Intercultural Communication

Course Website for Tunghai FLLD Seminar

Miscommunication and culture

Posted by thuicc on June 26, 2008

Kerim Friedman and other folks at the Savage Minds anthropology blog have written frequently about how the United States military is using anthropology and anthropologists, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kerim writes here about the “myth” of cultural explanations for miscommunication. He argues that such explanations for misunderstandings often ignore the power differences between the people involved and the lack of respect the more powerful group (like the US military) might have for the other culture.

He also discusses a critique of Deborah Tannen’s work (which we read and discussed before) by Deborah Cameron, who points out

that much of the literature on miscommunication between men and women lets men off the hook for their inability to understand women’s speech, even though the actual linguistic evidence implies that men use the same linguistic strategies (such as indirect requests) when it is convenient to do so. The point being that such miscommunication is treated as a cultural problem when it is really a problem of unequal power relations. The same woman who fetches her husband’s ketchup when he asks “Is there any ketchup?” will treat a similar question from her daughter as a factual query, replying: “Yes, dear, its in the cupboard.” Cameron argues that treating such communication problems as a matter of intercultural miscommunication (as Deborah Tannen does), obscures the real problems.

This adds an interesting and needed angle to intercultural communication studies that I hope I can discuss in class whenever I teach ICC again.


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