|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||16. Nr.||Juni 2006|
7.3. Bericht: Das Eigene und das Fremde. Schnittflächen kulturanthropologischer und literaturwissenschaftlicher Fragehorizonte
Julianna Nádai (Széchenyi István University, Győr, Hungary)
This article aims to present the ways of application of intercultural theories with special regard to stereotypes. In doing so, it briefly describes the English intercultural communication course offered at Széchenyi István University, Győr, Hungary. Then it moves on to discuss the relationship between culture and stereotypes. It is also relevant to introduce methods and concepts that help improve education in intercultural communication fields. The paper concludes that applications of theories help make students aware of the importance of cross-cultural studies.
The concept intercultural communication reveals communicative relations between people of different nations or supranational cultural spaces. According to Hofstede culture is a collective programming of mind and introduces the metaphor software of the mind with socio-cultural gender, class, organization and regional levels (Hofstede, 1991). Huntington defines the concept of cultural space as civilization which can also be considered as a cultural entity having common cultural features and phenomena in a well separated area. The cultural entities' way of thinking and behaviour are rooted in common traditions with their own values, norms and institution. One of the best approaches to reflect the concept culture comes from David Katan saying:
Culture is not a factor, but is the framework within which all communication takes place [...] Culture is perceived as a system for orienting experience, and a basic presupposition is that the organisation of experience is not ‘reality' but rather a simplification - even a ‘distortion' - which varies from culture to culture. Each culture acts as a frame within which external signs or reality are interpreted (Katan, 1999).
There exist several scientific approaches to grasp the differences between cultures. As Intercultural communication courses aim at revealing these differences it is important to expose the basic theories to have a basis for comparing cultures. Hofstede, Trompenaars and Hall's models identify dimensions of cultures which serve as a basis for research, too. In terms of the present paper emphasis is laid on Hofstede's ideas on culture.
According to Hofstede (1991) the four key dimensions of culture are
Power distance means to what extent power differences in an organization are accepted and appreciated by individuals with less power. Countries are ranked according to how much social hierarchies manifest themselves in individual relationships.
Individualism/collectivism : Individualist societies have loose relations between their members. The self, the individual is of more importance and interests of the communities are ignored (United States, Australia, Great Britain). Collectivist cultures have developed a dependence on community (in African and Asian countries). Hardly any competition can be tolerated, mutual support and cooperation is prevalent.
Masculinity/femininity: In masculine cultures men concentrating on career, financial security have a really high prestige compared to women who serve as a support for men's work and self-development.
Early origins of intercultural communication as a discipline lie in Area studies which was a predecessor. Although there had been attempts to introduce cultural studies at universities as early as the beginning of the 20 th century (University of Chicago), expansion of the discipline started in the USA in the 40s by founding several associations specialized in a range of cultures and areas, e.g.: Far Eastern Association (1943), American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (1948), African Studies Association (1957). Article 602 of National Defence Education Act defined Area studies as ‘increased or improved instruction in modern languages, and the other fields needed to provide a full understanding of the areas, regions or countries in which such languages are commonly used' (Lüsebrink, 2003).
Intercultural communication cannot be regarded merely as face-to-face communication but also communication via media devices transferring culture and information by pictures and various textual forms.
Recent decades have seen increasing interest in the field of cross-cultural communication in Hungary as well. Differences in national and organisational cultures and their research methods have become topics of courses at institutions of higher education.
The importance of cross-cultural studies has become obvious in education policy recognizing its inevitability in business life, too. A new social structure is being formed, as due to globalization borders lose their significance which requires the setting up of a system for the free stream and access of information, knowledge and their application. Language knowledge must be extended with cultural knowledge, as well, so that graduates are able to adapt to international interaction situations. That is why mediation between cultures is significant. Valdes (1986) emphasizes the idea in his book Bridging the Cultural Gap in Language Teaching. He focuses on teaching how to make strong ties between nations instead of a deep understanding of gaps and differences.
According to their social, political and intellectual components culture studies have developed in three main fields (Ablonczy, 2003):
The study of a single nation
The comparative study of two or more nations, analyzing the interaction of two cultures
Multiculturalism, that is, interference of several nations where individuals live and work in a complex society.
The reason for teaching and researching intercultural communication is rooted in a range of factors. In spite of big spatial distances there developed several ways of interaction by getting members of different nations close to each other. Due to this fact mobility between countries has accelerated which encouraged investors to establish their companies abroad. In cultural aspect it is an important discipline to help us shape our self-awareness by flexible and sensitive attitude towards different cultures, which means that communication and culture cannot exist isolated.
The first step to attain cultural sensibility is to create self awareness. Without knowing one's own cultural background, such as beliefs, values and attitudes, it is impossible to adapt them tothe culture of other nations, even on the level of communication. Phenomena of cultural awareness, such as curiosity, fascination, indifference and refusal, play an important role in the dynamics of interactions and cultural transfer as they affect reactions of the partners.
There were several debates over which is the most effective method of teaching intercultural communication at institutions of higher education. At Széchenyi István University Győr, Hungary, students of international relations are obliged to take the course Intercultural Communication. According to a survey carried out at Széchenyi University, students consider the subject Intercultural communication interesting rather than useful which shows they had never confronted problems emerging from cultural differences.
The subject focuses on making the students aware of cultural varieties by introducing them into theories and application of theories in different fields of everyday and business life. The aim of providing them with the knowledge of cultures in the world is to have a deep insight into other nations' values, beliefs and attitudes. Lack of this type of knowledge can lead to confusion and misunderstanding on most areas of communication, marketing, international negotiations, intercultural interactions and relations.
Approaches to teaching interculturalism vary in the focuses of the subject. The students should not be taught about the differences between cultures, but on the contrary, stress on filling cultural gaps should be the real purpose of teaching (Glaser, 2003). What they have to attain first is to be aware of the importance of their own cultural icons which enables them to have a better understanding of other nations. Stress has to be laid on learning values and traditions without emphasizing any negative feeling towards these. According to Adler (Falk-Bánó, 2001) cultural stereotypes can only be useful by using them with the following criteria:
Stereotypes are adequate if they are
applied in a conscious and considerate way
of descriptive and not evaluating character
give appropriate and correct characterizing
can change according to further observation and experience.
The basis for shaping stereotypes is mostly individual experience, which is hard to neglect, if it is a generalization after considering information, which is real and true of the whole community. Generalization may, however, lead to a distorted picture of other cultures in one's mind.
Intercultural studies must not avoid the issue of stereotypes. According to Allport stereotypes are ‘a generalized set of beliefs about a group of people.' Another definition describes stereotypes as a kind of ethnocentrism i.e. ‘it is the belief in the intrinsic superiority of the culture to which one belongs, accompanied by feelings of dislike and contempt to other cultures.' According to an American linguist, Joyce Valdes, people are culture bound and do not see the confines of their own culture. “Most people of whatever nation, see themselves and their compatriots not as culture but as ‘standard' or ‘right', and the rest of the world as made up of cultures." (Katan, 1999) Forming stereotypes of a different culture may lead to misunderstandings as these are often based on experience with an individual of the community and do not regard any individual as an exception.
Ethnocentrism mainly occurs at the level of the community, deeming one's own culture as the centre of all cultures. This phenomenon is seen with people who do not often encounter foreign visitors. According to Hofstede (1991) ethnocentrism and negative stereotypes in the mind turn into polycentrism for those who are regularly exposed to foreigners. These people can recognize that cultures are different but equal. Polycentrism may also develop into xenophilia whereas any phenomenon, behavior of members of foreign cultures is regarded as much better than that of one's own culture.
Hofstede created a model for distinguishing two kinds of stereotypes, that is auto- and heterostereotypes based on self perception and mutual perception of cultural communities.
What we think of ourselves , that is our self-image, depends on upbringing, personal (Hidasi, 2005) experience and others' reaction to our behavior.
What we think of others is influenced by our cultural background, education and upbringing. We have limited knowledge of other cultures since information comes from the media and newspapers in a filtered form lacking the most significant points. Communication channels like television and newspapers often present a distorted picture about a different culture.
What others think of us is mostly based on historical events which generally result in a negative stereotypical idea of the opponent nation.
What two culture groups think of each other is fostered by cultural and historical background knowledge and actual direct political and commercial relations. Stereotypes in this case cannot be judged as something negative, since awareness of stereotypes may help prevent communication failures.
There exist positive and negative stereotypes in our consciousness about the behavior and habits of cultures (Crystal, 2003). A typical positive stereotype is the following saying “What are the three best things in the world? An American home, Chinese cuisine and a Japanese wife." Referring to the luxury of the American lifestyle, delicious Chinese food and humble Japanese women. Similar sayings are also positive about Hungarian wine, French perfumes, Japanese technical devices, Italian leatherware, and the College of Oxford in Britain. A number of such cases evoke a positive attitude to a culture, but plenty of stereotypes are negative ones. The British stereotype of the Italians and the French is that they smell of garlic. The Scots are considered not to be generous. The Swedish are cold and the Russians smell of Vodka.
Beside books, heterostereotypes also turn up in movies and films with negative and positive examples as well. American Indians are mainly positive characters, representing a subculture and its unjust ignorance. Criminals, outlaws and any negative characters in films are often of Hungarian origin, so a negative association of Hungarians dwells in the minds of other nations.
Themes of the course intercultural communication taught at universities must cover several aspects of examining and researching cultures. Teachers have to draw the students' attention to variety of cultures and not only to differences. To have a successful elicitation you have to make students aware of the following three criteria to grasp stereotypes (Hidasi, 2005):
Self-analysis : reactions to certain experiences depend on emotional attitudes.
Learning : the best way to avoid generalizations is learning. By this process students are able to distinguish and accept various cultures and values.
Objective attitude : after discarding old measure tools and value judgment we have to assume an objective stance. Value judgment does not help furthering intercultural communication (Katan, 1999).
Several tasks can be carried out in classroom activities to improve cultural sensibility and destroy negative stereotypes in students. The purpose is to make them be interested in learning about cultures and be able to take an active and successful part in intercultural communication after graduation. Teachers have to remind students that other cultures are not worse or better than theirs but different. The students have to make presentations on the comparison of two cultures based on e.g. proverbs, numeric symbols, gestures, superstition. Parallel with practical examples it is necessary to provide students with a theoretical background.
Students of economics often face problems in the field of marketing, so it is a key topic in the course. Negotiations often fail as a result of miscommunication since certain products cannot be sold in a market without having experience or even knowledge of the destination country and its culture. It is almost impossible to sell the same product with the same slogan in each country. To avoid complete failure the marketing experts must take stereotypic phenomena into consideration. Both cultural and market research have to be carried out at the same time to induce customers to purchase. Culture and marketing have a strong relation, even considering commercials. A great number of commercials are made on the base of stereotypes which are mainly positive ones.
Commercials on beer of the same brand cannot be sold with a single slogan in different countries. According to stereotypes about the nations, commercials broadcast in Germany focus on the traditions of making beer, reflecting the Germans' strong ties with old traditions. In the Netherlands socializing is focused on when promoting beer, while in Britain a sexual approach is popular. These stereotypes are not devaluing, only marketing experts make use of them (Tompos, 2005).
Culture is often connected to teaching history and literature as two main representatives of mirroring cultures. Cross-cultural studies are basically supported by these two disciplines. Heroes of literary works usually nourish the concept of stereotypes. A nation, a country is identified with its worldwide known hero representing the culture it had been created in. The stereotypic heroes mostly appear in literary works like dramas, novels, poems or religious works (Bible, Koran). Students make their researches on heroes as stereotypes which bring them closer to cultural beliefs and give them an overview of what is deemed of value in other nations. There is a wide range of heroes having become icons of a nation. William Tell represents courage and self-denial which is projected to the Swiss in general. Odysseus is a national hero of the Greek. Toldi Miklós in Hungarian literature is a typical representation of Hungarian auto-stereotype of a strong character and persistence. The figure of Cyrano de Bergerac reinforces the image of French noble ‘knights' and delicate style. The Spanish are identified with Don Quixote as a symbol for naivety, fighting for the right things and useless struggles. The Bible is also a treasury of stereotypes like Mary the Virgin (innocence, caring mother), Solomon the Wise (wise decision making), David (defeating Goliath), Adam and Eve (origins of all sins), Judas (traitor).
Worldwide intercultural contact and globalization requires research in the field of intercultural communication. After the accession of Hungary to the EU the necessity of awareness of other cultures is obvious. Increasing number of takeovers, foreign companies and joint ventures in Hungary make it even more inevitable to educate experts with high level professional and cultural competence. Learning about stereotypes at institutions of higher education is a basic requirement, as it helps students to cope with seemingly difficult situations in intercultural interactions. Curricula and teaching methods in intercultural communication courses must focus on the importance of creating a cultural awareness in students by providing them with the knowledge about the values of other cultures.
© Julianna Nádai (Széchenyi István University, Győr, Hungary)
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7.3. Bericht: Das Eigene und das Fremde. Schnittflächen kulturanthropologischer und literaturwissenschaftlicher Fragehorizonte
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