Background to Cross-cultural Communication
The first cross-cultural studies were carried out by Abū Rayhān Bīrūnī, who wrote detailed comparative studies on the anthropology of religions, peoples and cultures in the Middle East, Mediterranean and especially the Indian subcontinent. He presented his findings with objectivity and neutrality using cross-cultural comparisons.
Extensive cross-cultural studies were later carried out by 19th century anthroplogists such as Tylor and Morgan. One of Tylor's first studies gave rise to the central statistical issue of cross-cultural studies: Galton's problem.
The modern era of cross-cultural studies began with George Murdock (1949). Murdock set up a number of foundational data sets, including the Human Relations Area Files, and the Ethnographic Atlas. Together with Douglas R. White, he developed the widely used Standard Cross-Cultural Sample, currently maintained by the open access electronic journal World Cultures.
In the past decade, there has become an increasing pressure for universities across the world to incorporate intercultural and international understanding and knowledge into the education of their students. International literacy and cross-cultural understanding have become critical to a country’s cultural, technological, economic, and political health. It has become essential for universities to educate, or more importantly, “transform”, to function effectively and comfortably in a world characterized by close; multi-faceted relationships and permeable borders. Students must possess a certain level of global competence to understand the world they live in and how they fit into this world. This level of global competence starts at ground level– the university and its faculty – with how they generate and transmit cross-cultural knowledge and information to students.
Cross-cultural communication endeavours to bring together such relatively unrelated areas as cultural anthropology and established areas of communication. Its core is to establish and understand how people from different cultures communicate with each other. Its charge is to also produce some guidelines with which people from different cultures can better communicate with each other.
Cross-cultural communication, as in many scholarly fields, is a combination of many other fields. These fields include anthropology, cultural studies, psychology and communication. The field has also moved both toward the treatment of interethnic relations, and toward the study of communication strategies used by co-cultural populations, i.e., communication strategies used to deal with majority or mainstream populations.
The study of languages other than one’s own can not only serve to help us understand what we as human beings have in common, but also assist us in understanding the diversity which underlies not only our languages, but also our ways of constructing and organizing knowledge, and the many different realities in which we all live and interact. Such understanding has profound implications with respect to developing a critical awareness of social relationships. Understanding social relationships and the way other cultures work is the groundwork of successful globalization business efforts.
(For those eager to dig deeper it may be a good idea to look into the works by Edward T. Hall, Geert Hofstede, Harry C. Triandis, Fons Trompenaars, Clifford Geertz and Shalom Schwartz).
During the past decades the growth of globalisation, immigration and international tourism has involved large numbers of people in cross-cultural interaction (also referred to as inter-cultural interaction or international relations) whether they have liked it or not.
This has led to an increased desire and need for knowledge regarding cross-cultural communication on many levels. There is the theoretical field of cross-cultural communication and the applied field of cross-cultural training.
Clarke and Sanchez, 2001
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