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The essay examines intercultural communication from the perspective of three images and one text. Intercultural communication and intercultural business communication are intertwined phenomenon with both depicting or representing a multicultural environment or the use of different languages, beliefs, gestures, non-verbal form of communication, custom or distinct corporate ethics and culture (Cheney &Barnett 2005; Cushman &King 1994; Trompenaars &Wooliams 2003).
Culture and communication are the crucial variables involved in the discourse; theories of culture are numerous with no single generalization or conclusion about a definite connotation , for instance Allesandro (1997,p.23-47) submitted that culture is distinct from nature , a body of knowledge , a system of communication (signs and semiotics) , a system of mediation, system of practices , a system of participation. Communication is thus synonymous with culture; the dysfunctional factor in communication therefore makes cross cultural interaction and communication a subject of immense research. For instance Chandler(2000) applies the Shannon and Weaver model as an instance of levels of communication and the complexity involved with a technical problem ,semantic problem and effectiveness problem.
The main aim of this essay is to demonstrate the diversity of intercultural communication with the aid of pictures and text; the analysis would be done by considering theoretical works such as Chandlers semiotic analysis, Hofstede's dimensions to mention but a few.
Walt Disney experience in France
Walt Disney's entrance into the French market was subject to early losses and failure. The question is , what caused the failure, does it have anything to do with the theme of discourse?
First the spread of Americanization in terms of businesses and spread of culture , reflecting the spread of global brands like MacDonald's, the hip-hop music and the language dominance (English) was a good foundation but along the line certain variables were neglected; for instance cultural differences, corporate culture which also affects clothing style, struggle between American conformism and French Individualism , marketing strategies, cost of entrance, gestures and staff management or relations (Haviland 2004,p.197; Burgoyne 1995).
From the foregoing, the most crucial parts of the variables disclosed as problems encountered ( cultural differences and corporate culture) would be analysed. From the perspective of cultural differences , Hofstede's dimensions of culture would provide a strong background(www.geert-hofstede.com).
Fig 1: Hofstede's five dimension of culture- American and French perspectives
From Fig 1, Power Distance Index shows that the United States of America ranks low in terms of the extent to which power is distributed in unequally in that culture, while the French have a higher index. The Individualism index ranks the United States higher than France , which implies that a independence is highly prioritized as against collectivism of the latter ( Hofstede 1980; Trompenaars &Hampden-Turner 1997). Masculinity emphasises cultural preferences focused on material success, achievements and society, which in the case of the United States is higher than the French, on the other hand femininity focuses on relationship, quality of life and modesty ( Bhawuk 2001). Uncertainty avoidance Index, shows that the French society possesses institutions that reduces risks or uncertainties while the American in contrast believe that practice counts instead of principles, and rely less on written rules and are more risk tolerant.
The long term orientation depicts the degree to which a certain culture embraces continual devotion to specific traditional values, having a sense of shame, persistence, relationship by status. From the foregoing submission the United States seems to have a long term orientation, while though that of France was not disclosed, one can subscribe to the notion that France is also a long term oriented country (Clearlycultural.com).
The other crucial factor or variable is corporate culture. Trompenaars &Hadner -Turner (1997) posits that corporate culture is not only determined by variables such as technology, markets and institutions but they are mainly determined by cultural preferences and competencies of leaders. Certain aspects of the corporate culture of Walt Disney clashed with the French cultural preferences ; preferences like the act of wearing a smile regarded by Americans as a sign of respect and friendliness was in the French context regarded as an insult or a way of mocking or been taken for an idiot. Another issue was differences in insurance laws , the policy of Walt Disney of not serving alcohol in its park- which was a negation to the French custom , which allows for serving a glass of wine. Other cultural errors such as time of serving lunch and vacation times posed a cultural clash which resulted into the failure of Walt Disney at the beginning (Burgoyne 1995;Neulip 2009).
Intercultural communication from the perspective of images (Non-Verbal Communication)
The image in figure 2 represents the British Queen dressed in affluence, power, displaying an aristocratic lifestyle. The image is a representation of class as such it is an iconic sign. It further symbolises feminine beauty and attraction ,a noble lifestyle depicted by the crown and the other ornaments (Saussure 1983,p.121; Neulip 2009). From the perspective of iconic sign, the queen is an important symbol in the globe, if her ornaments , attires are given to someone else to wear and assume her position, the individual does not fully represent the facial look or the name nor the royal prestige. The theme that is displayed by the cultural theory of sign which reiterates the significance of the image, word ,sounds ; can be understood from the perspective of the signifier and the signified.
Sign is a term made popular by the works of Saussure, it denotes or connotes something out there in the real world (Chandler 2002). The application of signs and interpretation of signs thus depends on the individual and the environment.
Saussure identified the complacency of the concept , as he disclosed that linguistic sign does not unite a thing and name but concepts ,sound and image. The main theme or relevance to the image of the British Queen is related to semiotic analysis which considers the language of medieval culture or language of Renaissance culture. From that perspective evolves the two major approaches related to semiotics; iconography and visual semiotics. Visual semiotics refers to the studies of image itself and cultural meanings while iconography deals with the image as it is produced and circulated, it also ask the question of why cultural meanings and their visual expressions are represented in history (Leeuven &Jewitt 2001,p.92-94).
Fig 2: The British Queen
The icon in the analysis is depicted by Ward (2001, p.14) as an 'icon of affinity' or national deities , considering the submission of (Leeuven &Jewitt 2001,p.92-94) that the deities bear with them traditional as well as monarchical and a cultural public sphere ; McGuigan (2000,p.5,10) also supports the position with the submission that " Britain can do without the (.....)Crown in the parliament , but the British cannot do without the mental awareness and obeisance to the Queen".
The foregoing therefore reiterates the relevance of the Queen in the 21st century. The officialdom and the preservation of the dynasty despite changes in political system represents still the continuity of the royal duty and impact on public sphere. The official image of the Queen however does not derive its continuity and reverence as an institution totally from print technologies , visual codes of court portraits but most essentially it is a combination of oral history (passed from one generation to another) and verbal discourse (Strong 2003, p.163-164).
Semiotic analysis of the British Vogue -June 2008
Agyness Deyn's appearance in the British vogue depicts the theme of intercultural communication in terms of ; fashion and advertising which must appeal to certain variables which determine customer loyalty (Ree Lee 2002). The image portrays a female model with the youthful element of glamour and fashion with a short cropped hair style which signifies female autonomy. The semiotic element of freedom which signifies a soft appeal of the quality of the photograph alongside the relaxed mood of the model, the white background , white clothing which signifies the image of feminist liberation and beauty.
Fig 3: British Vogue -June 2008
The image falls under the visual semiotics category and as such; textual elements and colour elements are crucial. The image also reflects an expression of much space, an expression signifying wealth in terms of the luxury and elegance .The use of a blend of white and black alphabetical characters and the white label of the Vogue , with the title white heat, symbolises the relevance of the white colour in the British culture. The same colour is present in the British flag(aber.ac.uk) . The white colour from the British perspective symbolises peace and honesty.
The colour combination ,dominance and the presence of black in the characters , impression unifies the content of the image which signifies a romantic or reminiscent appeal to the product, romance also being associated with the feminine code of attraction. The sexual appeal of the model is confirmed by the models gaze at the audience and sitting posture. The signifier demonstrating the sexual appeal signifies power and strength which relays a message of seeking attention and gaining control of her audience. The textual analysis of "white heat" further reiterates the sexual appeal and appearance; the latter referring to the necklace which points to affluence , class and glamour(aber.ac.uk) . The gaze , posture and appearance ,social status negates patriarchal dominance, on the contrary it displays freedom. The crucial codes displayed are ; social codes , textual codes and interpretative codes, with sub-codes such as bodily codes, community codes and ideological codes.
Non-Verbal communication-Japanese Greeting ritual
Greeting rituals vary from one culture to another, thus it is a form of establishing social relations between people and a social construction of societal reality which is a form of non-verbal communication (Molinsky et al 2005). Fig 3 for instance shows the common greeting ritual of the Japanese.
Fig 3: Japanese greeting ritual
The analysis complies with cultural theories related to gestures , non-verbal communication which can be situated under the works of such scholars as Hofstede (2000), Haviland (2004) ,Spitzberg &Cupach (1994), Dalsky (2010) to mention but a few.
The theoretical construct of individualism and collectivism can be applied to the Japanese cultural dimension. Dalsky (2010) however opined that Japanese custom and cultural practices might evolve from being a collectivism based culture to individuality following the impact of globalization. Hofstede (1980) implicitly identified the Japanese as falling under the category of a collective culture as most other Asian countries.
The Japanese bowing greeting ritual is a customary form of non verbal communication ; which signifies social status or work status, a sign of reverence. For instance, junior workers are expected to bow for senior managers . The walking habit in Japan takes another dimension as Japanese work in short strides and drooping shoulders . The non verbal dimension of communication, eye contact; unlike in Germany and some other contacts where eye contact symbolises respect and honesty, the Japanese perceive eye contact during conversation or greeting as disrespect(Gudykunst &Nishida 1994).
From the perspective of individualism and collectivism, variables such as group interactions, office or work related norms distinguishes between the impact of the culture at individual level rather than collective. Dalsky (2010) research comparing Japanese and American individualism and collectivism evidenced disparity from the Japanese side , which further buttresses the point that culture is a dynamic constructivist phenomenon or concept. As such , the application of a particular theory to explain group or individual reactions to customs and cultures might be deficient.
The examination of three images or pictures and a text based on business relations in and intercultural setting shows the diversity of cultures and also the dynamism of the ways scholars perceive different cultures. Above all, intercultural communication could take different forms and produce several outcomes.