Culture and Communication as Two Sides of the Same Coin

Academic Paper, 2021

15 Pages



According to Anteneh (2012) The controversial concepts of culture and communication, as the two key components, often causes conceptual difficulties and make the study of intercultural communication a highly complex activity for researchers. It is because these two core concepts are difficult to define and their association needs a thorough understanding (Otten & Geppert, 2009; Koch, 2009; Martin & Nakayama, 2007; Hall, 1992). More interestingly, these concepts are among the most searched concepts on the web engines. These concepts are extensively defined more than most other popular constructs in social studies in spite of the significant differences among scholars in conceptualizing the terms.

Rising (2006) stated, Although quite a few significant studies and research have been carried out, culture in its different representations is unique to each moment, situation, group and individual. In this sense, communication is also unique to each situation; neither culture nor communication are unchanging concrete realities.

scholars agrees Culture and communication have been defined and re-defined repeatedly, as they are concepts that are intimately linked with what is intrinsically human. Indeed, from an anthropological point of view, culture became consolidated with all of its variables when man first appeared and established interpersonal relationships with the different individuals forming separate communities, thus allowing for intercultural communication.

Culture is a central concept in intercultural communication, Anteneh (2012) , most theories advocated a deterministic association between culture and communication as both influencing each other (e.g. Hall, 1976; Hoftsede, 1980).

Most recently, intercultural communication moves beyond the idea that the two concepts are more or less influential factors affecting each other and consider the interaction between them (Gudykunst, 1984, 2005; Koch, 2009).


Anteneh (2012) noted , Culture is a central concept in intercultural communication. It is a term which means many things to many people and thus has been defined in many ways. Definitions of culture range from all inclusive which assume culture as everything to narrow definitions which equate culture with opera, music and ballet. Regarding the available definitions, Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1952) listed more than 150 definitions of culture they found in anthropology publications. Hall (1959) also explained the voice and echo association between culture and communication as culture is communication and communication is culture.

Anteneh also quoted Hall (1959), culture and communication are two sides of a coin. The definitions of culture have expanded and diversified since Hall's conceptualization of culture but they still have their own limits and unresolved conceptual divergence. As a result, even most recent conceptualizations about culture (e.g. hybridity (Bhabha, 1990, 1994), transculturality (Ortiz, 1995; Welsch, 1999), or cosmopolitanism ( Hannerz, 1996; Vertovec& Cohen, 2002) hardly resolve the puzzle of reaching agreement on the culture concept. For simplicity of understanding, a number of scholars (e.g., Martin & Nakayama, 2007; Hall, 1992; Reuter &Hörning, 2004) employed various approaches to summarize and explain the diversity in conceptualizing and studying culture in intercultural communication.

As Gudykunst states: Understanding communication in any culture . . . requires culture general information (i.e. where the culture falls on the various dimensions of cultural variability) and culture-specific information (i.e. the specific cultural constructs associated with the dimension of cultural variability). (pp. 285-6) Consequently, we will now look at the way different authors have tried to classify cultures.

The two authors most-cited in this field are Hall (1976) and Hofstede (1980). Hall proposed the difference between what he called high context and low context cultures. In communication in the low-context society, there must be explicit reference to the topic being conveyed. Nationalities used as examples include the Swiss-Germans, the Germans and the Scandinavians. At this point we should mention the fact that nations do not always coincide with culture. We need only think of the Belgians, China, many African countries or even Germany to see this. In Hall's high context communication, much of the information is found in the physical context or is internalized in the person himself. Examples given include Japan, many Arab countries and even Latin American countries. Implicature is important here, as meaning is conveyed through hints, understood signals and background knowledge. In the Hofstede Project in 1980, a stratified sample was used of 100,000 IBM employees in 40 (later expanded to include 70) nations on a questionnaire with 32 items concerning personal goals. Hofstede, a Dutch sociologist, then found a “culture score” on each item with an average of each “nation” and through factor analysis found four major dimensions. These dimensions were:

1. Power Distance. This refers to the acceptance by the less powerful members of the society of the idea that power differences are a natural part of their society. Cultures with a low score would not accept this inequality as easily. An example of the way a reprimand from a superior is given and received would illustrate this difference.
2. Individualism/Collectivism. This is the dimension most often used to explain cultural variability, sometimes to the exclusion of all others. Individualistic cultures are person-based, with examples coming from the Northern European countries, the United States and Australia. The group-based culture found in collectivism is exemplified by countries such as Japan and other Asian societies, African countries and Latin American countries. This individualist­collectivist dichotomy, however, can be manifested in many ways (the African community spirit, the Latin American family group, the Japanese desire for “harmony”) and is mediated by individual constraints as illustrated by Gudykunst (2000:297) in the following flow chart:
3. Uncertainty Avoidance. Obviously this, as all the other variables, refers to a predominant tendency within a culture and not to all the individuals within that culture. A high score, however, indicates that the tendency is for members of this culture to have higher levels of anxiety when faced with uncertainty. They feel a greater need for absolute truth and are less tolerant of people or groups who deviate from the norm. This may affect their communication with strangers.
4. Masculinity.This male-female dichotomy especially affects communication within gender roles. In a “masculine” culture the roles are clearly distanced, the men being assertive, tough, and materialistic while the “feminine” involves modesty, nurturing and sensitivity. A “feminine” culture would be more concerned with the quality of life and show less differentiation between the sexes. The bipolar scales used by other authors to describe role relations, such as cooperative/competitive, equal/unequal, socio-emotional/task-oriented might also be included in this category. Hofstede added a fifth dimension after conducting additional international studies. his dimension was called Confucian Dynamism referring to Long-Term Orientation and studies the degree to which the society accepts long-term traditional values. A high Long-Term Orientation ranking indicates the country values long-term commitments and respect for tradition. This is thought to support a strong work ethic. In a culture with a low Long-Term Orientation ranking, change can occur more rapidly.

Another dimension (Hall, 1983) whose understanding may help cross-cultural communication is time. Monochronic cultures with a preference for one thing at a time value punctuality highly. They adhere religiously to plans, meet deadlines, show respect for private property and are concerned about not disturbing others. Polychronic cultures do many things at once, are highly distractible, accept interruptions, are more committed to human relationships, change plans often, and accept the idea of community property. They value patience above promptness. So, if your business associate arrives twenty minutes late, it is not necessarily inconsideration on his/her part, but perhaps a matter of coming from a polychromic culture.

Anteneh (2012) well discussed other dimensions scholars pose on cultural differences Contrary to Hoftsede, Schalom Schwartz developed cultural framework/ value constructs for comparing cultures not only on the country level but also on the personal level. This prominent social psychologist distinguishes the value priorities of individuals and of social groups and has found ten different value constructs. The individual-level constructs include: power, achievement, hedonism, stimulation, self-direction, universalism, benevolence tradition, conformity and security, and these constructs were summarized under two bi-polar dimensions: openness to change versus conservation and self-enhancement versus self-transcendence (Spencer-Oatey& Franklin, 2009). Even though this framework is popular in social psychology, it is seldom cited in intercultural communication studies. Very few studies have suggested the significance of this cultural framework in conceptualizing the various kinds of self-attributes that individuals may be aware of during interactions. Studies have found a link between Schwartz values and organizational behaviors (e.g. Schwartz, 1999).

concerning personal space, Hall (1976) identified four uses of personal space: (1) intimate distance (a suitable distance for love making or whispering), (2) personal distance (a suitable distance for casual conversations), (3) social distance (a suitable distance for formal business interaction), and (4) public distance (a suitable distance for public speaking such as lecture or performances). He argues that an individual's perception of appropriateness of distance differs across cultures (Spencer-Oatey& Franklin, 2009). ibid

Florence Kluckhohn and Fred Strodtbeck are the other anthropologists who developed cultural orientation framework (COF) for evaluation of cultural differences (see Kluckhohn&Strodtbeck, 1961). The authors argue that every culture finds solutions for problems on five universal questions or orientations: (1) what is human nature (human nature orientations)? (2) What is the relationship between humans and nature (person-nature orientation)? (3) What is the relationship between humans (relational orientation)? (4) What is the preferred form of activity (activity orientation)? and (5) what is the orientation towards time (time orientation)? Regarding human nature orientations, the range of potential answers are: basically evil, mixture of good and evil and basically bad. The ranges of potential solution for person-nature orientation are: people subject to nature, people in harmony with nature and people the master of nature. With respect to relational orientations, cultural groups are to make a choice among authoritarian, group-oriented and individualistic . Being, being-in-becoming and doing are the potential options for the question of what activities are preferred. The doing solution stands for achievement-oriented activities; the being solution means living with emotional vitality and being-in-becoming means living with an emphasis on spiritual renewal and connection (Ting-Toomey & Chung, 2005). Concerning time orientation, the possible solutions comprise of : past oriented, present oriented and future oriented. Every culture must respond to these universal questions but their preferred solutions vary across cultures. This approach has been applied to intercultural interactions in business contexts; however, it is suggested that it has not been in tune with heterogeneous and dynamic nature of many national or ethno-linguistic cultures (Spencer-Oatey& Franklin, 2009). ibid

As Rising (2006), Cross-cultural communication looks at how people, from differing cultural backgrounds, strive to communicate, although it is more frequently referred to as intercultural communication. The main theories for intercultural communication are based on the observations of value differences or dissimilar dimensions among cultures, which have been reviewed above. Intercultural communication is directly related to socio-cultural anthropology, the holistic study of humanity. Anthropologists argue that culture and established areas of communication refer to the process of exchanging information, usually via a common system of symbols. Human beings have evolved a universal capacity to conceive of the world symbolically, to teach and learn such symbols socially, and to transform the world (and ourselves) based on such symbols. The activity of understanding and adapting symbols can be defined as “intercultural practice,” since cultural practices comprise the way people do different things in a given culture.


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Culture and Communication as Two Sides of the Same Coin
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culture, communication, sides, same, coin
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Abayneh Tilahun (Author), 2021, Culture and Communication as Two Sides of the Same Coin, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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