Edwin Hoffman en Arjan Verdooren - Diversity competence



Edwin Hoffman and Arjan Verdooren

u i t g e v e r ij


c o u t i n h o

Diversity competence

For Fabian and Hannah Edwin Hoffman

For my father Paul, from whom I learned so much Arjan Verdooren

Diversity competence Cultures don’t meet, people do

Edwin Hoffman Arjan Verdooren

c u i t g e v e r ij

c o u t i n h o

bussum 2018

www.coutinho.nl/diversitycompetence This book has a companion website. Available on this website are: extra study assignments, extra case discussions and TOPOI cards.

© 2018 Uitgeverij Coutinho bv All rights reserved.

No parts of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, storing in an in formational retrieval system or otherwise, without prior permission from the publisher, unless it is in accordance with the exemptions established in the Copyright Law of 1912. For reprographic reproduction as permitted on the basis of Article 16h of the Copyright Law of 1912, the legally required fee should be paid to Stichting Reprorecht (PO Box 3051, 2130 KB Hoofddorp, the Netherlands, www.reprorecht.nl). Enquiries concerning the reproduction of parts of this publication in anthologies, readers and other compi lations (Article 16, Copyright Law 1912) should be made to the publication and repro graphic rights organization: Stichting PRO, PO Box 3060, 2130 KB Hoofddorp, the Neth erlands, www.stichting-pro.nl).

Uitgeverij Coutinho PO Box 333 1400 AH Bussum The Netherlands info@coutinho.nl www.coutinho.nl

Cover design: Concreat, Utrecht Cover image: section of ‘Coloured Drawings’ by Marlene Dumas (collection KIT Royal Tropical Institute) Layout: studio Pietje Precies bv, Hilversum Note from the publisher Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders. Persons or organizations wishing to assert specific rights are kindly requested to contact the publisher.

ISBN 978 90 469 0598 2 NUR 812


We chose the artwork ‘Coloured Drawings’ for the cover because to us it rep resents one of the main notions of this book. ‘Coloured Drawings’, by South African-born painter Marlene Dumas, consist of portraits of people of various ethnic backgrounds; some in detail, some in sketch. At first glance the portraits seem to clearly depict certain groups, but a closer look reveals the uniqueness of every face. They form a reference to attempts to categorize people through out the ages and, at the same time, to the unlikeliness of meeting individuals who neatly conform to constructed categories. The problem with stereotypical categorizations is that, in the end, they rarely do justice to individual people. This book is itself the result of an international cooperation; it was written mainly in Sweden and Austria, for a publisher located in the Netherlands. The cooperation between ourselves – Edwin and Arjan – goes back several years, when Arjan got in touch with Edwin after having been inspired by Ed win’s earlier publications on the TOPOI model. This led to an intensive coop eration on an ambitious project for a client in the Netherlands. When the op portunity for this book arose, it felt very natural to take it on together. It was a very enjoyable and enriching journey to share and sharpen our ideas along the way, and we can only hope that this mutual inspiration can be felt while reading this book. However, we could not have written this book without the help, support and inspiration from many others during – and even before – the writing process. This also gives us the opportunity to remember and thank Leonel Brug, Arjan’s main mentor when entering this field, who sadly passed away in 2013. Leonel was the first person to make him consistently understand intercultural commu nication primarily as communication between people . Though writing was not among Leonel’s many unique talents, we are confident that some of his ideas and convictions live on in this book. Many others have helped with the creation of this book. First of all, we would like to thank the great people at Coutinho Publishers who contributed in vari ous ways in different stages: Marianne Kruyskamp, Michel van de Graaf, Josée Bierlaagh, Louise Prompers, Simone Baddou, Sjoukje Rienks, Andrea Verbeek, Steffie van der Horst, Lorenzo de Jongh, Asaf Lahat (freelance editor) and Bren-

da Vollers (freelance proofreader). Several people have been willing to give their feedback on the publication proposal or early versions of chapters: Marcel van der Poel, Sushy Mangat, Marcel Catsburg, Pauline Hörmann, Astrid Schiepers, Job Arts, Hans Hasselt, Katarina Tucker Spijksma, Bram van Renterghem, Pat rick Gruczkun, Sinan Çankaya and Jasper Verdooren – thank you all! A special thanks to Francien Wieringa and Everard van Kemenade who both proofread and commented on every single chapter, and to Alice Johansson for being a patient and critical sounding board at any time of the day, seven days a week. All remaining flaws are obviously entirely our own responsibility. Last but not least, many thanks to the participants of our workshops, lectures and training programmes over the years. Their experiences, questions and re flections have been a key inspiration and resource for this book: thank you, be dankt, danke schön, tack så mycket, terima kasih!

Edwin Hoffman, Velden am Wörthersee, Austria Arjan Verdooren, Göteborg, Sweden January 2018


Introduction: intercultural communication in a globalized world



Culture: everywhere and nowhere

23 23 24 25 26 27 29 31 33 34 34 35 36 39 40 40 42 43 44 45 47 49 49 50 51 52 54 55 57 58 61


1.1 What is culture?

1.1.1 Culture is everywhere – and nowhere

1.1.2 Culture and groups 1.1.3 Culture as repertoire 1.1.4 Cultures and history 1.1.5 Cultural heterogeneity 1.1.6 Transnational cultures

1.2 The workings of culture

1.2.1 Culture as a model of and for reality

1.2.2 Culture and familiarity 1.2.3 Cultural mixing

1.2.4 Not every difference is cultural

1.3 Cultures and individuals 1.3.1 Multicollectivity

1.3.2 Radical individuality

1.3.3 People as products and producers of culture 1.3.4 First-order and second-order desires

1.3.5 Culture and context

1.4 Study assignments


From intercultural competence to diversity competence


2.1 Intercultural perspective

2.1.1 Intercultural interactions

2.2 Strangeness

2.2.1 Strangeness and unfamiliarity 2.2.2 Strangeness as a threat 2.2.3 Selective perception and hostility

2.2.4 ‘Allergic reactions’ 2.2.5 Strangeness and identity

2.3 Intercultural competence 2.3.1 Response patterns

61 63 64 66 68 72 73 75 76 77 77 78 78 80 82 83 86 88 89 92 93 94 95 97 98

2.3.2 Normalization

2.3.3 Multicollectivity and intercultural competence 2.3.4 Knowledge, attitude and skills 2.3.5 Developing intercultural competence 2.3.6 Complexity and not-knowing

2.3.7 Diversity competence

2.4 Study assignments


Critical diversity issues: power and ethics


3.1 Power

3.1.1 Power and culture

3.1.2 Power, groups and privilege 3.1.3 Power, professions and positions 3.1.4 Stories and stereotypes 3.1.5 Stories and power: history and present

3.1.6 Defining ‘the other’ and intercultural communication

3.1.7 Exclusion and unconscious bias

3.2 Ethics

3.2.1 Universalism, relativism and pluralism

3.2.2 Universalism (monism)

3.2.3 Relativism

3.2.4 Universalism versus relativism

3.2.5 Pluralism

3.2.6 Pluralism and dialogue

100 103 105 109 110 111 113 113 114 114 115 116

3.2.7 Human universals, capabilities and commonalities

3.2.8 Human rights

3.2.9 Criticizing other cultures

3.2.10 Ethics in practice: circle of influence

3.3 Study assignments


Diversity-sensitive communication and the TOPOI model


4.1 Discussion of concepts

4.2 Culturalizing is very understandable 4.3 Risks of a culturalizing approach

4.4 Intercultural communication is interpersonal communication

4.5 Interpersonal communication: content, relationship and common sense 4.5.1 Common sense as collective experiences 4.5.2 Common sense as prejudice and stereotype 4.6 Interpersonal communication: a circular process

119 121 123 123 125 128 130 135 137 138 139 141 142 144 146 146 147 147 149 150 151 152 153 155 156 159 160 161 162 162 163 164 165 165 167

4.7 The TOPOI model

4.8 The TOPOI model in a scheme

4.9 Applying the TOPOI model to a practical situation

4.10 Study assignments


The TOPOI area Tongue: verbal and non-verbal language


5.1 Context

5.1.1 Contextual cues

5.1.2 High-context and low-context communication

5.2 Verbal and non-verbal language

5.3 Verbal language

5.3.1 Importance of native language 5.3.2 Speaking in the native language 5.3.3 Awareness of language positions 5.3.4 International English 5.3.5 Language transfer 5.3.6 Pronunciation and accent

5.3.7 Vocabulary

5.3.8 Denotative and connotative meaning of words

5.3.9 Translation and connotation

5.3.10 Interpersonal verbal communication styles

5.3.11 Implicit language

5.3.12 Meanings of ‘yes’ and ‘no’

5.3.13 Humour 5.3.14 Topics

5.3.15 The principle of cooperation in a conversation

5.3.16 Turn-taking

5.3.17 Giving verbal attention: backchannels

5.3.18 Forms of address

5.3.19 Politeness

5.3.20 Email communication

5.4 Non-verbal language

168 168 169 170 170 171 172 172 173 173 174 174 175 175 177 178 179 181 181 182 182 183 184 185 185 187 187 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 199 200 202 209

5.4.1 Perception

5.4.2 Forms of non-verbal language

5.4.3 Facial expressions

5.4.4 Expression of feelings and intentions

5.4.5 Haptics

5.4.6 Emblematic gestures 5.4.7 Giving attention non-verbally

5.4.8 Eye contact 5.4.9 ‘Taboo’ gestures 5.4.10 Walking and moving

5.4.11 Laughing

5.4.12 Key

5.4.13 Paralinguistics or prosody

5.4.14 Proxemics: use of space and distance 5.4.15 Chronemics: the communicative value of time

5.4.16 Silence

5.4.17 Olfactics: odours and smell 5.4.18 Artefacts, clothing and appearance

5.4.19 Colour 5.4.20 Greetings

5.4.21 Non-verbal polite behaviour

5.5 Language and common sense 5.6 Core reflections on Tongue

5.7 Study assignments


The TOPOI area Order: views and logic


6.1 Punctuation: a process of ordering

6.2 Subjective views

6.3 The influence of collective world views

6.4 Collective world views

6.4.1 Utilitarianism 6.4.2 Confucianism

6.4.3 National world views

6.4.4 Dimensions of collective world views

6.5 Cognition and logic

6.5.1 What do you see, what do you think? 6.5.2 ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ thinking 6.5.3 Inductive and deductive thinking

6.6 Core reflections on Order 6.7 Study assignments

210 210


The TOPOI area Persons: identity and relationship

213 213 215 217 218 220


7.1 Recursivity in communication 7.1.1 Recursivity in groups 7.2 Interpersonal perspectives

7.3 How people want to engage with one another

7.3.1 Collectivistic vs. individualistic 221 7.3.2 Masculine and assertive vs. feminine and humanely oriented 221 7.3.3 Division of roles between men and women 222 7.3.4 Hierarchical and sensitive to status vs. egalitarian and informal 223 7.3.5 Universalistic vs. particularistic 225 7.3.6 Specific vs. diffuse 226 7.4 Face and honour 230 7.5 Multiple identity 232 7.6 Symmetrical or complementary relationship? 233 7.7 The impact of ‘common senses’ on interpersonal perspectives 238 7.7.1 Norm images 240 7.8 Core reflections on Persons 241 7.9 Study assignments 241


The TOPOI area Organization

243 243 244 245 246 248 249 250 250 251 251 253 257 258


8.1 Culture or organization? 8.2 The macro-institutional context 8.2.1 Globalization: social media 8.2.2 Legislation and regulations

8.2.3 The political context and structural power relations

8.2.4 The socio-economic context 8.2.5 The geographical context

8.3 The meso-institutional context 8.3.1 Diversity management

8.3.2 Leadership style

8.3.3 Virtual international teams

8.3.4 Establishing a cooperation and communication culture

8.4 The micro-institutional context

260 260 261 262 264 264 265 266 266 267 269 269 271 272 274 274 275 276 278 280 280 281 282 283 285 285 287 287 288 289 290 291 291

8.4.1 Meetings

8.4.2 Participation in meetings 8.4.3 Decision-making and meetings

8.4.4 Confirming agreements and decisions in writing

8.4.5 Time

8.4.6 The seating arrangement

8.4.7 Business cards

8.5 Core reflections on Organization

8.6 Study assignments


The TOPOI area Intentions: motives


9.1 All behaviour is communication: you cannot not communicate 9.1.1 Inner side and outer side: intentions and effects 9.2 The hypothesis of the best: behind every behaviour there is positive intention 9.2.1 When positive intentions are difficult to recognize 9.3.1 The stability layers in cultures as a way to ground emotions 9.3.2 The value orientations of Florence Kluckhohn and Fred Strodtbeck 9.3 What motivates people?

9.4 Recognition, rejection and disregard

9.4.1 Recognition 9.4.2 Rejection 9.4.3 Disregard

9.5 Common sense and intentions 9.6 Core reflections on Intentions

9.7 Study assignments


TOPOI interventions


10.1 Deculturalize and normalize 10.2 Involvement, attention and trust

10.2.1 ‘Reading the air’ 10.2.2 Active listening

10.2.3 Empathy

10.3 The hypothesis of the best

292 294 297 298 300 303 304 306 306 307 309 310 311 312 313 315 317 317 319 323

10.3.1 Take a detour 10.3.2 Recognition

10.3.3 Avoiding truth battles

10.3.4 Reframing and transformative learning

10.3.5 Giving space

10.3.6 Focusing on the effects of communication

10.4 Asking for and giving clarification 10.4.1 Making explicit and checking 10.4.2 Asking for and giving feedback

10.4.3 Metacommunication

10.4.4 Observing, informing and adapting

10.5 Language positions and speaking one’s own language 10.6 Attention for social contexts: common senses 10.7 Reflections and interventions of the TOPOI model in a scheme

10.8 Study assignments


Applications of the TOPOI model


11.1 ‘Cultural boundaries impacting the effectiveness of my global team’

11.2 Unexpected requests





Information about the authors



This book has a companion website, which can be accessed at www.coutinho.nl/diversitycompetence . Available on this website are: ■■ extra study assignments; ■■ extra case discussions: applications of the TOPOI model; ■■ TOPOI cards.

Introduction: intercultural communication in a globalized world

1 Why this book? To say that people today live in a dynamic and diverse world sounds like stating the obvious. Globalization – however you define it – implies more frequent and intense connections between people of various ethnic, national and reli gious backgrounds than ever before; be it through travel, migration or virtual communication through internet, email and social media. Paying attention to cultural differences and intercultural communication and competence in the workplace, whether in the classroom or in the private sphere, therefore seems logical. Confrontations with people of different cultural backgrounds are often, and unavoidably, expected to lead to confusion, miscommunication or even conflict. This premise follows an understanding of culture that connects it exclusive ly to nationality, ethnicity and (more recently) religion. It is a premise from a time when cultural differences were associated with travelling or moving to other countries or regions. Much of the traditional literature on intercultural communication and competence reflects and follows this premise, as it was often aimed at adapting to another culture or engaging with newcomers to a society. Both the common sense and the academic view implicitly regarded cul ture as something static, which would continue to steer its members’ behaviour, thoughts and feelings in consistent ways, regardless of context, period or indi vidual. While intercultural communication and competence remains an important field and resource, it should be questioned if the same conceptualization of cul ture that guided early approaches should be applied to interactions in today’s world. First of all, the context of today’s ‘intercultural’ interactions is much more dynamic and diverse than before. Migration has made many societies and cities ‘superdiverse’ (Vertovec, 2007), with communities hosting within themselves a wide range of generations, beliefs and religions, political convictions, migra tion histories and socio-economic positions. Corporations employ people from multiple nationalities who often have living and working experience in several countries or even continents. Both governance and politics are characterized by a complex interplay of institutions on the local, national and supranational


Diversity competence

level. Intercultural communication and competence hence needs to address not just a single adaptation to another cultural environment or community, but the ability to continuously adjust to a wide array of needs, habits and expectations. Secondly, culture itself in such a diverse context should be reconsidered. Even though cultures have often wrongly been seen as static and uniform ‘straight jackets’, in an environment with so much interconnection and exchange, the di versity and dynamics within and between cultures need to be taken even more seriously. There are then two common scenarios for how globalization relates to cultur al diversity. The first scenario is that it leads to an increasingly homogeneous world where everyone is influenced by the same worldwide, ‘Westernized’ cul ture. This view is often criticized, because it denies the diversity between the varied globalized discourses and cultural influences; the ‘West’ itself is far from homogeneous. Additionally, these discourses and influences do not only flow from ‘West’ to ‘non-West’, or from the powerful to the less powerful, but also vice versa. McDonald’s is globalized, but so are yoga and sushi. ‘Hollywood’ is globalized, but so are various branches of Islam and Black Lives Matter. The second scenario is that globalization only leads to superficial changes where everyone uses the same smartphones and tablets, watches the same movies and listens to the same music, yet at the same time continues to be steered by deep and time-independent core values that almost magically create homogeneous national groups. This view ignores the diversity, developments and conflicts within groups, as well as the fact that people can be truly and deeply affected by cultural phenomena outside their own ‘traditional’ heritage, as we will see later in this book. The first view would claim that globalization will soon make attention for in tercultural communication and competence obsolete, whereas the second view would argue that traditional intercultural models and approaches will invari ably remain relevant. We subscribe to the view that globalization does thoroughly change the scene for cultural and intercultural phenomena, by offering people a more diverse and dynamic range of cultural influences and inspirations. On the one hand, this makes people more different , because within national, ethnic or religious groups they can be influenced by many other cultural patterns outside their ‘traditional’ heritage. On the other hand, it can make people more similar across



those groups, because their participation in globalized cultural fields can bring unexpected common references, ideas and habits. We believe that an approach to intercultural communication and competence should take these developments into account. This does not mean that previous theories or approaches have become irrelevant: it does mean that they should be reviewed, interpreted and, where necessary, expanded in the light of the cur rent global context. This book is an attempt to do so. 2 What is the aim of this book? Our aim has been to write a practice-theoretical book, i.e. one that provides practical guidelines that are firmly based in theory and research, while at the same time exploring the practical implications of relevant theories and studies. By doing so, we hope to contribute to the existing literature on intercultur al communication and competence. In our view, this literature is either high ly practically oriented, often relying on anecdotal sources (which is useful for practical reflection, but not for academic development), or highly theoretical (which serves academic purposes but rarely provides feasible practical applica tions). We hope that this book will, to some extent, bridge this gap. For this reason, the book provides a generous amount of theory, and can there fore be read as an overview of ideas on and studies of intercultural communi cation and competence. At the same time, we will argue for a specific vision of and approach to intercultural communication and competence, which will also provide the structure and build-up of the subsequent chapters. However, we make our argument from the conviction that there is no defini tive truth about or approach to intercultural communication. We do not sub scribe to the science-philosophical view that science can provide an absolute and definitive answer to social matters by researching and measuring social life (known as positivism). This is not to say that such studies cannot yield interest ing insights and suggestions, and from that perspective we gladly make use of their results in this book. We believe that a more critical approach to any kind of knowledge and its sources (known as constructivism) brings highly impor tant questions to the intercultural field, yet often offers relatively few answers – especially for practitioners. In this book we try to carve out some of the im plications of such questions. In the end, what this book offers is a proposal on how to see and ‘do’ intercul tural communication. This proposal is based on existing theory and research


Diversity competence

as well as our own experiences from many years of intercultural training and consultancy. Many examples mentioned here come from our training sessions, workshops, lectures and consultancy projects. We can only hope that this book will contribute to the ongoing dialogue on intercultural communication as an academic and practical discipline. This book is structured in such a way that each chapter offers an increasing level of complexity and detail to our approach. We hope that each chapter will offer some satisfying thoughts and guidelines which are further enhanced and elab orated in subsequent chapters. Most chapters can also be read independently and more or less in random order, especially for those already familiar with the field of intercultural communication and competence. Every chapter, except for the last one, closes with two study assignments for further reflection. The last chapter is devoted to a case discussion based on the TOPOI model. Many more study assignments and case discussions can be found online at www.coutinho. nl/diversitycompetence. Finally, we should add that in writing this book we have not been completely objective – who or what truly is? – as we have been guided by the normative underpinnings of our own thinking and writing. In a time of distrust and hostil ity between people of different backgrounds, when fear of the other and fear of strangers is often encouraged and cultivated, and some once again look to walls between people as a solution to global and social challenges, we cannot help but believe that greater understanding and better communication between people of different national, ethnic or religious backgrounds could indeed contribute to the well-being of the world’s many different inhabitants. 3 For whom is this book intended? This book is intended for everyone who wants to learn more about the theo ry and practice of intercultural communication and competence. Firstly, it is aimed at students of universities and universities of applied sciences following programmes in the fields of business and management, project management, governance, organizational science, migration, human resources, media, com munication, journalism, international/global development, education, ped agogy, teaching and psychology. Secondly, the book is aimed at trainers and consultants in the field of (cultural) diversity, intercultural communication and competence, and international business and cooperation. Thirdly, we hope this book can be of interest to anyone working in an international or multicultural environment, be it in the corporate world, the public sector, at an NGO or as a volunteer. And last but not least, it is aimed at anyone interested in reading



and learning about intercultural communication and competence. It is our pro found hope that this book will bring something valuable to all readers.

4 What is the main approach of this book? The following aspects form the main elements of the approach followed in this book: Focus on intercultural interaction, not cultural transitions The focus of this book is on intercultural interaction : encounters between peo ple of different cultural backgrounds. This means that we do not take culture as such as a starting point, but rather the interactions between individuals with different cultural backgrounds. We look at the potential barriers that can arise in those situations, and at approaches and interventions to deal with them. This is different from an approach that, for example, takes cultural transitions as a starting point. Such an approach looks at the individual who comes into con tact with another culture and society, often by moving or travelling there, and faces the challenges of having to adjust to that new society. This distinction is obviously not absolute – someone who moves to another country will unavoidably engage in interactions with local people. We believe, however, that cultural transitions provide quite different challenges as com pared to interacting with people of a wide variety of nationalities or ethnicities in changing settings – which is often the case in today’s business, governmental and educational environments. In these cases, it is not so much a matter of ad justment (which furthermore raises the question: who should adjust to whom?) as of identifying, pursuing and achieving mutual goals. Consequently, this also requires a somewhat different competence than one aimed at adjustment. Dynamic and multifaceted approach to culture When considering the impact of culture on interactions, we take its dynamic and multifaceted nature as a starting point. Culture is indeed a very significant social force, but its impact is not always very straightforward. Cultures host dif ferent possible positions, are subject to change and incorporate influences from other cultures. People are therefore both products and producers of culture. At the same time, cultures provide its members with an experience of stability and familiarity; with its consistencies as well as its inherent differences. In a way, feeling at home in a culture means being familiar with its contradictions and conflicts. In the words of Klaus Hansen: ‘ We know (…) the (differing) points of views, and when we hear them, we know we are at home’ (Hansen, 2000, p. 232 quoted in Rathje, 2009).


Diversity competence

One way to reconcile both the stability and the constant changes culture un dergoes in the hands of its members is to view it as a repertoire of behaviours, ideas and symbols that help its members to go about their lives. These members – people – subsequently apply, expand, change, re-invent, adjust, ignore or ne gotiate their repertoires in real-life experiences. One of the main arguments of this book is thus that intercultural communication and interaction always takes place between people , not cultures. Focus on international, interethnic and interreligious interactions Culture is generally related to nationality (national culture), ethnicity (ethnic culture), and increasingly also to religion (e.g. ‘Islam’ or ‘Buddhism’). People tend to consider situations intercultural when they involve individuals of dif ferent national, ethnic or religious backgrounds. On the one hand, we argue that almost any social group is characterized by a particular culture of behav iours, ideas and symbols; companies, regions, families, sports associations, cit ies, professional groups and generations, for example, all have a particular cul ture. Consequently, any interaction between people from different groups is an intercultural one, and since people are unavoidably also members of different groups, virtually any interaction could strictly speaking be considered intercul tural. This is an important point, because it enables us to see that in the inter actions that most people consider ‘intercultural’, there are often very basic and general interpersonal dynamics at work. On the other hand, throughout this book we have chosen to focus on inter actions between people of different national, ethnic or religious backgrounds, because, justifiably or not, these are often associated with cultural difference and considered as more challenging or difficult . There is therefore a psycholog ical, professional and even political need to address these kinds of interactions – with the paradoxical subtext that ethnicity, religion and nationality are not necessarily the most important factors in these interactions. A British teacher and an Italian student may misunderstand each other not so much because of their different nationalities as because of a generational gap. A conflict between an Islamic doctor and a Christian nurse need not be related to their religions, but could derive from their different professional backgrounds. Diversity competence transforms strangeness into normality From the perspective that any situation can technically be considered inter cultural, we follow Stefanie Rathje (2009) by stating that – from a competence perspective – interculturality is caused by an experience of strangeness or unfa miliarity. Given that cultures provide their members with a feeling of familiari-



ty, normality and stability, it makes sense that intercultural experiences revolve around feelings of strangeness, unfamiliarity and foreignness. The main challenge in such situations is thus to normalize the strangeness in the interaction, creating a normality and familiarity in the interaction that en able the interaction to continue and offer participants the opportunity to pur sue their interaction goals. To this end, it is not necessary for people to adapt to each other, but rather to create a connection or even a state of mind, from where differences can be further explored, negotiated or even safely ignored. As mentioned above, differences can relate to other group memberships (and hence cultures) besides ethnicity, religion or nationality. In addition to Rath je’s approach, we would argue that the differences that cause experiences of strangeness need not be cultural in nature at all; instead, they could be person al, socio-economic or technological in nature. We therefore prefer not to speak of intercultural competence, but of diversity competence: the ability to turn experienced strangeness that occurs as a result of a difference of any kind into an experience of familiarity that enables the participants of the interaction to continue their pursuit of interactional goals. This competence is not a ‘magic bullet’ guaranteeing successful interaction, but it is an important precondition for eventual success. Increasing complexity of diversity competence development The development of diversity competence entails an increasing complexity that people can employ in intercultural situations. The more people become acquainted with various cultural phenomena and intercultural dynamics, the more different scenarios and interpretations they can employ in intercultur al situations that can help them to normalize the situation and create a sense of familiarity. Paradoxically, this increased knowledge and development ena bles them to realize how much they do not know and to accept the complexity and unpredictability of (intercultural) interactions, thus fostering an attitude of openness, empathy and reflectiveness, which is in turn decisive for the outcome of interactions. In this regard, Paul Mecheril (2013, p. 16) speaks of the impor tance of ‘competenceless competence’. Power and ethics are critical diversity issues Even though we argue that international, interethnic and interreligious inter actions are not necessarily more challenging than other interactions, and that normalization is the main strategy for responding to experiences of strange ness, we believe it is important to point to two critical issues around diversity: power and ethics.


Diversity competence

Differences between people rarely take place on a completely level playing field ; power differences, however subtle, often play a role. Frequently, this is also tied to mechanisms and histories of exclusion between individuals and groups. Ad ditionally, cultural differences between people of different ethnic, national and religious backgrounds often lead to challenges around ethics , when one person or group’s values or habits create tension with those of others. Awareness, re flection and sometimes taking position around these issues can be essential for just, satisfying and mutually sustainable interactions and relations. TOPOI as a communicative approach to diversity All things considered, we propose the TOPOI model (Hoffman, 2013) as a com municative approach to intercultural interaction. In interaction, communica tion is the means people have to influence, understand and connect to each other. To this end, we make use of the work of renowned communication schol ar Paul Watzlawick (Watzlawick, Beavin & Jackson, 2011), famous for the adage you cannot not communicate . This means that communication entails verbal and non-verbal communication as well as messages on the content and the re lationship level. It also implies a system-theoretical approach that considers the wider influence of the social environment in which people interact on individ ual interactions. TOPOI offers five areas where differences that cause strangeness in interactions can be identified: Tongue (verbal and non-verbal language), Order (views and logic), Persons (identity and relationship), Organization (rules and agreements) and Intentions (motives and concerns). Based on an attitude and mindset of not-knowing, empathy, openness and reflectiveness, the TOPOI areas offer various hypotheses to understand and reconcile differences, as well as possible areas to intervene. The relationship between communication and the normali zation of strangeness can be twofold: communication can follow normalization – once familiarization is achieved – to identify and potentially address the issue at hand, or communication as such can be a way to achieve normalization. In practice, the two will often go hand in hand, and back and forth. Alternatively, the TOPOI areas can be used as a way to categorize the rich avail able knowledge around inter- and cross-cultural communication from various academic fields including linguistics, (social) psychology, anthropology, neuro science, history, philosophy and anthropology. From a practical point of view, it is not necessary to know – let alone memorize – all the different facets of the various TOPOI areas. In any case, we believe that learning about these areas enhances one’s sensitivity to the various differences that can manifest them selves in communication and interaction.


1 Culture: everywhere and nowhere 1.1.1 Culture is everywhere – and nowhere 1.1.2 Culture and groups 1.1.3 Culture as repertoire 1.1.4 Cultures and history 1.1.5 Cultural heterogeneity 1.1.6 Transnational cultures 1.2.1 Culture as a model of and for reality 1.2.2 Culture and familiarity 1.2.3 Cultural mixing 1.2.4 Not every difference is cultural 1.3.2 Radical individuality 1.3.3 People as products and producers of culture 1.3.4 First-order and second-order desires 1.3.5 Culture and context

Introduction 1.1 What is culture?

1.2 The workings of culture

1.3 Cultures and individuals 1.3.1 Multicollectivity

1.4 Study assignments

Introduction ‘Culture’ has become a popular concept to mention both in academic discus sions and public debate. Where once culture was associated mainly with arts such as architecture, music and painting, it is now commonly related to peo ple’s everyday behaviour as well. It has even become quite common to use cul ture as an explanation for various phenomena, ranging from marketing and consumer habits to international relations (Nyteri & Breidenbach, 2009).


1  Culture: everywhere and nowhere

Even though people have become much more aware of cultural differences, we believe it is worthwhile to take a closer look at what culture actually is and how it influences people and interactions. Whether you are a student in an interna tional programme or a professional working in an international or multi-ethnic environment, if you want to improve your ‘intercultural competence’, a greater awareness of the role of culture is an important start. We are convinced that it is imperative, especially in today’s world, to go beyond a simplistic and deter ministic understanding of culture. In this chapter we will discuss various perspectives, theories and aspects of culture in order to lay the foundation for our approach to intercultural commu nication, competence and interaction, which will be discussed in the following chapters. Culture as a phenomenon is famously difficult to describe or to define. There is a huge variety of definitions in the scientific literature: an inventory by Kroe ber and Kluckhohn as early as 1952 (p. 181) identified 164 different definitions of culture, and it can safely be assumed that many more definitions have been added since. Yet what most definitions have in common is that culture 1) refers to habits (so not one-time phenomena), 2) is a characteristic of a social group (not of individuals), and 3) refers to learned aspects of social life (thus not biological or inherited traits) (Hansen, 2009a, p. 9). Consequently, we define culture as a complex set of habits that characterize a social group. This set of habits encom passes cognitive resources (knowledge, beliefs, values) and behavioural pat terns (Rathje, 2009). Different social groups come to different views and behav ioural patterns, therefore creating different cultures and cultural differences. This approach to culture was first applied by cultural anthropologists. After studying the habits and beliefs of people outside the ‘Western’ world, they ar gued that these should no longer be seen as inferior , as was commonly un derstood by Western Europeans at the time, but as different (Lemaire, 1976) . This perspective on culture proved of great value in battling ethnocentrism : the tendency to consider one’s own views and customs as normal, self-evident, and often superior to those of others. The awareness that your own habits are com monly just as strange to others as other’s habits are strange and unfamiliar to you, is often a good first antidote to such ethnocentrism. What is culture?



1.1  What is culture?

Unfortunately, nowadays one of the main problems of the concept of culture is that it is easily used simplistically or even opportunistically. This leads to state ments such as ‘I don’t think that is part of his culture’, ‘My culture does not allow me to do this’, or ‘Those cultures do not mix’. Instead of creating deeper under standing and effective communication, such views can lead to either-or and us versus-them scenarios. This section is devoted to providing a deeper and broad er understanding of the nature of culture by discussing its various aspects. 1.1.1 Culture is everywhere – and nowhere When trying to understand the significance of culture for human experience and interaction, one could state that culture is both everywhere and nowhere. It is everywhere , in the sense that it affects people’s feelings, thoughts and ac tions on many levels and occasions. Human beings need to make sense of their experiences to properly function. In doing so, they can develop different under standings of their lives and the world they live in. People need to give meaning to what they do, since there is no inherent meaning in their actions as such . Cul ture plays a crucial role in giving meaning to experiences. For instance, shaking hands in itself has no meaning, unless people give it meaning, e.g. as a way of greeting and paying respect. Culture, in its broadest sense, thus has to do with everything that is developed by people to organize their lives and experiences. In this sense, culture is like the wind (thanks to Maarten Bremer for this met aphor): invisible yet always there, somehow steering people in one direction while making it difficult for them to go in another direction. And as with the wind, you notice it most when you go against it . People are often unaware of how they are influenced by culture, until they are confronted with unfamiliar cultural patterns. People are ‘socialized’ into a culture from a young age, by their parents, their family, teachers, peers and others. It may come as a shock when they learn that other people have been raised in different ways, and their first response is often to reject ideas or behaviours they are unfamiliar with. A professor says, ‘When I first started teaching international groups of students, I was often very upset when some of my students didn’t look me in the eye while I was talking to them. I felt they were not listening to me or even disrespecting me. When I told this to a colleague, he explained to me that many of our students are taught that it is considered polite to avoid eye contact, especially between people of different social registers (like a student and teacher, or a child and his elder relatives). For many of them, it is considered disrespectful to look someone straight in the eye when being talked to, especially by teachers.’


1  Culture: everywhere and nowhere

At the same time, culture is nowhere because it does not exist in any specific or ‘real’ sense. Culture is obviously a concept invented by people – and in that sense culture as a concept is also part of culture. Culture is in itself something abstract – a helpful tool to analyse phenomena on the collective level (Baumann, 1996) and to make distinctions between the behaviour and ideas of groups of people (Scollon, Wong Scollon & Jones, 2012). But in itself, it is often an ex planation that does not explain: to say that a culture is such and such does not provide an explanation, but merely an observation about a group of people or a particular place (Bennett, 2005). The fallacy of thinking that cultures are actual ‘things’ with clear borders that exclusively separate groups of people and deter mine their behaviour is called ‘cultural essentialism’ (Holiday, 2011), and it is this essentialism that we try to avoid throughout this book. By discussing the many aspects and complexities of cultures, we will try to show that ‘culture’ is a very significant phenomenon, without implying that it does anything on its own. 1.1.2 Culture and groups Often when people speak of ‘culture’, they are referring to groups on the basis of nationality: people that are from and live in the same country, or on the basis of ethnicity: people that share a common kinship and history. Nationality and eth nicity can overlap but are not necessarily the same. Nations (or countries) can comprise several ethnic groups, and migrants and their children often hold the nationality of the host country but are still considered to have a different eth nic background. Sometimes, people use culture to refer to even bigger groups based on geography, e.g. Asian, African or even Western culture. Many exam ples in this chapter refer to culture at the level of nationality or ethnicity. However, culture is a characteristic of any human group. Nearly every group that shares something in common, has a mutual culture. Aside from national or ethnic groups, professional groups (police culture, banking culture, IT culture), regions (Mid-West culture, Bavarian culture), city cultures (Beijing culture, Pa risian culture), groups around sports and leisure activities (gaming culture, FC Liverpool culture), family cultures or company cultures (IKEA culture, IBM culture, KFC culture) are all characterized by certain habits and traditions. In today’s world, we can even speak of ‘online’ cultures where communities are formed through the internet, enabling people in different locations to com municate around a videogame, a common interest or fanship via social media, forum discussions, chat, blogs and vlogs. Such cultures are often dubbed ‘subcultures’, implying that they are somehow less powerful or relevant than national or ethnic cultures. This can be mislead-


1.1  What is culture?

ing, since they are not necessarily less influential or meaningful to people than national or ethnic cultures. Moreover, organizational and professional cultures sometimes differ greatly from what is common on a national level. An American academic working in the Netherlands was amazed the first time he was present at a Dutch PhD ceremony. He had considered the Dutch to be quite informal and direct in their communication, and was consequently very surprised that the ceremony involved professors in traditional gowns discussing the research in an indirect and diplomatic fashion. Every question or comment started with ‘Esteemed candidate’, and was followed by extensively compliment ing the candidate’s thesis before coming to the point. The PhD candidate would then respond with ‘Thank you for your question, highly esteemed professor’, be fore addressing the issue. In interactions and specific situations, many people tend to look for explana tions in ethnic, religious or national cultures. Depending on the situation, how ever, other cultural influences can be much more meaningful or relevant to people’s behaviours or experiences. A group of students are having coffee after a lecture, and at one point discuss their experiences of having moved to Stockholm. One of the students, with a Somalian-Swedish background, says she very much had to get used to living in Stockholm, because people were so distant and reserved in public. ‘You mean when you compare it to Somalia?’ one of the students asks. ‘No, I never lived in Somalia’, she responds. ‘I grew up in a small town in the North of Sweden. Peo ple there all know each other and say hello when they run into each other on the street. That’s so different from here!’ The multitude of cultures on various levels form a myriad of influences that are sometimes intertwined and at other times operate independently of each oth er. If one would make a map of the cultures of the world, rather than drawing clearly defined and neighbouring areas, it would be more appropriate to draw a mosaic of bigger and smaller shapes in various sizes, sometimes overlapping and sometimes not. 1.1.3 Culture as repertoire Cultures provide their members with a repertoire of ideas, behaviours and sym bols that they can apply in daily life. These form a resource to solve problems, make decisions and guide their responses. We choose the word ‘repertoire’ be cause it implies that people are not completely free to choose what cultural


1  Culture: everywhere and nowhere

elements they have access to, but nor is it predetermined whether, and when, they make use of cultural elements. It is in the practice of interaction and com munication that repertoires can be applied, reviewed, ignored, developed and expanded. To give an idea of what elements can be part of people’s cultural repertoires, we will describe the elements of knowledge, values and norms, lan guage, as well as heroes, traditions and rituals. To start with, people in a given culture share a certain knowledge . This can re late to practical ‘everyday knowledge’ of ‘how things work around here’. At the level of society this could refer to such things as the opening hours of shops and public institutions, traffic rules, and the legal and political systems. Knowledge of these things helps to function on a practical level in a group and to avoid ac cidents, closed doors or invalid votes. Moreover, cultural knowledge can also relate to more abstract knowledge – e.g. philosophy, arts, history or science – that is prevalent and plays a role in a group. This kind of knowledge can serve as a source of ideas, inspiration and discussion, which together can constitute a group’s collective ‘frame of reference’. Values indicate what people find ‘valuable’ in a group: what is considered im portant, good, healthy, appropriate and desirable? For instance, the age at which one is expected to move out of one’s parents’ house can be related to the degree to which the value ‘independence’ is rated. Values are rarely made ex plicit, but often lead to statements that sound ‘logical’ to its members (‘It would be healthy if John moves out of the house soon’). Norms are the practical expressions of a social group’s values; the specific cri teria by which people and their behaviour are judged within (and sometimes outside) a group. For instance, ‘the norm’ may be to move out of your parents’ house in your early twenties, or the norm may be to live with your parents until you get married. Groups may also contain norms to judge whether or not peo ple uphold certain values: for instance, norms about whether or not someone is a good father, a good manager, a good policeman or a good teacher often reflect a group’s underlying values. People of a common culture also share a language . Language literally gives words to people’s experience: without those words it would be difficult to im agine or recognize some things that are valued in a group. Language can take the shape of official languages or dialects but also of slang, terminology or hu mour. Language is functional in the sense that it expresses ideas, but it is also of symbolic value: people communicate their shared group membership through familiar words and expressions, creating a sense of belonging and familiari-


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