Approaching Intercultural Rhetoric and Professional Communication

Approaching Intercultural Rhetoric and Professional Communication

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-450-5.ch001
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Abstract

This chapter defines professional communication in intercultural contexts. It presents a workable model of culture, connects that model to rhetoric, and provides a method to analyze rhetorics and cultures in intercultural contexts. It also contextualizes the model of intercultural rhetorical research in prevailing paradigms of rhetoric and professional communication, strongly criticizing the local-only and ethnocentric modes that are so in fashion. It then presents a global model of rhetorical inquiry.
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Introduction To Intercultural Rhetoric And Professional Communication

As most major intercultural scholars and theorists have argued, the purpose of an intercultural inquiry is to understand relevant cultural similarities and differences across groups of people (Hofstede, 2010; House, et al, 2005; Hampden-Turner & Trompenaars, 2000; Stewart & Bennett, 1991). This argument is fairly simple in principle, yet profoundly complex in practice, especially for professional communication, the topic of this book. First, what does it mean to understand cultural differences and similarities? Is knowing superficial cultural differences such as those explained in lists of cultural taboos (see for example, McGraw Hill’s series Kissbowshakehands.com) a sufficient understanding of a target culture? As this book explains, approaching an intercultural situation with a list of do's and don'ts probably does more damage than good. Rather, it is much more effective to understand how deeply held, but hidden values structure a variety of activities, essentially explaining the why and what of social behavior. Second, what are relevant cultural differences? For example, some cultural scholars like to focus on unique fragments of pottery, weapons, and clothing that are often part of museum displays (Bakhtin, 1990), while others focus on popular culture or consumerism and transnational organizations (Hall, 1997). However, as this book explains, the most relevant cultural differences and similarities for intercultural professional communication are those generalized or bell curve patterns of everyday activities (Bourdieu, 1999), such as lining up at a bank, giving instructions about a new technology, negotiating a business transaction, or enforcing policies and procedures in an organization.

The next question focuses on how we define and operationalize the relations between culture and rhetoric. Does rhetoric simply reflect cultural values, or does it refract them based on mutually constructive relations? Or can rhetoric have the power to reconstitute cultural patterns or vice versa? In other words, how do rhetoric and culture influence or act upon each other? These questions are critical for intercultural inquiry because they directly assess human agency, rhetorical purpose, and corresponding ethics. As this book explains, culture is a group of people that share a common sense of humanity, epistemology, ideology, and rhetorical patterns (Berlin, 1987). This shared definition of humanity creates a distinct epistemology, both of which imply an ideology or appropriate social behaviors; and all three encourage corresponding rhetorical patterns. The rhetorical patterns then mutually influence and inscribe themselves upon the previous three categories.

This view does not assume that individuals within a culture share a unified relation to their values or that cultures are monolithic and static, two attributions that some in rhetoric and professional communication (Hunsinger, 2006) level at intercultural research based on their innumeracy or inability to distinguish a cultural generalization from a cultural trait (Pinker, 2003). Rather, it assumes a bell-curve distribution of these values, that is, a group of people are distinguished as a culture, because a majority in that group shares the same values, but there are always exceptions on both sides of the bell curve. This is precisely the approach of most intercultural researchers such as Hofstede (2010), Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars (2000), House, et al (2005), and many others. Further, this sharing of values can happen at many levels and is not necessarily at the nation-state level such as Mexico and the United States, which is the focus of many researchers and this book. However, the approach articulated in this book can easily be operationalized at a variety of smaller levels such as institutional, disciplinary, regional or even local. In fact, this intercultural approach is highly effective at the personal and local level because it shows how an individual draws on a variety of rhetorical strategies for daily sense-making activities.

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