Communication 372 – Theory and Research in Intercultural Communication

John R. Baldwin

School of Communication

Illinois State University

Updated 27 May 2013

Group Identities


After this unit, students should be able to:

v  Explain personal versus social (group, role, relational) identities

v  Be able to recognize and define key terms dealing with identities

o   Collective self-esteem

o   Ethnicity versus race

§  Assimilation versus pluralism [and Berry’s 2-axis model—class notes]

§  Symbolic ethnicity

o   Gender versus sex; androgyneity

v  Recognize main elements of four “microcultures,” as Neuliep describes them

v  Be especially aware of elements of African American culture (values, language)


My Summary Notes:

In Baldwin, Coleman, González, and Shenoy-Packer (Ch. 3), one of the three aspects of intercultural communication that we introduce is intergroup communication. This is similar to the “sociocultural influences” of (Gudykunst & Kim, 2001). Our dimension is primarily about intergroup perception (that is, when we see each other or ourselves as members of groups and that perception is important in our communication). Gudykunst and Kim add to this the notion of social identities, which also includes any sort of identity in which we perceive ourselves or others in terms of roles (teacher/student, boss/subordinate, etc.), relationships (brother/sister, husband/wife, lovers, FWBs, etc.), or group identity. So, you see, social identity considers group perception, but is broader.


Our discussion for the next several days will blend this discussion. We will begin by looking at identities in general, with communication theories relevant to identities. We will then move to issues of prejudice, then look at environment, and end the week with a discussion of specific identities and communication (probably sex and race).


What you need to do with this unit is sort of “read across the unit”—bringing ideas from early in the unit to the end, and ideas from the end back to the beginning, realizing that ideas from the entire unit can apply to any identity or group we discuss anywhere in the unit. Your best bet will be to think about your own identities and those of others in your community at the end of the unit, but in terms of concepts covered all the way back to the beginning.


Because of the unusual and difficult structure of this unit, I am going to start with an introduction, then come back to Neuliep, Ch. 3

I. Introduction to Identity

A.  Some Key Terms

Here, I will introduce some terms found in many textbooks, then provide an example.

v  Describe in-, out-, and reference groups (informal definitions)

o   In-group: A group to which we belong

o   Reference group: a group to which we look for meanings and identity

o   Out-group: A group to which we do not belong and which we often treat differently from those in our in-group

v  Explain personal versus social (group, role) identities. In outline form, we have:

o   Personal identities: Aspects of us as individuals (e.g., personality traits, communication traits, identity) that are not tied explicitly to others. Symbolic interactionists (remember back to your COM Theories class!) would argue that even these identities are “socially constructed,” because you only think you are smart or outgoing (a) in comparison to others in social interaction, and (b) because of messages you’ve received about yourself from important “others” in your life (“You’re such a smart girl!” “Go get ‘em, Slugger!” etc.). Still, they are descriptions of you, apart from your connection to others.

o   Social identities: These include aspects of your identity that connect you to other people, and include three different types of social identities.

§  Role identities: Your identity in established social positions of interrelationship, where each party has expected responsibilities based on her or his position in the relationship (my own definition…I just made it up). Ex: teacher/student, boss/employee, guest/host; patron/clerk

§  Relational identities: Your identity in people with whom you have some on-going connection of “solidarity” and/or intimacy, including but not limited to familial relationships: sister/brother, lover, spouse; but this could extend to also include “relationships” such as enemy

§  Group identities: An identity you hold because you belong to some sort of group, either by choice (e.g., religious affiliation, interest group, political affiliation) or by birth (e.g., sex, “race,” nationality). We will consider various dimensions of these identities on another day, but briefly, one could consider group identities to vary in terms of permanence of belonging, choice of belonging, visible markers of identity, and so on. We will find that many identities are much more complex than they seem. For example, what might seem like merely an ethnic identity might also contain components of religious identity, nationalism, and/or linguistic identity. And sometimes an “identity” we think is united, like “Latino/Latina” identity, might be rife with other types of identity tensions and divisions within (class, sex/gender, nation of ancestral origin, and so on).


v  Be able to recognize and define key terms dealing with identities. These are not in a specific text, but are part of class notes.


o   Collective self-esteem: The overall sense of worth or value that a group feels towards itself (not an invidual’s sense of pride in her or his group).

o versus pluralism: Two ways in which identity groups can “live together.” One approach, assimilation, assumes that a group has (or, if one is speaking in terms of an “assimilation ideology,” should blend in to the dominant culture. Pluralism is the approach whereby each identity group maintains its own language, culture, and “flavor” (similar to the “multicultural” approach). The first assumes a melting pot view or ideology, and the second, a salad bowl, where all of the parts live together in the bowl, but each retaining their own view. (I personally opt for the mixed stew metaphor—whereby the whole stew gains flavor from all the parts, and the parts, depending on how large they are (population, integration versus segregation) or how strongly they are flav ored (continued strength of culture of origin) maintain a strong taste of their original flavor, while also picking up, to various degrees, the flavor of the stew. Young Yun Kim, in her essay, “Unum and Pluribus: Ideological underpinnings of interethnic communication in the United States” (2012, in Samovar, Porter, & McDaniel reader, introduces assimilation and pluralism and proposes a new approach (reconciliation), in which these forces need not be opposed to each other.

o   Xenophobia: This term, more relevant when we get to prejudice, refers to a specific type of prejudice—fear of foreigners. An interesting note: Teun A. Van Dijk notes that in central Europe (such as Austria and Germany), “racism” is frequently tied to Hitler. Thus, it is almost a scandal to discuss racism. Instead, many Europeans call their feelings ausländerfeindlichheit—fear of foreigners. But when Van Dijk asks them to describe the foreigners, he finds that they often describe those foreigners in terms of race, just as American tend to think of “immigration” problems in terms of Mexican illegal immigrants, rather than “those Canadians.”

o   “Race” versus ethnicity: This is something I often spend more time on during class, especially in 372, where I first build up and clarify the terms and then break them down. For the quiz, you should know the standard definitions presented here. But note my (hopefully) thought-provoking questions.

§  Ethnicity refers to “cultural characteristics shared by people of a particular race, national origin, or religion.” But this is a sloppy definition. What you should know is that, while ethnicity is linked to cultural markers, such as language, religion, or sense of identity, what holds it together is a perception of belonging to a particular territory or place, often with an assumption of a “blood line” from that place. For example, I can move to East L. A. and live in a Latino community. I could even adopt the Latino culture. But that would not make me a Latino. To be a Latino, I would have to have “ascendancy”—a “blood line” to people from some Latin culture. Food for thought: My ethnicity is (in part), English, Irish, and Scottish. But where did they come from? The Angles and Saxons (as well as the Celts) were all originally Germanic tribes. So I’m German? But where did the Germans come from? Most likely from Eastern Europe. So, I’m Eastern European? But where did the Eastern Europeans come from? Maybe from the Indus Valley or even the cradle of civilization in the Nile Valley. So, I’m African American! What we see is that while we do speak in terms of ethnicity, we often draw the “ethnic lines” at an arbitrary point. For European Americans, this tends to tie to the rise of the Nation States in Europe.

§  Race in traditional social science writing refers to differentiation “based on biological characteristics” (Gudykunst, 2004, p. 81). Food for thought: But many would add “supposed differentiation.” Gould and others have found that racial differentiation is based on genetic characteristics that constitute only a fraction of 1% of our genetic make-up, and others have argued that “race” is as much political and social as it is biological (for example, at one time, the U.S. government categorized Chinese as “colored” and Japanese as “white”—or vice versa—because we had favored trade relations with one of the countries, and our old categorization of Blacks using the “one-drop rule” (rather than declaring someone White because they had one drop of White blood) was based on political—as well as highly racist—assumptions. “Race” would refer specifically to whether someone is White, Black, or Asiatic. But “ethnicity” would refer to one’s tribal/regional background from Africa (e.g., Ibo, Hutu, Ashanti, Akan, Fanti, etc.). I hold the latter view—that race is based on supposed distinction, but that racial categorization is cultural, political, and in some cases economic, it is a social construction that has a basis, though limited, in biology (that is why I prefer the “” around the word). I used to use “race” and “ethnicity” interchangeably, but after some redirection by my colleague Tom Nakayama, I’ve come to see that “race” is a more insidious category, because, even though we realize in our heads that biological differences are minimal (most of us realize this, anyway), in our minds, there is a biological baggage attached to the notion of “race” that ethnicity does not have.


In sum, we can say that race ≠ culture ≠ ethnicity. You should treat these terms distinctly and precisely, even if you don’t adopt the Baldwin slant on the words. You should be aware of the tensions surrounding the definition of the word “race.”


§  Symbolic ethnicity. While some people’s “ethnic” origins are more visible in their physical characteristics, for many, they may choose or not to exhibit their ethnicity. So, I (Baldwin) am part Irish, English, Dutch, Black (Pennsylvania) Dutch (roughly equal to German); Scottish, English, and Native American (Cherokee or Choctaw). If I wanted, I could march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade and express my identity “symbolically.” The point of symbolic ethnicity, though, is that, apart from these occasional symbols, the identity has little say over how I see myself on in my day-to-day life (it has, in a term we will introduce later, low “centrality” for me). However, if my identity were more “apparent” (i.e., in physical features), I would not have the luxury of picking and choosing the identities I expressed. I can “pass” for mainstream identity if I choose.


B.  BCGS, Ch. 5: Identity

      Here are some key notes/questions/definitions from BG&M-C, Ch. 5

·        Be able to discuss some aspects of one of your own identities (this should be cultural, but it might relate to family culture, racial/ethnic culture, an age cohort, etc.).

·        Think about how your identity is socially created (and thus, changing) and political

·        What are ideology and hegemony and how do these relate to identity (and your identity, specifically)?

·        What is “othering”? and what are some ways we might do this through images and words? Watch for ways that media texts “Other” particular groups. For example, while I like Burn Notice and MacGuyver and sometimes still see re-runs when I am on the treadmill at the Rec Center (Mondays is MacGuyver day on the Sleuth Network!), it is difficult anymore to watch how the show portrays Haitians, Middle Easterners, Russians, or Chinese. One book, Bond and Beyond, discusses how Ian Fleming and the later James Bond enterprise continually re-invents the (ethnic) nature of the “enemy” as national politics change.

·        What are Orientalism and the symbolic annihilation of race? Can you think of examples of other groups besides those the chapter mentions that are “symbolically annihilated”?

·        Whiteness” is mentioned, but not defined in this chapter. We will come back to this idea later in the unit!



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C.  Looking at Specific Identity Groups


Objectives for UNIT on Identities (2-3 classes)

Students will be able:

v  Recognize issues that might be specific to different identities (age, disability, class, race/ethnicity, sex/gender, other identities), especially from MN&F readings


In sum, for this class period, you should do the following:

  • Read two essays (minimum) from Parts 2 and 4 of the Samovar, Porter, & McDaniel text.


Overall Questions for a “reader” (edited book) chapter in SP&Mc:

Ø  What is the main point or thesis of the chapter?

Ø  Is it a thought essay or the report of a primary study?

Ø  What are the points the author makes to establish the claim? What evidence does she or he provide for those arguments?

Ø  Do you agree with the overall claim? Do you agree with the logic of the arguments? Do you feel the evidence supports the arguments?

Ø  How does this relate to your own experiences or those of people you know?

Ø  Look at end of the chapter to think about questions there.

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What you should do is read fully any two essays of your choice and be ready to write a brief paragraph on exam summarizing the key issues or points of (and your response to) one of the two essays. ALL of the chapters in S,P, & Mc are about identity and culture, but we will address some of these chapters in later units.


Identity and (dis)Ability: Braithwaite & Braithwaite (2002). “Which is My Good Leg?”: Communication of Persons with Disabilities




·               The authors rely on a theory we will consider later (speech codes theory), though without spelling it out. They do suggest that people with disabilities have a distinctive “speech code”—and, thus, a distinctive culture—that includes “specific models of personhood, society, and strategic action that differ from those of nondisabled people” (p. 243). We disagree with this: There is nothing inherent about all people with disabilities that suggests they have a “culture” unless they actually communicate with each other to create such a culture.

·               In the same way, not all people with a particular disability share the “culture” pertaining to that identity. People who study communication of deaf people distinguish between “deaf”—a focus on one’s lack of or limitation in hearing, and “Deaf” (capital-D), which relates to the culture (i.e., speech code) that many Deaf people have created with each other. The authors here preview the rest of the chapter.

·               What are challenges faced by people who are disabled in their communication with people with dominant culture?

·               What are some limitations in research about people with disabilities? [Okay—people with specific disabilities. The authors make an important point that all of us are disabled in some way!]

·               What is the role of “redefinition” for people with disabilities? (Later, we will see how this relates to social identity theory)

·               BEYOND THIS CHAPTER: What are some ways other groups might have to redefine themselves to enhance/protect their self-esteem (e.g., the “Black is Beautiful” movement)? Are there ways other groups might face barriers similar to people with disabilities? How might the findings apply to people with non-physical disabilities?


Text Box: Thought Box: What is the difference between a “disability” and a “handicap,” according to Braithwaite and Braithwaite (2012)? Can someone have a disability without it being a handicap? What is society’s role in creating or maintaining “disabilities”? The authors state, “Most of us are unaware of just how handicapped we would be without these physical adaptations” (p. 244). That is, without some form of accommodations, all of are handicapped. What are some handicaps you would face without physical accommodations?


Identity and Sex/Gender: Charlesbois, 2012: Ladylike Men and Guyland: Cross-Cultural Accomplishments of Masculinities


Identity and Sexual Orientation:


Above, we talk about sex and gender and the difference between these. Many people have written about (supposed) sex (or gender) differences in communication, such as Deborah Tannen and John Gray (men are from Mars. . . women are from Venus). On the surface, these differences make sense. But in this essay Justin Charlesbois critiques the notion of gender differences (in fact, many authors have argued that evidence on gender differences in communication might be exaggerated). Rather, both men and women might use both styles, but there are multiple ways of acting like “men” and “women” in most societies, but that some of these have social acceptance or prestige, and others are rejected or marginalized. This essay is about two current constructions of masculinity: what Charlesbois calls “Guyland” (based on the work of Dr. Michael Kimmel; see his website and “Guyland” blog here:, and the other, a newer representation of masculinity called ojomen from Japan.


As you read the chapter, try to understand the characteristics of these two identities (especially as they differ from other, more traditional notions of masculinity in each culture). But more importantly, think about how aspects of masculine identity might apply to other identities as well. Here are questions:

·        What are some problems Charlebois has with traditional “gender difference” research?

·        Top p. 199, L column, he makes several claims about the nature of “masculinity,” which he then develops. Know these (and think of how they might apply to other identities that you have. For example, do these reply to racial identities? To professional identities?). What does it mean to say some forms of masculinity are hegemonic? Do you have other identities where there is a clear “hegemony” of how one should act within that identity, with other enactments marginalized?

·        What are some specific characteristics of ojomen and the men of “Guyland”? How are these alike, and how do they differ from traditional masculinities in the two cultures?

·        What does Charlebois mean by saying that “embodying masculinity is primarily a homosocial endeavor” (p. 203)? How do you see this being played out in “masculine enactment” that you see in your day-to-day life?

·        Beyond the chapter? How do enactments of masculinity (and feminity) “cross” enactments of ethnic identity? (For example, do Black, Latino, and White men “enact” hegemonic masculinity in the same way?





Identity and Sexual Orientation: Eadie, 2012: In Plain Sight: Gay and Lesbian Communication and Culture


I make the same warning as above (people with disabilities): just because someone is gay or lesbian, that does not make them a member of “gay” or “lesbian” culture. It is different to be gay or lesbian in orientation and participating in a culture of other individuals that creates expected norms,  beliefs, values, and forms of communication (speech codes)! Still, here are some questions for Eadie’s chapter:

·        How does the ability to “hide” (that is, “pass”) make sexual orientation identity different from other identities? (are there other identities where one can “pass”?)

·        How accurate is “gaydar”? (And can “straights” detect gayness? How accurately?)

·        How do media tend to stereotype gay identities? (does media stereotype any of your identities?)

·        How does coming out occur? What can one do to be respectful to one who is coming out? (note: sections pp. 258-261 are all part of this process, though the chapter does not use “heading hierarchy” to show their relation to coming out).

·        What are some of the tensions in communication a gay person might experience? (the organization of this section is a bit difficult to follow, so get the main ideas).

·        Beyond the chapter: In what ways is gay/lesbian identity similar to (other) identities you hold? In what ways is it different?

·        What parallels do you see  between gay/lesbian identities and Charlebois’ view of masculinity? For example, are there different ways to enact “gayness” and “lesbianness,” with some more acceptable than others? Does what it means to enact “gay” or “lesbian” culture change through time (“fluidity” of identity) or from culture to culture? [Note: One of my master’s students recently did his thesis on prejudice within the gay male culture—specifically by more “straight”-acting gays towards those who act more “feminine”]


More to Come! Next up: Ethnic and racial identities.



Thought Box: Write your own reflection or reaction to one of the essays in Samovar, Porter, and McDaniel. This might be either a cognitive reaction (what you think about it), an affective reaction (your feelings about the essay, such as how you relate to it personally), or a behavioral reaction (what implications does the essay have for your own behavior as you negotiate your own identity or interact with the identities of others?



Some overarching issues:

  • Bracketing or highlighting some identities as the expense of others: “You should be a feminist, not an anti-racist
  • Believing that people who hold a particular identity must ascribe to the aspects of that identity that you think it should hold: “You’re just not Black enough.”
  • Dominant culture seeking to marginalize some identities in certain ways: how?
  • The “invisibleness” of centered identities
  • Identities as fluid, overlapping, contested (argued over), hegemonic, socially created

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Some Supplemental Notes on Sex & Gender [from old website…until I decide what to do with it]


1.   What is the difference between sex and gender?

o   Sex: biological difference

o   Gender: culturally enacted behaviors expected of men and women

What are some traits commonly expected of men and women?

a.   The existence of differences? The court is still out on whether there are sufficient differences between men and women in terms of most communicative behaviors. The problem is that there are a wide number of other factors (status, level of relationship, topic, and so on) that might influence an interaction. Much of the research on gender differences might note that there is a “significant difference” between men and women on some variable. But this only tells us that we know there is a difference, not how large the difference is. Perhaps, in terms of our “overlapping bell curves” from last week, in some aspects, there is so much diversity within groups that, despite an average difference, the difference between any two specific individuals is not important.


      Other complicating factors include that men and women seem to talk differently to men then to women. Women, for example, use a louder voice with men. Further, much of the research on men and women in the United States is written as if all cultural groups within our borders share the norms. There could be differences in the differences between women and men in Black, Latino, certain Asian cultures and White culture.


      The existence of gender differences is a debate that runs across most disciplines today and cannot be resolved here. Still, we will speak of some “general trends” of gender difference as summarized by some sources.


b.   Why differences? Again—a hotly debated topic. Some argue that the differences have a biological root, from women being mothers or from human instinct. Many scholars are moving to the position that the differences are based on “gender”—how society expects men and women to act—rather than “sex,” including hormones, reproductive organs, and so on. A related question is whether the differences are simply cultural (men and women are like different “cultures”) or whether there are power implications: Do gendered differences in communication work against women’s power? Some feminists take the stance that they do. They argue that by using more passive communication styles (tag questions, hedges when giving opinions, and so on), women are yielding power in interaction to men; other recent feminists disagree. Still, many wonder whether women’s communication styles work against them in the workplace (the woman who is passive or relational does not get anything done, but the one who is assertive and direct is a “bitch”). The managerial literature is mixed on which style benefits women in the workplace. We will say more about feminism later on.


c.   What differences? Scholars have turned up a wide array of differences. For example, Mulac and his colleagues have determined 13 verbal cues that, if you knew them, would allow you to predict a public speaker’s sex—from a written transcript only--with about a 97% probability, regardless of the age of speaker (from 13 to 100), and regardless of topic. These include things such as vocalized pauses (um, er—used more by men) and fillers (like, y’know—used more by women), grammatical errors (men), presentation of both sides of a position before making a point (women), and so on. Other research has found differences cross-culturally in distance: Men sit further apart than women, though in some cultures two men are much more likely to touch or even hold hands as friends then two women (giving support to the “gender” argument).


      Some writers have tried to summarize these differences. For example, Deborah Tannen suggests that men tend to seek report (telling the “facts” as they see them, including being right) and women, rapport (maintaining connection, even in the face of disagreement). Or, in other words, men seek competition and women cooperation. This difference explains many (stereotypical) behaviors:

o   Men don’t ask for directions—admits weakness. So also, “big boys don’t cry”

o   Men interrupt to take the turn or shift the topic; women interrupt (more) to continue the turn or give feedback.

o   Men tend to adopt a less face-to-face posture and use more space; women tend to be more nonverbally involved (e.g., tighter body angle in conversations)

o   Men’s “listener-response relevant moments” (um hum, nods) indicate agreement; but women’s indicate “tracking” with the other speaker

o   Men’s stories tend to be about being “one up” among the others (the “big fish” stories); women’s are more likely to admit their role in making a mistake, as this establishes connection with the others

o   Men’s relationships often revolve around activities; women’s relationships are said to be about “talk”

o   Men like conflict—women don’t prefer it. But we would modify this: Men like ideational conflict (who’s right? What’s the best policy); but women seem more likely to initiate relational conflict. Is this because they like it? Probably not—they’re just willing to do it to maintain the relationship. Some feminists argue, thus, that women end up doing the “shitwork” of relationships.


Sandra Bem has worked to develop a measure of masculine and feminine gender. This “sex-role inventory,” while not the only measure out there, has been used by many. Many will use this scale to make predictions about gender, but where they are not as interested in one’s biological make-up but in terms of how one sees oneself in terms of typically masculine or typically feminine behaviors. Someone who is high on both types of traits is said to be androgynous (from Greek words for man and women respectively); someone who is low on both is called undifferentiated.


The first part of Jandt’s chapter discusses gender differences around the world.

      Need a break: Take Bem’s Sex-Role Inventory on-line!


2.   In review of paradigms: If we wanted to look at gender or sex from three (or four) perspectives, we would approach it totally differently!

o   Scientifically: We would either use biological sex as a predictor variable to predict how men and women communicate differently (e.g., in preferred conflict resolution styles), or we might use psychological gender to see if those who are more masculine or more femininely oriented prefer certain levels of directness in making requests. We could also look at things that would lead one to adopt a more masculine or feminine gender style, such as parental communication styles, media preferences, and so on.

o   Humanistically: We would not be interested in sex as much as gender. We would see everyday interaction as “doing gender,” re-creating gender day-by-day. We would probably believe that what it means to be a man or woman today is in some ways different and other ways similar to what it was 50 (or 5) years ago. We would see communication as creating gender, rather than sex predicting communication.

o   Critically: We would be interested in how communication behaviors or mediated texts frame or marginalize women (or men)—such as use of terms “babe,” sexual harassment, or Big Johnson t-shirts (“Co-ed naked firefighters: Find ‘em hot, leave ‘em wet!”).




Text Box: Thought questions: Gender & Communication:
o	Tell about a time when gender differences influenced an interaction that you had. Try to use terms from the notes. Answer some (not all!) of the following questions: What happened? Do you think that the gender differences as explained here or by Tannen (class notes) explain what happened? Were people traditionally masculine or feminine—or androgynous or undifferentiated? Do you feel that the difference were simply cultural, or do you feel that they disadvantaged someone either based on biological sex or based on the way they enacted their gender?