Intercultural Communication In International Relations 


The move from generalization to specialization abounds in all academic fields. Generally this transition leads to a better understanding of one or more phenomenon by granting us the ability to focus on specific features in a more analytical manner. This is but one advantage of specialization. The liability of limiting our focus to specific points of interest via specialization, however, is that we often narrow the scope of inquiry to such an extent that we overlook parallel research that is simultaneously occurring outside the dimensions of our specialization. In some cases, specialized knowledge can be gained at a loss of collective understanding in the form of shared of shared knowledge. Minus the given advantage of shared knowledge, we may find ourselves repeating processes that may already have been researched, developed and implemented. Perhaps there is no other place where the potential of shared information exchanges and lost opinions, more evident than in the field of communication. Since its conception, the multi-disciplinary nature of communication has given it a natural advantage for use across multiple specializations. Although the total number of specializations with given use cases for communication is nothing new, the rate of development and diversity are quite noteworthy, especially given the continuous development in these communication specific disciplines. Increasingly, they appear to be more and more isolated from each other.

Two examples of such fields that on the surface may appear to have little in common are intercultural communication and international relations. Intercultural communication had its initial birthing pains in the fifties and progressed through a series of self-definitions, theoretical platforms, and methodological debates. Its research focuses on exploring culture's impact on communication behavior at the individual or interpersonal level. International public relations, on the other hand, has only recently emerged as the 'hot topic'. Debates and definitions are still forming. Its research focuses more on culture's impact on public communication vehicles, i. e. , the mass media. Finally, while intercultural communication has its roots in the academic field of anthropology, international public relations is very much a product of a practicing profession. On the surface, the two appear very different, however heir degrees of separation are pronounced. One is more theoretical and focused at the interpersonal level; the other is more applied and focused at the public communication level. Yet beneath the surface, both are intensely concerned with how culture influences communication. They share a pronounced communication-culture link that opens up the possibility of shared research experience and knowledge. This paper explores the development of these two fields, intercultural communication and international public relations, in a search for parallels. In that both share a communication-culture link, there is also the possibility of shared experience and knowledge. Because intercultural communication is the older of the two in terms of academic age, salient trends are highlighted first within intercultural communication and are immediately followed by corresponding ones that are taking shape in international public relations.


The modern term 'culture' is based on a term used by the Ancient Roman orator Cicero in his Tusculanae Disputationes, where he wrote of a cultivation of the soul or 'cultura animi,' using an agricultural metaphor for the development of a philosophical soul, understood teleologically as the highest possible ideal for human development. Samuel Pufendorf took over this metaphor in a modern context, meaning something similar, but no longer assuming that philosophy was man's natural perfection. His use, and that of many writers after him, 'refers to all the ways in which human beings overcome their original barbarism, and through artifice, become fully human. ' In 1986, philosopher Edward S. Casey wrote, 'The very word culture meant 'place tilled' in Middle English, and the same word goes back to Latin colere, 'to inhabit, care for, till, worship' and cultus, 'A cult, especially a religious one. ' To be cultural, to have a culture, is to inhabit a place sufficiently intensive to cultivate it, to be responsible for it, to respond to it, to attend to it caringly. Culture according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, Culture can be defined as: 1) “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group” 2) “the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time” 3) “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization” 4) “the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic” 5) “ the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations” 6) “enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training” 7) “acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills”.

Cristina De Rossi, an anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College in London, defined culture as something that “encompasses religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we sit at the table, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones, and a million other things,'. I’d like to think of this as a contemporary perspective how one can define culture, although A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn, In Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (1952), cited 164 definitions of culture, ranging from “learned behavior” to “ideas in the mind,” “a logical construct,” “a statistical fiction,” “a psychic defense mechanism,” and so on. The definition — or the conception — of culture that is preferred by Kroeber and Kluckhohn and also by a great many other anthropologists is that culture is an abstraction or, more specifically, “an abstraction from behaviour. ” Kroeber and Kluckhohn were led to their conclusion that culture is an abstraction by reasoning that if culture is behaviour it, ipso facto, becomes the subject matter of psychology; therefore, they concluded that culture “is an abstraction from concrete behavior but is not itself behavior. ” But what, one might ask, is an abstraction of a marriage ceremony or a pottery bowl, to use Kroeber and Kluckhohn's examples? This question poses difficulties that were not adequately met by these authors. Culture is considered a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of phenomena that are transmitted through social learning in human societies. Cultural universals are found in all human societies; these include expressive forms like art, music, dance, ritual, religion, and technologies like tool usage, cooking, shelter, and clothing. The concept of material culture covers the physical expressions of culture, such as technology, architecture and art, whereas the immaterial aspects of culture such as principles of social organization (including practices of political organization and social institutions), mythology, philosophy, literature (both written and oral), and science comprise the intangible cultural heritage of a society.

Before we can establish a link between culture and intercultural communication, one must clearly distinguish the two, and thus clearly define intercultural Communication as well. Intercultural communication (or cross-cultural communication) is a discipline that studies communication across different cultures and social groups, or how culture affects communication. It describes the wide range of communication processes and problems that naturally appear within an organization or social context made up of individuals from different religious, social, ethnic, and educational backgrounds. In this sense it seeks to understand how people from different countries and cultures act, communicate and perceive the world around them. Many people in intercultural business communication argue that culture determines how individuals encode messages, what medium they choose for transmitting them, and the way messages are interpreted. ” With regard to the focus of intercultural communication, the scope of intercultural communication is international relations. Herein, one studies situations where people from different cultural backgrounds interact. Aside from language, intercultural communication focuses on social attributes, thought patterns, and the cultures of different groups of people. It also involves understanding the different cultures, languages and customs of people from other countries. Intercultural communication plays a role in social sciences such as anthropology, cultural studies, linguistics, psychology and communication studies. Intercultural communication is also referred to as the base for international businesses. Several cross-cultural service providers assist with the development of intercultural communication skills.

Research is a major part of the development of intercultural communication skills. We’re in an era of globalization, which can be defined as “ the process by which the world is becoming increasingly interconnected as a result of massively increased trade and cultural exchange. ” Globalization has increased the production of goods and services. The biggest companies are no longer national firms but multinational corporations with subsidiaries in many countries. This can be considered an important and complicated period for all mankind. For the first time ever cooperation of civilizations and cultures is extremely massive and intense, expressing the main tendency of social progress. However, it is clear that intercourse between countries includes not only collaboration, but also various in itself conflicts. The necessity of international, interethnic, interreligious dialogue is becoming obvious under these conditions. It can take any form, but the actual objective is creating a new culture of interpersonal communication based on the standards of international law, moral principles of humanism and social justice. The problem of intercultural communication takes on independent significance in terms of international relations, which in their turn, on the one hand, represent a bright example of social development on different stages, but at the same time reflect numerous peculiarities of intercultural phenomenon. History of cross-cultural communication proves that it is directly connected with the development of political, commercial and cultural relations. In the history of international relations, we can trace the establishment of various approaches and forms of intercultural communication, which appeared under the influence of numerous factors. First of all, we should recall such a branch of cross-cultural communication as trading, which is considered to be a founder of diplomacy.

Middle Ages was the time of mending of diplomatic and trading fences and history of Venice, Rome, Florence can be a spectacular example of it. Development of trading relations fostered dynamic, extensive exchange. People got acquainted with cultural achievements of other nations, which encouraged cross-cultural communication both on transnational and non-state levels. Cultural ties played an important role in the development of political dialogue and later on often contributed to changes in political climate. Thus, for instance, fence mending between the USA and PRC started with “ping-pong diplomacy” and relations between the USSR and military regimes of Latin American countries were more or less stable mainly due to road tours of Soviet performers. Nevertheless, it is necessary to mention that despite all the economic and political interests, cultural ties have been never regarded independently from international relations until recently. During the long period of time they were complicated by peculiarities of ethnic, spiritual traditions and religion. Sometimes cultural differences became an obstacle on the way to successful diplomacy. It turned out to be difficult to overcome these contradictions because of deeply-rooted beliefs in superiority of one or another culture. The nineteenth century was a turning point in the development of international relations because in that time some traditions of diplomatic protocol were formed. Intercultural communications in the field of international relations is also directly linked to the acute problems, which arise in terms of culture and international humanitarian relations.

The problem of cultural expansion can be considered as one of them. We cannot but mention that American culture is the leading one nowadays: movie industry, music industry, products, cafes, devices, software and so on and so forth. American popular culture remains pre-eminent nowadays and it leads to commercialization of spiritual life. The immense influence of American culture disrupts morality and dissolves unique ethnic identities of other countries. Because of it other nations are forced to sideline their care about spiritual life of people in preference to solve economic, financial, scientific and technical and other problems triggered by globalization at first. Another aspect of intercultural communication which is associated with international relations is issues of political communications and development of country’s positive image. Such a phenomenon is brightly manifested in geopolitical strategy of the United States. To have a closer look at it, we should mention the theory of American political scientist - Joseph Nye. He offers two kinds of powers, which contribute to the supremacy of any country, including the USA. The first one – “soft power” rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others. He supposes that it implies the capacity of striving others to have the same results, which are beneficial for us “Soft power” is a way to achieve something through voluntary participation of partners, without any kind of enforcement, relying on shared with another subject values. It is opposed to “hard power” which denotes a set of political pressure means for a definite mode of behavior on the world stage (including military, economic, diplomatic ones). This kind of power is based on threats, intimidation and inducement.

Hard and soft powers are related because they are both aspects of the ability to achieve one’s purpose by affecting the behavior of others. From the give examples, the definition of culture I find most applicable to intercultural communication would be “an integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations”. Though “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group” is a more transparent interpretation of culture, the one chosen emphasizes on the on the transfer of human knowledge from one generation to another, and intercultural communication as the exchange of this knowledge amongst individuals from various human cultural collectives. Building on this definition, a closer investigation into the relationship between activities in the international arena, revealed that it is directly tied to the intercultural communication. And that intercultural is not only a sisterly academic disciple to IR, but also a necessary requirement in every diplomat’s toolkit.


In this essay I covered the origins of the term culture, broke down several interpretations of what culture is, defined intercultural communication and established a link between one culture and intercultural communication, as well discussed the symbiotic relationship between international relations and intercultural communication. In my opinion, the information shared during intercultural exchanges is at the center of the human evolutionary process, and for that exchange to take place, we are heavily reliant on intercultural communication. Without establishing the mutual basis ofor interaction to take place, no international activity can take place, or atleast not without being limited to primitive biased mediums of exchange. And as the world becomes more globalized and integrated, so too will the need to foster deeper ties and an understanding of one another’s cultural orientation and perspectives.

10 October 2020
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