Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Intercultural Adaptation Theory

A simplified model of Intercultural Adaptation, which shows
inverse parabolic arc (i.e., the "U-shaped" curve) that
we often go through when adjusting to new cultures.
Cai & Rodriguez (1996)
 give an overview of the communication
role in this process across nine propositions.

As we've now been leben in Deutschland fur sieben Wochen, we should start thinking reflectively as to how we are adapting to our new surroundings. No doubt each of us is experiencing some different level of German culture as we continue to try new foods, speak new languages, and adapt to new customs. Perhaps the easiest part of international trtavel is recognizing that you are quickly in a culture not your own - it's usually a pretty exciting experience in the beginning (the "Honeymoon Stage") until the glitz and glamour wear off and you find yourself outside the comfort zone - for me, it was (of all things) drinking seltzer water (wasser mit gas) when I was expecting table water (still-wasser). This is an incredibly small thing to "shock" over, but even these small events have you questioning future interactions - trepidation over a drink order leads to scruntiny of a foreign food menus and drives many tourists to the local McDonald's over their local Gasthaus, as they experience a "Culture Shock" and look to regain control of their environment.

Two new ways that we might take a communication science (communiciology?) approach to this would be a focus on "intercultural adaptation" and "intercultural competence." The former focuses on Let's break them down seperately, and then I'll ask you guys to put them together in your weekly post.

Intercultural Adaptation

The following blog offers recommendations on how to
overcome these awkward new moments; I would not
recommend any of their suggestions.
When thinking of intercultural adaptation, Cai & Rodriguez (1996) talk about how communication patterns might aid or hinder persons understanding their "new" cultural environment. Defined as "as the process through which persons in cross-cultural interactions change their communicative behavior to facilitate understanding" (pp. 34, which seems to have a lot of elements in common with Communication Accomodation Theory, yes?).

IA looks at how we might try to continually alter our communication patterns to reduce misunderstandings - a common example of this is using exaggerated hand gestures when trying to convey meaning to someone who speaks a different language. Why would this play into culture? The notion here is that cross-cultural encounters are the result of individuals from different backgrounds relying on their social norms in an encounter. Example: In the US it is acceptable to hug an old friend whereas in many parts of Europe you may see friends kissing each on both cheeks. In the US, a kiss might be construed as having much more intimacy or meaning, which can lead to a rather awkward pause and silence.

Of course, with experience we hope to get better at avoiding these misunderstandings - the same "American" from above migth travel abroad in the future armed with this slight cultural knowledge and be better-prepared when old friends kiss him or her on the cheek. because their past experiences were rather positive (a kiss on the cheek represents a friendship, and this is a good thing). At the same time, not all experiences are positive and we can reinforce negative as well as positive interactions. Indeed, a common stereotype among US travelers can be how poorly they are treated when visiting France - often a result of miscommuniations from a lack of language skills and Francophile culture. Said negative interactions with one cultural group can drive individuals away from future intercultural interactions or at least, cause them to be more guarded when meeting "foreigners" in the future.

What does this mean for intercultural communication? It suggests that many cultural interactions can be understood in terms of how we communicate ourselves. Moreover, it suggests that much of our communicative behaviors are best understood as a function of the culture from which we stem - understanding communication is understanding culture, and vice versa.

Intercultural Competence

Another way of thinking about how we are "working" interculturally is to focus on our competence, defined by Fantini (2005) as "the complex of abilities needed to perform effectively and appropriately
when interacting with others who are linguistically and culturally different from oneself." An interesting distinction here is found between "effective" (how well we think we are doing) compared to "appropriate" (how well our hosts think we are doing). It is likely no secret that these perceptions can differ widely from each other, yet the better we are at detecting how our hosts are responding to our communication is the better we are at adapting ourselves to our new culture. Example: You might speak slowly and wave your arms while yelling at a barista to prepare you a michekaffe (which you're probably still calling a coffee with milk, if you're taking this approach) and you'll likely get your coffee (effective communication) - yet this behavior is hardly going to endear you to your hosts (inappropriate communication). Thus, to truly be interculturally competent we much struggle to balance out effectiveness with appropriateness, which is not so easy of a task.

Your assignment? For this week, I'd like you to make an honest reflection as to where you feel that you're fitting on both of these dimensions. Have you started to adapt to your surroundings? In the figure posted here, which "number" do you think you'd be? How would you honestly assess your own intercultural competence? Give me 300 to 400 words on this, and use the theory language. This post will serve as the basis for the end-portion of your final project, go give it a good effort!

Read more:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Cultural Convergence Theory

Comparing the salad bowl to the melting pot metaphor of US 
culture, one distinguishes the uniqueness of each culture
more evidently in the left image than the right. 
The term convergence is defined by Kincaid (2009) as "movement toward one point, toward another communicator, toward a common interest, and toward greater uniformity, never quite reaching that point." This last point - never quite reaching that point - is what distinguishes convergence from a singularity. As a popular corollary to US culture, you might consider convergence to be more like the salad bowl metaphor (separate parts, all in an US culture) as compared to the melting pot metaphor (separate peoples all blended together as one US culture).

Why converge at all? Converging to one point helps us create mutual understanding of who were are as a nation and a people - making sense of our borders as less geo-political and more socio-emotional. Kincaid's convergence model was initially meant to address shortcomings of transmission-based models of communication, but we can expand it to look at cultural convergence (a topic address thoroughly by MIT scientist Henry Jenkins, specifically in reference to new media). From the reading, we see two tenants of CCT at the aggregate (re: cultural) level:
Theorem 1: In a relatively closed social system in which communication among members isunrestricted, the system as a whole will tend to converge over time toward a state of greater cultural uniformity.
Theorem 2: In a relatively closed social system in which communication among members is restricted, the system as a whole will tend to diverge over time toward a state of greater cultural diversity.
So, when you think about communication so far - in particular, your interactions in Erfurt compared to Amsterdam? How might you define the cultural diversity of each location? Can you look at the cultural 'openness' and 'closedness' of each system and explain your thoughts about the diversity in each system (or lack thereof)? I'll look forward to your thoughts on this one. 

Kincaid, D. L. (2009). Convergence Theory. Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. (pp. 189-192). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Monday, June 30, 2014

National Pride ... Was ist Das?

"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
The initial Bellamy salute (right hand extended forward, not 
pictured) might remind many readers of another (in)famous 
way to salute one's flag -- a difference that  likely sits at the 
root cause for US and German perspectives on nationalism.
In August 1892, Baptist minister Francis Bellamy pinned this short passage in preparation for the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival to the Americas. Quickly reciting this passage to most US citizens will almost instantaneously result in a group recital, hands placed over the heart and eyes darting around the room for the nearest American flag.

Over the last 100+ years, the Pledge of Allegiance has become a staple of the American classroom and likewise, a staple of how many Americans treat and respond to their flag. Becker et al (2012) reviewed several studies demonstrating that for Americans, exposure to the US tends to prime feelings of intense nationalism - some of these suggesting military authority and others related to egalitarianism and humanitarianism, or as etched on the Statue of Liberty (a poem by Emma Lazarus):
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door
While Americans are often blasted for being a bit ... err ... tacky with how they display their national pride, the simple fact is that most of them do, and displaying your national pride - to an American - is considered a perfectly acceptable thing to do (especially before our sporting events).

Shifting our attention to Germany, and the perspective is quite different. In November 2009, rock start Pete Doherty faced possible prosecution in Germany for singing the verbotten first verses of "Deutschlandlied" (the German national anthem) during a live performance in Munich [UK perspective via UK Daily Mail] [German perspective via Der Spiegel]; notably, the first and second verses are no longer used given their Nazi connotations and reinterpretations. That is, while Americans take great pride in memorizing and reciting Bellamy's classic verse, Germans largely avoid reciting Heinrich Hoffman von Fallersleben's piece - a national pride/drinking song he pinned almost 80 years before the rise (and 100 years before the fall) of Hitler's Third Reich. As best worded by blogger Rory MacLean:
"No German put his hand over his heart while singing the national anthem. No school flew the flag when Jan was a boy. ‘How did we [Germans] learn not to wave the flag?’ asked Jan, a world traveler who is nearing his 50th birthday. ‘We simply did not do it.’"
When exposed the the German flag, more patriotic Germans 
were more likely to express prejudices towards out-groups 
(non-Germans) after exposure to the German national flag. 
In fact, recent work by Becker et al. (2012) looking at the impact of national flag exposure - US and German - on a population of German adults aged 18 to 45+ actually found that exposure to the German flag elicited far more negative than positive feelings. First, their work found that when Germans were asked to list the thoughts coming to mind after seeing the rot-schwartz-gelb, those thoughts tended to be rather neutral (almost 20% of the thoughts listed were references to sports, specifically "football (soccer)"). The next most-prominent category? Nazis. Nearly 12 percent of German respondents, when viewing an image of their country's modern flag, listed "Nazi" or "Hitler" or "Third Reich" as the most prominent thought in their mind. The authors write (p. 5): "These results indicate that the German flag does not imply such positive egalitarian associations for Germans as the US flag indicates for Americans." 

Our own class discussions (from the media psychology and influence) might also give some support for these findings. Recall from moral foundations theory that we can often understand intercultural differences as a function of their primary view on morality. For example, Bowman et al. (2012) found that Germans tended to place far more emphasis on concerns related to harm and fairness (considered more individualizing, or liberal, facets of morality) while Americans emphasized aspects of authority, loyalty, and purity (considered more binding, or conservative, facets of morality). The article explains that these cultural differences make sense when one considers differences in the political systems of each country - such as the increased importance on social welfare in the German economic and political system.

How Aldi Nord sees the typishe Amerikaner grillen. Photo
courtesy of one of our German SPICE students. 
In 2014, SPICE students are likely seeing quite a few German flags around town as the country gears up for Germany's run at a potential fourth World Cup title (for we Yanks, simply making it through the quarterfinal rounds would be best performance by a US World Cup team since their third-place finish in 1930, or maybe their quarterfinal run in 2002 Korea/Japan). Or, consider this coming Friday, when we gather at Zitadelle Petersberg to celebrate the 4th of July - an American holiday stepped in our culture to celebrate life, liberty and the pursuit of (grilled and malted) happiness. For the past three years, SPICE has hosted a American-style BBQ with students decked out in all manner of Red, White and Blue. For many of our German colleagues, the sheer variety of clothing that is either made from, of, or in the style of the Stars and Stripes is staggering.

As you watch the World Cup or as you enjoy burgers and brats (with ketchup!), you might consider asking your German classmates - or any German friends you've made so far - about their views on "being German" and "advertising their 'Germanity' to the world". Some discussion points for your Monday blog (and feel free to work in notions of Face Negotiation Theory and Communication Accommodation Theory into these discussions):
  • What sort of thoughts and values do the Germans that you know associate with the German flag? How do they feel about the American flag? 
  • How do your German friends feel when their peers others proudly demonstrate strong patriotism? What sort of thoughts and feelings do they have when Americans do the same? 
  • What about you - how does the American flag make you feel? What about the German flag? How do you feel about Germans showing their national pride? How do you feel about Americans showing their national pride? 

More reading:

Becker, J. C., Enders-Comberg, A., Wagner, U., Christ, O., & Butz, D. A. (2012). Beware of national symbols: How flags can threaten intergroup relations. Social Psychology, 43(1), 3-6. doi: 10.1027/1864-9355/a0000073. [unformatted version] [published version, might require institution/library access] 

Bowman, N.D., Dogruel, L, & Joeckel, S. (2012). A question of morality? Moral salience and nationality on media preferences. Communications: The European Journal of Communication Research, 37(4), 345-369. doi: 10.1515/commun-2012-0020. [published version]

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Face Negotiation Theory

Whenever one encounters a new culture, one of the things that they will notice rather quickly is the emergence of conflict. Commonly when traveling for example, foreigners will unknowingly violate social norms of behavior that might lead to embarrassing situations (such as using one's right hand to eat and greet in Islamic cultures, as the left hand is considered "unclean) while their hosts are left in a quandary - upholding their own cultural norms while still attempting to help the naive traveler save face so they are comfortable in the new environment. This is a coarse example, but it is the core of Face Negotiation Theory. 

Developed by Stella Ting-Toomey, the theory "explains the culture-based and situational factors that shape communicators' tendencies in approaching and managing conflicts." When we say we are negotiating face, we mean to suggest that we are trying to balance the way in which others see us as well as the manner in which we behave in response to how we see others. Understood this way, we can break down different types of face that Ting-Toomey labels (a) self-face concern, or the protective concern for one's own identity image when one's own face is threatened, (b) other-face concern, or the concern for accommodating the other conflict party's identity image, and (c) mutual-face concern, or the concern for both parties' identity image.

Not exactly...but good try, Dustin! 
The theory argues that different individuals - and really, different cultures - place differential weights on self-, other-, or mutual-face concerns, and these sensitivities can have dire influences on the interpersonal communication process. For example, Oetzel and Ting-Toomey (2003) find that comparing individualistic and collectivistic cultures revealed stark differences in face sensitivity, with more collectivist cultures such as China engaging on more other-face concern and vice versa. Applying this more to our SPICE program, the same study even found some differences between Germany and other countries, with Germans reporting more direct-confrontational facework strategies (i.e., showing little other-face concern) overall. Of course it is the case that other individual and situational factors can play a role in this process (STUDENTS: Can you think of some of these?) but there is no doubt that one's cultural identity plays a major role in the relative important they place on self-, other-, or mutual-face. 

I can think of an example of this process playing itself out a few days ago, when I was paying for drinks in a German bar. It is common knowledge (at least, I found out later) that in Germany, tips left for drink service are usually much smaller - sometimes no more than €1 or 2 at most. This is because unlike in the US, German bartenders and waiters are paid a 'normal' wage and thus do not rely on tips for their salary (for those who don't know, most US service staff are paid about 1/2 of minimum wage with the assumption that they will make the remainder of their wages of tips). Yet in the US it is a self-face maintenance behavior to leave a decent-to-large tip particularly on a date or with friends, perhaps because we want to appear to be generous. So despite my knowledge of the German customs associated with tipping, I left a bartender a €4,80 top for a €15,20 drink bill (for the record, three glasses of Riesling, a delicious German variant of weisswein indeed!) in an effort to present a positive self-face. However, the move could have been easily viewed as a threat to the bartender's face (other-face) as it might have suggested that I felt he was in need of the money; in fact, it could have possibly been seen as a negative self-face move as I might have appeared to my friends (and really, others in the bar) as arrogant. 

Want to read more about Face Negotiation Theory? Here's a theoretical overview from the SAGE Reference (and a source of much of this posting): 
  • Ting-Toomey, S. (2009). Face Negotiation Theory. Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. 372-375. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Communication Accommodation Theory

A bit early, but our first week discussion will have us talking around the notion of Communication Accommodation Theory, first introduced to the field of human communication by noted scholar Dr. Howard "Howie" Giles of the University of California - Santa Barbara. In general, the theory attempts to explain how individuals come to adapt their communicative styles to one another as they spend more time with each other (see "Linguistic Power Struggle" to the left for an example). 

While the theory is not specifically or uniquely restricted to the study of intercultural communication, it is not hard to see how the theory might help explain variance in both our initial and continued interactions with folks from another culture; after all, one way we can understand cultural differences is in terms of communicative behavioral differences (both at the verbal and non-verbal level). A particularly interesting phenomenon associated with this is that of code-switching, which tends to really get at folks who are bi- or multi-lingual (or really, code-mixing as they tend to 'mesh' different linguistic and para-linguistic styles together). As students of communication, we'll be on the lookout for these behaviors and we'll make note as we see it.

Where might this stuff matter? I'll say that it's heavily studied in the context of organizational communication - particularly as we see an increasingly global corporate environment. But even in simple interviews and interactions, we see evidence of CAT as well as influences on perceived social status (here's a study by Gregory and Webster, 1996 that speaks to this somewhat).

For that first class (we're meeting Monday, 24 June at 10am, over at Double B) we're going to talk about some of these concepts. But, you'll want to read the following articles (one is a short encyclopedia entry, the other is a standard research article) to become familiar with the theory - the citation is below (and if you have problems accessing this article, e-mail me for a .pdf copy from the WVU repository).
Otherwise, read this article and the links contained in the short entry below, and we'll talk CAT on Monday! (NOTE: CAT might explain why I format my dates differently when working with SPICE). 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hey WVU, welcome to SPICE 2014!

A view of downtown Erfurt, Germany from the central Domplatz.
Erfurt is the site of the 2014 SPICE program. 
Greetings readers! This is the official web log (blog, to the initiated)  for the West Virginia University Summer 2014 Seminar in German Culture and Communication. As part of the Universitat Erfurt's Summer Program in Communication at Erfurt (SPICE), a group of eight WVU undergraduates have been invited to study many aspects of human communication and media in the heart of Germany.This is the third year that WVU has been officially involved with SPICE - in those three years, nearly two dozen Mountaineers have had the opportunity to explore many deeper areas of Communication Studies while living and playing in the heart of Germany.

For 2014, each student has been given their own personal page on this blog, which they will update throughout the semester. You can read their entries by selecting their name from the menu above. The 2014 SPICE students from WVU are:
Students in SPICE receive nine credit hours by participating in two of three main content courses, including a course in Media Psychology led by Dr. Nick Bowman (that's me) of West Virginia University, a course in Global and International Public Relations led by Dr. Katerina Tsetsura of the University of Oklahoma, and a course in Communication Ethics led by Dr. Scott Stroud of the University of Texas (more on each course, including syllabi, can be found here). In addition to these two content courses, all WVU students will be taking a special discussion course that focuses specifically on German Culture and Communication - hence, this blog.

This blog will be used as a repository for the WVU students to reflect and share their thoughts on the intersection of their culture and that of their host institution, city, region and nation. Each student has been given their own "page" in the blog where they will be asked to journal about the Study Abroad trip, and we invite you to read and comment on their postings. This project is part of their German Culture and Communication course.

As with any blog, this is a live and organic space to share experience, and we encourage you to read and comment often. Otherwise, wish us well and we will see you in the blogosphere! You're also welcome to visit past WVU SPICE blogs here (for 2012) and here (for 2013).