Intercultural Communication (IC) studies is a relatively new discipline in academia. When people ask me what I study at university, the answer provokes two common reactions. Either “That sounds complicated” or “So what does that mean then?” This is why I think it is useful here to talk about what IC is and why we should study it.
What is Intercultural Communication?
Intercultural Communication can be defined as communication between two or more people from different cultural groups or backgrounds. The phrase “cultural groups or backgrounds” is intended to encompass cultures on many levels such as national cultures, local cultures or family cultures. Often people tend to think of IC as communication between humans from different national cultures, such as an American conversing with a German. However, IC is much more complex and varied than this. Some might argue that all communication is in some way intercultural in nature. Even when speaking with a classmate in our local school or a family member, there is potential for cultural difference and therefore IC.
For example, my father has lived and worked in Italy for many years. He speaks Italian fluently and is married to a native Italian. So when I talk on the phone with my dad, it could be said that I am engaging in IC. Even though we are both British nationals, my cultural affiliations are different to those of my father. I associate strongly with “Mancunian culture” whereas my dad may associate more with Italian or continental European culture. Before I was born, my father lived and worked for many years in London. For this reason, he identifies more with so called “Southern-English culture” whereas I, being from the north, identify with a “Northern-English” culture.
Cultural differences are everywhere and do not just occur across concrete national boundaries. This is why IC is so important. The study of IC requires that we acknowledge and examine the complexities of our own cultural identities and those of others. As the photo on the left suggests, all of us are unique and as such, I believe, there is no such thing as being culturally “normal”. IC studies involves recognising that we are all complex individuals and so it doesn’t make sense to classify people as normal or abnormal because “normal” is far too simplistic when it comes to describing a human identity. The idea of being “normal” (culturally or otherwise) seems to overlook the value of our own individual identities.
“Differences” between humans are everywhere in the world. We all know this and yet we can still be uncomfortable with the “difference” we encounter. A negative or cautious approach to “difference” should not set the rules for interactions. An important aspect to Intercultural Communication (IC) is to expect and value “difference”.
Be careful with “Difference”
When writing about cultural difference and IC I use the word “different” in inverted commas. This is because I think that we have to be careful when thinking about and using this concept. Labelling a group or individual as “different” can be used to create perceptions of an “ingroup” and an “outgroup” in society. This “Us vs Them” model ignores similarities between people and focuses only on a negative perception of the supposed “differences”.
The concept of difference can be very useful in allowing us to think about and define our own identity. We often define ourselves by what we are not and how we are “different” to other people. For example, we are a woman and not a man, left wing and not right wing, rich and not poor. Without “difference” we are all identical and perhaps therefore identity-less. In this way “difference” is greatly valuable for our understanding of ourselves and others. This is why we should respect “difference” and not abuse the concept as many have done.
History shows us that the concept of difference between humans can be a powerful tool in turning people against one another. The anti-Semitic propaganda and mass murder perpetrated by the Nazi regime is an obvious example. Also the more recent ongoing use of “difference” by anti-immigration campaigners in Europe and the US might be another. The posters below show how drawing attention to potential differences can be used to manipulate the people and stir up hatred and violence against those who are believed to be “different”.
The first is a poster used by Swiss anti-immigration groups which emphasises the “difference” of Muslim dress and shows what appears to be Islamic minarets negatively presented as “taking over” the flag of Switzerland. The second is a piece of Nazi propaganda which portrays a Nazi as young, strong and handsome contrasted against Jew who is depicted as fat, old and ugly. Both images clearly use “difference” to create disunity and conflict between groups of people. Read more
I have been studying Intercultural Communication since September 2016 and I still have another year of studies left. I thought it would be useful for me to reflect on what I have learnt so far and share some of it with the MAIC community. Although I am by no means the world expert on Intercultural Communication (not yet at least), I have learnt a lot about Intercultural Communication since starting my course. Drawing on what I have learnt, I will blog about what I believe to be some of the most important things to consider when communicating interculturally and when studying on the MAIC course. This will help me as a student to think about my own learning and hopefully will provide readers with a useful insight into what the MAIC is all about at The University of Manchester.
The Department of Language and Communication Studies at the University of East Anglia (UEA) invites applications from students wishing to pursue postgraduate research in language and communication (October 2017 entry). The due dates are in January, 2017. Please see details by following this link.
Some pieces of news to tell you about MAIC at Manchester.
Firstly, EU and UK students will now be able to take out a student loan if they’re doing this degree. Here’s a link for further information: http://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/masters/funding/uk-eu-student-advice/
Secondly, this year and continuing next year, we’ve added some new vocationally-oriented course units to the programme: ‘Topics in International Diplomacy’, ‘Translating for International Organizations’ and ‘International Perspectives on Equity and Diversity in Education’. Here’s this year’s Handbook: 2015-16_MAIC_Handbook
Siobhan Brownlie, Joint Programme Director
SIETAR UK and CMMR (Centre for Multilingualism and Multiculturalism, Birkbeck, University of London) on the 8thFebruary 2016, 1800-2000 will host a book launch event for Crossing Boundaries and Weaving Intercultural Work, Life, and Scholarship in Globalizing Universities (Routledge, 2016).For more information about the book can be found here.
At the event, the editors of the book, Professor Adam Komisarof (Reitaku University, Japan) and Professor Zhu Hua (Birkbeck, University of London, UK), along with Professor Jean-Marc Dewaele (Birkbeck, University of London, UK) and Dr Maryam Borjian (Rutgers, New Jersey State University, USA) will lead a panel discussing the demands, contributions, and tribulations of people in the intercultural and transnational workplace.The event will include an interactive Q & A session, followed by a reception.
To attend the book launch event, you must register on the Event Website.
Authors: Vesna Mikolič (University of Primorska, Faculty of Humanities, Science and Research Centre, Koper, Slovenia)
This monograph applies several modern approaches to ethnic studies, sociolinguistics, intercultural education, and transactional analysis and, consequently, introduces a new L1 and L2 teaching model TILKA – Teaching Interculturality through Language and Literature for Conflicts Avoidance. It includes an intercultural and interdisciplinary approach which integrates language and literature teaching through research and activity, as well as the principles and methods of transactional analysis, especially the power game in the drama triangle model. The TILKA model is engaged in helping teachers, education policy makers, and researchers to find ways to strengthen possibilities to peaceful interethnic and intercultural coexistence.
More details are available here.
This blog might be of interested to interculturalists who are interested in languages in particular.
The recent entry is entitled:
Review: Think Bilingual-The First Language Immersion App?
Please access the link below to read the full article.
Below are some links from the Communicaid website containing interesting resources on intercultural communication in the world of work. For instance, a blog including posts on topics related to global working.
As we move around the globe in increasing numbers, much has been defined, analysed and written about the various forms of culture shock that many people encounter when moving to a new country and to a culture that is unfamiliar to them. But what can be the most surprising type of culture shock is the journey…
Read more here.
It might also be helpful to intercultural communication students to browse through the links below to get an idea of what types of services that are currently in demand: www.communicaid.com/cross-cultural-training; www.communicaid.com/leadership-and-management-skills.
The Council of Europe published an interesting, leaflet (available in English, French and German) on its Charter for Citizenship and Human Rights Education.
The leaflet is aimed at educators and students alike and contains a variety of links and examples of how students might be given an understanding of the charter. It contains links to posters and drawings, all aiming to make the content of the charter accesible to students. It further includes guidelines for educators and links to a movie on bullying and the exhibition ‘Democracy and Human Rights at School’. For further information just follow the links above.