Definitions and Models of Intercultural Communication

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2002

30 Pages, Grade: 1,7 (A-)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1.1 Culture
1.2 Intercultural Communication

2. The Identity Negotiation Perspective
2.1 Identity Negotiation of Muslims and Arab-Americans after September 11th
2.1.1 The Impacts of threat to one’s identity:
2.1.2 The Outcome of Identity Negotiation Approaching Avoiding Leaving the scene

3. The Social Identity Theory
3.1 Negotiating Social Identity and Responding to Threat
3.1.1 The Goals of the Research
3.1.2 The Project The Probationers The Meetings The Measures
3.1.3 The Results Identity Change The Correlation between Identity Salience and Ethnic Activities The Correlation between Perceptions of Threat and Ethnic Involvement

4. The Role of Identity Negotiation in Small Groups
4.1 Identity Negotiation
4.1.1 Self-Categorization and Depersonalization
4.1.2 Self-Verification
4.1.3 Homogenization and Individuation
4.1.4 Appraisal Effects
4.2 From Diversity to Performance
4.2.1 The Initial Impressions
4.2.2 The Correlation between Homogenization and Appraisal Effects
4.2.3 The Correlation between Individuation and Self-Verification
4.2.4 The Relation of Identity Negotiation to Performance
4.3 Discussion

5. Conclusion

Appendix 1: Fear in the Open City
Appendix 2: Negotiating Social Identity When Contexts Change
Appendix 3: The Role of Identity Negotiation in Small Groups


Ehrenwörtliche Erklärung

Definitions and Models of Intercultural Communication:

The Identity Negotiation Perspective

[I became a United States citizen four years ago because

of my long love affair with New York…I am a Bangladeshi

woman and my last name is Rahman, a Muslim name…

Before last week, I had thought of myself as a lawyer, a feminist,

a wife, a sister, a friend, a woman on the street.

Now I begin to see myself as a brown woman who bears

a vague resemblance to the images of terrorists we see on

television…As I become identified as someone outside the

New York community, I feel myself losing the power to

define myself…(Anika Rahman, 2001).]

What does it mean to be a Muslim woman in New York after the terrible terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001? What has changed in the lives of Muslim people living in the United States? And what does ‘identification’ mean in this context?

Starting from this statement of Anika Rahman in the New York Times, the Identity Negotiation Perspective and the Social Identity Perspective will be discussed, especially how human beings respond to threats to their identity. Finally, we will look at the value in diversity and identity negotiation within diverse work groups.

1. Introduction

The need for understanding diversity in cultures is not only essential when negotiating with business partners of other cultures or when going on holidays. Moreover, everybody – be it immigrants like Anika Rahman, expatriates or even people living in their country of birth – has to deal with different cultures everyday. We meet people from diverse cultural backgrounds at school, when we are shopping, at work, when we go out at night, and so forth. The study of intercultural communication gives us the tools to manage the cultural differences and to become more sensitive in intercultural encounters.

1.1 Culture

Edward T. Hall defines culture in interrelation to communication:“ Culture is communication and communication is culture” (Rogers, Hart & Miike, 2002). Culture is therefore passed on via communication and communication reflects one’s culture. According to Adler (1997, p. 15) culture is

a. Something that is shared by all or almost all members of some social group,
b. something that the older members of the group try to pass on to the younger members, and
c. something (as in the case of morals, laws and customs) that shapes behavior, or,…structures one’s perception of the world.

And as stated by Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner (1998, p. 20) culture is what keeps us alive just like a fish cannot live without water.

As we see in the existence of hundreds of different definitions of culture, culture must be something very complex. Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner (p. 1) go even further in stating that other cultures can never be understood.

However, in the context of intercultural communication one needs to know that every culture has different cultural artifacts, language, verbal and nonverbal symbols, symbolic meanings, norms, values, beliefs and traditions, but a shared need for security, trust and well-being (Ting-Toomey, 1999). The differences mentioned above account for a great deal in the understanding of different cultures and understanding the other’s culture is the basis for effective intercultural communication. Well, with reference to Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, let’s say, we need to be aware of the existing differences rather than saying ‘understand them’.

1.2 Intercultural Communication

Communication exists of both verbal and nonverbal messages with the objective to achieve shared meanings, i.e. both parties understand the same. However, in intercultural communication the chance of really understanding each other is quite low. ‘Intercultural’ includes that at least two parties from different cultural backgrounds are involved. The way we interpret (verbal and nonverbal) messages is based on our culture and this is the major difficulty in intercultural encounters: There are no two cultures which are alike! That means that every culture interprets nonverbal signs, gestures, cues and symbols differently. Not to mention the language itself! Thus, the greater the difference between the two cultures involved, the more difficult it is for the parties to understand each other (Adler, 1997).[1]

In intercultural communication, we tend to negotiate the content meaning, i.e. the factual information. However, Ting-Toomey (1999) states, that it is more important to look at the relational meaning and the identity meaning. According to her, it is crucial that the other’s self-concept is supported in order to fulfill successful communication.

2. The Identity Negotiation Perspective

The Identity Negotiation Perspective emphasizes eight identity domains. Four primary identities and four situational identities. Identity is the self-image of an individual. That is, how one perceives him or herself. The identities according to the Identity Negotiation Perspective are shown in the following overview.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Identity negotiation perspective: Eight identity domains.

Source: Ting-Toomey (1999, p. 29)

The primary identities play a great role throughout our lives whereas the situational identities depend on the situation we interact in. The primary and the situational identities mutually influence one another. Depending on the situation, events in the environment, or the affiliation to one’s cultural or ethnic background, one or more identities become more important for an individual’s self-perception (Ting-Toomey, 1999). Ting-Toomey uses the term ‘salience’ to refer to a prominent identity. For example, role identity can refer to the role of a mother. This identity is most likely to be salient for a woman who has just given birth to a child. The same woman can also feel like a business woman as soon as she starts working again after a break. These identities then surely vary depending whether the woman is at home with her child (the mother) or at work (the business woman).

Kay Deaux, Professor of Psychology at the City University of New York analyzed the impact of threats to one’s identity and the outcomes of identity negotiation based on the examples of Anika Rahman’s statement concerning the impact of the terrorist attacks on September 11th (Deaux) and based on a research with first-year Hispanic students at an U.S. American university (Ethier & Deaux, 1994).

2.1 Identity Negotiation of Muslims and Arab-Americans after September 11th

2.1.1 The Impacts of threat to one’s identity:

As we all know, the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington have changed the lives of many people, and not only the lives of the families of the victims! Innocent Muslims and colored people struggle with the resemblance they may have with the terrorists (the enemy). Rahman (2001) even brought up the case of a professor at Princeton University who got attacked because he wears a turban and was mistaken for a Palestinian. Arab-Americans and Americans with Indian and Pakistani origin are scared and do not want to leave their children unattended. And it was probably last winter when I heard in the news of a local radio station that the police was looking for Osama bin Laden driving on the Autobahn 8 near Stuttgart in a black BMW. Some hours later the same day, they said that guy was just looking like bin Laden and he was often mistaken for him. All day I heard in the news ‘the chase for bin Laden’.[2]

Anika Rahman can feel the hate towards ‘her people’, i.e. the people of the same cultural or religious background. It changed the attitude towards her self. Her ‘identity’. Before the attacks her gender and personal identities were salient, she felt like “a lawyer, a feminist, a wife, a sister, a friend, a woman on the street”[3] (Rahman, 2001). After the attacks, her ethnic and cultural identities became salient. She started to feel like a Muslim woman. Her cultural background had not played a great role in her live so far.

This can be explained by the identity negotiation theory. According to Ting-Toomey (1999) our cultural or ethnic identities become salient under the following circumstances: when the group we are affiliated with is threatened, when our group is positively evaluated, when our group is negatively evaluated or when we are confronted with positive and negative stereotypical remarks about our group.

Attitudes toward Arab immigrants in the U.S. have not been given a great deal of attention until now. Indeed, there was not a special image of Arabs and Muslims. However, something that is new or unfamiliar is usually associated with negative images, Thus, before September 11th, the stereotype of Arabs and Muslims was somewhat negative but not well articulated. On such a weakly defined concept, it is easier for the non-Arab, and non-Muslim Americans to establish a negative image of Muslims that is vivid and lasting. It lays a dangerous groundwork for prejudices and discrimination toward the target group.

In this newly-defined context, Anika Rahman and others start to think more about their identity and how their ethnicity is valued by others.

There are at least three possibilities, how an immigrant to the U.S. can primarily view him or herself. First, primarily as an American, second as an American with another ethnic origin (e.g. an Arab-American), and, third, as some combination of these identifications. He or she identifies with a group (groups) that he or she perceives to belong to.

The meaning of ethnic identity can have various resources, e. g. the traditions of one’s country, the social practices, and the degree of affiliation to one’s origins (Deaux, Ethier & Deaux, 1994).

If we want to define the term ‘evaluation’ we have to distinguish between the evaluation of the society and our own evaluation. The society’s evaluation describes the relative feeling of goodness or badness about a group. Our own evaluation of our group is usually positive. However, early theorists assumed, that the evaluation of the society is reflected in our own evaluation. That means, in the case of a numbing negative event such as that of September 11th, even basic tendencies for positive regard may be challenged since Muslims and Arab-Americans experience great negative attitudes towards their groups.

2.1.2 The Outcome of Identity Negotiation

The Muslim and Arab-American immigrants in the U.S. are now confronted with hatred, prejudices and discrimination towards their group. Thus, the process of identity negotiation takes place in a very new context.

In this context, research has made evident at least three different patterns how Muslim and Arab-Americans deal with the changes: Approaching, avoiding, and leaving the scene. Approaching

Approaching refers to the act of self-defending or, let’s put it this way, self-explanation. This can be seen in various exhibitions in museums, churches, mosques, and synagogues especially across the U.S. about the lives of Muslims, their values, the religion, and what it means being a Muslim. In this effort, the goal was to increase knowledge and to create positive images of Muslims and Arab-Americans. Deaux also states that most of the taxi drivers in New York who put American flags on the windshields and hoods of their cars after September 11th were most likely Muslims, Arab-Americans or Americans of other origin who could easily be mistaken for a Muslim or Arab. By doing this they want to show their connection with the Americans and maybe establish some basis for communication with non-Muslims and people who could be a source of threat and discrimination.[4] Avoiding

The second strategy to deal with threat and hatred is to ‘circle the wagons’. That means that Muslims and Arab-Americans turn more inward and rely on the networks of friends and families. According to Deaux, threats from out-groups strengthen the ties within the in-group, and within the group one gains affirmation. An in-group is usually a group of people who share the same values, beliefs and traditions (Ting-Toomey, 1999).

‘Circling the wagons’ and being close with similar others has been seen before in American history, e.g. in the Polish, Irish, Latino, and Cuban communities. People of the same origin stay close together in communities, schools, and churches. Leaving the scene

Leaving the scene is a third reaction of Arab-Americans and Muslims to identity threat. Arab-Americans and Muslims go back to their home-countries in order to escape from threats, discrimination, and hatred in the United States. According to Deaux there have been times of reverse immigration before, e.g. in the 1920s. Then, 36 of every hundred new immigrants to the U.S. returned to his/her home country. Deaux also blames economic shifts for the high emigration figures. But one could also think of Japanese immigrants returning to their home country after Pearl Harbor because of severe threats. Deaux also states that those Arab-Americans and Muslims returning to their countries of origin are most likely coming back to the U.S. or at least their descendants will go back to the U.S. depending on the future world-wide economic and political developments.

Unfortunately, there are no statistics of the number of Muslims that returned to their home countries since September 11th. First of all, the number of Muslims residing in the United States is uncertain since U.S. Census cannot ask questions about religion. In 1990, a large demographic survey counted 1.3 million Muslims, in 1996, the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches found 527,000 American Muslims, and, in 1998, a Pakistani newspaper estimated the number of 12 million Muslims in the U.S. (Pipes, 2001). However, because of national interest the Graduate Center of the City University of New York conducted a wide range telephone survey to find out the profile of the U.S. Muslim population: The American Religious Identification Survey 2001. The research estimated 1.104 million adult Muslims living in the United States (ARIS Report No. 2, 2001).

Second, ‘FedStats’ does not provide the latest figures, neither does the ‘Immigration and Naturalization Service’. The most recent figures of U.S. emigration are based on the year 2000. But these figures do not help to confirm Deaux’ statement. However, concerning ‘leaving the scene’, Deaux refers to historical data that show reverse migration in different times of the last century to explain the varying behaviors of Muslims and Arab Americans.

3. The Social Identity Theory

The Social Identity Theory had great influence on the Identity Negotiation Perspective. But unlike the Identity Negotiation Perspective, it distinguishes between social and personal identities (and not between primary and situational identities). Our identities, the perceptions of our self, are formed and fostered within our group (social or group-based identities) and shaped through our unique attributes (personal identities). The social identities such as race, gender, and vocational distinguish our group (the in-group) from other groups (out-groups) and the personal identities distinguish us from other members of our group. According to the Social Identity Theory, our self-worth can be enhanced by either an increased group-based self-esteem or by an increased person-based self-esteem whereas an increased person-based self-esteem bolsters group-based self-esteem and vice versa (Ting-Toomey, 1999). Ethier & Deaux (1994) emphasize that the social and personal identities also compete to some extent concerning our needs for uniqueness and inclusiveness. That is, we want to be distinguished from other people, but still belong to a group. It is also dependent on the situation if we want to be perceived as unique or as a group member.


[1] The term ‘Intercultural Communication’ was first developed by Edward T. Hall in the 1950s.

His work was influenced by his own experiences when he served for the army during World War II commanding an African American regiment, and when he worked for the U.S. Indian Service together with the Hopi and Navajo people. The fields of Psychoanalysis, linguistics, cultural anthropology, and ethology affected his further studies of intercultural communication. Much of his research concentrates on nonverbal communication, and on communication between American and Japanese (Rogers, Hart & Miike, 2002).

[2] The terms Arab-Americans and Muslims usually have to be distinguished. First, most of the Arab-Americans are not Muslims, and second, most Muslims do not come from Arab countries (ARIS Report No. 2). However, the groups that suffer from threats since Sept. 11th are of Arabian origin, Muslims, and those who may look like Arabs.

[3] During my research about Anika Rahman in the world wide web, I found out that she is a lawyer in the United States and committed herself to fight for women’s rights especially those of Muslim, Indian, and African women.

[4] Moreover, the Bangladeshi Muslim taxi driver Anika Rahman (2001) refers to even removed his official papers from their usual place because he did not want to be identified as a Muslim. We can maybe call this ‘denying one’s identity for protection’.

Excerpt out of 30 pages


Definitions and Models of Intercultural Communication
Nürtingen University  (Business)
1,7 (A-)
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ISBN (eBook)
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Definitions and Models of Intercultural Communication: The Identity Negotiation Perspective.
Intercultural Communication, Identity Negotiation, Social Identity, Impact of Threats
Quote paper
Martina Mottl (Author), 2002, Definitions and Models of Intercultural Communication, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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