what culture is and why it matters
Below are step-by-step instructions for how to approach writing this paper.
We advise that you start with a definition, but avoid just copying and pasting a definition from Bevan. Instead, we want to see you “explain” both what culture is and why it matters. Engage with Bevan to think through why we are focusing so much on culture in this class. If you haven’t already, watch the video on culture that is with the instructions. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
How does culture frame our expectations for communicating with others?
How does culture provide us with the tools to interact with others?
How do our underlying values shape how and when we interact with others?
How might different cultures set different norms for what is deemed “appropriate?”
How can we respect others, without knowing about their cultures?
The next step is to “explain how culture structures both verbal and nonverbal communication.” Here, we want you to focus on specific verbal and nonverbal cues that are a part of people’s cultures. Some themes you might cover in relation to verbal and nonverbal include the following:
* Verbal communication. We suggest that you cover one or more of the “roles” of language listed in Bevan. These include language as an abstraction of reality, how language sustains and transmits culture, how language expresses imagination and creativity, and how it expresses confirming and disconfirming messages. Avoid simply listing these items. You must both explain the meaning and significance of one or more of those themes. How might thinking about language help us to better reach “shared meaning,” one of the principles of effective communication from week 1?
* Nonverbal communication – haptics, proxemics, vocalics and vocalics. While you can make some general points about nonverbal communication, we advise that you focus on one or more of these forms of nonverbal communication as they are the central elements. For instance, with haptics, which is about touch, different cultures might train us differently about how and when we touch strangers. If you meet someone with a different sense of how much touch is appropriate, might you feel ‘disrespected?” If so, this once again connects to one of the fundamental principles of effective communication from week 1.
The instructions ask that you explain how culture “structures” our communication. This is basically about implicit and explicit rules and norms we have for interacting with others. Have you ever been told to “not stare” or to “stop picking your nose?” If so, you were being trained about “appropriateness.”
3) Next you will choose TWO themes from a list of five that you want to explore a bit more. While you are not required to watch any of the videos, if you choose to write about gender specifically, we highly advise that you do. The “paper 1 training” has more specific advice for each, but we will say here that for each theme, consider the following:
Gender: While most content for this assignment is in chapter 3 or 4, this is the one theme that is covered more in chapter 2. So, if you choose to address gender, please re-read Section 2.2 (Self-Expression and Interpersonal Communication) in Bevan. We advise that you focus on potential “styles” that might be linked to ideas of masculinity and femininity and really connect to cultural training.
High versus low-context cultures: Have you ever felt like you were having a conversation with someone and they weren’t being direct with you? It could be that they are from a high-context culture, where things such as authority/status or nonverbal cues are much more important than explicit meaning. In fact, connotative meaning might be much more crucial than denotative meaning (see chapter 4 in Bevan). There is a brief video in the “resources” section of class that can really help further explain the differences between high and low context cultures.
Dominant culture versus Co-cultures: All countries typically have a dominant culture, which typically controls the language, laws, economy, and media. Most of the time, this is the majority group of the country, but sometimes a minority can be in control and that often leads to major tension. As you read this section of Bevan, think of English as the dominant language of the United States. Does your local co-culture have other languages that are common co-cultures? Does the dominant culture of the United States attempt to reinforce values such as individualism, freedom of expression, or diversity? How, when and why?
Individualism versus Collectivism: The United States is “dominated’ by the value of individualism. However, even the label of being “American” speaks to some collectivist strains of thought. In the video in the resources, there is a great point about how a workplace can be focused on individual success versus the success of the organization. Might this change the way we communicate? In chapter 3, Bevan addresses how we acknowledge status and respect. When thinking about that principle of “respect,” does it matter if it is about group identity versus individual identity?
Perceptual filters: One of the most fundamental elements of culture is that it trains us how to see the world, and what to focus on and what to avoid. That is what “filters” do, is cancel out or highlight information. As you think about this concept, think about the connotative meaning we might ascribe to specific ideas. Or, think about how culture trains us about what is even worth thinking about or what is important. Have you had a conversation with someone and thought “why is this person telling me this?” If so, the two of you likely have different perceptual filters.
Note – you can cover race and ethnicity and/or social class, but that is be a supplement to covering these required elements
Finally, you must explain how paying attention to culture can help a person improve as a communicator. Think about how cultural knowledge can help you reach one or more of the “principles” of effective communication. Might different cultures have different ways of establishing or conveying respect? How do we learn the different ways cultures might do this? Also, think about how exactly we can “pay attention” to culture? Do we need to inform ourselves about cultural difference? If so, does this speak to principle six in Bevan from week 1, on “practicing?’ Watching the video “Cross-cultural communication” can really help you to better understand how all of this can play out in life, as he explores the cultural dimensions of many different countries. So, consider watching it to really think through this part of the paper.
Check your work against the grading rubrics and ensure you have done everything required of you. Make sure you have both meaningfully used and cited Bevan, and you will be wise to also use and cite one of the videos. If you are struggling with how to “engage” with course material, read the resource called “Explaining and more.”