To the Analysis of the Main Concepts and Theories in Cross-Cultural Communication

K. V. Kireienko

: ³ 16 (179), 2009. Cc. 31-37.


 In this article we trace the development of the concept of culture through centuries, analyze its system and constityent level and its connection to the individual who shares it.
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Encounters between people of different cultural background have existed forever, and equally forever, people were thinking about phenomena that were unusual in other cultures. However, those encounters were relatively seldom in early times, today, they are almost part of everyday life: the facilitated communication and movement of people has made it possible. This article aims to trace the development of the concept of culture, analyze its system and constituent levels and its connection to the individual who shares it.

The concept of culture has been studied by N.J.Adler, G.Fisher, G.H.Hofstede, G.Maletzke, D.McQuail, H.Spencer-Oatey and many others. The word culture stems from the Latin colere, translatable as to build on, to cultivate, to foster. Leibnitz, Voltaire, Hegel, von Humbold, Kant, Freud, Adorno, Marcuse,... all have reflected on the meaning of the word in different versions of its use. In the early stages of the philosophical debate about what is culture, the term often refers to the opposite of nature, whereas culture was referring to something constructed willingly by men, while nature was given in itself.

Since the 18th century, the word culture emerged more in the sense of products that are worthy: somewhat reduced to Durer, Goethe and Beethoven, the term was used to describe Elite and high-culture concepts, particularly in continental Europe. This definition of culture is still vivid; H.Rickert, in Kulturwissenschaft und Naturwissenschaft (1921) (The science of culture and the science of nature), defines culture, following the Elitist approach, as: Gesamtheit der realen Objekte, an denen allgemein anerkannte Werte oder durch sie konstruierte Sinngebilde haften und die mit Rucksicht auf die Werte gepflegt werden (The totality of real objects, to which the general values, or sense constructions of those, are related, and which are cared for with regards to the values.) [1, p. 16] Equally, during the mid-nineteenth century, the concept of mass culture and popular culture emerged, fuelling the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and the Birmingham School. In the words of Stuart Hall, of the Birmingham School, culture is both the means and values which arise among distinctive social groups and classes, on the basis of their given historical conditions and relationship, through which they handle and respond to the conditions of existence [2, p. 100].

H.C.Triandis introduced the concept of subjective culture, or a "characteristic way of perceiving its social environment" common to a culture [3, p. viii]. Based on these perceptions, and what has been perceived to work well in the past, values are passed on from generation to generation.

Not surprisingly this concept of shared values resulting in shared behavior and artifacts has also been applied to other groups outside ones own group or society. For example, Kroeber & Kluckhohns definition of culture reads culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiment in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other, as conditional elements of future action. [4, p. 14]

Geert Hofstede defined culture as the collective programming of the mind and viewed it as the entity of the set of values and attributes of a given group, the relation of the individual to the culture, and the individuals acquisition of those values and attributes [5, p. 6].

Fisher defines culture as shared behavior, which is important because it systematizes the way people do things, thus avoiding confusion and allowing co-operation so that groups of people can accomplish what no single individual could do alone. And it is behavior imposed by sanctions, rewards and punishments for those who are part of the group. [6, p. 21]

Concluding, we can say that culture is the totality of the following attributes of a given group (or subgroup): shared values, believes and basic assumptions, as well as any behavior arising from those, of a given group. Culture is understood, in this context, as collectively held set of attributes, which is dynamic and changing over time. A group can thereby be various forms of social constructions: it is not merely any nation, but also supranational and international groups are possible, and often clearly distinguishable.

As indicated above, culture consists of various levels. At the most rudimentary, culture consists of two levels: a level of values, or an invisible level, and a visible level of resultant behavior or artifacts of some form. This view of culture is embodied in the popular iceberg model of culture. The multilevel nature of culture is important because of several aspects: it identifies a visible area as well as an area that is not immediately visible, but that can be derived by careful attention to the visible elements of the cultural system as we understand it.

However, regarding culture as merely a two-level system seems to be too rudimentary for a meaningful model of culture. Hofstede proposes a set of four layers, each of which encompasses the lower level, as it depends on the lower level, or is a result of the lower level. In his view, culture is like an onion: a system that can be peeled, layer by layer, in order to reveal the content.

At the core of Hofstedes model of culture are values, or in his words: broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs over others [7, p. 8]. These values form the most hidden layer of culture. Values as such represent the ideas that people have about how things ought to be. As such, Hofstede also emphasizes the assumption that values are strongly influencing behavior. Above the values, Hofstede describes three levels of culture that are more clearly observable:

rituals, such as ways of greeting and paying respect,

heroes, such as admired persons who serve as an example for behavior,

symbols, such as words, color or other artifacts that carry a special meaning.

In Hofstedes model practices, a set of visible practices that carry an invisible cultural meaning extends across all the three outer layers and subsumes these. The concept of practices is however somewhat confusing as it seems connected to some extend to rituals and symbols, yet distinct from these. In practice, Hofstedes model represents an extension of the previously discussed two-layered model of culture, where the outer layer has been extended to allow for a more refined analysis of the visible results of cultural values.

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner present a similar onion-like model of culture [8, p. 22]. However, their model expands the core level of the very basic two-layered model, rather than the outer level. In their view, culture is made up of basic assumptions at the core level. These basic assumptions are somewhat similar to values in the Hofstede model, a lower level of values, i.e. basic assumptions are the absolute core values that influence the more visible values in the layer above. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner give the example of human equality, as a basic assumption that goes largely unquestioned.

However, it is hard to draw a precise line between the notion of basic assumptions and values as most are inferred indirectly and are frequently not questioned. It therefore seems sensible to recombine these two levels but to keep the label different. Spencer-Oatey does this in the model she proposes by combining both basic assumptions and values in one segment of the culture onion [9, p. 5]. In her view, basic assumptions and values in combination form the inner core of culture. This inner core is encircled by a more elementary level of beliefs, attitudes and conventions. This distinction is useful, as it makes it possible to account for changes in beliefs, for example, without a more dramatic shift in values. In her model, beliefs, attitudes and conventions influence another layer, consisting of systems and institutions, which in turn are encircled by a split outer layer of culture. In the split outer layer of culture, Spencer-Oatey locates artifacts and products on the one side and rituals and behavior on the other side. Spencer-Oatey therefore distinguishes between the manifestation of culture in human behavioral pattern (rituals and behavior) on the one hand, and non-behavioral items on the other (artifacts and products).

Spencer-Oateys model has a number of advantages over the previously discussed two models, from which it is derived: it clarifies the concept that there are two levels of core values that are distinct yet have a fuzzy boundary. These two core values (or values and basic assumptions) are accounted for in the model. The model also allows for another mental level of culture which is more practical: the introduction of a level containing attitudes, beliefs and behavioral conventions makes a useful distinction between values on the one hand, and their expression in a more precise, but at a non-implemented level on the other.

There is a significant debate about what level of analysis is desirable for the concept of culture to be a viable tool. As culture is shared, it implies that it is not necessarily directly connected to the individual on the one hand, yet at the same time it is problematic to establish how many individuals who share a culture make up any one culture. In everyday language words like Latin culture suggest that countries as diverse as Italy, Spain and Brazil share a common culture. Equally, the notion of European culture can frequently be heard, again suggesting that a large number of people share a common culture across political and language boundaries. At the other extreme, there are notions of small cultural units, probably more correctly referred to as subcultures, such as Afro-American culture or Bavarian culture. It is therefore quite difficult to set a distinct level of resolution which is justified by the definition we have given above, as the definition arguably can be applied to both the larger as well as the smaller units referred to above. In more practical terms, national boundaries have been the preferred level of resolution, and therefore countries - the preferred unit of analysis. There are several good arguments for this. Firstly, the nationality of a person can easily be established, whereas membership of a sub-culture is more difficult to establish, particularly in cases where individuals may declare themselves members of various sub-cultures at the same time. The use of nationality is therefore avoiding unnecessary duplication and removes ambiguity in the research process, as the nationality of a person can usually be established easily. Secondly, there is considerable support for the notion that people coming from one country will be shaped by largely the same values and norms as their co-patriots.

At the same time, it is important to point out that culture is not the only factor influencing human behavior, i.e. that an individual belonging to a certain culture will be shaped by the culture, but is not a slave to the culture. Although general dimensions of culture can be established at a culture-level, these may not necessarily be reflected in the behavior of each individual from that culture. In other words, using data from one level of analysis (such as the culture level of analysis) at another level of analysis (the individual level) is inappropriate. This type of error is labeled an ecological fallacy by Hofstede. Culture level analysis always reflects central tendencies () for the country, it does not predict individual behavior [10, p. 253]. The individual and the culture in which he lives is a complex set of relationships. On the one side, the individual determines his culture, on the other, he is determined by his culture. By contributing to the culture around him, the individual is part of the cultural change.

Thus, we can conclude that it is possible to describe culture as a shared set of basic assumptions and values, with resultant behavioral norms, attitudes and beliefs which manifest themselves in systems and institutions as well as behavioral patterns and non-behavioral items. There are various levels of culture, ranging from the easily observable outer layers (such as behavioral conventions) to the increasingly more difficult to grasp inner layers (such as assumptions and values). Culture is shared among members of one group or society, and has an interpretative function for the members of that group. It is situated between the human nature on the one hand and the individual personality on the other. Culture is not inheritable or genetic, but culture is learned. Although all members of a group or society share their culture, expressions of culture-resultant behavior are modified by the individuals personality.



1. Maletzke G. Interkulturelle Kommunikation: zur Interaktion zwischen Menschen. Berlin: Westdeutscher, 1996.

2. McQuail D. Mass communication theory. London: Sage, 1994.

3. Triandis H. C. The analysis of subjective culture. N. Y.: John Wiley, 1972.

4. Adler N. J. International dimensions of organizational behavior. N. Y.: Wadsworth Publishing, 1997.

5. Victor D. A. International business communication. N. Y.: HarperCollins, 1992.

6. Fisher G. Mindsets: the role of culture and perception in international relations. Yarmouth: Intercultural Press, 1988.

7. Hofstede G. H. Cultures and organizations: software of the mind: intercultural. London: HarperCollins, 1994.

8. Trompenaars F., Hampden-Turner C. Riding the waves of culture: understanding cultural diversity in business. London: Nicholas Brearley, 1997.

9. Spencer-Oatey H. Culturally speaking: managing rapport through talk across cultures. London: Continuum, 2000.

10. Hofstede G. H. Cultures and organizations: software of the mind. N. Y.: McGraw-Hill, 1991.

















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