The role of communication in a transcultural context.
Communication has always existed, it entirely makes part of who we are, what we do and where we come from. We’re all born among a certain group of people (our family, our social group, our culture) with whom we’ve learnt to live, and in an environment to which we are, deliberately or not, connected. In that way it is impossible not to communicate. Everything and everyone is related to each other through common perspectives at different levels.
If we look back, and link history with the world of today and tomorrow, we can easily show how communication is shaped according to a specific social context.
First of all, let’s talk about the ‘Single-cultures’. Led by three main concepts defined by English anthropologist Johann Gottfried Herder at 18th century (“social homogenization”, “ethnic consolidation” and “intercultural delimitation”), we can observe that everyone (describe as a “folk-bound”) follows the same rules in his own closed and hermetic sphere (a cleavage, no connection with the foreign). This is what happened as soon as the first cities and societies were created. In these cultures, with verbal and gestural communication (then written communication) as an intern mode of trading and exchange, people didn’t need to know about the other, but to organize around one authority.
Then, with ‘Interculturality’ and ‘Multiculturality’, foreign cultures are now took into consideration and observed but not accepted. Communication is both intern and extern but participates in developing power struggles and conflicts. In these types of inter and multicultural societies, thinking in a conservative way the concept of “folk-bound” or ethnic consolidation is still politically dangerous and may bring a separatism, a ghettoization and a cultural racism.
As you can imagine, there is necessary something better to which we tend today, where people communicate in the most shared and understanding way… Yes, and it’s called ‘Transculturality’.
In Spaces of Culture: City, Nation, World of Mike Featherstone and Scott Lash, this quite new concept comes from an “inner differentiation and complexity of modern cultures”. All is inter-connected and each culture is potentially an inner-content of one another (hybridization).
What is the role, the importance of communication in a transcultural context ?
In that part, I will mainly talk about interpersonal and direct communication through different points.
Before trying to answer that question, maybe it would be pertinent to re-define the term of culture and the different ways to relate it. Pellegrino Riccardi says it is “a system of behaviour that helps us act in an accepted or familiar way”. Indeed a culture gave us perspectives and points of view that we share with other people (from the same culture at least).
For Julien S. Bourrelle, there are three possible behaviours to adopt when we discover a new culture : to confront (when we think that “our behaviours are the right behaviours”), complain (when we “isolate ourselves into social bubbles living in segregation”), or to conform. In this last case we can benefit from diversity by observing and learning the behaviours. We adapt our own.
One of the first steps of communication today is curiosity. It allows to cross borders knowing as much as possible about other cultures, as long as we can adapt it to the people and the way they communicate. For example in Finland where the socialization is more framed and organized, there is an economy of language (talk less to tell a lot), on the contrary of England or Italia where people use long sentences to say a few things.
Most of the people are raised thinking that they will need to contribute to a group, be part of it and be interdependent members of that group. In other parts of the world, people are raised with the idea that they have to be self-sufficient. In both cases it leads to independent societies but the way to interact inside is different. For example the distance between people is important to feel and to understand because each person of each culture needs a minimal space around her. The non-respect of this distance can bring to misunderstandings. Hence, politeness is very important. In some cultures it’s about talking in a very strict and serious manner (so maybe we have to change our way of speaking to make us understand and well-considered), in others it simply means not to disturb, leave more physical space between people.
There is also another level of communication in the fact of following rules. They are not the same from a culture to another of course. In some countries like Norway the communication ends where the rules starts. In Italy it is the opposite. The communication, the persuasion by the speech starts as soon as people don’t want or can’t follow a rule (it is always possible to find a way to thwart anything).
Finally, communication and everything that is linked to it, is what we need to perceive and not to see. It becomes a way to create or to encourage diversity as well as increase creativity and innovation in a cross-cultural world.