The cycle of culture, communication and identity

Essay, 2012

16 Pages, Grade: 1.3


The cycle of culture, communication and identity

When human beings are in the company of relatives, friends and neighbors, they might take it for granted that communication is a complex continuous process which has many nonverbal as well as verbal components. It is in the encounter with a stranger or being in a strange situation which inherent un­certainness. Having expectations how a stranger may act or how to act in a strange situation can help to reduce this uncertainness. These expectations are based on particular social convention, which are part of what is vague called culture (Payer: 2011). If a situation cannot meet the expectations, peo­ple become suddenly aware that, because all customary behaviors convey information, they struggle to understand the happening until they know the particular cultural code (Leach:1996:9p ). A cultural code describes the sys­tem of representation by which signs and their meanings are arranged by cul­tural convention to temporarily stabilize significances in particular ways (Barker 2005: 436). Traffic lights are coded in a sequence: red for stop, or­ange for pause and green for go.

Language presents a system, in which human associate a certain sequence of letters with a world and a certain sequence of words as sentence. Moreo­ver, every word has an agreed meaning for something even though the something might be an abstract such as a feeling, which human can only ap­prehend by knowing the particular cultural code (Culler: 1976: 36). Therefore language, as verbal communication, is constitutive of values, meaning and knowledge, it gives meaning to material objects and social practice, which are brought into view and made intelligible to human beings in terms which lan­guage delimits. (Barker 2005:88pp). Body language, as non-verbal communi­cation, presents a customary convention that only can be understood if they are familiar. Nonverbal communication is a very comprehensive concept and there are many unconscious non-verbal behaviors that carry different mean­ing in different communities (Hall:2005:160).

Language as verbal or nonverbal communication is the medium in which cul­tural meanings are formed and communicated. Further is communication the means and medium through which we form knowledge about the social world and ourselves. According to this assumption communication, culture and identity are in a relationship between each other. This essay will embrace the elements which make up this connection, in order to discuss how communi­cation, culture and identity form each other.

Bradford J. Hall points out that there are many definitions of culture which ac­cent different aspects and some would be that overarching that culture be­comes almost everything (Hall:2005:3).

Clifford Geertz claimed that his concept of culture is essentially a semiotic one. Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning (Geertz:1973:5). Culture is here identified as meaning, which can only exist if someone else accepts that meaning. Geertz illustrates his idea with the example of blinking. Blinking can be seen as a movement of the eyelid, to recognize that it can be a secret mo­tion to one’s friend, requires the agreement about its meaning (Geertz:1999: 11p).

Similar to Geertz beforehand Bradford J. Hall emphasis the meaning and senses’ culture as a historically shared system of symbolic resources through which we make our world meaningful” (Hall:2005:4). In this view, cul­ture is a creation of a symbolic through which human decode actions in a way that they become meaningful (Hall:2005:8pp).

The idea of certain cultural codes was already used in Stuart Halls ‘encoding/ decoding model’ developed to describe communication as a process of transmitting a message from sender A to receiver B. In order to deliver infor­mation successfully A and B must use the same encoding and decoding sys- tem. Encoding and decoding are therefore fundamental processes in the communication exchange. The massage in the natural form must be encoded by the source and decoded by the receiver so that a symbolic exchange is produced. Consequently the ‘meaning structure’ of the sender cannot always be equal with the ‘meaning structure’ of the receiver. Understanding is then dependent upon the extent to which the decoded message is equivalent to the encoded message, and because the sender and the receiver occupy dif­ferent positions in the communication process. The result is usually a distor­tion in communication (Hall: 1980:128pp.).

Bradford J. Hall surmise communication would refer to the generation of meaning. He claims that his definition would follow a “social constructive per­spective in which meanings are generated through the interpretive practice of humans as they work out with each other the meanings of different messages.”(Hall:2005:16). This interpretation process would not be narrowed to verbal face to face communication rather the process compasses every single moment in which meaning has been generated (Hall:2005.16).

Although the generated meaning differs between cultures, Hall discovered two features of communication which he defines as universal: interdependent and situational.


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The cycle of culture, communication and identity
Charles Darwin University
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Rosa Grieser (Author), 2012, The cycle of culture, communication and identity , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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