Anyone who has visited or lived in a different country will notice that people speak and interact in different ways from what people in other cultures are commonly used to. These differences in cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds are what are used to explain intercultural communication.
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Intercultural communication is defined as a type of global communication that is used by individuals from different religious, social, ethnic and educational backgrounds. It seeks to provide an understanding of how people from various cultures communicate in the global context by providing the forms of communication used in these cultures.
As a field of research, intercultural communication provides in-depth information on the various communication and interactional situations that people from different ethnic backgrounds and communities find themselves in and also how they interact with people from different cultures (Gudykunst 2003).
Intercultural communication also focuses on the attributes and perceptions of people who are termed to be intercultural so as to explain the types of communication strategies and practices they engage during networking sessions. Interculturality is an essential aspect of intercultural communication because it is able to capture the complex phenomenon of cross-cultural interactions.
It talks about the various cultures that exist in the world as well as the ethnic backgrounds of different people and how this affects interactions and communication. Intercultural communication combines the concepts of interculturality and discussion to gain a useful insight into the theories and frameworks that form this concept (Hess-Luttich, 2003).
There are various theories which have been developed to explain the concept of intercultural communication some of which include the theories focusing on communication networks, theories focusing on effective outcomes, theories on accommodation, negotiation and management theories and theories based on acculturation and adjustment (Gudykunst 2003). The purpose of this study will be to evaluate the various theories and frameworks that are used to explain pragmatic intercultural concepts.
Theories on Intercultural Communication
As mentioned in the introductory part of the essay, there are various theories that have been developed to explain the pragmatic concepts that make up intercultural communication. One of these theories is the theory of effective outcomes and an example of this theory is cultural convergence.
The cultural convergence theory explains intercultural communication to be a type of communication system that begins to form in a relatively closed social system where interactions between members are unrestricted. Cultural convergence occurs when members within such a system begin to converge together over a particular time to form a more excellent cultural uniformity meaning communication interactions will be similar amongst all the members in the group.
In the case of a restricted social system, cultural convergence within the society will diverge towards a diverse state of uniformity where they are able to adopt the various communication practices of members who exist in other communities (Wiseman, 2003).
The theories focusing on accommodation or adaption explain intercultural communication to be the use of linguistic strategies that are meant to decrease or increase the distances that exist in cross-cultural communication interactions. The theories that fall under this category include communication accommodation theories, intercultural adaption theories and co-cultural theories.
The communication accommodation theories explain intercultural communication as the type of strategies, techniques, or approaches that are used to bridge the gap that exists between people of a different cultural setting. Intercultural adaption, on the other hand, explains intercultural communication to be how people from a diverse cultural background adapt to the communication needs of others especially in purpose-related encounters which necessitate the adaption of cultural factors (Griffin, 2000).
The co-cultural theory explains intercultural communication to be the interactions that exist amongst under-represented or dominant cultural groups. This theory explains co-cultures to include people of a different color or ethnic race, women, homosexuals, lower-class people and people who are disabled.
This theory, therefore, seeks to address the communication needs of these groups of people by providing an explanation for how different people are able to communicate (Griffin, 2000). Identity management theories are also a form of intercultural communication theory developed to explain the cross-cultural aspect of communication where intercultural communication under this theory is seen to originate from the intercultural and intracultural types of speakers from the same and different cultures.
This theory developed by William R. Cupach and Tadasu Todd Imahori focuses on the multiple identities that various individuals possess as well as the cultural and relational identities that are regarded to form part of the identity management theory. In this theory, Cupach and Imahori claim that the individual identity of a person reveals the various faucets of their cultural background.
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These theory looks at intercultural communication as an act of trial and error that addresses similar aspects in individual identities, a form of mixing up the identities of communicators so as to achieve a relational identity that is acceptable to all participants and a kind of distinctive cultural identity that helps to establish relations with people that possess different relational identities (Gudykunst, 2003).
The identity negotiation theory refers to the various processes that people have to go through for them to reach an agreement with others in regards to the type of relationships they will have with other people. The double swing model of identity negotiation focuses on how individuals, cultures and intercultural notions change the course of communication and translational exchanges.
This intercultural theory is referred to as double model because it shows that both communication parties play the role of the addresser and addressee. Intercultural communication is seen as an infinite process that allows the two participants of the communication process to change during the meeting (Lindner, 2009). All these three theories focus on explaining the importance of an individual’s identity in understanding intercultural communication.
The theories of communication networks explain intercultural communication to be a pattern of contact that is created by the flow of messages between various communicators. These theories argue that for cross-cultural communication to take place, the concept of the message has to be understood by all parties in the communication network.
This will, therefore, require gaining an understanding of data, information, knowledge, images and symbols that can be moved from one point of the network to another (Monge & Contractor, 2003). Communication networks take many forms in either organizational or individual contexts and they can include personal contact networks, strategic alliances that have been developed between two companies, a global communication between various organizations and a network flow of information between two or more groups.
The theories that are used to explain communication networks in intercultural communication include networks and out-group communication competencies which highlight the cross-cultural communication networks between groups and intracultural vs. intercultural networks which discusses the language used by speakers from the same and different cultures (Monge & Contractor, 2003).
These communication network theories explain intercultural communication to be a network of information, data, opinions and ideas that have originated from the cultural backgrounds of individuals from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
The theories that focus on acculturation and adjustment explain intercultural communication to be a collaborative effort in which two strangers from different cultural backgrounds are engaged in a joint effort within a receiving environment. Acculturation is the exchanging of features that make up culture and concepts resulting in a group of individuals who have different cultures coming into first-hand contact with the original cultural patterns.
It merely focuses on how people can be able to adjust to another cultural context in the event they are placed in one by circumstances. The theories that fall under acculturation and adjustment include communication acculturation, anxiety/uncertainty management and assimilation or deviance states of acculturation (Kim, 1995).
Communication acculturation refers to how cross-cultural adaption takes place as a collaborative effort between various individuals from separate cultural backgrounds so as to form a collaborative effort for communication. Anxiety or uncertainty management as a theory of acculturation defines intercultural communication to be the uncertain exchanges that people from different cultural backgrounds have with others they have just met.
When strangers communicate with hosts for the first time, they experience a certain level of anxiety and uncertainty, which is mostly brought about by intercultural backgrounds. Strangers need to manage their uncertainty when they are communicating with other people effectively according to this theory which will enable them to manage their behavior as well as predict their host’s behavior (Griffin, 2000).
The theory of assimilation and deviance explains acculturation as a type of adaptation and adaption to temporary outcomes of the intercultural communication process that exists between strangers and hosts. This theory explains intercultural communication to be either the alienation or assimilation of a group of intercultural individuals leading to deviant or morally upright behavior (Gudykunst, 2005).
The face negotiation theory, which is another relevant theory of intercultural communication propagates that the root cause of conflicts, especially in intercultural communication, is mostly brought about by identity management on an individual and cultural level. These individual and cultural levels are what are referred to as faces meaning that they reflect the public image of an individual and group which are evaluated by an intercultural society based on cultural norms and values (Ting-Toomey, 2005).
The conflict in this type of intercultural communication arises when a group or individual from a specific cultural society is threatened by others from a different ethnic society. The theoretical assumption that forms the basis for this theory is that culture plays an essential part in influencing how people communicate and manage intercultural confrontations within their societies.
Culture in this theory of intercultural communication provides a theoretical frame of reference for individuals and groups during essential interactions. The face-negotiation theory addresses conflicts through the use of three goals that lead to conflicts during the communication process and these goals include content, relational and identity.
Content goals are defined as the external issues that individuals view to be important while relational conflict goals are the types of conflict that arise when individuals try to define their relationship with other members in the same situation of conflict (Katre et al, 2010).
Identity conflict goals are those that are related to identity confirmation, respect and approval of members involved in the same confrontational situation. These three goals are related to culture and they explain how the face-negotiation theory fosters intercultural communication (Katre et al., 2010).
Other assumptions that are used to explain this are that communication in different cultures is usually based on maintaining positive interactions while at the same time negotiating conflicts and the face plays an important role when identities of communicators are put into question as a result of potential conflicts.
This theory also assumes that competency which arises during intercultural communication is usually as a result of knowledge and mindfulness on the part of the communicators. Behavior also plays an essential role in the face-negotiation theory because it can be influenced by cultural variances as well as individual and relational factors (Katre et al., 2010).
The face-negotiation theory is essential when it comes to explaining intercultural communication because it focuses on both cultural and individual/group levels. The individualistic and collectivistic cultures that fall under this theory explain intercultural communication to be a form of maintaining and resolving conflicts which arise during intercultural confrontations.
Low-context and high-context communication that takes place under the face negotiation theory determine the kind verbal interaction styles that will be used by communicators (interaction approaches, indirect verbal negotiation and subtle nonverbal approaches) to reduce the incidence of conflicts when communicating (Katre et al., 2010).
The theories focused on in this evaluation all explain intercultural communication to be a global form of establishing and maintaining open lines of dialogue between people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The evaluation has provided a useful insight into the importance of this theories and also how they perceive intercultural communication.
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