Its Own Distinctive Culture Cultural Studies Essay

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E.B. Taylor was the first to coin the term 'culture' in the eighteenth century. He said that the study of society becomes incomplete without proper understanding of culture of that society, because culture and society goes hand in hand. Man is a unique person who is born and brought up in an environment filled with culture.

"Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morale, laws, custom and any other capabilities and habits as acquired by man as a member of society."

"Culture as an organized body of conventional understandings, manifest in art which persisting through tradition, characteristics a human group".

Types of Culture:

(1) Material culture

(2) Non-material culture.

Material culture includes things like tools, utensils, machines, books, pens etc, which are tangible and visible i.e. are materialistic. In other words, he refers to the things that technology has given us or the whole apparatus of life, tools, utensils, every touchable things etc. as material culture. In the non-material aspects he included family, religion, government, customs, and traditions etc. which are not tangible or visible or can be touched.

Cultural Lag:

The non-material culture is often slow to respond to the rapid inventions in material culture. Always material culture changes at a faster rate and speed. But the non-material culture responses very slowly to such changes in material culture. This gives rise to the imbalance between the rate and speed of change between two parts of culture. When non-material culture does not change itself readily to material changes it falls behind the material culture and the result is a difference between the two which is known as a lag. This lag between material and non-material culture has been called 'cultural lag'.

For example:

(1) The discrepancy between the number of police officials and the growth of population. The growing cities have not increased their police force fast enough. The change in the number of police officials lags behind the change in population.

(2) During the last nineteenth century industry changed fast and the family lagged behind in its change as they did not adjust with the change.

(3) In twentieth century woman were slow in following their jobs outside the home.


Cultural differences manifest themselves in different ways and to different levels of depth. Symbols represent the most aped and value the deepest manifestations of culture, with heroes and rituals in between.

Symbols are words, gestures, pictures, or objects that carry a particular meaning which is only recognized by those who share a particular culture. New symbols easily develop, old ones disappear. Symbols from one particular group are regularly copied by others. This is why symbols represent the outermost layer of a culture.

Heroes are persons, past or present, real or fictitious, who possess characteristics that are highly prized in a culture. They also serve as models for behavior.

Rituals are collective activities, sometimes imaginary in reaching desired objectives, but are considered as socially essential. They are therefore carried out most of the times for their own sake (ways of greetings, paying respect to others, religious etc.)

The core of a culture is formed by values. They are broad tendencies for preferences of certain state of affairs to others (good or evil, right or wrong, natural or unnatural). Many values remain unconscious to those who hold them. Therefore they often cannot be discussed, nor can they be directly observed by others. Values can only be adapted or learnt from the way people act under different circumstances.

Symbols and rituals are the tangible or visual aspects of the practices of a culture. The true cultural meaning of the practices is intangible; this is revealed only when the practices are interpreted by the person himself from his inner mind.

Figure: Manifestation of Culture at Different Levels of Depth

Culture at work.

A person working in an organization goes through a lot of transfers, shifts, promotions etc. because of which he/she interacts with the environment other than the usual environment in which he was working. Promotions and shifts include changing the individual's position within the organization or in some other branch in the same country. Such changes do not affect a person much and an individual adjusts himself and adapt the changes soon. But as far as a transfer is concerned an employee can also be sent for work outside the respective country. In such a case an employee has to adapt the "change in culture". Changes in culture have to be handled otherwise it may lead to creation of cross cultural problems in the company.

Culture implies a pattern of beliefs and behavior. It is cultivated behavior in the sense that it is learnt from the other members of the society. Organizational culture is the totality of beliefs, customs, traditions and values shared by the members of the organization. The cultural characteristics of an organization are relatively enduring over time and relatively static in their propensity to change.

The Relationship between Communication and Culture

The relationship between communication and culture is a very complex and an important one. First, cultures are created through communication; that is, communication is the means of human interaction through which cultural characteristics whether customs, roles, rules, rituals, laws, or other patterns are comes into existence and are shared. It is not so much that individuals set out to create a culture when they interact in relationships, groups, organizations, or societies, but rather that cultures are a natural by-product of social interaction. In other words we can say, cultures are the "residue" of social communication. Without communication and means of communication, it would be impossible to preserve and pass along cultural characteristics from one place and time to another. One can say, therefore, that culture is created, shaped, transmitted, and learned through communication. The reverse is also the case; that is; communication practices are largely created, shaped, and transmitted by culture.

To understand the implications of this communication-culture relationship, it is necessary to think in terms of ongoing communication processes rather than a single communication event. For example, when a three-person group first meets, the members bring with them individual thought and behavioral patterns from previous communication experiences that they had and from other cultures of which they are, or have been, a part. As individuals start to engage in communication with the other members of this new group, they begin to create a set of shared experiences and ways of talking about them. If the group continues to interact, a set of distinguishing history, patterns, customs, and rituals will evolve. Some of these cultural characteristics would be quite obvious and tangible, such that a new person joining the group would encounter ongoing cultural "rules" to which they would learn to conform through communication. New members would in turn influence the group culture in small, and sometimes large, ways as they become a part of it. In a reciprocal fashion, this reshaped culture shapes the communication practices of current and future group members. This is true with any culture; communication shapes culture, and culture shapes communication.

Characteristics of Culture

Cultures are complex and are multifaceted means it means different to every different person. Every individual treats culture differently according to his own perception. We can say it is apparent from the above discussions, cultures are said to be complex "structures" that consist of a wide range of characteristics. The cultures of relationships or groups are relatively simple compared to those of organizations and, especially, societies as they involve large number of people working together or interacting with one another which makes it a complex structure. Edward Hall is one of the most significant contributors to the general understanding of the complexity of culture and the importance of communication to understanding and dealing with cultural differences at the societal level.

Cultures are mostly subjective. There is a tendency that people assume the elements of one's own cultures are logical and they make good sense out of it. It follows that if other culture whether of relationships, groups, organizations, or societies looks different, those differences are often considered to be negative, illogical, and sometimes a complete nonsense. If, for example, an individual happens to be in a romantic relationship that is characterized by public displays of affection, that person might think that the behaviors of other people who have more reserved relational cultures may seem strange, even inappropriate because he finds public display of affection to be a normal thing. The person might wonder why a romantic couple would not be more open in displaying affection to one another in public. The individual might even be tempted to conclude that the "reserved" relationship lacks depth and intensity because he thinks differently. And similarly the reserved couples would treat them as cheap couple. This phenomenon is true in a variety of situations. People who are used to informal meetings of a group might think that adherence to formal meeting rules is strange and stilted. Employees in an organization where suits are worn every day may react with a strange feeling and questioning when they enter an organization where casual attire is standard practice. Someone from a culture that permits one man to have only one wife may find it quite inappropriate that another culture allows one man to have multiple wives. With regard to culture, the tendency for many people is to equate "different" with "wrong," even though all cultural elements come about through essentially identical communication processes and this actually leads to the gap between the cross-cultural communication.

Cultures change over time. In fact, cultures are ever changing though the change is sometimes very slow and undeterminable. Many forces influence cultural change. As explained above, cultures are created through communication, and it is also through communication between individuals that cultures change over time. Each person involved in a communication brings the sum of his or her own experiences from other (past or present) culture memberships. In one sense we can say, any encounter between individuals in new relationships, groups, organizations, or societies is an intercultural communication event, and these varying cultural encounters influence the individual and the cultures over time. Travel and communication technologies also have a great greatly influence. The movement of messages from one cultural context to another, and in small and large ways, cultures comes to influence one another through communication. Phrases such as "melting pot," "world community," speak to the inevitability of intercultural influence and change.

Cultures are mainly invisible. Most of them characterize cultures of relationships, groups, organizations, or societies are invisible to its members, much as the air is invisible to those who breathe it. Language, of course, is visible, as are greeting conventions, special symbols, places, and spaces. However, the special and defining meanings that these symbols, greetings, places, and spaces have for individuals in a culture are far less visible. For example, one can observe individuals kissing when they greet, but unless one has a good deal more cultural knowledge, it is difficult to determine what the behavior means in the context of the culture of their relationship, group, organization, or society. As another example, beefsteak is one of their special dishes in many cultures. However, in a country like India or any other country, if one were a vegetarian or a member of a culture where the cow is sacred, that same steak would have been treated in an entirely different manner and would not be accepted as a dish to be eaten.

If I would have been working in a multinational firm and have been transferred to Japan for five years on a project than I would have taken steps to understand and manage the diversity around me. When a person is being sent for work outside his home country, he faces various difficulties since the culture, norms, behavior patterns, perception, attitude of every individual and a country is different. A person who has come from one country to another for work carries his own values and culture with him which might put him into problems in carrying out his work efficiently.

Culture includes one's beliefs, attitudes, and norms, values which is adapted or learnt by a person from his very childhood from the environment around him.

If I would be sent to Japan on an assignment then the factors that I would have taken care of or would have scanned the following factors to avoid cross cultural communication are:

The Cultural factor

Culture is the values, attitudes, and the way of doing things a person learns during the socialization process. The cultural factor impacts the cross cultural communication because the norms and practices a person acquires and the practices in their country and local community will be different from and clash with the norms of the co-workers brought up in different countries and society.

The Racial factor

This factor refers to how one's conscious membership in a particular race effects how they interact with the employees in the workplace who come from different cultures. Racial identity is more of a factor in the Unites States and many people find adjusting problems due to racial discrimination. Some adjusts and some give up and asks for shifting them from a place where they have faced such a behavior.

The Ethnic factor

This factor highlights the role ethnicity plays in how two co-workers from two different cultures interact with one another. For example in United states, while European Americans are less likely to take their ethnicity into account while communicating, but members of other ethnic groups such as African Americans, Latin Americans and Asian Americans are most likely to consider their ethnicity backgrounds in the communication process.

The Gender Factor

This means that communication between members of different cultures is affected by how different societies and countries view the roles of men and women. Like in some countries women are not even allowed to work or step out of their houses. For example in Arab countries women are not allowed to show their face and hide themselves under the veil.

The Individual factor

This means that how a person communicates with others belonging from other culture depends on their own unique personality traits and how they esteem themselves.

The Social Class factor

It refers to the level of society that a person was born into or references when determining who they want to be and how they will act accordingly.

The Age factor

It means how members of different age groups interact with one another. In old terms this might be thought of in terms of generation gap. More hierarchical cultures like China, Thailand and Cambodia pay great deference and respect to their elders and take their elders opinion into account when making life changing decisions. Cultures like US are different and have a different mindset .They don't take advices of their elders while making any important decisions. This impacts the communication in the workplace.

The Roles Identity factor

It refers to the different roles a person plays in his or her life in their personal life as a mother, father, wife, husband or professional life like employer, employee etc. How two members of a workplace of two different cultures view these various roles influences how they will interact with their fellow colleagues or counterpart.

I would have scanned the environment of Japan on these basis and tried to solve the problems of cross cultural communication by:

Understanding their culture

First knowing about the audience and then matching the message according to their needs and style.

Respecting their language

Be mindful while sending the message

Actively listening and check for understanding

Acting authentically