Topic 1:
Introduction to Culture and Communication



preamble .. . Defining communication and culture may seem difficult because both concepts are so intertwined. This course will explore various ways in which these two fields cross and will illustrate that relationship in various examples and activities.

Human communication is the process through which individuals--in relationships, groups, organizations, and societies-respond to and create messages in order to adapt to the environment and one another; while culture seeks to tell its members what to expect from life, which helps to predict the future. The acts of communication that we are engaged in within the cultural prescriptions in which we live construct our identities shaping against our inheritance all the while we shape and influence others through our communicative action.

As will be examined in more detail over the next three topics (History/Methods & Worldviews & Selves) various perspectives of understanding culture & communication will be examined.  The textbook, Martin & Nakayama (2007) offer a few such perspectives in their preamble on the social sciences, interpretative, critical and dialectical approaches. These will be viewed through the foundation, applications and future considerations examined in this course.




 What is culture?
The nature of culture is a matter of debate. 

Depending on the perspectives you take
you will view culture in different ways based on assumptions

Write out a definition of it......







Definitions range from genetics and "race" to behaviour,
 the creation of artifacts and tools, to values, symbolic action (language)
 and "ways of life" or "living traditions"                

Matsumoto & Juang (2004) indicate that definitions may involve:
descriptive - activities or behaviours
historical - heritage & traditions 
Normative - rules & norms 
Psychological - thinking, feeling, acting 
Structural - organizational structures
Genetic - origins and sources 

Berry et al. (2011) indicate that definitions often vary on whether or not culture is "internal" or "external" to the person, universal or relative specific to a particular group and organized around various themes.

Culture can be defined objectively, usually by outsiders, through the identification of particular values, practices, beliefs, icons and symbols.  This is the type of approach that often leads to static definitions suggesting that culture is a homogenous entity that can be measured and recorded with ease. 

Can also be defined subjectively, usually from the inside where one's identification with those practices, beliefs and symbols are considered.  This approach often makes use of the fact that cultures are varied in terms of what they are and how they are constituted. 

Either way, like many other psychological traits it is difficult to determine where to draw the boundaries around a given culture that is defined in one way or another.  At the heart of the issue of defining culture is the seminal debate of universal or particular.  


 Getting to Understand Culture
 Meaning and action in a given culture varies tremendously.  What is a dog good for?

Culture for a society is similar to personality for an individual- directs behaviour, thoughts, feelings and experiences. It is really about making meaning of the world.  As indicated in topic six, language and communication is central to that meaning making enterprise.

Functions of Culture - various interpretations of the function of culture exist, from adaptation to their ecological contexts to "deal with problems or matters that concern them." (Haviland, in S&P, p.30)

Definitions of Culture: shared, learned behavior that is transmitted from one generation to another for purposes of promoting individuals and social survival, adaptation, and growth and development.



Culture has external representations (e.g. artifacts, roles, institutions).

Culture has internal representations (e.g. values, beliefs, attitudes, consciousness patterns).

The Basic Elements of Culture



History -  Cultures are grounded in a social history.  Some can be traced back to specific beginnings, others seem to fade into antiquity.  None-the-less temporality and traditions or "ways of life" are fundamentally historical.

Religion - Cultures are usually, or at least mostly, grounded in some form of spiritual or religious ideology. These usually have something to say about the mind, self, soul or spirit as well as one's relationship to the physical world around us.

Values - are also fundamental to a culture as "culturally defined standards of desirability, goodness, and beauty that serve as guidelines for social living" (Macionis, in S&P, p.31)

Social Organization - is inherent to culture with various units or social organisations like family, community, governance, or education

Language - enables cultures to exist and be maintained through time.  The glue that hold them together. 

Other Characteristics of Culture


Culture is:



What is Communication and Cultures?

Intra cultural Communication

As seen from the perspective of cultural psychology, language plays a constitutive role in culture. 

Through "language games" and enculturation individuals acquire a sense of selfhood, learn what a person is and acquire the tacit rules of living in a cultured world. 

A dialectical approach to communication describes different ways that communication and culture interact. These relationships will be explored in this course.


Why study Intercultural Communication ?

In a world where people move around, particularly these days, challenges arise in trying to understand and communicate effectively across languages and cultural expectations.

Historically the Greeks used the term Barbarian to describe those who are foreign because their language sounded like 'bar bar bar'.

Intercultural contact has been part of human experience for thousands of years whether it takes place at home or abroad.  When Europeans first came to  eastern Canada there were over  100 distinct societies of natives and 50 linguistic groups, the west coast had a similar diversity.

in Canada, the US, Mexico & other places are changing, more people from different cultures are coming together to live on a relatively permanent basis.

International Interaction is widespread today with steamships for over 100 years and airflight coming to the masses over the past 50 years. 

Globalisation of the economy is also an important influence that brings along with the transmission of values and political ideals that bring varied systems of living to far away places.  A caveat remains, however, where those who have access to such technology are not as widespread as we might think.

Deepening colonisation or liberation into a democratic, capitalist economy.

Technology has also lead to increases in communication abroad, first with the telephone and now with the internet and satellite communications, enabling people from a broad diversity of cultures to network and chat in close to real time.

Technology - internet, wireless hand, hands-free, in brain. We are connected when at home, on the bus, on the ferry, in flight, on the beach, at the pyramids, in line for the bathroom. Facebook alone has brought people from around the globe to one site.  (I won't mention gaming). Technology increases information about peoples and cultures, increases contact with people who are different and similar to us and provides the opportunity to manage “identity” in different contexts.

Population explosion with the 2000 estimates at 6.1 billion expecting to rise to 9.3 billion by 2050, water, food and other resources continue to become more and more scarce, particularly with global warming and pollution.  (if the population of the world were 100 people, 2010 stats).

The bottom line is that cultures are coming into contact more and more often today, yet many are disappearing, (see Wade Davis Light at the edge of the world) as the world continues to be colonised forms of hegemonic control. Can you think of some examples of this?

Peace-Loving imperative is a reason for many to embrace others from different cultures in order to bring about world peace. The contact hypothesis, something we will examine in later weeks, is shown to help move people towards this goal.

Self Awareness “all of us are programmed by cultural ‘software’ that determines our behaviours and attitudes” (Gardenswartz & Rowe, 1998, 42). When traveling abroad to new cultural worlds, one needs to grasp some of the local language and idiomatic expressions. Through the journaling of cultural exploration, self understanding usually unfolds to some degree or another.

Ethical Interests For reasons of bridging historical divides between cultures and societies, one interest is to seek ethical or social justice for those who have been subjected to an imbalance of power.  Intercultural communication thus becomes part of the goal to seek ethical treatment for animals, workers, and human rights in general, such as at war crimes trials the world court in The Hague.

Move towards Intercultural Competence Intercultural competence is something one learns and practices. Competence from a psychological perspective focuses on knowledge (self, other, language), motivation, attitudes (nonjudgementalism, tolerance for ambiguity, empathy) and behaviours/skills.  The interpretive approach focuses on how different contexts may define competence itself and the critical approach focuses on why we seek intercultural competence and who is it that gets to define this term.



What is Intercultural Communication?

Intercultural Communication within "domestic interaction" is where a good deal of intercultural contact arises, particularly in multicultural or culturally diverse places like Canada.

The dominant culture: tends to define national identity, yet it may be comprised of a minority group (see Colonial cultures like South Africa).  It is also a mistake to assume that any given culture is homogeneous where the stereotypical views are shared by all. Power is at the base.

 Co-cultures entail the numerous minority or sub-cultures within a given nation or broader cultural sphere.  Changes occur over time where group dominance shifts with population and politics. These may be traditional cultures as we think of them or others like, def culture, gay culture, hip-hop culture or dead culture. Various institutions and rituals, expressions and expectations exist that shape the thoughts, emotions, perceptions and actions of members.

 Interacting with co-cultures happens on a daily basis in a place like Canada, immigration fosters changes in the cultural mosaic of the country that leads to new vistas of communication. Various groups have different degrees of institutional completion and support for the maintenance of their cultures.  As a result various patterns of cultural maintenance and inter-cultural interaction emerge.

Communicating Inter-culturally: the processes of communication when a member of one culture produces an utterance or message for the use or interpretation by a member of another culture.  Samovar & Porter define it as "intercultural communication involves interaction between people whose cultural perceptions and symbol systems are distinct enough to alter the communication event" (2004, p.15). 

Essentials of human interaction
Communication defined as: "the process through which individuals-in relationships, groups, organizations, and societies-respond to and create messages to adapt to the environment and on another" (Ruben & Stewart cited in Samovar & Porter,  p.15)


Principles of Communication

Communication is a dynamic process: that is ongoing, and transitory.  It takes place over time and is dialectical (back and forth> point-counter point) that usually has a definite boundary to it.  There is the initiation (with some background context) the main conversation or transmission, and the ending (which may be open or closed).


   Inattention (or breaks in it) brings about change, new directions, topics and ideas.  As with the human stream of consciousness it often flitters around from one to another topic (in conversation), but it may be coherent and directed in a more static form of written or artistic communication. 

  Symbolic: language is a symbolic system, when sounds, movements, written codes stand for ideas or concepts.  Making up a world of its own it usually stands for or refers to things in the world.  It can lead to great transformation of thought and the world itself.

  Systemic: where it is part of a larger system of symbols and meanings or historical  intentional worlds. 

There is always some context or setting for communication that shapes it by indicating the preferences, obligations, and prohibitions of dress, language, topics, style, etc.

Locations are also important in providing guidelines for communication, whether it is the locker room or Empress Hotel.  Traditions prescribe the type of interactions and communication present.

Occasions or events also prescribe various types of communication that are bounded to cultures (i.e., weddings or funerals may be occasions for silence or jubilation).

Time is relative to the participants where it is fashionable or expected that a meeting time means precision or lateness.  In a rush or kept waiting?

Number of people present also affects communication, as in a class of 400 or 20, in a group of 10 or 2.  Affiliation and expectations of others plays a role in our communication. For example – what is discussed at home behind closed doors, versus out on the street at the marketplace.

Cultural setting overrides these other aspects, this will be the focus of the course.




Social aspects Politics of communication

All communication is between social beings. As such communication is imbued with power and politics, the ways in which we allocate and negotiate the use of power. 

 Influences are made on consumers, voters, citizens and all persons through communication, whether it is personal or public information.

When considering our identity and cultural world-view development we will consider how our every emotion, thought, action, meaning are all subject to the influences of others (parents, teachers, coaches, peers). 

   Communication involves Making Inferences: All communication involves inferences and interpretation. 

Psychoanalysis and the hermeneutical traditions specialise in the interpretation of behaviour, dreams, slips of the tongue and revealing meaning in texts, but everyone everyday has to try to make sense out of the utterances and behaviours of those around him or her. (i.e., R.D.Laing-Knots->"he said, she said...")

   Communication is Self-Reflective: we interpret the world and others through symbolic interaction and we interpret ourselves as well. 

Through language we come to understand our own thoughts, feelings and behaviours, sometimes by keeping journals or writing notes to ourselves.  We are often asked to reflect on our own thoughts for others to help them understand what we mean by the things we say or do, even if we may not be initially conscious of the meanings ourselves.

   Communication has a Consequence: All communications have some consequence whether conscious or not. These may range from overt to covert to unconscious to biological.

  Communication is Complex:where thousands of components are present including signals, codes, meanings and gestures. 

Trying to communicate across cultures multiplies the complexity.
People are like each other: which enables us to have common ground and communication, however it is also true that  people are different which leads to difficulties in communication and understanding. This is the case at both the individual and the cultural levels.

WADE Davis


Various Perspectives on the study of psychology and culture

Kuhn (1970) suggests that understanding science and psychology
is done in relation to various worldviews. Paradigms or perspectives
of science built up like cultural world-views, the cultures of science.

  E.g., Necker Cube