Culture and Interpersonal Communication

William B. Gudykunst

Stella Ting-Toomey

The field of Interpersonal Communication has suffered for some time from a weak (some would say non-existent) theoretical base, and from overzealous emphasis on issues of personal growth, often to the exclusion of sound scholarly analysis. Fortunately, this malaise has been widely challenged in the last decade through revitalized research programs and the articulation of several rigorous theoretical frameworks. It is perhaps a sign of growing maturity in this area that scholars are now examining linkages between these theories and adjacent areas of scholarly interest.

This book, the sixth in Sage's series on Interpersonal Communication, exemplifies this bridging effort with its emphasis on cultural influences in face-to-face interaction. As the authors suggest, culture is a "boundary condition" for all interpersonal research, in addition to being a salient variable in its own right. In reviewing and synthesizing recent theory and research on intercultural communication, this book provides a welcome addition to the literature on human interaction.

The authors begin by setting out the theoretical framework in which their examination of culture and interpersonal processes is couched. The model calls attention to various sources of sociocultural variability and traces the impact of these on various situational, social and individual dimensions of intercultural communication. Subsequent chapters elaborate various elements of this model by synthesizing current theoretical perspectives and empirical research in each area. Topics covered in depth include: the sources of cultural variability; the role of situational and psychological factors, including personality, self-conceptions and affective processes; verbal and non-verbal aspects of interaction; the impact of social cognition; and the nature of interpersonal and intergroup relationships.

The coverage of most areas is impressive. The authors have amassed a considerable volume of material and have managed to compress a very detailed discussion into a comparatively small space. The material is logically organized and succinctly presented throughout. Citations of specific research studies are plentiful, making this a valuable reference source, though perhaps not "light" reading. These features make the book particularly appropriate for more advanced students and scholars with specific research interests in the intercultural area, but probably not for an introductory audience.

Two important limitations arise from the theoretical framework which undergirds this work which the authors have not made adequately clear. These cannot be considered conceptual flaws, but simply a consequence of setting particular boundaries on the area of investigation. In defining their elemental terms, namely, culture and interpersonal communication, Gudykunst and Ting-Toomey delimit the range of processes they wish to address. For example, interpersonal communication is construed as a distinctly intentional process driven by an assumed motivation of uncertainty reduction. While consistent with existing theories, this characterization reveals the authors' leaning toward a cognitive and distinctly rationalist view of human communication. In an examination of cultural phenomena, however, one might well expect significant elements of interaction to occur on an unconscious and unintentional level. Indeed, many of the important practical difficulties in this realm arise specifically from unintentional meanings growing out of unconscious cultural assumptions. To figure these elements out of the equation explicitly sets a significant limitation on the processes embraced by this work.

Even more stringent limitations arise from the author's conception of "culture." While a specific definition of culture is not offered, the authors explicitly indicate their equation of culture with national sociocultural systems. The convenience of this specification notwithstanding, identification of cultures as co-extensive with nations is both inaccurate and, I think, unfortunate. Much of the real importance of intercultural research stems from the fact that modern societies are distinctly, and increasingly, multicultural. Specification of cultures as primarily national in character implies an understanding of culture as distinctly homogeneous and monolithic, obviating a more pluralistic view of cross-cultural issues. While interaction across "national" social boundaries is clearly within the scope of intercultural communication, exclusive focus on this dimension masks important interethnic and other subcultural issues arising within national boundaries. I was disappointed to find these issues cast aside in this work.

Apart from these limitations, Culture and Interpersonal Communication is a thoroughly researched and tightly written book which contributes significantly to the corpus of scholarship in both interpersonal and intercultural communication. It can be highly recommended as a reference source for anyone interested in these increasingly important areas of research.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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