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The Academic Field of Intercultural Communication

by kaparrot — last modified Aug 03, 2013 09:14 PM

Looking at the fields of inquiry in intercultural communication

To understand and to study intercultural relations and communication, various perspectives are necessary. Intercultural Communication is therefore an interdisciplinary field of inquiry. The primary academic disciplines involved in Intercultural Communication studies are:

Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, Linguistics and Communication.

The scope of Intercultural Communication and the main contributions of the various fields can be seen as follows (Bennett 1998):

  • perception, interpretation, attribution (psychology, linguistics, communication)
  • verbal communication (linguistics, communication)
  • nonverbal communication (communication)
  • communication styles (linguistics, communication)
  • values (psychology, anthropology, sociology)

Researchers from these disciplines have worked in the past, basically, from their own perspectives, with their own focuses and with their own methods. In general, they have not learned complementary theoretical approaches, and hardly any dialogue between researchers of different scientific orientations has existed. Actual "intercultural" communication between the representatives of the various disciplines has therefore often been problematic, with each discipline claiming its legacy to the field.

In the past decade, in particular, Intercultural Communication has more strongly emerged as an independent field. In order to qualify as an independent academic field, certain criteria generally need to be fulfilled:

There needs to be a considerable number of:

  • professional researchers working in the field
  • scientific societies
  • publications, journals
  • congresses
  • academic subjects and professorships

These criteria are today fulfilled in Intercultural Communication. A further traditional criterion for an independent academic field has been that it has its own theory/theories and method(s). This criterion is a more complicated one for Intercultural Communication because of its multidisciplinary roots. However, the field is progressing in establishing a new theoretical framework or paradigm.

In its theory building, Intercultural Communication

  • borrows theories from other fields (e.g. psychology, attribution theory)
  • applies theories from intracultural communication (e.g., Gudykunst's Anxiety-Uncertainty Management [AUM] theory from the Uncertainty Reduction theory [URT])
  • forms new theories (Kim's work combining adaptation and communication theories).

Depending on the research goals and focuses, Intercultural Communication uses both functionalist (social science)/etic and interpretive (humanist)/emic approaches. Increasingly, studies involve multisource data and mixed methodology, as the realization of the complexity of studying intercultural interactions and the need for a dialogue increase in the research community.

Studying intercultural communication

Culture has been and is being studied in many fields. There are many definitions of culture as well, depending on the perspective from which researchers approach the question.

Below are some definitions. Please try to think from what kind of academic or other background the authors of these definitions come from and what their is focus in their studies of culture:

  • "Culture is communication" (Edward T. Hall)
  • "Culture is the collective programming of the mind" (Geert Hofstede)
  • "Culture is how things are done here" (John Mole)
  • "All communication is more or less cross-cultural" (Deborah Tannen)
  • "Culture is a kind of storehouse or library of possible meanings and symbols" (Ron Scollon)

Reading assignment:

Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics : Handbook of Intercultural Discourse and Communication."Perspectives on Intercultural Discourse and Communication" (pages 19-36)


Galina Elizarova speaking about basic approaches to the concept of culture.