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Intercultural Communication Essay | Bartleby

Few of us are aware of our own cultural biases because cultural imprinting is begun at a very early age. And while some of a culture's knowledge, rules, beliefs, values, phobias, and anxieties are taught explicitly, most of the information is absorbed subconsciously. The challenge for multinational communication has never been greater. Worldwide business organizations have discovered that intercultural communication is a subject of importance—not just because of increased globalization, but also because their domestic workforce is growing more and more diverse, ethnically and culturally.

We are all individuals, and no two people belonging to the same culture are guaranteed to respond in exactly the same way. However, generalizations are valid to the extent that they provide clues on what you will most likely encounter when dealing with members of a particular culture. All international communication is influenced by cultural differences. Even the choice of communication medium can have cultural overtones. The determining factor may not be the degree of industrialization, but rather whether the country falls into a high-context or low-context culture.

High-context cultures Mediterranean, Slav, Central European, Latin American, African, Arab, Asian, American-Indian leave much of the message unspecified, to be understood through context, nonverbal cues, and between-the-lines interpretation of what is actually said. By contrast, low-context cultures most Germanic and English-speaking countries expect messages to be explicit and specific. Some cultures think of time sequentially, as a linear commodity to "spend," "save," or "waste.

In sequential cultures like North American, English, German, Swedish, and Dutch , businesspeople give full attention to one agenda item after another. In synchronic cultures including South America, southern Europe and Asia the flow of time is viewed as a sort of circle, with the past, present, and future all interrelated. This viewpoint influences how organizations in those cultures approach deadlines, strategic thinking, investments, developing talent from within, and the concept of "long-term" planning.

Orientation to the past, present, and future is another aspect of time in which cultures differ. Tibet's status under Chinese rule illustrates the new global reality. The Dalai Lama, for example, now has as large a following among Westerners as he does in Dharamsala. Celebrities like Richard Gere and the reincarnated lama Steven Seagal contribute their advocacy for Tibet's human rights campaign, even as the face of Tibetan Buddhism changes by the interaction Lopez , Masuda argues that the post-industrial society will likely have the same impact, if not more, than the industrial revolution had on eighteenth century Europe.

Just as the industrial revolution ultimately contributed to an increase in urbanization, social dislocation, and the development of new economic forms, the information revolution will create a new social context, including the emergence of "information communities," participatory democracy, and a spirit of globalism. Masuda clearly predicted the convergence of technological capacities with the growth of globalization, echoing McLuhan 's metaphor of a global village.

Other scholars argue that globalization and informatization are likely to diminish the concept of the nation as a political institution at all Poster , Friedman argues that as nation-states decline in importance, multi-national corporations, nongovernmental organizations, and "superempowered individuals" such as George Soros gain influence and importance. As these non-political organizations and institutions gain importance, there are inevitable challenges to political, economic, and cultural processes.

The overall impact of these forces, however, is difficult to discern. Predictions that they would usher in a new utopia, in which demarcations of economic, political, or geographical advantage would no longer matter, have proven to be chimeric. In some ways, globalization and informatization have clear advantages for human societies, but there are just as many potential problems that arise, so that the overall impact is still merely a subject for speculation. On the positive side, globalization and informatization can empower individuals and societies to engage in international arena for economic, political, and cultural resources.

Moreover, these forces allow for the greater flow of information, even from places and to people who have traditionally been sealed off from the free flow of information. As Friedman argues, technologization has brought about a "democracy of information" p. Moreover, there is a proliferation of information about lifestyles, religions, and cultural issues.

For example, the rise of the internet allows commerce to take place from anywhere, to anywhere, and is open to anyone. Consumers around the world can buy books from a source such as Amazon. Religious pilgrims can use live video streams to have a "virtual visit" to religious shrines, such as the Western Wall. The telecommunications and computer networks also allow for unprecedented global activism.

Nonprofit activist groups such as the Ruckus Society , for example, use technological means to gather volunteers, teach about environmental and human rights activism, publicize events, and raise support through such traditional means as offering coffee mugs and T-shirts to supporters.

This democratization of information increases the potential for international harmony, although it by no means guarantees it. Information technology can also be used to empower marginalized communities, and some resources, such as the Global Knowledge partnership, engage in activities to make information technologies, including computing resources and telecommunications, as well as more low-tech media forms, available for the purposes of national and local economic development.

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This video clip from the World Bank argues that technological development should be used for the purposes of providing for health, agriculture, and environmental change, and ultimately, to eliminate poverty World Bank statement on new technology , Some argue that the new forces will help to democratize regimes that must either allow information or risk losing out on economic growth, contributing to an inevitable democratization of societies.

In the People"s Republic of China, for example, the webwar between the government and democratic activists is usually won by the activists US Embassy , There is no doubt that there is far greater access to various opinions, but whether or not these are accessed, and their impact if they are accessed, is still open to some debate. On the negative side, however, these twin forces threaten to undermine centuries of tradition, local autonomy, and cultural integrity. The internet, for example, is overwhelmingly an English language medium, and those who want to participate fully with all it has to offer had best read English Barber , In fact, a high level government panel recently recommended that Japan consider adopting English as an official language in the future English 'imperialism ,' Moreover, globalization establishes a global economic system in which those with the most capital are best able to capitalize on the global market, setting up what Friedman calls a "winner take all" system , p.

Although technology levels the playing field, it does nothing to diminish the size of the competitors. The US, for example, overwhelmingly benefits from the rise of information technology, as it is the US that dominates almost all commercial sites and many, if not most, of the most profitable technology manufacturers. In addition, Westerners have clear advantages in telecommunications, as illustrated by the fact that there are more internet connections in Manhattan than in the entire African continent World Bank statement on technology , The same access to information made possible by the internet also empowers those with devious ends, such as international terrorism or even garden variety hackers, with greater powers at their disposal to exploit or attack others.

A United Nations Development Project report in argued that globalization was indeed widening the gap between the rich and poor nations, and that the industrialized nations overwhelmingly benefit from both globalization of markets and the rising importance of information and knowledge in the new global economy. Moreover, the report estimates that English is the language of choice for 80 percent of web sites, and that 26 percent of Americans use the World Wide Web -- as opposed to 3 percent of Russians, 0.

Finally, one of the potentially most devastating impact of the forces of globalization and informatization is that there is created an insidious conflict between the new global economic order and the local, or even tribal, interests. Friedman argues that this tension between the 'lexus global and the olive tree local ' is one of the defining characteristics of the new world.

Barber characterises the dialectic between "McWorld vs. Jihad" as an inevitable point of conflict in the future, between a "McWorld tied together by communications, information, entertainment,and commerce" versus a "Jihad Moreover, the aggressive nature of the forces of globalization and informatization make mutual acceptance untenable. It is impossible to stand outside the globalizing world, as there are too many political, economic, social, and even technological forces pushing nations and societies in that direction. Although it might be possible for an individual to refuse to cooperate, the very nature of the globalized world make it impossible for whole societies to stand against it and still prosper.

This brief introduction to the forces of globalization and informatization is by no means exhaustive, but it helps to raise some of the salient issues for further discussion. I will turn my attention now to the implications of these forces for international and intercultural communication theory, and give tentative expression to some of the questions that arise for theorists of intercultural communication.

As noted previously, intercultural communication theorists have often noted the globalizing forces of economic integration, tourism, migration, etc, as important forces that provide a rationale for increased intercultural communication competency. Few, however, have attempted to discern the more fundamental questions of how these forces will change the very nature of intercultural contact.

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One notable exception is Chen and Starosta , In this section, I will attempt to articulate several broad areas of questions, and articulate some important areas that merit the attention of intercultural communication theorists. I will articulate these in two broad categories, the social implications and the interpersonal implications. Given that the field of intercultural communication is typically construed as primarily interpersonal, it might seem more helpful to address these first.

However, given the fact that these forces are inherently cultural and social, I think it best to begin with a discussion of the larger social and cultural implications. The first broad area of questions to be addressed is that of the social and cultural implications of globalization and informatization, and the relevance to intercultural communication. These are areas that are typically not directly addressed by theories of intercultural communication, but rather more often come within the range of theorists of international communication, critical theory, or even post-colonial literary theory.

However, given the force we have ascribed these trends in the contemporary world, it is critical that theorists of intercultural communication engage them, as it is the social and cultural context in which all intercultural communication arises. I will specifically discuss three critical areas that need to be addressed, our understanding of culture, the ways in which cultural change is precipitated by globalization and informatization, and their role in defining personal and communal identity.

Culture , of course, is an amorphous concept, even in the most rigorous theories of intercultural communication. Typically, it is defined as a symbolic system, which includes issues of perception, cognition, and understanding. Culture is not merely an abstract set of folk practices, nor a collection of touristy festivals. Rather, as Geertz defines it, it is a set of symbolic systems, that serve not only to define and identify the culture and social structures, but also to articulate the synthesis of two essential parts of human culture, ethos and world view.

Geertz employs a very diffuse, totalistic conception of culture, that can not easily be perfunctorily articulated. Every specific act, every utterance, every thought must be understood within a much larger, much broader context. There are certain inherent challenges that globalization, in particular, make upon our understanding of culture.

One of these is a tendency to equate "culture" with "nation. The nation, as a political abstraction, is certainly very different from the culture, which as Geertz has described it, is primarily a system of symbols. Although scholars distinguish between co-cultures within North American boundaries, this concept is rarely applied to other nations.

Within the boundaries of the Peoples' Republic of China, for example, there are approximately 80 different linguistic groupings, bound by geographical, political, and yes, even cultural distinctions. The language most often called Chinese, Mandarin, or putonghua, the official language based on the dialect of the northern region around Beijing, is the official spoken language, but to the vast majority of citizens of the nation, it is a second language. Each of the regions of China have vastly different ethos, and yet this is rarely considered in abstract pronouncements about "Chinese culture.

With greater access to cultural diversity from within nations, our conception of "culture" will take on narrower frames of reference. Beyond the inherent instability of the nation alluded to earlier, does globalization force us to redefine cultural boundaries? Do globalization and informatization bring about culture convergence or divergence?

Do the ties formed by economic and technological integration increase or diminish the impact of culture on communication? How does global interaction affect one's cultural identity?

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When Israelis read South African websites, or when Chinese read Japanese sites, which cultural background is most significant? This question is not easy to answer because it entails certain other fundamental questions. For example, media forms themselves are not passive entities.


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Cultural forms, codes, and values determine issues of media content and media design, including aesthetic, technical, and logical criterion. One has only to compare the websites of the aforementioned North Korean Central News Agency with the much more visibly dynamic Western news sites, such as CNN , to see immediate differences in perceptions of what "news" is, how it is to be presented, and the cultural, economic, and political assumptions regarding its purposes.

A related area of discussion is that of the forces of globalization and informatization in cultural change. Many theorists argue that globalization is working in a fundamentally centripetal manner, forcing homogenization and consumerism along Western lines. Observers from both traditionalist and integrationist perspectives perceive a certain convergence across cultural and national boundaries.

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The rise of a new class of capitalists in recently developed nations is often praised as a verification of the universality of notions of rationality, liberalism, secularism and human rights Robison and Goodman , , p. In other words, a new culture is forming that transcends traditional political and geographic boundaries, that can best be defined by profession, technological expertise, or social class. Others decry the "coca-colonization" and "McDonaldization" of the globe, and argue that the rampant global rise of consumerism ultimately will destroy traditional cultures.

In a recent Chinese news publication, for example, a Chinese scholar argues that the "blind worship" of foreign consumer goods, the tendency to disparage patriotic heros and uplift "traiterous literati," and the compromise of national dignity are all symptoms of the "dregs of colonial culture" Li , , p. In other words, the globalization of China's economy, including consumer products, as well as the rise of cybercafes on Chinese streets, all indicate the evil nature of the changing circumstances. As evidence for the claim of homogenization, analysts point to graphic indicators, such as the abundance of McDonald 's restaurants around the world, such as this one in Oman.

Such blatant symbols of multinational power are indicative of the homogenization of traditional societies. Integrationists, on the other hand, argue that unlike previous manifestations of colonial power, there is nothing coercive about offering hamburgers to willing consumers. This has serious implications regarding the transformation of culture. Globalization and informatization provide a context that ultimately can be at odds with traditional cultural forms. To what extent, for example, can Islam, which is rooted in the history and the language of the Arabs, survive postmodern globalization?

Islam has certainly taken root in culturally diverse locales, such as Central Asia and Southeast Asia, but the globalized future presents a different set of challenges. As a world view, Islam might very well provide a welcome bed of stability in a world of change Ahmed , As a cultural practice, however, globalization has introduced tensions into Islamic societies, such as allowing youth access to vastly different world views, creating a tension within traditional Muslim societies.

For example, in the 's a survey indicated that Michael Jackson was more popular in Indonesia than Mohammed, and merely reporting on the survey landed an unfortunate journalist in jail Hitching , It is not just Muslim societies that must deal with the unknown future, however, but all societies in which tradition has played a major role in providing guidance to social life; in short, all societies. Some might well experience a backlash as illustrated by the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, while others find themselves in vastly changed social circumstances.

Even within the U. Proper education about specific cultures is important, due to geographical differences wherever you live.

There are important social cues that need to be observed and adapted to, depending on where you are. Some cultures from the Middle East, for example, feel comfortable with closer physical proximity, while others, like Americans, value personal space and feel uncomfortable if someone gets too close.

This one is especially relevant. In Latin America, many people kiss both cheeks as part of their greetings in social situations and even business meetings, usually when two women or a man and woman greet each other. Greetings can make or break a business transaction from the start.

Often when people visit other countries, they get overwhelmed and miss subtle cultural cues. This leads to misinterpretation, which, in the business world, can lead to lost deals, missed opportunities, and overall company failure in the global market. The best piece of advice for anyone traveling to a foreign country or dealing with intercultural issues is to take a moment and learn about cultural differences. Ask questions. Who knows, it might actually be fun to learn how one culture does business as opposed to another.

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What advice do you have for those who are struggling to cope with these differences? Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of online skills testing for pre-employment assessment and benchmarking. Eric has degrees in Psychology and Business, and a fascination with matching people with roles they're best at, and that they enjoy.

This is the ugly side of globalization. Getting your employees and yourself to be open to change and different cultures through actual examples is the right decision for all the multinational corporations out there. I was lucky that there was also a few other westerners here that had taught me what to do in order to have a better relation with the people here.