UR – Designing Intercultural Research

COURSE: Understanding Research—UR

FORUM: Designing the Research Proposal

TOPICS: explore your research interest

Step 3 – Part 2

Keywords: intercultural communication, Intercultural research, interviewing by e-mail, culture, reflexivity

Link to forum

Link to blog


Article review

Aneas, María Assumpta & Sandín, María Paz (2009). Intercultural and Cross-Cultural Communication Research: Some Reflections about Culture and Qualitative Methods [57 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10(1), Art. 51, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0901519 Accessed on Dec.10, 2009 at http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1251

During the break I found this interesting article that addresses specific issues emerging in research with an intercultural slant. Considering that in the ALGC we are all one way or another going to deal with the intercultural dimension of our experience and of our relevant research project, I thought of sharing some reflections on this very issue.

What follows are my considerations. I posted them here not as a topic for discussion, but merely to share them.

Quotes are shown indented.

Content of the information being gathered (INTERVIEWING)

BHAWUK and TRIANDIS (1996, p.29) offer an interesting collection of insights and recommendations when it comes to the content of interviews. Interviewing is one of the fundamental techniques used in qualitative research on cross-cultural and intercultural communication. One of the principal concerns when conducting an interview is whether an emic or an etic approach is more appropriate—that is, whether to ask different, tailor-made and culture-specific questions or ask the same questions in all the cultural contexts being studied.

my comments:

My research won’t be about discussing, exploring, analyzing the participants’ host or original cultures; in that sense it does not take an emic approach. My research will explore the experience of the participants and the extent to which they may share similar views and experiences of processes of adaptation and intercultural competence building. In a sense, my research has an emic nature, in that it attempts an in-depth exploration of one specific culture, the culture that informs a transnational personhood/identity.

Doing semi-structured interviews through e-mail prevents the interviewer’s culturally-affected reactions to influence the respondents. See BHAWUK and TRIANDIS (1996, p.28) I believe this method has advantages that will be beneficial to my research. (see this article for more on this method).

It will also diminish opportunities for the emergence of intercultural anxiety provoked by the uncertainty typical of intercultural contexts, as defined by Gudykunst (1993) in his theory of Anxiety Uncertainty Management (AUM).

Language in the research process

In order to understand and interpret utterances or gestures in a given language, a minimum degree of language equivalence between the language of those being studied and that of the researcher is needed (LUSTIG & KOESTER, 1996; SAMOVAR, PORTER & STEFANI, 1998).

my comments:

Utterances or gestures in my e-mail interviews  will be automatically disregarded.

Language issues will be partly sidestepped by using English as the language of the research, and selecting participants who have a certain degree of fluency in English. Though this choice may introduce a level of bias, it will facilitate both the collection and the analysis of the narratives, based on the assumption that – to a large extent – the respondents share an equivalency in the meaning of the vocabulary they use.

Nevertheless, I will need to be mindful of this assumption.

Culture, analysis and interpretation in qualitative research

Mental schemas

In this same sense, according ERICKSON (1989), the base for theoretical constructions is the immediate and local meanings of action as defined from the point of view of the social actors involved. In other words, we interpret a reality, a given piece of information according to the parameters of our experience in which our culture occupies a fundamental position. Culture is the reason why a given phenomenon, a specific form of behavior can be given a very different meaning according to the origin culture of the person analyzing and interpreting the process. [47]

Mental schemas constitute a cognitive system which enables us to interpret the gestures, utterances and actions of others. Culture influences the organization of the schemas developed by individuals with the justification that different visions and interpretations of reality are culturally variable. In the same sense constructionism stresses the importance of socio-cultural background in the higher order psychological processes (VYGOTSKY, 1979) as an argument with which to demonstrate the union of culture with cognitive processes and the relation between learning, development and the contexts of personal relations.

Summing up, theories of categorization and social attribution facilitate the development of explanations concerning the perception and interpretation of the behavior of others in intercultural contexts.

Language and mental maps are cultural elements with which the researcher operates in the analysis and the construction of results.


The fallacy of the monolithic view of identity alerts us to the need for prudence and the importance of avoiding categorizing cultural studies of communication in stereotypical terms, as built on folklore beliefs and essentialist in terms of culture.

On the other hand, it is already widely accepted in qualitative research that the researcher becomes the “principal information gathering instrument,” and thus some of the objectives which have been identified for studies of cross-cultural and intercultural communication are associated with the reflexivity of the researcher (my note: see Bryman, p. 682) over her or his own cultural biases together with the associated theoretical, and even social and political standpoints.

For the outlook of researching cross-cultural and intercultural communication we would stress that

  • Culture is a “system” and not the sum of a collection of fortuitous traits
  • It is an integrated whole which cannot be understood by examining its components individually and in isolation.
  • It is a dynamic whole which is in flux, and constantly changing, and which reveals itself as being in interaction with the world in a multiplicity of complex and diverse situations and contexts.


Bampton, R. & Cowton, C.J. (2002). The E-Interview [27 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 3(2), Art. 9, Retrieve on Dec. 19, 2009 at http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs020295

Bhawuk,D. & Triandis, H. (1996). The role of culture theory in the study of culture and intercultural training. In Dan Landis & Richard W. Brislin (Eds.), Handbook of intercultural training (pp.17-34). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Erickson, Frederick (1989). Métodos cualitativos de investigación sobre la enseñanza. In Merlin Wittrock (Ed.), La investigación de la enseñanza, II. Métodos cualitativos y de observación (pp.195-301). Barcelona: Paidós/M.E.C.

Gudykunst, W. (1993). Toward a theory of effective interpersonal and intergroup communication. In Richard L. Wiseman & Jolene Koester (Eds.), Intercultural communication competence (pp.33-71). London: Sage.

Lustig, M. & Koester, J. (1996). Intercultural competence: Interpersonal communication across cultures. New York: Harper Collins.

Vygotsky, L. (1979). El desarrollo de los procesos psicológicos superiores. Barcelona: Crítica.

GLL:Example of global/local learning

COURSE: Global/Local Learning–GLL

FORUM: Samarbeta

TOPICS: local global learning, Trento, cultural diversity

Step 1 – Part 1: example of global/local learning

Link to forum

Link to blog

Illustrative example of “global/local learning”

My example stems from the historical, political, economic and cultural context of my home region (Trentino- South Tyrol), which is home to several languages and relevant traditions: German, Italian, Ladin, the dialects of individual valleys and the languages of newly arrived immigrants from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. Within and beyond its geographic borders one notices a complex interaction among local and global cultural components. The region reaches out to the world, but also functions as a laboratory for cultural learning processes that are enfolding within its borders. By embracing the challenges and complexity of the larger globalized context, the local context transcends the limitations imposed on it by outdated nationalistic views. Let’s now examine some local aspects and how they intersect with old and new global trends.

Local context

The autochthonous populations in the region have lived peacefully together for many centuries. Such experience has resulted in some kind of mutual learning that, unfortunately, suffered a set back during the nationalistic conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Global influences

Today this original local context has been “broken into” by recently arrived immigrants, who are undoubtedly influencing the established socio-cultural-economic processes. The perennial flow of international tourists is another example of intersecting local/global experiences.

Adherence to the spirit and policies of the E.U. and the creation of a Euro-region that includes the Austrian Tyrol further contribute to shaping the interconnections between the region’s local and global characters.

These “external” phenomena strongly influence local learning attitudes and policies. (I believe that these phenomena are by now so embedded at the local level as to have lost their “external” character).


COURSE: Fostering Learning in Practice

A hot issue in my workplace and its relationship to learning and identity

integral paper available at: O_VALLAZZA_Assignment1_FLIP.doc


Yolanda pointed out that my paper includes my learning from other courses.. This is the way I see the ALGC. Didn’t we start with the capability envelop and our learning plan? A pivotal part of mine was/is the “making sense” of my life/professional/academic experiences, in an attempt to organize all that into a systemic whole. This course has been so far very helpful in that regard.  I try to stick to a systemic view, which implies making references across disciplines and contexts. My assignment 1 links some of my reflections to previous learning experiences, hopefully not to the detriment of the assignment’s specific requirements. Feedback from teachers will tell.

Next week’s tasks seem to offer a great opportunity for all of us to address our learning experience. I look fwd to the discussion.


COURSE: Fostering Learning in Practice

FORUM: Koala 5

TOPICS: Identity, Chappell, Rhodes, Solomon, Tenant and Yates, Selfwork


Link to Blog

Link to Forum

Hi Terri, Edouard

I would like to write some comments to both of your thought-provoking posts.

I’ll begin with what Terri described as a two-level identity, one rooted in deeply entrenched cultural experiences, the other emerging almost “on demand” as required by a specific context.

I am familiar with both types of identity. I see the first one as a version of ascribed identity that we derive from something external. It has been embedded in ourselves through different processed of enculturation, education, up-bringing, and many people are not even aware of that. I personally do not always subscribe to those identity tags, as I believe they are meant to make me conform to a prescribed cultural framework. Chappel recognizes the danger of such lack of awareness when he talks about “how the ‘outside’ gets ‘inside’.” (p.6)

The other, “lighter” level of our identity instead sounds more like a form of avowed identity, one that we claim for ourselves to serve us in our relational interactions in a variety of different contexts. Interculturally I consider this as one very important intercultural competency, i.e. the ability to relate to different cultural contexts. In this regard, here is a quote:

“Intercultural communication competence then is defined as the mutual avowing confirmation of the interactants’ cultural identities where both interactants engage in behavior perceived to be appropriate and effective in advancing both cultural identities.” (Collier, 1989, “International Journal of Intercultural Relations”, 13, 287-302 in Wijseman, R.L. and Koester, J. “Intercultural Communication Competence”, 1993)

Cross-cultural contexts are complex scenarios filled with this kind of identity negotiation processes. Stella Ting-Toomey, a scholar of Intercultural Communication, defines effective identity negotiation as “the smooth coordination between interactants […] that requires an individual to draw on a wide range of cognitive, affective, and behavioral resources to deal with novel, identity-improvisation situations.” (Stella Ting-Toomey, Communicative Resourcefulness – An Identity Negotiation Perspective” in Wijseman, R.L. and Koester, J. “Intercultural Communication Competence”, 1993)

I believe that these definitions go hand on hand with the perspectives on identity presented in this course, and share the same vocabulary.

Edouard, you mentioned the role of ID cards. Those are artifacts that clearly reflect the identity that has been ascribed to us. One may carry a passport that does not really reflect that person’s national identity. The identity embedded in our ID cards is based on the assumption that identity is something that we are born with. To me, the data contained in such documents express a very static view of identity that does not recognize our personal bibliographies. As you said, the ID states “who the person is,” which is a picture of that person frozen in a specific time. ID’s do not reflect people’s rich narratives, but they can be useful resources for as to analyze and put together someone’s history. (think of the documents that allowed us to trace back the Diaspora of African slaves to their original place of birth from where they were taken).

A question you may want to ask is how much you believe such ID’s represent you. Think for example that in the 70’s U.S. President Nixon introduced legislation to classify Americans according to stereotyped ethnic groups – white, black, Asians/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Eskimo, and Hispanic. Today, countless forms require people to check a box that corresponds to one of those ascribed identities. Needless to say that I do not feel represented by any of them. A similar view of a static identity was presented in a movie called Classified People about racial profiling in Apartheid-era South Africa.

The importance of history, culture and context


FORUM: The future of work and education

TOPICS: Papadopoulus, culture, history

Papadopoulos, T. (2002). Lifelong Learning and the Changing Policy Environment. In D. S. Istance, H. G. Schuetze, & T. Schuller (Eds.), International perspectives on lifelong learning: From Recurrent Education to the Knowledge Society (pp. 76-88). Buckingham, UK: Open University Press

The importance of history, culture and context (link to Itslearning)

In this article, Papadopoulos recognizes the difficulty in comparing international scenarios (p. 44). I would like to add that policies of work and learning should be informed by the relevant specific historical, cultural, and language contexts.

I am thinking for example of my home region, and how such factors still remain of paramount importance in all local policy making issues. I believe that that is the case with most countries and regions.

Globalized approaches need not discount the value and specificity of local experiences in both education and workplace learning. The challenge – I believe – is to be mindful of such experience while engaging in a transformative process that would eventually lead to a new paradigm for work and learning. I do not personally believe that there will be a one-fits-all universal approach, but instead I hope we will implement a system of networked dynamic coordination among different parts of the world. It seems to me that E.U. policies proceed in this direction.

George Langelett, Human Capital: A Summary of the 20th Century Research

COURSE: WORK AND LEARNING Assignmemt 1.2: (other readings)

FORUM: Current development and discourses on work and learning


George Langelett, Human Capital: A Summary of the 20th Century Research (link titslearning).

As in many other articles, this one too presents Human Capital as a factor of production without discussing the repercussions on peoples’ personal development and their social role.

Human Capital definition:

“Human capital is the “know how” of the work force that increases the productivity of each worker.” (p. 1)


Throughout the article, the language of economics continues to be used to define issues that in my opinion would require a much broader approach. So, for example,

the article restates the assumption that “A more productive labor force leads to economic growth;” (p. 5) and “Human capital theory holds that education, whether formal or on-the-job, is an investment both for the individual and the society that devotes resources to providing it. Individuals decide on how much to invest based on their expected private return.” (p. 11) And also “Human capital depreciates over time, as does physical capital.” (p.12)

Garnet’s suggestion that “Human capital theory is not about individuals, it is about populations and their role in the economic prosperity of a nation” is supported in this article. Langelett talks about “nine ways in which education to individuals also contributes to economic growth fro the country.” (p. 19)

Again, in this article human capital is presented as an issue of sound investment that will eventually yield a higher income. The emphasis is therefore on investment and financial return in an economic context based on the premises of growth. (p. 18-19) As mentioned in other posts by some of us, the universal applicability of such linear progression is questionable.

Question on issues of cultural appropriateness. (reply to July’s post)

Julie wrote that Another example that I think highlights the lack of consideration of culture in human capital theory is that of the Aboriginal population.” Referring to Canada’s aboriginal population she wrote the socio-economic effects of being forced to ignore their culture and learn European values are deep and will be felt even for decades to come (i.e. low skills, high unemployment rates, poverty, sub-standard living conditions, etc.).  It is examples like these which give me trouble with the human capital theory.” I agree.

Above mentioned Langelett’s 9-way framework for economic advancement suggests that “education empowers people to move away from their traditional roles and take initiatives to create a better life. It removes society’s traditional prescriptions and individual ignorance and replaces them with more productive solutions.” I believe this approach is similar to what Julie criticized as assimilationist and colonial practices. In this statement, the equalization of traditional ways to backwardness and ignorance is undeniable. Given that, is it feasible to consider the merits of such an approach when the same develops from a narrative rooted in a Eurocentric perspective?

Cuture according to Wenger

It appears that in Wenger’s approach context, meaning, and experience are, not unlike the way they are presented in the other perspectives, interlocking dimensions of the same endeavor. In her work, however, such interdependence and interconnection is made official within the framework of her wholistic and systemic theory. Her perspective transcends epistemological attempts to codify learning along philosophical lines and focuses instead on premises that place learning at the center of human experience, as the direct product of social interaction and as both the source and the outcome of meaning. The arena for such interesting interaction of factors, outcomes and contents is the practice that occurs within the local and global boundaries of communities. She defines such communities of practice as “not self-contained entities that develop in larger contexts – historical, social, cultural, institutional – with specific resources and constraints.” She also goes on at length to painstakingly frame what such practices should entail to qualify as suitable, even though she seems to contradict herself when she says that having too rigid a definition would be detrimental to a community of practice’s effectiveness. I believe that Wenger has brought culture into the discussion about learning, which is relevant to what I perceive as a lack of general consideration for cultural issues in the other perspectives. I understand that she views culture as something that emerges at the interface of the phenomena of reification and participation, and encompasses the different aspects of human experience as it develops from the social interactions within the respective communities. However,Wenger’s idea of culture does not address profound differences that are oftentimes unstated and lie at the core of current globalization processes, including learning, teaching and education. Even though personal experiences are taken into consideration , I have come away with the impression that – from a cross-cultural perspective – the setting of a practice in her description is a fairly culturally homogeneous environment; in fact, even though she acknowledges personal experience as a factor, she fails to address the impact of each participant’s personal cross-cultural experience and cultural background in terms of their diverse cross-cultural make-up. In my opinion, such exclusion of intercultural dynamics, contributions, experience, meanings and personal contexts detracts from a theory that she takes pride in presenting as one of some universal value.
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