The concept of culture is quite complicated as it is interconnected with stereotypes, traditions, and people’s perception of both. Therefore, it is difficult to understand how various cultures interact, particularly how traditions and customs generate the emergence of firmly established stereotypes.
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Indeed, many factors and aspects distinguish peculiarities of cultures. Communication and language are also among them. In particular, cross-cultural interaction results in creating firm beliefs and judgments that are converted in firmly established prejudices and stereotypes.
Culture can be learnt and accepted, it is open to changes because all components of culture are interrelated. Finally, culture can be either accepted or ignored. In this regard, the concept of stereotype also influences social categorization and information sharing in the course of cross-cultural communication. The point is that stereotypes are resistant to changes because modern culture is presented through linear way of thinking.
According to Hall, “[g]iven our linear, step-by-step, compartmentalized way of thinking, fostered by the schools and public media, it is impossible for our leaders to consider events comprehensively…to a system of common good, all of which can be placed like an unwanted waif on culture’s doorstep” (12).
Indeed, contemporary cultural underpinnings are based on linear and isolated ways of thinking with no regard to external cultural developments. Rigid social stratification has even led to cultural misconception and the creation of firm conventions. In other words, culture is nothing more than a series of linear models that have become the core basis of Western thinking (Hall 9).
This paradox can be brightly illustrated in our society, specifically in my case. I could really experience linear models of Western thinking and social attitude as I came from South America. The problem is that people’s attitude and first impressions have been first based on their stereotypic background and knowledge about culture of South America.
The most common stereotype in this region is that South Americans, or “latinos” usually do force labor this comes from the very low class immigrants that come to find a better life in the United States. In my own personal experience, when I went to boarding school in upstate New York, everyone was surprised that someone from Ecuador could first speak English, and second have a house and a car back home.
I got asked questions like: “do you live in a tree?”, or “do you move in a canoe or horses?” I was very surprised because I thought I was at a school where the education level is a little bit higher and my peers would know better than thinking of South America as a completely underdeveloped continent. However, I was wrong. They were not joking, and I had to explain that we are a civilized society, and that poverty exists but not to that extreme extent.
Perceiving culture as system of behavioral models, people evaluate other cultures only with regard to situations they witness. To be more exact, contemporary culture is largely predetermined by communicational data, which distinguishes low-culture and high-culture context. Analyzing the Western culture, it is possible to affiliate it with the latter type due to narrow understanding and perceiving alien traditions and customs.
Again, Latin culture is very high context. I am very expressive and emotive. In addition, my family tights are so strong. When I came to the United States, I noticed that families are not the same here, either they are very small, or they are just not close. This can also be tied to the stereotypes, which are sometimes very true.
Most South American women do stay home, and that is a reason why families are closer together because mother is always at home doing things for her husband and children. This contradicts stereotypes in the United States where the majority of women have careers. I am not trying to generalize, many women in South America have professional lives as well, but the majority stays at home. In addition, this is the stereotype of machismo, where the man has all the power because he earns money and the women have to serve him.
According to Hewstone and Giles, there are different dimensions of stereotypes that based on language peculiarities of various social groups, particularly speech styles, level of social interaction and integrity, solidarity, and social status. The last two aspects are core ones in identifying the stereotypic thinking. They are both based on integrity and dominance of particular interests and interactions. In other words, the concept of stereotype appears with regard to socioeconomic superiority or inferiority of a particular group.
What is more important is that they are also motivated by the desire to protect unique language varieties, which is also closely connected with individual cognitive behavior base on spoken language and psychology. The problem is that a person’s communication behavior is difficult to conceive apart from the cultural context, within a particular sub-culture. Therefore, social communication and behavior are largely determined by negative feedback pattern.
Culture is so important. It can help discover and understand why and how different groups within societies function. What I have found quite interesting in Hall’s reading is a comparison he makes about Western and Arab culture. I am aware that these cultures are very different, however I never looked at the reason of the differences in this way.
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In the Western society the sexual control is internal in the women (more trust), however in the Arab culture the control is external because men and women cannot be together in one room, is unmoral behavior to do so. Unlike the Western culture, the Arab culture has to deal with religion and, therefore, there is more freedom morally speaking, but still women are looked down at and they are not “worth” the same.
Based on the above-presented assumptions, it is easy to draw the parallel between different contexts of modern culture and stereotypic dimensions. Both concepts depend on the peculiarities of spoken languages, and socioeconomic status of cultural groups.
Both concepts provide reasons for perceiving modern culture and society as a generator of firmly established prejudices and beliefs (Hall 30). I was one of those who had been affected by prejudiced attitude merely because my social status was inferior to that of society I had moved to. I noticed that people’s attitude and perception of other cultures were based on some discriminative issues.
Their beliefs were based on the stereotypes that if a person represents a cultural minority group, he/she definitely refers to a second class group. This is the case when superior social group outlooks cause the appearance of the negative prejudices and stereotypes. In cultural terms, the examination of person’s mental map leads to the idea that human’s behavior is partially based on innate perception and psychologically established patterns.
Despite the fact that most of the created stereotypes are negative and predetermined by such factors as social status and integrity, its close connection with cultural context and person’s ability to change his/her groups images brings hope to erasing such behavioral patterns. One of the most effective ways to exterminate stereotypic and linear thinking is to change the character of cross-cultural communication.
In particular, the purpose of communication should be based on information sharing rather than on intentions to demonstrate social and economic superiority (Hewstone and Giles 280). Although the eradication of stereotypes and negative beliefs about other cultures is almost impossible, it is, therefore, necessary to construct alternative images and positive stereotypes to substitute the negative ones. Such a replacement will provide more chances for improving cross-cultural communication.
Summing up, it should be stressed that group images can be learnt and change because it is impossible to make shifts in cultural understanding. Low-context and high context culture can also identify the boundaries of social groups. Therefore, the stereotypes formation also has a great impact on social categorization by means of cross-cultural communication.
The problem is that stereotypes cannot accept changes due to modern tendencies of linear thinking. In this regard, cross-cultural communication can be successful only in case of ignoring negative stereotypes. In order to eradicate them, it is necessary either to provide viable substitutions or to widen people’s ways of thinking and perceiving information. Considering my situation, I believe that changing cultural outlooks can lead to a considerable shift in social attitudes of superior groups to cultural minorities.
Hall, Edward T. Beyond Culture. Australia: Anchor Books, 1976.
Hewstone, Miles and Giles, Howard. Social Groups and Social Stereotypes. Intergroup Communication: A Review and Model of Intergroup Communication Breakdown. London: Edward Arnold, 1997. pp. 10-20.