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Unit 3: Dimensions of Culture


Unit 3: Dimensions of Culture Unit 3: Objectives At the end of this unit, you should be able to: define 'culture' and 'intercultural communication' in your own words ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Unit 3: Dimensions of Culture

Unit 3 Dimensions of Culture
Unit 3 Objectives
  • At the end of this unit, you should be able to
  • define 'culture' and 'intercultural
    communication' in your own words
  • explain the general features of culture and
  • discuss the differences between individualist and
    collectivist cultures, and identify three other
    dimensions of cultural variation
  • explain briefly the major theories of culture
    within the context of intercultural speech
    communication and
  • suggest implications of principles of
    intercultural communication for speech strategy

Defining culture
  • 'Culture' is complex and has far-reaching
    implications for speech communication practice
  • Simple definition - "the way of life of a
    particular group of people".
  • Extended definition "the relatively specialised
    life-style of a group of people - consisting of
    their values, beliefs, artefacts, ways of
    behaving, and ways of communicating. Also
    included in a culture are all that the members of
    a social group have produced and developed -
    their language, modes of thinking, art, laws, and
    religion" (DeVito, J. 1997 85).
  • Culture tends to underlie all aspects and forms
    of speech communication.

Defining culture (contd)
  • Distinction between 'primary culture' and
    'secondary culture(s)
  • Primary culture refers to native culture i.e
    the culture one is born into
  • secondary culture refers to the sub-cultures we
    belong to in relation to the social roles that we
    play in our daily lives.
  • membership in special interest communities
  • involve different ways of thinking, values,
    beliefs, ways of behaving, and ways of
  • language (both spoken and written) plays a
    dominant role in all forms of cultural activity.

Defining culture (contd)
  • Some Features of Culture
  • Culture is passed from one generation to the next
    through communication, not through genetic
    inheritance. Ethnicity is NOT culture, but
    religion can be part of culture.
  • Culture is not the same as race or ethnic origin,
    but members of a particular race often share the
    same culture by being taught through
    communication. It is not uncommon to find
    sub-cultures within a large population of people
    who are of the same ethnic group.
  • Enculturation is the process of learning one's
    own native culture. Agents include parents, peer
    groups, schools, religious institutions, and
    government agencies.

Culture (contd)
  • Acculturation is the process of learning a
    non-native culture. Factors that promote
    acculturation include cultural similarity,
    extroversion and risk-taking.
  • Ethnocentrism is one of the major problems that
    negatively colour cultural awareness and
    sensitivity towards people from other cultures.
    DeVito (1999, p. 24) defines this problem and
    provides some very useful information. Read this
    section and Table 1.3 about 'the ethnocentrism

How do Cultures Differ?
  • Useful to look at differences between cultures in
    three ways
  • Orientation (general tendencies of members),
  • Context (how much information is shared), and
  • Power distance (differences in social rank and

Culture Orientation
  • Collectivism versus Individualism in a continuum
  • Individualism the tendency of people in a given
    culture to value individual identity over group
    identity, individual rights over group rights,
    and individual achievements over group concerns
    (Ting-Toomey Choong, 1996 239, cited in Tubbs
    and Moss, 2000 284).
  • Collectivism the tendency of people in a given
    culture to value group identity over individual
    identity, group obligations over individual
    rights, and in-group oriented concerns over
    individual wants and desires (ibid.)

Culture Orientation (contd)
  • Individualistic orientation
  • personal goals
  • independence
  • being direct in communication
  • being less influenced by friends, family, school,
    religion, etc.
  • Collectivist orientation
  • group needs
  • interdependence
  • avoiding direct conflicts
  • generally working towards group solidarity

Culture Orientation (contd)
  • Important points about culture orientation
  • not mutually exclusive
  • people have dominant tendencies towards one
    orientation or the other
  • team player (collectivist) vs. individual player
  • Opposing orientations may lead to conflict
    mostly affect speech practice in small groups and
    organisational contexts
  • individualistic members tend to favour clarity
    and directness while collectivists adopt face
    saving to avoid being negative in their

Culture context
  • High-context vs. Low-context Cultures
  • Context ways in which information is coded,
    shared and transacted
  • High-context cultures
  • More skilled in decoding non-verbal behaviour
  • Assume that other people will also be able to do
    the same
  • Low-context cultures tend to depend more on
    explicit, verbal behaviour

Culture context (contd)
  • High/Low contexts at opposite ends of a continuum
  • Culture scholars compare high-context cultures to
    collectivist cultures and low-context cultures to
    individualistic orientations
  • Japanese and Arab cultures are said to lie at the
    high end of the continuum vs. German, British,
    and Scandinavian cultures

Culture context summary
  • High-Context
  • Information implicit
  • More shared info.
  • More spoken transactions
  • People listen more
  • Low-Context
  • Information explicit
  • Less shared info.
  • More written contracts and rules
  • More oral agreements and understandings

Power Distance
  • Power distance the distribution of power among
    the members of a given culture.
  • PD refers to the degree to which people accept
    authority, leadership, and multi-tiered
    government as a natural part of their culture
    E.g. some people have higher status and are
    therefore more powerful.
  • The term power may be roughly defined as the
    ability that people have in making decisions that
    involve and influence other peoples lives.
  • People who have more power have more freedom of

Power distance (contd)
  • High power distance
  • power tends to be concentrated in a few people,
    and there are great differences in the power held
    by these people (e.g. political leaders) and by
    the ordinary citizens, e.g., in countries like
    Brazil, the Philippines, India, China and Mexico
  • Communication between those in power and the
    ordinary people tends to be authoritarian in

Power distance (contd)
  • Low power distance
  • Power is more or less evenly distributed among
    groups and individuals such as in countries like
    Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, and Australia
  • Greater sense of equality among the masses
  • Power that some people do have is only due to
    some specific role that they are playing in
    society, e.g., teachers, doctors, and government
  • Perceived abuse of power tends to be openly

Theories of Culture, Language and Communication
  • Can there be thought without language? Is
    thinking simply 'inner speech', that is,
    intrapersonal communication?
  • Does language shape our ideas as well as our
    cultural practices, or is it a mere tool that
    serves to express what we already have in our

Language Relativity Hypothesis (LRH)
  • From the field of linguistic anthropology (the
    study of language and culture)
  • attempts to trace the origins of language in the
    practice of culture, and how language influences
    thought and behaviour in particular cultures (E.
    Sapir 1929 B. L. Whorf 1956 J. B. Carroll
    1956 J. Fishman 1960)

(LRH contd)
  • Originally known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
  • our thought is shaped by the language(s) we speak
  • Benjamin Lee Whorf (1956) the world is perceived
    differently by members of different communities,
    and that this perception is transmitted and
    sustained by language
  • Language as the primary way by which culture is
    expressed and passed on from generation to
  • Language influences our experience of the world
    language is our 'window on the world
  • Whorf studied the semantic and syntactic
    differences between native American Indian
    languages e.g. verbs and nouns and their

(LRH contd)
  • Research by Stolz (1997) and Losoncy (1997) seems
    to provides further evidence in support of the
    Whorfian hypothesis.
  • Stolz brain research suggests that the language
    we use influences our perception of success and
    failure, and even our actual successes and
  • Losoncy 'relabelling skills' can help us think
    about and deal with our failures and misfortunes
    in more useful, constructive ways. E.g. we can
    relabel the setbacks we experience as
    "annoyances", catastrophes as "hindrances",
    failures as "growth experiences", and rejections
    as "inconveniences
  • Possible link with positive/negative self-talk?

(LRH contd)
  • DeVito (1997 91) subsequent research and
    theories have not supported the strong view of
    the original hypothesis
  • A more moderate view is now accepted that the
    language you speak helps to highlight the things
    you see and feel, and how you talk about them

(LRH contd)
  • linguistic differences between languages do not
    by themselves contribute to differences in
    perception, thought, or behaviour, and by
    extension, to conflicts and problems in
    intercultural communication
  • Difficulties in understanding between people from
    contrasting cultures are more due to ineffective
    communication practices rather than language

Theory of Uncertainty Reduction (TUR)
  • TUR (Berger and Calabrese, 1975)
  • based on the general observation that elements of
    uncertainty and ambiguity in many communication
    situations are due to the large cultural
  • claims that much uncertainty can actually be
    reduced through effective communication in the
    following ways

TUR (contd)
  • 1. the more people communicate, the more they
    like each other
  • 2. the more people communicate, the more intimate
    their communications will be and
  • 3. the more non-verbally expressive people are,
    the more they like each other.

TUR (contd)
  • TUR - Practical strategies
  • (a) Listen actively and check your perception
  • (b) Be specific by referring to concrete and
    specific events and concepts rather than to
    abstract and general ones
  • (c) Seek feedback to set right misconceptions
    sooner rather than later.
  • (d) Resist making quick judgements and/or
    evaluations about people and events especially in
    cross-cultural situations

Theory of Maximising Outcomes (TMO)
  • TMO argument that human beings generally strive
    to gain the greatest rewards while paying the
    least costs (Sunnafrank, 1989)
  • people tend to interact more with other people
    who promise positive results and provide support
    and satisfaction

TMO (contd)
  • positive communication outcomes are generally
    less likely cross-cultural settings
  • some people avoid communicating in cross-cultural
  • tend to predict negative outcomes/results even
    before they try to communicate
  • Need to learn first about the Other's system of
    communication signals

Culture Shock Theory (CST)
  • term 'culture shock' was first coined by the
    anthropologist Kalervo Oberg in 1960
  • CS refers to the psychological reaction that is
    experienced at being in a culture different from
    one's own
  • CS accompanies feelings of alienation and
    loneliness, and conspicuousness (being constantly
    conscious about being different from others)
  • CS can produce a vicious circle
  • inability to communicate effectively gtgt serious
    mistakes gtgt more inability to communicate

CST (contd)
  • CS situations sometimes involve the following
    speech acts
  • (a) how to pay a compliment
  • (b) extending/accepting a dinner invitation
  • (c) how early or late to arrive for an
  • (d) how to distinguish between seriousness and
  • (e) how to distinguish between politeness and
  • (f) how to dress for formal, informal, or
    business functions
  • (g) How to order a meal at a restaurant or to
    summon the waiter

CST (contd)
  • CS stages (Oberg 1960)
  • Stage 1 The Honeymoon - involves fascination and
    enchantment with the new culture
  • Stage 2 The Crisis- the differences between your
    culture and the new culture create problems, and
    the actual culture shock occurs during this
  • Stage 3 The Recovery - you gain the skills and
    strategies necessary to function effectively in
    the new culture
  • Stage 4 The Adjustment - you make the necessary
    adjustments and start to enjoy the new culture

Intercultural Communication
  • cross-cultural situation vs intercultural
  • some people use the terms cross-cultural and
    intercultural interchangeably
  • IC involves communication between persons who
    have different cultural beliefs, values, and ways
    of behaving because of cultural distances that
    are variable between people

IC (contd)
  • Strategies of Intercultural Communication
  • Prepare yourself
  • Recognise your fears and face them.
  • Recognise differences between your culture and
    the target culture.
  • Recognise differences in meaning
  • Follow cultural rules and customs.

Dimensions of Culture Summary
  • Refer to the transactional model of speech
    communication for role of culture
  • Speech communication is about cultural contact
    (refer to theories)
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