Introduction to Communication Theory/Culture

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Every human being passes through a development period of enculturation. Traits and taboos are passively and actively enculcated through childhood and adolescence. Though individual will curtails some habits, every individual learns at least a part of their native culture. Some may live in interstitial communities, becoming both bilingual and bicultural while others learn later in life how to move through the earth's diverse human populations. But regardless, we all carry our culture with us and in our daily lives, enact culture. Culture, like communication, is a process.

Within communication theory, scientists often study the interaction of people from different cultures. As culture is not a static concept, the very definition of culture becomes broader than you may have assumed. For instance, have you thought of the separation of boys and girls as being a form of cultural separation? For years, Deborah Tannen has studied the language and cultural differences of men and women, girls and boys, within American society. She has found a prevalence of communication differences between genders, that often lead to miscommunication between the two. Consider the difference in culture of people raised in agrarian (rural) and urban (city) environments. The 2004 U.S. Presidential Election shows both diversity and homogeneity of American voting habits. The dark blue areas, representing democrats, mark the waterways and coastal regions of the U.S. The red areas show the geography of the U.S. with a low population per square mile. While many point out the "purple" mixtures of heterogeneous voters, it is clear that there are vast areas of America differentiated by vote. Might they be distanced in culture as well? Though English is the standard (not official) language of the United States, there are many ways of speaking it and there are many regions where other languages are dominant. Intercultural communication is not necessarily International communication. Nor must the interlocutors necessarily belong to different regions or different towns. Within every context, we recreate culture (see: Adaptive Structuration Theory) and redefine what our native culture actually is. It is when we come into contact with a person that is separate from our own culture that we engage in intercultural communication, and forge a synthesis of cultures.

Imagine that you have just awoken in a foreign place. There are no trees, no buildings, there is only sand and brush for as far as you can see into the horizon. But there is something else, another person. From the very moment you notice the person, still asleep, you have made judgements. What are they wearing, do they have any markings on their skin, and what color is their skin, and what kind of footwear is that, and are they wearing jewelry, and are they wearing jewelry on their fingers? From the first moment you see a person you're mind produces many questions, questions you've learned from your own culture and from your own experience, questions that make sense of the signs that your senses are perceiving. Signs from the raw data of your environment. But when the signs are about another person, they are forms of communication. If the person has a ring, are they married, if they have jewelry are they rich, if they're not wearing shoes are they laid back, informal, or otherwise defined? With each quantum of perception your brain mind attempts to identify culture.

Your unwitting company has now awoken. Now they are making judgements. Soon one of you will attempt bilateral communication. Until this point you've only been a receiver, and by your own learned admission, a rather unsure receiver. But now you have the opportunity to confirm some of your judgements, whether conscious or unconsciously reached. From the very first moment you notice the other person has seen you, even more judgements rush to your head. How will they acknowledge my presence, and what are they thinking about their own. What is their self-awareness, what is their awareness of me, the Other. If they look into your eyes, is it a sign of compassion or a threat? You open your mouth, a sign from your own culture (and a fairly common sign amongst others) that you intend to speak, to communicate verbally. But the other person upon hearing your words steps back several feet, as if threatened. Nonverbal communication it seems, will be your intercultural starting point. At this point a microculture is being defined. Though it is only a relationship, and a shallow one at that, it has become a confluence of two cultures. How you and the Other will develop this new acquaintance is uncertain. At some point you will have successfully communicated a message nonverbally. Your Other already has. It is through communicative competence whether learned through academia, life or intuition, that you and the Other will build a new culture. This may be a temporary culture, lasting only a day, or it may grow as something more lasting. Still, from the building blocks of universal communication between two people, you will use symbolic communication to convey your intents and negotiate your situation.