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Review of  Culture in Communication. Analyses of intercultural situations.

Reviewer: Suzhen Zhuang
Book Title: Culture in Communication. Analyses of intercultural situations.
Book Author: Aldo Di Luzio Susanne Günthner Franca Orletti
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Issue Number: 13.1417

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Date: Mon, 20 May 2002 23:46:21 +0800 (CST)
From: Suzhen Zhuang

Di Luzio, Aldo, Susanne Guenthner and Franca Orletti, ed. (2001) Culture in Communication: Analyses of Intercultural situations. John Benjamins Publishing Company, xvi+341pp, hardback ISBN 90-272-5100-2 (Eur.), 1-55619-990-2 (US), EUR 94.84, Pragmatics and Beyond New Series 81.

Suzhen Zhuang, Unaffiliated scholar

The present volume brings together papers presented and discussed at a workshop on Intercultural Communication held in October 1994 at the Villa Vigoni in Menaggio (Como, Italy). As clearly stated at the very beginning of the Introduction by the three editors, this collection of papers "is dedicated to questions arising in linguistic, sociological and anthropological analyses of intercultural encounters" (vii). Consisting of three sections with a combination of both theoretical issues and empirical analyses, the methodological approach of which is "influenced by the phenomenological and hermeneutic tradition of the Sociology of Knowledge, Ethnography of Communication and Ethnomethodological Conversation Analysis" (vii), this volume has at least three objectives to achieve. First, it tries to explore new theoretical and methodological aspects of intercultural communication through elaborating topics less researched previously. Second, it aims to highlight the role of culture in intercultural communication. Third, it seeks to expound how ideology exerts an influence on participants of diverse cultural backgrounds in interactions (cf. vii-viii). This volume has certainly opened new avenues of future research on intercultural communication.

This volume is divided into three sections. Section 1 is devoted to "theoretical issues in intercultural communication". In "Communication, contexts and culture" (3-33), Hubert Knoblauch adopts a "communicative constructivist approach to intercultural communication". Knoblauch first reviews Habermas' (1981) theory of communicative action and systems theory's notion of communication (5-9), arguing that reflexivity, or reciprocity as Schuetz calls it, "enables communicative action to achieve common understanding by both acting and indicating understanding of the act" (9). Then, taking as his basis the theory of Alfred Schuetz, who "asserted that the life-world is a thoroughly 'communicative environment'"(5), Knoblauch attempts to develop a notion of communicative action and thereby to set up a theory of communicative culture providing a foundation for future research into intercultural communication. As Knoblauch suggests, a notion of contextualization by communicative action can be developed by drawing on three elements of Schuetz's theory: action, transcendence and, objectivation. Accordingly, constructed by communicative actions, cultural contexts can be distinguished on three levels: immediate contexts, contexts of mediated communication and the societal context (15-24). In the last section, Knoblauch delves into the relationship among contexts, culture and intercultural communication, rightly arguing for a refined notion of communicative culture and a sophisticated rationale for the problem of intercultural communication necessary for a better understanding of the complexity and differentiation of modern intercultural communications.

In "Contextualization and ideology in intercultural communication" (35-53), John J. Gumperz tries to expound the question of how culture, through language and interaction, exercises an influence on our way of thinking and communicating with other people of different backgrounds. Through a detailed but not lengthy presentation of a criminal law case involving intercultural communication brought against a member of an Indian minority culture in a North American town, Gumperz demonstrates that "only by considering ideology in relation to subconsciously internalized background knowledge and linguistic signaling processes can we account for the basic issues of hegemony or symbolic domination, that are so important in intercultural communication" (37). As a pace-setter in intercultural communication research, Gumperz is always insightful in raising new research questions.

The next paper, contributed by Susanne Guenthner and Thomas Luckmann, is entitled "Asymmetries of knowledge in intercultural communication: The relevance of cultural repertoires of communicative genres" (55-86). Starting with a small episode concerning table manners between the Chinese and the German, the authors show that social interaction and communication require a certain amount of shared knowledge and more importantly, "a minimum amount of what is significantly the same and what is significant different among the participants" (59), the lack of which can account for, to a large extent, many an embarrassing problem in intercultural communication. The authors compellingly demonstrate that communicative genres are historically and culturally specific, fixed solutions to recurrent communicative problems and vary from culture to culture, and that knowledge of genres and of their proper use is central to the knowledge required for competent communicative interaction.

Section 2 of this volume is devoted to case studies of intercultural encounters. In "Three ways of analyzing communication between East and West Germans as intercultural communication" (89-116), Peter Auer and Friederike Kern investigates the possibilities of applying the concepts of interculturality and intercultural communication to the situation in Germany after unification. In particular, the authors consider three different notions of interculturality and investigate their usability in/for the analysis of authentic job interviews with West German interviewers and East- and West German applicants (89). The authors argue as follows. First, cultural categorization is discursively produced via the participants' specific intercultural or monocultural recipient design; second, cultural differences due to diverging frame knowledge lead to communicative difficulties and; third, interculturality is located with a participant.

Jenny Cook-Gumperz's "Cooperation, collaboration and pleasure in work: Issues for intercultural communication at work" (117-139) explores how cultural variation becomes a part of the changing definitions of work enterprise and how this is made possible by the new computer production conditions of the late modern age. As this paper points out, there are several ways that service encounters enable service personnel and customers to perform this act for each other. First, the designed work environment provides an interactional situation channeling the action into certain paths; first, the creation of a more or less tight script for many service exchange provides an interactional space for successful communication; and third, the idea of emotional labor evokes more than a mutual arrangement of damage control for self- image. All in all, this paper has shown that the apparent positive image and lack of conflict needs a great deal of work on the part of participants.

The next paper, "The making of a witness: On the beheading of rabbits" (141-171), Macro Jacquemet, drawing on data from a controversial criminal trial taking place in Naples, Italy, between 1983 and 1986, examines narrative performances in a cross- cultural, institutional environment. Jacquemet first discusses the nature and dynamics of the courtroom communication within the Italian legal system and the cross-cultural role played by government witnesses in its proceedings. After that, the author introduces a particular courtroom event in which a government witness's testimony and participants' responses were contextualized through strikingly out-of-place narrative details (142). This paper concludes with a discussion of the role explicit contextualization strategies play in constructing an authoritative discourse in a cross- cultural environment.

In "Intercultural negotiation", the last paper of Section 2, Jochen Rehbein deals with verbal and non-verbal elements in business communication, "a type of cooperative opposition based on an institutional type of communication" (173-207). For Rehbein, negotiation is "an 'auxiliary device' for processing the pattern in a way which is successful for participants" (175). After listing the characteristics of an auxiliary device (175-177), Rehbein presents an excerpt from discussions between a buyer and seller of two different nationalities: an American professor and a German representative of a Swiss publishing house. Rehbein shows, among others, that different languages employ different communicative apparatuses, both verbal and non-verbal; these apparatuses, different in character, may influence the intercultural interaction.

Section 3 includes papers analyzing native/non-native interactions and focusing on both situative asymmetries and cooperation strategies. In "Constructing misunderstanding as a cultural event" (211-243), Volker Hinnenkamp concentrates on the conflicting effects of miscommunication and misunderstandings. Hinnenkamp criticizes in this paper " the uncritical blending of misunderstanding and intercultural communication" (225) in current relevant researches. For Hinnenkamp, a misunderstanding "may well be an interpretive accomplishment, but it may also be simply an unilateral interpretive matter and even just a felt matter" (214). Drawing upon video analyses of several kinds of misunderstanding occurring in intercultural interactions, Hinnenkamp shows that "the bringing about of interculturality solely by virtue of connecting cultural different background of interlocutors with a misunderstanding cannot be taken for granted" (225).

In "Inter- and intra-cultural aspects of dialogue-interpreting" (245-270), Frank Ernst Mueller presents various types of lay interpretation in face-to-face interactions. For Mueller, interpreted dialogue can be conceived of as "conversation which is collaboratively designed for (a specific mode of) translatability" (246). Dialogue- interpreting is an "activity sui generis" (Linell 1995: 205) and the interpreter plays a central, "mid-wife" part in the activities, thanks to "full linguistic access to everything that is uttered in conversation" (248). Using transcribed interpreted conversation and interpretive findings from a small-scale empirical study dealing with interpreted dialogue of young French and German metal workers and apprentices, Mueller shows "the (sub-) culturally fine-tuned nature" (259) of the dialogue interpreting and also points out that translatability and its cumbersome and costly machinery may have formalizing and fragmenting effects on the natural flow of conversation (265).

The next paper in this section is entitled "The conversational construction of social identity in native/non-native interaction" (271-294) contributed by Franca Orletti. Adopting the perspective as advocated by Gumperz (e.g., 1992) and others that one must scrutinize the detail of the interaction to catch relevant important aspects of context, Orletti analyzes two informal conversations between a native Italian speaker and a non-native Eritrean immigrant. Orletti is right in arguing that "native/non-native interaction is not intrinsically asymmetrical" (290) and that the process of positioning and the negotiation of social identities resort to both linguistic and interactional instruments available to the participants.

The last paper of this volume is "External appropriations as a strategy for participating in intercultural multi-party conversations" (295-334) written by Gabriele Pallotti. Building the theoretical framework on Goffman's (1979) distinction between "ratified" participants and "bystanders" developed by Marilyn Merrit (e.g., 1982) as "vector of activity", Pallotti distinguishes two forms of appropriations viz. internal appropriations and external appropriations and argues that the repetition of other people's words can be seen as a way of winning the battle for participation. Pallotti focuses on the ways in which a five-year-old Moroccan girl learned to participate in interactions in an Italian nursery school by acquiring the linguistic means and the sociocultural knowledge necessary for being accepted as a competent member of the school's micro-culture (296). It is argued in this paper that external appropriations have played a vital part in helping this girl achieve the status of ratified participant in already open vectors of activity and that linguistic and sociocultural acquisition should be seen as a tightly intertwined process. One of the questions I would like to ask about this paper is: Would things be still the same if the subject under investigation were not a five-year-old Moroccan girl but a Chinese girl of the same age?

The world is getting smaller and smaller, thanks to the fast-pace advances in science and technology. Human beings are bestowed with more chances than ever to communicate with people coming from different cultural backgrounds, folkways and many other things. And one of the major and ultimate, in fact, objectives in research into intercultural communication should be how these people can come to mutual understanding without any friction. People have come to realize that cultural mistakes could be far more serious than language mistakes. This very view is also shared by the present volume under review. All the papers in this collection have been strung together by the core thread, which turns out to be the recurring theme throughout, that a comprehensive and convincing account of intercultural communication must take into consideration "actual dialogic contexts" (viii). Dynamism should be counted as one of the underlying principles when it comes to explore online intercultural encounters. The volume offers a rich spectrum of intercultural communication research, from cultural differences in contextualization conventions to variable realization of communicative genres, from linguistic ideologies and hegemonial attitudes to "the contextualization of extralinguistic elements in the negotiation of meaning" (xiii). All the contributions give a fair view of the state of the art in intercultural communication pursuit and more importantly touch upon new questions for future research. Of course, some of the arguments presented in this volume need to be further evidenced and validated. And there is one tendency that we should guard against, that is, we human beings appear, if not seem, to regard conclusions drawn from some case studies as generalizations and use them as yardsticks to explain other intercultural encounters. By the way, it would be better if the spelling (some authors use British spellings while others employ American spellings) and references format could be consistent throughout the volume (e.g., 114; 115; 293).

To conclude, with both theoretical and empirical approaches going hand in hand, this is an innovative and in many ways thought-provoking collection of papers and would surely be embraced by scholars and students of anthropology, sociology, cultural psychology and, (interpretative) sociolinguistics.

Goffman, E. (1979) Footing. Semiotica 25: 1-29.

Gumperz, J. (1992) Contextualization revisited. In P. Auer and A. di Luzio (eds.), The Contextualization of Language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 39-53.

Habermas, J. (1981) Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

Merritt, M. (1982) Repeats and reformulations in primary classrooms as windows on the nature of classroom engagement. Discourse Processes 5: 127-145.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Suzhen Zhuang is an unaffiliated scholar in China. Her general research interests include discourse analysis, pragmatics and, intercultural communication.