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CHAPTER – 4

A DIALECTICAL APPROACH TO UNDERSTANDING CULTURE AND
COMMUNICATION
INTRODUCTION

The social science, interpretive, and critical approaches operate in
interconnected and sometimes contradictory ways.

Rather than advocating any one approach, there is a dialectical approach
to intercultural communication research and practice.

The dialectical approach emphasizes the processual, relational, and
contradictory nature of intercultural communication, which encompasses many
different kinds of intercultural knowledge.

(processual refers to how interaction happens rather than to the outcome)

Dialectical Approach: An approach to intercultural communication that
integrates three approaches – functionalist (or social science), interpretive, and
critical – in understanding culture and communication. It recognizes and accepts
that three approaches are interconnected and sometimes contradictory.

First, with regard to the processual nature of intercultural communication,
it is important to remember that cultures change, as do individuals.

Intercultural communication studies provide a static but fleeting picture of
the cultural groups.

It is important to remember that the adaptation, communication, and other
patterns identified are dynamic and ever changing, even if the research studies
only provide a snapshot in time.

Second, a dialectical perspective emphasizes the relational aspect of
intercultural communication study. It highlights the relationship among various
aspects of intercultural communication and the importance of viewing these
holistically rather than in isolation.

The key question becomes, Can we really understand culture without
understanding communication, and vice versa?

A third characteristic of the dialectical perspective involves holding
contradictory ideas simultaneously.

This notion may be difficult to comprehend because it emphasizes
dichotomous thinking.

Dichotomies such as “good and evil,” “arteries and veins,” and “air and
water” form the core of our philosophical and scientific beliefs.

reveals our tendency to form dichotomies. We need to keep this dialectic in mind as we try to understand and develop relationships across cultural differences. or idiosyncratic –that is. • Combining these approaches provides us with extensive insight into the problems and challenges of intercultural ventures. • As students and professors. perhaps a unique way of wrinkling your nose or unique way of using language. • It is important to remember that communication for all of us is both cultural and individual.” “high and low. . you may have some behaviors not shared by anyone else. each of which may also be referred as a dialectic. SIX DIALECTICS OF INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION • We can identify six dialectics that characterize intercultural communication. and our messages are interpreted in particular ways. if we limit ourselves to a specific research orientation.” and “long and short” sound complete. In some contexts. and our understanding of intercultural communication has been enriched by all three. leading to a reconciliation of the opposites.The fact that dichotomies such as “far and near. • Certainly. Clearly. The complex and paradoxical relationship between two opposite qualities or entities. the context of this communication is important as well. 2. (a method of examining and discussing opposing ideas in order to find the truth) Cultural – Individual Dialectic: • Intercultural communication is both cultural and individual. A method of logic based on the principle that an idea generates its opposite. as if the two parts belong together. Personal – Contextual Dialectic: • This dialectic involves the role of context in intercultural relationships and focuses simultaneously on the person and the context. There can be others as you learn more about intercultural communication. we enact specific social roles that give meaning to our messages. we communicate in particular ways in classroom contexts. • Although we communicate as individuals on a personal level. we can learn something from each of the three traditional approaches. we may fail to see the complexities of contemporary intercultural interaction in contexts. • Dialectic: 1.

we need to realize that history has a significant impact on contemporary events.• In understanding intercultural communication.. • For example. we try to emphasize both similarities and differences and ask you to keep this dialectic in mind. • Some cultural and communication patterns remain relatively constant. Americans communicate differently. or privileged in some contexts and disadvantaged in others.yet we also always communicate from our personal identities. whereas other aspects of cultures (or personal traits of individuals) shift over time—that is. Japanese and U. we need to be aware of contemporary forces and realities that shape interactions of people from different cultural groups.Dynamic Dialectic: • This dialectic suggests that intercultural communication tends to be at once static and dynamic. • However. History/Past – Present/Future Dialectic: • Another dialectic emphasizes the need to focus simultaneously on the past and the present in understanding intercultural communication. . • On the one hand. • Therefore. there also are many similarities in human experiences and ways of communicating. just as do men and women. Static . • The static – dynamic dialectic highlights the ever-changing nature of culture and cultural practices but also underscores the tendency to think about these things as constant.S. emphasizing only similarities can lead us to ignore the important cultural variations that exist. Privilege – Disadvantage Dialectic: • A dialectical perspective recognizes that people may be simultaneously privileged and disadvantaged. in that people are simultaneously similar to and different from each other.g. • On the other hand. they are dynamic. Differences – Similarities Dialectic: • Intercultural communication is characterized by both similarities and differences. that women are emotional or that men are rational). we have to understand that we sometimes communicate as members of social groups . • Emphasizing only differences can lead to stereotyping and prejudice (e.

and characterized by both privilege and disadvantage. many tourists are in the position of economic privilege because they can afford to travel. socioeconomic status. static and dynamic.• For example. • Intercultural communication is both cultural and individual. • We can also be simultaneously privileged and disadvantaged because of gender. age. personal and contextual. and holistic view of intercultural communication. relational. race. . characterized by differences and similarities. and it requires a balance of contradictory views. but in their travels. Summary • A dialectical approach emphasizes a processual. and other identities. they also may be disadvantaged if they do not speak the local language. oriented to both the present and the past.