Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Promise of Intercultural Communication on the Web

The increasingly interactive qualities of the Internet, especially as the convergence of TV and the phone into the Internet is happening, it is becoming more and more promising that the possibility for individuals to enter the rhetorical stage in Third Culture Building is increasing.

The Internet differs from other media such as TV in the posibilities to convey one's messages interculturally rather than cross-culturally. In 1973, Stan Harms proposed this useful distinction between intercultural and cross-cultural communication:

(Intercultural Communication, 1973, in Charles Ess' notes from his guest lecturing at the IT-University in 2003)
Thus, intercultural communication is the dialogical conversational communication, and used to come to agreement on something. It requires tolerance and patience, but the message is then developed into something both interlocutors can use. Cross-cultural communication in ICTs is for example, when Microsoft merely translates a text so as better to "push their message" into the receiving culture. In the language of Chen and Starosta, we might say that cross-cultural communication is the mechanical reproduction of a pre-determined message (e.g. buy our product), whereas intercultural communication promotes global listening.

I mentioned my concern earlier about how the Third Culture Model seems to emphasise interlocution between individuals, that is, explaining their cultures through stories and narratives in words. Fortunately, research does show that while the Internet used to be considered a text-based media, cultures in which communication includes a high level of context do in fact find strategies to overcome communication over a mainly text-based medium through the other media present on the 'net, i.e., the use of videos and images to convey body language, moods and values. Thus, we are one step closer to the realisation of narratives being successfully explained between cultures.

The learning-by-doing aspect, the internalising of tacit knowledge seems more realistic the further progress we make in terms of ways of expressing ourselves on the net, although there is quite a long way before we can deeply immerse ourselves into the fine grains of culture over the 'net.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Children of Globalisation

If anyone has experienced third culture building, it must be the Third Culture Kids.

In the States there seems to have been a good deal of research going on, on what becomes of the children of expats, and especially, how do children who live a highly mobile life develop, and how does it influence their cultural identification? Children who have spent a number of their development years as expats are often referred to as either Third Culture Kids (TCKs) or Global Nomads - the former term referring to an interstitial "culture between cultures", the latter rather referring to the detachment of the individual to any physical location.

TCK Researchers David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken explain this process. Their book entitled "Third Culture Kids - The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds", and is written for the (American) expat community, so don't expect an especially scientific text, although easy and pleasing to read.

While Third Culture Building is theoretically possible for anyone to undergo (hence the emergence of TCAs - Third Culture Adults), Chen and Starosta mention a number of barriers that are to be overcome for this to happen successfully. Successful TCB happens through successful global listening, and for global listening to be successful, the interlocutors must first overcome any assumptions and truisms that they may have deeply indoctrinated within themselves through surroundings - e.g. censored TV.

Through one's developmental years, especially during the school age, we are especially susceptible to the cultural cues to which we are exposed; it is through these that we shape our way of understanding the world as adults. When brought up among cultures, we are constantly challenged with cultural cues from family at home, those from teachers and peers at school. Thus, our identity and sense of belonging is affected from dual or multiple frameworks of references, and we experience first-hand the cultural differences, tacit knowledges and behavioural cues, (the deep cultural elements)rather than merely interlocuting interculturally with people from other cultures. I'll end this post for now with the following quote by Peter Adler on the definition of a multicultural man (or woman):

The multicultural person is not simply the person who is sensitive to many different cultures. Rather, he is a person who is always in the process of becoming a part of and apart from a given cultural context.(...) He has no permanent cultural character but neither is he free from influences of culture. In the shifts and movement of his identity process, the multicultural man is continually recreating the symbol of himself. Peter S. Adler, Beyond Cultural Identity (quoted in Thorbjørn Hansen)

Third Culture Building, part deux

Resuming from my earlier post on Third Culture Building, Starosta seems to have proposed a slightly different TCB model of stages together with Guo-Ming Chen (although I admit, the differences are minimal).
Listening among those of differing cultures moves from an intracultural stage(Culture One) to an interpersonal stage(Culture 2). It then enters an intercultural stage of relationship building and restructuring, and a rhetorical stage of internalizing any changes. Finally, it enters a new intracultural stage at a more global level. The rhetorical stage is one in which variant values are negotiated and adjusted among parties so as to render them mutually palatable. The restructured view of the world that follows global listening can be termed Culture Three.

When experiencing the world from one's own point of view, this may be described as an emic view. This is in contrast to the etic point of view, in which the world is experienced from the outside. Through global listening, one moves away from the emic view, to the etic, and finally, after having been immersed in the latter view for long enough, one develops a double-emic view, in which pieces of their own culture and of the culture of "the other" conjoin to produce a new reality.

Model for Global Listening

In my search for the Third Culture Building Model, I ordered Communication and Global Society (2000) edited by Guo-Ming Chen and William J. Starosta.

In the text entitled "Listening Across Diversity in Global Society", written by the editors themselves, they explain that while some view communication between individuals as a consecutive transmission of messages, they rather prefer to view it as the negotiation between the interactants for a common ground, creating then an interpretation of a message that "belongs to neither party, yet belongs to both of them" (pg 279). Thus, active listening is preferred to mechanical message reproduction working towards a predetermined end product. They propose the following model for Global Listening, in which the three circles represent sets of meanings belonging to each a different culture:
Figure 1: An Equilibrium Model of Global Listening

Key: A, B, C are primary message and interpretive communities' meanings. AB, AC, BC are interactions that cross primary community identities. ABC are taken-for-granteds and shared interpretations and experience. (ibid., pg 280)

When individuals from different cultures interact, they create common grounds for meanings. The interlocutors also share some "taken-for-granteds" which make the communication possible. The other spaces between the subsets (AB, AC and BC) comprise instances of cultural listening. Thus, they submit, their model proposes that Global Society is found in a negotiated semantic space between, rather than within, existing cultures.

In real life, we might assume that these semantic spaces could be considered places such as international schools, international conferences, airports, in which to enable the inclusion of all who may frequent these places, a set of common denominators/culturally "neutral" values and behaviours are decided upon to best cater to the most individuals possible. For instance, the use of English as a lingua franca at international conferences, the teachings of ethics rather than specific religions at international schools, and the use of symbols and signs to communicate direction at the airport.

Michael Walzer, who proposed the Thick and Thin distinction between moralities (and whose work Soraj Hongladarom based his concept of "thick" and "thin" cultures) suggests:
This dualism is, I think, an internal feature of every morality. Philosophers most often describe it in terms of a (thin) set of universal principles adapted (thickly) to these or those historical circumstances. I have in the past suggested the image of a core morality differently elaborated in different cultures. Walzer, 1996:4, quoted in Snauwert, 2003

I am assuming that this core morality is what could be understood, by extension, as the assumed commonalities and "taken-for-granteds", which are labeled as ABC in the Model for Global Listening.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Third Culture Building

Unfortunately, I have very limited access to relevant articles and books describing in more detail how Third Cultures come about. However, I have managed to find tidbits here and there describing an actual Third Culture Building model:
Starosta and Olorunnisola's Third Culture Model

Five stages w/ the following accommodations:

1: Intrapersonal Intracultural (inside yourself)
- awareness
- presentation

2: Interpersonal Intercultural (initial contact)
- inquiry
- reciprocation
- mutual adjustment

3: Rhetorical Intercultural (more intense discussion and knowledge of the other)

-> requires two preconditions: conscious awareness of differences; willingness to suspend judgment

- convergence
- integration

4: Metacultural (culture based on others’ cultures)
- readjustment/ reinforcement
- mutual assimilation

5: Intracultural (redirection to the third culture)
- primary culture abandonment (in terms of the relationship)

Final stage implies ability to operate in dual (or more) cultures; founded on empathy and ability to treat crosscultural relationships differently.

(Taken from Emilie Gould's slides on Attribution and Relationship Development)

From what I gather, (although I realise it's a little dangerous to say that one comprehends theoretical frameworks through skimming PowerPoint Slides,) intercultural training consultants propose that to gain cross-cultural understanding, one can either acculturate to a different culture (learn the language and appropriate behaviour), or by meeting in the middle and thereby construct a Third Culture through social exchange.

I suppose that a Third Culture built this way would then comprise of superficial elements and as such have a nature similar to Hongladarom's cosmopolitan, thin culture, which I suppose is fine in e.g. a business setting. A 'thick' third culture would probably have to include a deeper submersion to get all the "tacit" elements of culture internalised, if we are to speak of a third culture that can really create a new identity.

Culture Iceberg

Mostly just for reference: A simple visualisation of culture is the culture iceberg

(see also a description of the iceberg metaphor here and another, more detailed visualisation here (pdf))

Internet as a Non-Place

I mentioned Marc Augé and his notion of Non-Places earlier, and just as I was beginning to wonder if the Internet could be considered a Non-Place, I realised that the ever so excellent researcher and blogger Torill Mortensen whose blog I've been following for some time now, already approached this subject two years ago, in 2003. The Geography of a Non-Place approaches Non-Places in relation to MUDs, unfortunately an area of cyberspace which I have chosen not to focus on, however a very interesting read and still very relevant - I expect to be quoting and referring to it a great deal in my thesis.

She quotes Augé:
A paradox of a non-place: a foreigner lost in a country he does not know (a 'passing stranger') can feel at home there only in the anonymity of motorways, service stations, big stores or hotel chains. For him, an oil company logo is a reassuring landmark; among the supermarket shelves he falls with relief on sanitary, household or food products validated by multinational brand names. (Augé 1995:106)
Non-places then, are those "common denominator" places which speak a language that the majority will be able to understand, in which sets of meanings are created to be understood by anyone, regardless of where they are from. Non-Places could perhaps be understood as those places in which Third Cultures are built (or perhaps as the products of Third Culture Building?).

What has always troubled me about Augés Non-Places is the assumption that due to the lack of history and culture, they don't support identity construction. I have to agree with John Tomlinson when he says that at the airport, the designated Non-Place role-model,
for [the check-in clerks, the baggage handlers, cleaners, caterers, security staff], the non-place of the terminal is clearly a 'real' place - their workplace. And we must assume that it is experiences by them with all the anthropological richness the tacit rules of 'living know-how', the subtleties of daily interpersonal contact, the friendships, rivalries and so on that apply to any other place of work. So the designation of places as non-places is clearly not an absolute, but one that depends, crucially on perspective. (Tomlinson, 1999:111)
It must be assumed that this is even more a reality for Sir Alfred of Charles-du-Gaulle Airport who has been living at the french airport since 1988. Mortensen includes him as a prime example of a man who has, by definition, been living in a Non-Place, but who it is reported to have a daily routine in the place between heaven and earth in which he has found a home:
His life follows the quotidian airport cycle. He wakes at 5:30 in order to shave in the men's room before passengers arrive. He reads all day long. At night, he waits until the airport stores are locked before he brushes his teeth with the toothbrush and toothpaste from a complimentary airline travel kit. Weekly, he rinses out his clothes overnight in the bathroom.

PS: Extending the idea of Third Cultures and Third Spaces presented earlier, I do find it interesting that Playstation in fact assumed "The Third Place" as their slogan. However, they are probably referring to Oldenburg's understanding of third places as a space for community, and distinguished from home (the first place), and work (the second). An interesting article on this by Mark McGuire over at Ezine, including a couple of thoughts on the virtual worlds of computer games as (ta-daa!) Non-Places.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Having established that defining culture is a work in progress, there seems to be an agreement that one central element in the construction of one's cultural identity is communication. It is, for instance, through communication with those like us, and in the interaction with those different from us, that we are able to position and reposition ourselves with relation to a group, thereby establishing our sense of belonging. Not only are we affected and inspired by what others think, but there is a certain need to express one's own cultural identity to others, for instance through clothes and verbal expression of opinions.

It is precisely for this reason, that CMCs are so interesting to me. There are a number of ways in which culture is communicated through the Internet, and the possibilities for this are constantly increasing in number, as the Internet not only continues its diffusion throughout the world, but the technological possibilities of streaming videos, sending images, and cost and time barriers are being removed for the increase of interpersonal communication (especially with the increasing popularity of IP-telephony in homes).

At this point, I really should show you the following article by Paul Adams and Rhina Ghose, called - The construction of a space between (2003). Unfortunately, this article is subscription only, but I have been able to locate matching slides here, which should give you a bit of an overview.

What is especially interesting about this text is their notion of "bridgespace", a virtual space that supports flows of people, goods, capital and ideas between countries, which in their case is South Asia and North America.
We will call the context for international identity formation, sensation, social relations and embodiment a 'bridgespace'. This bridgespace in general is a collection of interconnected virtual places that support people's movement between two regions or countries and the sustenance of cultural ties at a distance. The bridgespace we study is not the internet or part of the internet; it is a space built in and through the internet and other media. (...) A subtle but important point is that bridgespaces do not create links between places; links are created by people - but people's actions require channels, and these channels may be static structures like roads, or dynamic systems like airline flight schedules or the internet. Thus bridgespace is an environment, not an actor. (Adams & Ghose, 2003)

The authors also present a map of the links that bind South Asia together with North America. These include for instance, the possibility for members of the Indian Diaspora in the US to conduct a virtual pooja (prayer or offering) through the cracking of virtual coconuts, the ringing of "bells" and the sprinkling of flower petals on interactive websites. Placed more prominently on the borders between South Asia and North America, sites are to be found including travel agency sites, money transfer and gift delivery sites, and immediately to each side of the channel space, employment and education sites.

Bridgespace then, is definitely an interesting element in the current research, and gives me a very useful label to call this "Space Between" cultures in cyberspace. Again, it chimes with the Non-Places which I mentioned in an earlier post, especially with regard to the idea that transfer service sites such as gift delivery sites are those that inhabit bridgespace. Education sites for instance, which are more reflective of culture are certainly more "anthropological", but are placed to the sides of border between South Asia and North America.


The Placeless Identity

Culture is a great many things. It is not surprising that there is no determined definition of culture, especially in an age where we acknowledge that cultures as determined by national boundaries is too simplistic.

Our cultural identity is a fan of roles that we can pick from and express - roles determined by our relation to the family, professionally, nationally. Cultural identity in my thesis however, will mainly be referred to in terms of one's relationship to nations - determined through one's ethnic background, citizenship and surroundings, the learned patterns of values and behaviour that one especially acquires throughout childhood.

Although this may be a simplistic way of seeing things, it seems that there is still a social expectation that all individuals should assume a nationality as part of one's identity. As Norwegian anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen asks, why is it necessary to have an identity? (Skal vi tvinges til å ha en identitet?, 1994. Eng: Must we have an identity?) He notes that there seems to be a common belief, that an individual has a psychological need to belong to a nation or religion, however unexplained. Agreeing with Hylland Eriksen, Finn Thorbjørn Hansen (link in Danish)observes and adds that while the UN professes the right to assume any nationality, it does not mention the right not to assume any (Kunsten at Navigere i Kaos, 1995. Eng: The art of navigating in chaos).

This then approaches one of the core problematics in the lives of Third Culture Kids, in which the idea of a physical place being somewhere that they can call home and always feel that they belong can seem very obscure (hence the other term, "Global Nomads" seems very relevant). Probably this is why they often feel a sense of relief when they are posed with the option of identifying themselves merely as children who have grown up in a third culture, thereby being given a label to their missing link.

Culture's In-Between

I think that by now, most agree that cultures as we understand them are in fact not the cultures that exist today. As a vast number of scholars have pointed out, the globalisation effects that post-colonial scholars have been focusing on a great deal, (See for instance Homi Bhabha and Stuart Hall) seem to be resulting in so-called hybrid identities. These are new identities which are conjured up from the positioning of the individual, not merely as a process of "us" and "them, but as the constant ping-ponging between cultures of the individual, which may in the end result in the creation of a new identity.

Thus, through the rise of these hybrid identities, we can assume that whole cultures are being constructed on the borderlines of nations and cultures. How should we term these new cultures?

Homi Bhabha (whose article's title was stolen for the heading of this post) speaks of Third Spaces:
The non-synchronous temporality of global and national cultures opens up a cultural space -- a third space--where the negotiation of incommensurable differences creates a tension peculiar to borderline existences. . . Hybrid hyphenisations emphasize the incommensurable elements as the basis of cultural identities.

Bhabha was possibly inspired by the idea of Third Cultures, a term which may have been coined by Dr. Ruth Useem in the 60s. Here, she refers to the third culture as an "interstitial culture" between two or more cultures. Thus, what Third Spaces and Third Cultures have in common is the idea that individuals, especially children(termed by Useem as Third Culture Kids) who grow up with close contact to two or more cultures choose their own sets of values and beliefs, to create their own reference frameworks.

However, it is yet not clear to me whether these frameworks are to be understood as a mix and match of cultural elements selected from those cultures that they mostly interact with, (which we may term "hybridity") or if we should rather consider their frameworks to comprehend a number of common denominators, universal values and deeds which are then applicable in all cultures.

I am however, more likely to adopt Soraj Hongladarom's proposal for a theoretical framework: the distinction between thin and thick cultures (Hongladarom, 1998).

When participants of widely disparate cultures come to interact, what happens is that there emerge a kind of culture which is devoid of historical backgrounds that give each local culture its separate identity; it is, for example, the culture of international conferences. The newly emerging culture is comparable to piped music one hears in airports or in modern supermarkets; that is, it is shorn of its value, its role in a people’s scheme of things. It plays no part in the ritual of a traditional culture. In short, it has become sanitized and modernized. Let us call this kind of culture the ‘cosmopolitan’ one.(ibid., 241)

This 'cosmopolitan' culture is the thin culture. The thick culture then, should be understood as the culture in which values do exist, where the fine grain of everyday life can be found, in the local area of the city outside of the airport etc. Hongladarom then, seems to a have framework that involves not a lot of third spaces marbling the cultures of the world, but rather a sort of "umbrella" culture, one thinly spread over globe instead.

This draws associations with Marc Augés idea of Non-Places. Non-Places should be understood as spaces such as airports, supermarkets and highways. These are physical spaces which we enter in our everyday lives, but which are devoid of identity, history and culture, recognising them then as counterparts to anthropological places. The transitory nature of such places, seem somewhat relevant with regard to this thesis - something which I will undoubtedly be elaborating on later.

Do you see what I'm trying to get at? It would seem, then, that the non-anthropological places that Augé calls non-places, and which are considered to be devoid of culture and identity, could in fact lead to the construction of new cultures, although "thin".

These are all tentative thoughts and linkages, which I will of course continue to try to elaborate on. Might I just add at the end of this post that I am really quite impressed if you've read this far? ;-)

About the Research

Put simply, my somewhat ambitious research question sounds something like this:

In what ways does the Internet influence one's cultural identity and sense of belonging, and can we speak of an emerging cosmopolitan culture because of all this?

My interest lies especially in the theory of Late Modernity (see for instance, Anthony Giddens) and the idea that unlike the essentialist view on identity, where we all contain one true self, nowadays we all own a whole repertoire of identities, which we can wear as what suits best to the situation. We all like to tell a story about ourselves, as part of a reflexive discourse among ourselves, and in order to place ourselves in relation to others.

Speaking of cultural identity, I take on Stuart Hall's idea that it is not constructed only of where we come from and our roots, but also where we are and where we will be going in the future. The routes which we walk are therefore equally as essential as the roots from which we come from.

People like John Tomlinson also speak of the media and it's ability to "deterritorialise" - referring not to having land expropriated, but rather as the idea of people being "lifted out" from their surroundings and context to interact with an environment elsewhere. Can the Internet then, being reflective of cultures, deterritorialise us and help us keep in touch with past homes and thereby keep our transnational identity intact? With the Internet spreading over such a vast number of countries, can the rubbing of these against each other create new spaces, new cultures and new identities?

For now, I'm breaking this all up into tiny, tiny bits. Hopefully then, and with your help, I'll be able to come up with a potential answer.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

About This Blog

Perhaps this blog needs some explanation. It's probably a slightly different blog from what you are used to, in that it will rely very much on your comments to work. It's perhaps a little ambitious, yes I know, but it might just work.

Well, if you've found this weblog, you probably also know what it's about. I guess it's supposed to work as a forum, rather than a diary. It's actually for my research on the Internet and the effect it can have on cultural identities... and in particular, I'm hoping that it might have some potential in giving a form of quality in the lives of a certain group of people - multicultural kids, who have experienced being born in a country different from their parents', who have moved around alot or simply feel that they don't have one country which they consider to be home.

The name of this blog is my attempt to get to the core of the issue here - by transit, I refer to airports and terminals, and the stages and periods of our lives where we are throwing ourselves back and forth between countries and cultures. I think airport terminals are a nice symbol for where we feel comfortable - knowing that we can flee from one place to the other, but also knowing that we then foster a belonging to everywhere and nowhere - sometimes causing us to feel like cosmopolitans, or citizens of the world.

So, the idea is this: I raise an issue revolving the life-world of a multicultural person. I tell you what I think, and then I ask you to answer. What do you think?

About Me

I'm so sorry, you must think I'm terribly rude. Here I am, asking you to believe that all this sassy theory that I'm writing is so true and intellectual, while you might not even have a clue about who I am. I suppose I should do things properly.

So Hi.

My name is Elizabeth, and my life right now revolves around the MSc thesis that I'm writing. I'm enrolled at the IT-University of Copenhagen studying Design, Communication and Media, and while I thought I would end up focusing on webdesign, I have found that cultural studies with relation to IT are much more interesting (you may have noticed I haven't even bothered at this time to change the template for this blog to make me even seem slightly arty.)

While I find it really interesting to write this thesis, I am still looking forward to handing it in on the first of June and enjoying the summer so I can rediscover my very neglected passion for travelling, painting, cooking and (don't hold it against me!) interiour decorating.