially the important ones, can be taken without consulting one's ancestors.

Assignment #2: What relationship pattern did you see emerging from your study of the culture: Individual? Collateral? Linear? What clues lead you think this might be the relationship pattern?  If you were designing messages, who would you include in your "target" audience?  Could you limit the appeal to the individual who is directly affected or would you need to broadened your scope?

A Critique

Florence Kluckhohn called "valued personality types" not "the happiest of terms" (emphasis mine).  For some who read Kluckhohn's piece, they may not be happy with not only that term, but the whole idea of categorizing cultures.  Let me, for a moment critique Kluckhohn's work -- lest you do it for me and miss the value of the value-orientation exercise.

First, there is the date.  Kluckhohn published her value-orientation in 1953, almost fifty years ago.  Given the rapid speed of technological advances today, there is a tendency to associate "old" with "outdated."  If it is old it no longer works.  What is new is better.  If you find yourself agreeing with those statements, there's a good chance that you were raised in a future-oriented culture.  In past-oriented cultures "old knowledge" dating back thousands of years is not so easily dismissed as irrelevant simply by looking at the date.

Next is the issue of categorizing cultures.  Isn't that like stereotyping or judging and ranking other cultures?  Although I can never be absolutely sure of Kluckhohn's intent, I would say no.  Nowhere in her piece does she talk about which value is better.  Coincidentally, one of the strongest pieces I have read on how political persuaders can distort the work of anthropologists and use their scientific writings to try to justify superiority of one human group over another was written by Clyde Kluckhohn entitled, "The Myth of Race."

For those who are tempted rank the value orientations, I share the words of Norman Daniels who cautioned:  when differences are not perceived as differences, they are perceived as 'rights' and 'wrongs.'  Given that it is quite normal to be ethnocentric, learning to see different value orientations as "different" is a challenge.

The question that Florence Kluckhohn and other scholars were grappling with at the time was the paradox of cultural univeralism and relativity.  It was a new age of anthropology in which cultural information on mankind was pouring in from around the globe.  There were two striking observations.  First was the amazing similarity of human activity, groupings and traditions across the globe.  Second was the amazing variation of that same human activity, groupings and traditions.

This brings us to the elegance of Kluckhohn's value orientations:  there are only five of them.  Kluckhohn studied both the similarities and variations across cultures and with remarkable clarity highlighted what she saw as five fundamental questions or "basic human problems for which all peoples at all times and in all places must find some solution" (italics hers, 1953, p. 346).   Her questions were:
        (a) What are the innate predispostions of man? (basic human nature)
        (b)  What is the relation of man to nature?
        (c)  What is the significant time dimension?
        (d)  What is the valued personality type?
        (e)  What is the dominant modality of the relationship of man to other men?
        [italics hers, 1953, p. 346]

She used these five basic questions to develop her conceptual scheme.  For each question, she suggested three variations or solutions.  She referred to these variations as "value orientations."  And, as she herself stated, "nothing mystical is claimed for the number three" (italics hers, 1953, p. 346).

Some views Kluckhohn's focus on five categories as limiting.  However, when one views her work within the context of then -- as well as now -- one can appreciate the simplicity and elegance of her conceptual schema.  One scholar after another has struggled with defining scope of culture, only to conclude that culture encompasses everything.  Echoing the words of many, Harris and Moran stated, "Culture influences and is influenced by every fact of human activity" (1982, p. 63).  If culture encompasses everything, it becomes very difficult to speak about variations across cultures because the volume of information is overwhelming.

Parsimony, or simplicity, it has been said, is the sign of a useful theory.  When one compares Kluckhohn's five categories with Murdock"s (1945) list of seventy cultural universals, one can begin to appreciate the elegance of Kluckhohn's value orientations why it is still used today around the globe as a means for understanding cultural variations.

Another criticism is that the model omits other influences on culture such political, economic or geographic factors.  Yes, it does and it doesn't.  Kluckhohn merely suggests these categories, she does not indicate why one value orientation may be dominant in a particular culture.  I was fascinated to read the responses in Assignment #2.  In trying to identify a particular value orientation of the culture, students uncovered political, social, and historical roots of how a value orientation could have evolved or been reinforced.  I was particularly stuck by the discussion of one student who applied the Kluckhohn model to West and East Germans, a people with shared culture and yet powerfully influenced by political differences.

Another criticism is that the model is static, while cultures are dynamic.  Absolutely.  Again, Kluckhohn does not say that a value orientation applies to a culture for the rest of time.  Her model is a tool.  If one feels that there have been dramatic changes within a culture which have reshaped a value orientation, one could use the Kluckhohn model as sort of a time-lapse photography sequence.  What was the value orientation during this time period?  During another time period?  During a third time period.  This would be fascinating.  What, if any effect, have the forces of modernization and global integration had on a particular culture over time?  Several students did speak directly to this point when they were discussing a value orientation.

Another concern is multiculturalism.  If a culture is viewed as "multicultural" how can one apply the model?  Here, I think there is a mixing of terms between "culture" and "country" or "culture" and "society."  A country such as Canada takes great pride in being multicultural.  Or within the French society, one finds cultural influences from both the French-European and the North-African cultures.  In fact, students chose countries such as France and Canada.  When they applied the Kluckhohn value orientations, they began to understand why "social friction" exisits or why "multiculturalism" can be a daunting challenge for any nation.

The Kluckhohn model provides one with a systematic, disciplined tool for discussing something as unmanageable and wheelding as culture.  It is a tool, one tool among many. And, like all tools it can be abused.  I hope you will use it to begin to explore a culture and think about how communication can be shaped by value orientations.


Condon, J. C. & Yousef, F. (1975). An introduction to intercultural communication. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Kluckhohn, C.  (1965).  "Race:  A modern myth," in Mirror for man.  Greenwich, CT:  Premier Book, pp. 93-127.

Kluckhohn, F. (1953). "Dominant and variant value orientations." In C. Kluckhohn & H. Murray (Eds.), Personality in nature, society, and culture. NY: Alfred A. Khopf, pp. 342-357.

Kluckhohn, F. & Strodtbeck, R. (1961).  Variations in value orientations.  Evanston, IL:  Row Peterson.

Murdock, G. (1945).  "The common denominator of cutlures," in R. Linton (ed.), The science of man in the world of crisis.  NY:  Columbia University Press.

Table 1: Kluckhohn Value-Orientation Model*

 Dimension                                                        Value Orientation
 1.  Innate Predisposition 

2. Man's Relations to Nature

3.  Time Dimension

4.  Valued Personality Type

5.  Modality of Relationship
(mutable or immutable)

(man over nature)



Neither good nor bad
 (mutable or immutable)

(man in nature)



(mutable or immutable)

(man under nature)



* Original Table XXXIX "Human Problems and Type Solutions," Kluckhohn, 1953, p. 346.

Table 2:  Condon & Yousef (1975) Value-Orientations

 1.   Individualism/

2.  Age

3.  Sex

4.  Activity


equality of sexes


the middle years

female superiority


old age

male superiority


5.  Relational

6.  Autority

7.  Positional role

8.  Mobility



high mobility



phasic mobility



low mobility,
 9.  Social 

10.  Group

11.  Intermediaries

12.  Formality

13.  Property

many groups, 
brief identification,
subordinaton of 
   group to individual

no intermediaries



balance between
<--  and  -->

intermediaries only

selective formality


few groups
prolonged  identification
subordination of the 
   member to the group


pervasive formality


14.  Rationality

15.  Good & Evil

16.  Happiness

17.  Mutability


happiness as a goal

change, growth, 

mixture of good & evil

inextricable bond of 
happiness & sadness

some change


life is mostly

18.  Relationship of
       man & nature

19.  Ways of knowing

20.  Structure of nature

21.  Concept of time
man dominating



man in harmony
with nature

circle of induction-


nature dominating



22.  Relationship of man
        & the supernatural

23. Meaning of life

24.  Providence

25.  Knowledge of the
       Cosmic Order
man as god

physical, material goals

good in life is unlimited

order is 

intellectual goals

balance of good 
& misfortune

faith & reason
man controlled by
the supernatural

spiritual goals

good in life is

mysterious &

* from Condon, J. & Yousef, F.  (1975).  An Introduction to Intercultural Communication.  Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill, pp. 60-62.

Professor Condon teaches at the University of New Mexico, Santa Fe.