Communication 372 – Theory and Research in Intercultural
Updated 21 May 2013
of Intercultural Communication
Objectives: After this class, students
should be able to: See here for optional powerpoint
communication from intergroup
the strengths and limitations of models, describe how they can be used
the “dialectical” approach to intercultural comm.
(practice & research)
Baldwin et al.’s model of intercultural
either of the above to an intercultural breakdown
between some key aspects of perception (we discussed these
already, but some definitions appear in the otherwise
less-important-for-our-discussion section on Gudykunst
& Kim model below).
main notions behind two other models of communication
- Gudykunst & Kim’s model of intercultural
& Porter’s model of intercultural communication
Some Notes on
Approaches to IC Communication
In this class
period, we compare two different approaches to intercultural communication. We
are interested in some of the specific details of each, but are, perhaps, more
interested in the overarching approach each takes—something that will become
clear only towards the end of today’s reading as we look back at these two approaches.
One of our
approaches is more formally a “model” of communication (that is, a visual
representation of a process). The other is not really visual, but is a
framework of concepts that can be applied to understand a communication
episode. I am keeping some old notes at the bottom of the page (so don’t print
the page of indiscriminately!) because they are informative and useful for
those who want to “know more.” You will know what is most important as you read
Defining Intercultural Communication
People have defined
intercultural communication in different ways. More and more, people see
cultures not as nations but as groups of people that share a similar set of
values, beliefs, etc. –or the set of values, beliefs, etc. shared by the group
of people. With that in mind, some have said that all communication is intercultural, even if you are communicating
with the person next door who looks and sounds very much like you. Others have
said that communication is only intercultural if we perceive it to be
But we believe that
culture could be impacting our interactions to some degree, even if we are not
aware of it. We do not need to notice
culture’s impact on our communication for it to be important. At the same time,
we often communicate with others—even those from other nations or more
obviously different “cultures” in situations where culture really is not that
relevant to the interaction. With that in mind, we define intercultural communication as “communication
in which cultural differences are large enough to impact the production or
consumption of messages.” This is distinct from intergroup communication, which
occurs when our perception of our own or the other person’s social identity (e.g.,
race, regional, religious, etc.) is impacting the communication, even if there are no real cultural differences.
That is, in intergroup communication, we are interacting with others not on
individual terms, but in terms of “in-groups” and “out-groups”—something we
will talk about more in our discussion of identity.
Why “Models” of Intercultural Communication?
approaches are very useful in helping us to understand communication in
general. They serve several functions, including (but not limited to):
- Providing a visual representation of a
process so that we can better understand it (descriptive function)
- Summarizing research in an area,
especially if the model is “theoretical” or is based on actual research
(for example, a model on communication accommodation theory that shows
which factors might lead one to adjust behavior)
- Helping to understand where or how a
communication breakdown has occurred (the troubleshooting function). In
this sense, a model can help us analyze our communication and make it
At the same time,
models have limitations. Among these are:
- Models inherently turn a process into a
single, two-dimensional image. It is often difficult to keep track of the
“process” notion, making a model more like a “snapshot” than a “moving
picture” that it means to represent.
- All models focus on some aspect of
something and, by necessity, must leave something else out! Keep in mind
that whatever your model chooses to focus on may limit—but at the same
time, enhance in other ways—your understanding of the topic of the model. As you read, think about how the
approaches vary in what they include and what they leave out.
Some other points about models
are not theories! While some models might detail a theoretical process (why and how
something occurs, often with “factors” that cause or lead to it), many are
simply pictures of processes and are not theories.
vary in level of complexity, just like diagrams of the working of an engine should differ
according to the audience to which you are trying to explain it. I keep
several models in my “theory toolbox” –I will use one for one audience,
and a different model for a different audience. It’s useful to know which
model you like most and why, but it’s also useful to know which will most
speak to your audience and which provides the best understanding of a
But, Are the Models Good? (Evaluating Models)
It is important for us
to be able to evaluate models, just as we need to be able to evaluate theories
or research. Here are some brief thoughts on evaluating models:
- A good “critique” contains both
strengths and limitations—it
is not only “what’s wrong” with a model (or theory, or article), but also
what it has to offer.
- Models (like theories) can be
evaluated with several tools. Here are some:
- Does it accurately reflect what it is
trying to describe (best learned when you try to apply the whole model to
a single instance or even to different instances. But beware—if you try
to apply each aspect of the model to a different situation, then the
model will always work. You should apply the whole model to a situation.
If it fits well (especially with repeated situations), this is a
- The model should correctly reflect
research in the area (if you know the research)
- The model should be “appropriately
simple” to the audience. Can it be simplified without losing any strength
of explanation? Is it so simple that it does not explain a lot? (Could
you add to it and have it explain better, or take away from it and have
it explain just as well)?
- Are the definitions or terms of the
model clear? Are they mutually exclusive, and if they are not, are
relationships between aspects of the model shown correctly (for example,
a classic model of communication often treats communication as a one-way
process of a sender sending a message to a receiver, which neglects the
dynamic, two-way aspect of communication).
- How does the model compare and contrast
to competing explanations? Do they offer something the model in question
does not? Does it do some things better than other explanations?
Models and Approaches:
I. Baldwin’s Model of
I’ve published this model in Baldwin &
Hunt (2002), Baldwin & Hecht (2003), and Baldwin, González, &
Means-Coleman (in press). The main points of the model are that any
communication episode has three potential components, with each ranging from
low to high (see the references to see where this model comes from and how it
compares to earlier models). Each line is supposed to be in three dimensional space (3 unique dimensions), so it doesn’t work well on paper!
This dimension relates to the
degree to which we communicate with people based on our personal understanding
of them. For example, Miller and Steinberg said that we first make demographic
predictions about someone (how they might communicate, say, as a woman or man),
then sociological predictions (they are Republican, Jewish, or over 30), and
finally, as we get to to know them, personal
predictions. (I think I have these right—I just pulled
them from memory!). If we are strangers—or if you are an office worker that I
treat only in terms of a role—the interpersonal dimension might be very low.
Lovers (usually) see each other high on this dimension.
This relates to the degree to which
we see people in terms of groups. Social identity theory (which we will look at
in a couple of weeks) suggests that we see ourselves and others in terms of the
groups to which we belong. When Jasmin first walks
into class, I might see her as a Latina, as a woman, or as a student. The
intergroup dimension is high. But the more I interact with her, the lower the
intergroup dimension (and the higher the intercultural). However, people in
interracial or intercultural relationships might see the other both as group members and as individuals, so both dimensions
could be high! This dimension is related not only to group perception, but also
to stereotypes and prejudices (I’ll explain in just a moment).
This dimension relates to real cultural
differences, which can range from minimal to very great. This is clearly
different from the intergroup dimension—on that dimension, I might perceive Jasmin
to have cultural differences because she looks different or is from a different
part of the country but be totally
mistaken. We could, in fact, be culturally similar. So, perception of difference (because of
group belonging) is 2nd dimension; but real differences are the 3rd dimension.
A strength of this model is that it allows us to
distinguish between group belonging (including prejudice and stereotypes) and
real cultural differences. Two people could be high on all three dimensions or
low on all three. Some combinations that might be problematic are if you and I
are high on intergroup perception (we
think we are different) but on the intercultural dimension, we are actually
low. In this case, we are not really interacting with each other, but with our
stereotypes of each other’s group. At the same time, we might look alike, even
be from the same country or racial/ethnic group, so we see ourselves low on the
intergroup dimension, but because of urban/rural or family culture differences,
we are actually high on the intercultural dimension. In this case, because we
don’t expect cultural differences, we
would blame communication problems just on personal traits and behaviors.
of this definition is that it does not include context (see, for example, Gudykunst & Kim model, below). Also, it doesn’t have a
way to really show whether one or both partners in a communication episode
are seeing each other in intergroup or interpersonal terms.
II. Martin, Nakayama, & Flores’ Dialectical Approach
(pp. 3-13 in MN&F reader)
approaches such as that by Neuliep (based in part on a “classic” approach by Gudykunst and Kim, see below) by arguing that it is too
linear—for example, with variables that predict outcomes. They feel that
communication might, in fact, be too difficult to “predict” in the way a
traditional scientific theory would propose.
Others suggest that,
in fact, we want some uncertainty or tension in our communication, or that one
partner in an interaction might want more predictability and another more novelty.
These people feel that prediction and novelty are opposite sides of a coin—both
exist in tension with each other, always present, but also always contradicting
or working against each other. MN&F, in their essay that introduces their
text of readings, combine these two criticisms to provide their own approach to
intercultural communication. Where the other two frameworks we look at in this
unit are visual models, this is more of an approach that can be used to
understand actual intercultural communication and intercultural research.
Questions for the
- What do MN&F mean by a “dialectical approach”? Baldwin’s
summary and brief history:
The first set of
dialectics (pp. 4-6) refer to everyday
interaction, some referring to the tensions that exist within a
culture and others to tensions that exist within intercultural
communication. Be able to define and tell the difference between different
tensions (Figure 1). I will provide examples here—you can see the
chapter for the definitions:
- Brief history: Hegel and Marx were
early writers to use the dialectical perspective. According to Marx, there
was a tension between a current political/economic system (the “thesis”)
and an opposing view (the “antithesis”). These struggled together to
create a new “synthesis,” which, after entrenched, became the new
“thesis,” awaiting a new “antithesis” to challenge it, and so on. Bakhtin applied the view to relationships and
communication, and writers in relationships (e.g., Baxter &
Montgomery, Rawlins) applied the view more fully to relationships.
- The dialectic
is a tension between two opposites that contradict each other and, yet,
must both be present at any given time, as complements of each other. The
dialectical view of relationships (Baxter & Montgomery, for example)
treats relationships as murky, messy, even
unpredictable. Rather, the dialectical approach explains how one partner
in a relationship wants a particular balance (for example) of
independence and autonomy, while the other partner might want a different
- In sum, then, the tension comes to
explain a view where, rather than placing items in a dichotomy, we see
them in an ongoing, ever-changing tension with each other, with both
likely present at any time.
Individual: As I
interact with Shyla, our interaction will
reflect some balance of personal identities and personalities, but also
some balance of cultural influence. The exact balance will change from
person to person in the interaction and from time to time (for example,
if we are following scripts, culture may influence our behavior more. As
we get to know each other better, we may make more predictions based on
personal aspects of the other, though culture will still play more or
less of a role at any given time.
- Personalßà Social-Contextual:
is a student and I am the prof, our behavior will also have a role-based
component. Each of us will behave, in part, in line with social role or
context expectations (i.e., fulfilling a role) and in part in terms of
personal goals or ideas. Again, this will change over time and from
situation to situation.
- DifferencesßàSimilarities: Our communication will have (cultural) differences, but we should
not overemphasize these. We will also have cultural similarities. These
differences and similarities exist in tension…
- StaticßàDynamic: Where others suggest that some cultures strive for change and
others maintain stability, the dialectical approach holds that change and
stability mark all cultures (including organizational and religious cultures)—within
any culture, forces will work both for change and for stability, with
change being more important (to some members) at some times, and
stability at other times or to other members.
- Present-futureßàHistory-past: The same can be said of the drive
towards the future or striving towards the past. If we look back to
time-capsule exercise, we do see change in American culture, but also a
deep-abiding tradition. Notably, however, some cultures may have a
preference for change or future, even though stability and past-focus are
still present. Also, these last two dimensions refer more to a single
culture than to interaction between individuals.
- PrivilegeßàDisadvantage: Here we see the critical roots of some of the authors coming out:
According to the authors, all interactions, especially intercultural
interactions, have power relationships, where some individuals have more
socially inscribed (social, economic, political) than others. But it is a
tension—both people in an interaction might have power, but the relations
are more complex than assuming that just because a person is a White male
tourist, that he has all the power in the interaction! This power
dimension has been ignored by most traditional researchers.
In sum, we
see that this approach, rather than predicting intercultural communication
outcomes, sees intercultural communication as more dynamic (processual)
and contains a critical element as well.
- The second set of tensions (pp. 6-11)
start with tensions of doing research.
These relate to the three “paradigms” that guide intercultural
communication research. Understand the main tensions as represented in
the bottom part of Figure 2. In brief, the dimensions are as follows:
- CausalßàReciprocalßàContested: This deals with what causes human
behavior. The causal approach (à la Gudykunst)
sees causality as fairly linear (A causes B, which causes C). A
reciprocal view (like a “systems” approach) would see A
causing or influencing B, but B also influencing A—kind of like the
communication patterns in our families! The contested view might actually
abandon the notion that causality exists at all, suggesting that people
act based on choices and “in order to” motives, rather than “because of”
- ReductionistßàHolistic: Some research wants to break reality down into smaller
parts—typically “variables”—and a single study will look at the
relationships between some of these variables (such as “warm nonverbal
behavior” and “teacher effectiveness” in the cross-cultural classroom).
Other researchers think that this “variable analytic” approach ignores
larger social, political, relational, or historical contexts, and will,
instead, seek to understand behavior within these contexts. Because of
these approaches, the first type of approach will tend to try to
“predict” outcomes (in “independent variables”) based on the “influences”
of other variables. The second will seek, instead, to “interpret” an
interaction or group or text in terms of the social contexts, but may not
try to predict at all.
- ObjectiveßàSubjective: This deals, briefly, with whether there is an
reality external to observers, or whether reality is essentially in the
minds of the observers. But perhaps it is time to turn to a fuller
explanation of these. First, in sum, where much research frames
itself in terms of one approach (subjective) or the other (objective), M,
N, & F suggest that these are tensions—that is, that objective and
subjective elements might both appear in a scholar’s approach, and that
the two existe in tension with each other.
NOTE: These latter approaches are less important to our discussion this year!
They provide interesting history and context (and some terms of the basic
language of intercultural communication that we have already discussed), so I
leave them here for your reading pleasure and to spark your dinner table
conversation…There may be a single scan-tron question
that asks you to choose a model based on it’s
main focus only.
III Gudykunst’s Approach: Anxiety-Uncertainty
Management (class notes
One of the models of
intercultural communication that I have found most helpful in its breakdown of
communication issues (and there are several models out there!) is that provided
by Gudykunst and Kim in their text, Communicating with Strangers.
Later in the
semester, we will look at Gudykunst’s
Anxiety/Uncertainty Management theory. A very brief description of his theory
will help give context to the model.
William Gudykunst (who passed away in 2005) felt that
the central issue in intercultural and intergroup communication was the ability
for people to control (“manage”) their levels of uncertainty (“cognitive” ability to explain and predict the behavior
of the other person) and anxiety
(“affective” or “emotional” apprehension, fear of different things that might
occur in the interaction, such as looking stupid, being rejected, and so on).
If one could control these, one would have better shared understanding (which Gudykunst calls effectiveness)
and will be better able to adapt. You will be responsible for the terms of this
theory only when we cover it more formally later in the semester. For now, it
gives context to his model.
In this model, there
are two larger circles, each representing a communicator. For simplicity’s
sake, I have drawn only one of the circles (you will receive a handout in class
with the full model). Between the two individuals are lines of sending and
receiving verbal and nonverbal messages. Gudykust and
Kim argue that when we create or process messages, we use four different
The filters are as
follows [all defs are my own informal defs!]
- Cultural: The first filter is culture, which refers to all elements of shared
perception (Gudykunst defines culture in terms
of shared perception or
frameworks of thought, rather than artifacts or behaviors—also, his
masters-level background is in Psychology!). This would include:
Sociocultural: This regards aspects of group identity (like “socio” as in
“sociology”), specifically things like:
- Values: What a culture holds to be important
- Beliefs: Thoughts or concepts about the connections between concepts (e.g.,
the “sky” is “blue”; “Communism” is “good” and so on).
- World View: A particular set of
beliefs that a culture or individual holds about the larger aspects of
the cosmos and humans’ position within it (e.g., regarding the deity,
incarnation, why humans are here, and so on).
- Rules: Behavior expected in certain situations—behaviors that are
demanded, encouraged, allowed, discouraged, or prohibited.
- Norms: Behavior that has a component of morality (good/bad,
right/wrong) attached to it. Strong norms might be called mores or taboos.
- Definitions, and so on.
third filter regards aspects of the individual mind (like the “psych” of
“psychology”). This includes things such as:\
- Roles: Behavior expected of people based on relationships with specific
functions or positions in relation to other people (e.g.,
“doctor-patient,” “teacher-student,” “wife-husband,” “child-parent”)
- Social identities: All people have a personal identity (aspects that define
themselves, such as shy, smart, or clumsy), but also a variety of social
identity based on relationships (boy/girlfriend, sister), roles
(worker/supervisor, minister/layperson), or groups (“American,” racial,
ethnic, social organizations, Communication major)
Environmental: All of the communication occurs in an environmental context. This
stereotypes: Definitions and
distinctions later as we get to this.
anxiety: See defs above; of course, central for Gudykunst & Kim’s model!
attitude, perception of the other: Basically, any other element that marks the person as individual.
This filter is relevant because it reminds us (as we will see in other
models) that the *individual is not the same as the culture to which she
or he belongs.* It is good to keep in mind that individuals can be
different from cultures.
- Situation/location: Physical location (bar, classroom) as
well as the communication context (joking episode, football game
- Geography/climate: For example, communication might occur
differently in a heat wave than in a more temperate climate.
potential”: That is, in what
ways does the context influence the ability to communicate? Some contexts
(an interview) encourage more ritualized and formal communication than
others (greetings on the quad); and some (watching a movie at the
theatre) encourage less interaction than others (having a malt at the
local malt shop).
is not included:
Unfortunately, the model (as written) leaves out several important
contexts, such as the historical
context (do the communicators come from groups with a history of
rivalry or intergroup hatred), economic
context (are the groups from different economic groups,
especially if one group uses or oppresses the other), and social context (what are
social relations currently between groups of which the communicators are
IV. Samovar & Porter’s Model of Intercultural Communication
newer editions of S&P’s text do not include this model (it’s now in the 4th
edition). But the model is nice, especially if you are working with younger
audiences, because of its simplicity.
In this model, the
three people are three different individuals (as compared to a 3rd-culture
model, which I will show you, but which we will not apply). The “3rd-Culture”
perspective looks at how two
individuals (or a class, or an organization) create their own culture
from elements of both of the first cultures (like an intercultural marriage or
a blended family). But in this model, the
three figures represent three different individuals.
This model has three
simple points (making it great for a younger audience):
- Cultures vary in how different they are from each other. This is illustrated by both the
distance of the shapes (top two are closer than bottom), but also in
similarity of shapes (top two are more similar geometrically than 3rd)
- Individuals are not the same as cultures. In each case, the individual (figure
within the figure) does not look exactly like the culture (outer figure).
However, individuals are shaped to varying degrees by their cultures (some
of us look more like our “culture” than others do).
- Cultures (and individual perception) shape the way we process and create
if we hear a message from another culture, because we often do not have
the symbols or meanings to understand it, we have the tendency (or need?)
to “shape” it by our own culture to understand it.
W. B., & Kim, Y. Y. (2003). Communicating with
strangers: An approach to intercultural communication (4th ed.). Boston:
N., Nakayama, T. K., & Flores, L. A. (2002). A
dialectical approach to intercultural communication. In J. N. Martin, T.
K. Nakayama, & L. A. Flores (Eds.), Readings in intercultural communication: Experiences
and contexts (2nd ed., pp. 3-13). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Samovar, L. A., & Porter, R. E. (1991). Communication between cultures. Belmont,