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Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  308 ratings  ·  54 reviews
A celebrated social psychologist offers a radical new perspective on cultural differences that reveals why some countries, cultures, and individuals take rules more seriously and how following the rules influences the way we think and act.

In Rule Makers, Rule Breakers, Michele Gelfand, an engaging writer with intellectual range (The New York Times Book Review), takes us on
ebook, 384 pages
Published September 11th 2018 by Scribner
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Average rating 3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  308 ratings  ·  54 reviews

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Jul 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
This is an interesting and informative book. If you enjoy books that explore culture, social psychology and human behavior while successfully avoiding being too heavy or abstruse you will enjoy Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World. Cultural psychologist and author Michele Gelfand has spent more than 20 years studying and researching culture in over fifty countries. She provides entertaining insight and explanatory studies revealing the curious and compelling ...more
Henri Tournyol du Clos
Unscientific snake oil for the gullible. All these bold statements are based on a short (6 questions) questionaire locally filled in 2010 by small samples of mostly female psychology students grading what they thought was the general importance of social norms in their own country, which produces a metric for overall tightness. Yep. And, true to form, the author touts in the text as universal truths the results of several social psychology experiments which have been either disproved (e.g. the ...more
Peter Gyongyosi
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
The author found a nice hammer and this book is a huge list of nails.
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Gelfand is a cultural psychologist best known for her tightness-looseness theory of culture. It is the difference between Sparta (movie 100) and Athens (Painting School of Athens); in more modern times, Singapore (no gums please) and New Zealand (total freedom). Wow I didnt know we in Singapore are Spartans!

In general, Asian countries are tight and Western countries are loose. Exception is Germany and Japan which are also tight. However, even in America there ar me tight states (the South) and
Virginia Choi
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an incredibly accessible book that is both engaging and informative. It is peppered with interesting studies from social and cross-cultural psychology. Not only do you get to read many unique cultural tidbits from all over the world, but you also gain insight into how psychologists run studies and analyze human behavior. The framework of tightness-looseness is fascinating to understand. You'll learn all about the power of social norms and how they influence us on a daily basis. There is ...more
Ericka Clouther
I read this as part of the GW Alumni Book Club. Although I was familiar with a lot (but definitely not all) of the underlying information in this book, I thought that the particular lens of analysis of the book, loose or tight social norm and rules, was a really eye-opening way of examining a lot of conflicts- personal, national, and international. I highly recommend this one. ...more
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Watch a detailed review along with my favorite ideas and takeaways at:
Oct 23, 2018 rated it liked it
The best way to introduce this book is to reproduce the opening sentences of the introduction: It's 11:00 pm in Berlin. Not a single car is in sight, yet a pedestrian waits patiently at the crossing until the light turns green. Meanwhile, four thousand miles away in Boston, at rush hour, commuters flout the 'Do Not Cross' sign as they dart in front of cabs.

Michele Gelfand is introduced as a 'cultural psychologist.' In this book she analyses different nations, cultures and societies on a
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I recently finished reading Rule Makers, Rule Breakers by Michele Gelfand, and I must sayI loved it. The book's got just the right balance of evidence and anecdotes to make it both engaging and informative. It offers fascinating insights into a hidden dimension of culturetightness-loosenessshedding much needed light on domains ranging from politics, negotiations, workplace relations to family life.

The book describes the surprising ways in which the strength of social norms explains the
Anu Khosla
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
The central study of this book is a bit questionable in methodology, and some of the analysis feels really shaky. That said, the general idea seems to make sense and offers an interesting framework for understanding culture. Its especially strong on understanding authoritarianism. I also wish that some of the thinking around how to tighten loose cultures and loosen tight cultures was more robust. Still, in general it was a quick read that made you think. ...more
Kent Winward
Dec 23, 2019 rated it liked it
The concept of tight and loose cultures doesn't feel like it has a lot of practical applications. Sure, there are aspects of tight and loose cultures, but the nuance seems to get lost in trying to categorize. It is a distinction that is almost too broad to be useful.
Riley Haas
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book about how cultural norms impact our lives. You might not get that from the title, but I'd say ignore the title and look at the subtitle. (The title, to me, sounds like it's some kind of business success book or something.)
Gelfand makes a strong case that cultural norms are a main contributor to human behaviour, especially human behaviour which at first seems irrational. So-called "cultural psychology" is an important missing component in understanding human behaviour,
Robert Petrie
Jan 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Cultural differences are a lot like mines in a minefield: it only takes one unwitting, careless step to detonate them and unleash disastrous consequences. Some of us have trained ourselves to identify and navigate our way through them. Others, sadly, havent and find themselves injured and scarred by them time and time again.

As Rule Makers, Rule Breakers makes clear, we cannot afford to remain ignorant of them. These mines exist everywhere in our everyday world: in our romantic relationships, in
Eve H
Nov 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
This is a very dense book with some simple ideas that have been presented alongside very verbose masturbation.

The core ideas are:

"Tight cultures have strong social norms and little tolerance for deviance, while loose cultures have weak social norms and are highly permissive. The former are rule makers; the latter, rule breakers."

"A pivotal discovery is that the strength of a cultures norms isnt random or accidental. It has a hidden logic that makes perfectly good sense."

This "hidden logic" is
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a wonderfully entertaining and informative book on cultural differences and their root causes.
While other scholars distinguish the primary dimension of culture using different names (Inglehart uses 'survivalist' vs. 'self-expressionism,' Hazel Markus uses 'independent' vs. 'interdependent'), Gelfand uses the distinction of tight ("rule makers") vs. loose ("rule breakers"). Though this distinction has substantial overlap with theories that have already been put forth by other scholars,
Aug 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
I stopped reading this book. It's awful. It's a mediocre college paper at best. I feel like there a lot of personal observations that are unnecessary. Stick to the science. Instead of providing a report with what I feel are questionable and sometimes stretched assumptions, give some anecdotes instead of "these 3 states are like this, but these 3 states are like that." If you can put up with that for 200+ pages, you're a better person than I. I tried more than a few times to keep reading, but ...more
Yoon Young
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Why and how people behave differently? Rule makers, Rule Breakers tells that there is more than individual personality difference and/or geographical cultures to explain the differences. The book introduces you to the novel concept, tightness and looseness of culture, which assesses how much a culture adheres to social norms and tolerates deviance. Understanding such concept, you will be able to diagnose your own mindset, culture of various organizations, companies, political parties and even ...more
Aug 27, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I started off with a good impression of the book, as I had heard the author speak publicly and her talk was engaging. However, like many mainstream books on sociology or psychology, this book does not hold up to the standards of actual, rigorous, modern-day social science.

As the book progresses, you start to notice more and more cracks its conclusions. For the most part, the research it cites is often the result of self-declaration in surveys. For those psychology experiments that were done by
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Far from calcifying stereotypes with cultural labels, tight-loose theory can help deepen our empathy toward those whose ways just don't sync up with ours.

There are two young fishing swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says. "Morning, boys, how's the water?"The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"
The point of the fish story is mere that the most
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Rule makers, rule breakers is one of the most engrossing books Ive read. I especially like how Gelfand weaves entertaining stories about cultural phenomena into her book alongside fascinating analysis of cross-cultural research. I read a lot of books about social science and culture, but with this one, I feel I have found a new tool with which to understand different cultures. And I appreciate how Gelfand seasons her prose with personal and professional insights. It led me to reflect on how the ...more
Katherine Shonk
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's not hyperbole to say this is a revolutionary book that changed the way I view the world. It unlocked for me the mystery of the 2016 U.S. presidential election; the culture clashes I've experienced with friends, family, and coworkers; some of my own behaviors that have puzzled me; and so much more. RULE MAKERS, RULE BREAKERS unlocks culture in a way I'd never thought about it before, and it offers a framework that clarifies so much of what we find perplexing about human nature, from the ...more
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
The book provides a grounded view about how tightness/conservatism and looseness/liberalism affects various aspects of our life. Based on various historical observations, the main points is that 1) humans -- social beings -- yearn for balance between tightness and looseness and 2) the only way to achieve and sustain such balance is to be open and informed about other point of views.

While I started the book with the expectation that it would be eye-opening (based on other reviews), I found it to
Kim Forney
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I liked the book. There is a lot of information! Listening to the difference of Tightness and Looseness groups, some of the information seems like a no-brainer. Loose states and countries are more tolerant of immigrants, sexual and moral codes. The differences between countries and the individual states were extremely interesting. Norms change according to external threats throughout the ages. The author has organized the information in a logical way. She even brings it down to the lowest levels ...more
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I thought this would be interesting, but did not expect to take as many notes as I did. She comes right out with the premise and it feels like an oversimplification, so I was afraid this would be one of those repetitive research abstracts converted to an unnecessarily long book. But she actually did a great job of laying out a bunch of different angles and making many excellent points. Its a very useful lens for viewing geopolitical conflict, and something Ill definitely use going forward, so ...more
Oct 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
With a background in cultural anthropology I particularly found this book illuminating and fascinating. Specifically it clearly helps explain what is going on in the world and individual nations and states and offers hope for understanding and grounds for agreement. As always the Goldilocks Principle A.k.a. the middle ground is where it is possible that can happen. A must read before the next U S election.
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great read on understanding tight and loose cultures; appreciated the varying perspectives of how this impacts our current political climate in the US, how this applies to corporate cultures and even global cultures around the world.

Great way to build understanding and empathy especially if you work in diverse settings.
Josh Maulucci
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
I wanted to go three stars, but it really fell off in the last quarter of the book. I liked all the data and comparisons in regard to examples of "tight" and "loose," but it just couldn't pull together a better summary than to say "everything in moderation". That to me is a bit too simplistic for the time and effort that went into reading the material. I'd pass on this one.
Raafat Gilani
Mar 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The reason for the five stars is not because it's that "good" but because how important it is to look outside of our small cubicle of perspectives on the reasons behind views, interests and policies of countries, not everything is based on information processing but history, demographics and most importantly (overlooked every time) the geography. A must read.
Jenny Bhatt
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Gelfand's thesis is that a culture is shaped, primarily, by its perceptions of internal or external threat. The greater the sense of threat, the tighter it gets with rules and norms and vice versa. Threat-driven tight cultures seek order and unity and do not allow for the ambiguities or risk-taking that loose cultures revel in. Throughout, Rule Makers, Rule Breakers, Gelfand gives many examples both historical and contemporary to prove how the customs that have shaped worldviews, behaviors, ...more
Ian Pitchford
Interesting but weak

This seems to be an awful lot of speculation resting on weak empirical and theoretical bases. It always seems to be possible to accommodate the tight or loose framework just by altering the level of granularity - from nation state to community to corporation and so forth.
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