1. Compare and contrast the nature of group membership and group behavior across cultures
2. Define and discuss the concept of role relationships across cultures
3. Compare and contrast sex and gender roles across cultures
4. Compare and contrast families and family roles across cultures
All human beings, regardless of culture, belong to groups. Although some cultures (like the United States) promote individuality and independence, our survival depends on our interdependency and cooperation with other humans. This, of course, requires human communication. In many ways, intercultural communication is a group phenomena experienced by individuals. In other words, when people from different cultures come together to interact, they typically view each other not as unique individuals, but as members of a different cultural group. Think about your own communication experiences with strangers from different cultures. When we meet a stranger from a different culture, we see that person as a member of a cultural group that is different from our own. Even intraculturally; that is, within our own culture, when we meet strangers, we typically see them in terms of the groups to which they belong, (e.g., sex, race, age, etc). In fact, there is no other way to describe a stranger than by the groups to which he/she belongs. The socio-relational context, then, refers to how group memberships affect communication. Whenever people from different cultures come together to interact, their verbal and nonverbal messages are defined by, and filtered through, their group memberships. The social relationship they develop is significantly influenced by the groups to which they belong, hence the term socio-relational context.
I. Dimensions of Group Variability
1. For individuals in any culture, there are those groups to which they belong, called membership groups, and those groups to which they do not belong, called nonmembership groups. There are two classes of membership groups, including voluntary and involuntary.
a. Involuntary membership groups are those groups to which people have no choice but to belong (e.g., age, race, sex).
b. Voluntary membership groups include those groups to which people consciously choose to belong (e.g., political affiliation, religion, occupation).
2. Nonmembership groups are those groups to which people do not belong. Like membership groups, nonmembership groups can be voluntary or involuntary. Some people may want to belong to a group but are ineligible to join because they do not possess the needed qualifications (e.g., age, education, etc.). In other cases, people might be eligible for membership in a group but choose not to join. The distinction is important because people who are eligible to join a group, but choose not to belong may be more likely than ineligible nonmembers to accept and embrace the norms and behaviors of the group.
II. Ingroups and Outgroups
1. Ingroups represent a special class of membership group characterized by a potent internal cohesiveness among its members and a sometimes intense hostility toward outgroups.
a. An ingroup is a group whose norms, aspirations, and values shape the behavior of its members.
b. An outgroup is a group whose attributes are dissimilar from those of the ingroup, or who opposes the accomplishment of the ingroup’s goals.
2. The tendency to distinguish between ingroups and outgroups is universal. When we meet someone from a different culture for the first time, we immediately categorize the other as an ingroup or outgroup member. Attributions about ingroup and outgroup members are typically biased in favor of the ingroup at the expense of the outgroup.
III. Reference Groups
1. A reference group is a group to which we may or may not belong but in some way identify with in an important way. A reference group possesses some quality to which we aspire and hence serves as a “reference” for our decisions or behavior. Reference groups can be membership or nonmembership and positive or negative.
2. Reference groups serve two functions, including a comparative function and a normative function. We often use reference groups to compare ourselves in making judgments and evaluations. Individuals also use reference groups to establish the norms and standards to which they conform.