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

CONSIDERATIONS ON DOING RESEARCH WITH AN INTERCULTURAL COMPONENT

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.

Conclusions

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.

REFERENCES

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.

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