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1.4: Intercultural Communication as an Academic Discipline

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    Intercultural Communication as an academic discipline

    There are a variety of approaches to study and research intercultural communication (see Leeds-Hurwitz, 2010; Rogers & Hart, 2002). As an academic discipline, it is often traced back to anthropologist Edward T. Hall and his book The Silent Language (1959). Hall was above all concerned with creating greater cultural awareness among employees of the US Department of State. He was striving to improve the ability of US technicians and diplomats to interact effectively with their foreign counterparts. Given that perspective, his approach was understandably more practical than theory-based. That pragmatism continues to be important in the field, as a central goal is to provide individuals with practical information that can be used in everyday encounters (Rogers & Steinfatt, 1999).

    Much of the early development of intercultural communication occurred in North America, and North American scholars represented the principal contributors to scholarly activity in intercultural communication through most of the 20th century. However, beginning in the 1990s, the field became increasingly internationalized. European scholars have contributed important new insights and approaches to intercultural communication (Byram, 1997; Holliday, 2010; Hua, 2013; Spencer-Oatey & Franklin, 2009), as have Australian and New Zealand scholars (Piller, 2017; Schirato & Yell, 2002). These scholars tend to focus more centrally on language issues than is the case for intercultural communication research in North America.

    Through the contributions of researchers from Africa, China, Latin America, and India, there has been a growing recognition that Western approaches to intercultural communication need to be supplemented – and in some cases corrected – through the different life experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives offered by non-Western scholars. One example is the anthropocosmic perspective presented in a recent Chinese textbook on intercultural communication (Jia & Li, 2019), which is based on the concepts of dao (道, "the path", the way to enlightenment through cosmic harmony) and ren (仁, "benevolence", empathy and responsibility for fellow humans). There have been in recent years more calls for indigenous perspectives on intercultural communication (Miike, 2007). Particularly welcome would be more insights from African scholars (Miller, 2005). In the latter part of the 20th century, there has been considerable interest in critical intercultural communication, which views intercultural communication within the context of power structures (see Jackson, 2010; Piller, 2017). That perspective will inform much of the discussion of intercultural communication in this textbook.

    Since Hall’s time, a great variety of disciplines have contributed to the field, including applied linguistics, business communication, social psychology, and international studies. In fact, intercultural communication is taught within a variety of academic units. Given the practical usefulness of easing communication among those representing different cultures and languages, it is logical that intercultural communication figures prominently in areas where such interactions are common and expected. In many countries, that will include tourism, medical care, and/or education. In the US, intercultural communication is taught most commonly within programs in communication studies, while in other Anglophone countries, it is considered a subdivision of applied linguistics. Professional organizations often bring together scholars from a variety of disciplines. Indeed, that is one of the enriching characteristics of the field, that it draws on knowledge and experience representing a great variety of academic fields. This textbook will incorporate aspects of research in intercultural communication as represented in a variety of disciplines. The disciplines use different research methodologies, have differing goals, and address issues from a variety of perspectives. Some use primarily quantitative data, others are more qualitatively oriented. In the end, these different approaches complement each other and together provide a more complete picture then would reliance on a single discipline (see Kotthoff & Spencer-Oatey, 2007).

    Contributors and Attributions

    Language and Culture in Context: A Primer on Intercultural Communication, by Robert Godwin-Jones. Provided by LibreTexts. License: CC-BY-NC

    1.4: Intercultural Communication as an Academic Discipline is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Tom Grothe.