Intercultural Communication as a Dominant Paradigm
Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Communications, Victoria University of Wellington Matthew Scott and Grant Sherson April 1999
To begin an overview of intercultural communication it is important to attempt to clarify the concepts of communication and culture. What Is Communication?
For this paper we will use a definition that communication is: “that behaviour which happens whenever meaning is attributed to behaviour or to the residue of behaviour. When someone observes our behaviour or it’s residue and gives meaning to it, communication has taken place regardless of whether our behavior was conscious or unconscious, intentional or unintentional” (Samovar 1997, p16). This definition does not encompass all elements of communication as Casmir points out it is “impossible to develop one single definition or methodological approach” (Casmir, 1989, p. 279). What Is Culture?
Of all the concepts buried in “intercultural communication”, by far the most difficult and contested is “culture”. In order to “ground” the bewildering array of theories of intercultural communication, it is important to see how this notion is being used. Conceptions of culture vary in the literature according to how broadly it is defined, and how much explanatory power it is allowed to wield. Breadth: what does “culture” include?
Many researchers treat culture less as a concept with intrinsic meaning than as a fence to be erected about other concepts. Almost every author, in each new piece of research, erects the fence in a slightly different place, and in so doing, redefines the parameters of the field. However, two broad groupings can be identified, and one historical hangover. The hangover is a preoccupation with ethnicity as a key delineator of cultural groups. This is undoubtedly an artefact of the anthropological roots of the field. Importantly, it has meant that until recently, intercultural communication has been mostly about interethnic communication. Even where other aspects of culture have gained in prominence, interethnic communication is still seen as the paradigm case for IC. Of the two broad groupings, one is essentially mentalist. The salient aspects of culture exist in the mind, though they are evidenced in the world. They include beliefs, concepts, values, and rules. The second group extends the boundaries of culture into the external world to encompass the behavioural outcomes of these interior beliefs and concepts, and even physical artefacts. A mainstream example of the latter is Samovar and Porter’s Reader, a standard work in the field. They stake their territory this way: “For our purposes, we define culture as the deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.” (Samovar and Porter (Eds.), 1997, p. 12f.) [emphasis added] Note that the difference between these groups is a subtle one, turning less on the issue of what is cultural, and more on what is of interest, which in turn is largely a reflection of the purposes of different writers, as the quote above suggests. Mentalists are generally interested in explanation. If culture is defined too broadly, it risks losing explanatory power. Samovar and Porter, on the other hand, and many others like them, are out to make us effective communicators. It is therefore in their interest to bring the external world – where communication takes place – into the ambit of their notion of culture. They make this clear in the Preface to their Reader: “We have intentionally selected materials that will assist you in understanding those intercultural communication principles that are instrumental to the achievement of success when interacting...
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