Communication & Culture: A Comparative Approach

Alex S. Edelstein

Youichi Ito

Hans Mathias Kepplinger

This text is built upon the foundation of a theoretic concept, the "problematic situation." The historical roots of this concept evolve from the Gallup poll question: "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?" The authors go beyond this "most important problem" (MIP) concept to the larger question of what this problem means to the individual. It is at this second level of analysis, why the problem is considered to be a problem, that cultural differences hypothetically emerge.

Methodological efficiency dictates that a set of problematic situations be offered to respondents when analyzing MIP's cross-culturally. The six problematic situations offered in the studies reported here include: loss of value; institutional breakdown; conflict; need; step toward a solution/proposed alternative solution; indeterminacy. The authors note, however, that these alternatives can be broadly interpreted by the respondent, therefore one's choice of meaning for the problem cited is not seriously limited.

Respondents from four cultural groups, Japan, Germany, Hong Kong, and the United States, are compared. The comparative strategy is based on the fact that university students are used as respondents within all four cultures. It is argued that the respondents' relative position in each nation's social structure is held constant. Likewise, their "situation" is held constant resulting in equal saliency for perceived problems in each society. Therefore, the only element which could explain differentially perceived problematic situations would be cultural differences.

A well-written Foreword by Maxwell McCombs invokes Wilbur Schramm's remark that, "There is nothing so practical as a good theory." McCombs elaborates how the "problematic situation" approach stimulates unique vertical, in-depth growth for the agenda-setting concept. A full chapter is devoted to agenda-setting research.

Findings resulting from this comparative research project support the expectation that perceived MIPs across cultures do not greatly differ, but the meanings of these problems do differ from one culture to another. Along with agenda-setting, individual chapters conceptually interpret findings from this comparative project on the basis of: news theory, uses and gratifications, credibility, public opinion, perceptions/cognitions, and interpersonal communication.

The concepts are all well defined and well discussed. The four cultures are sufficiently backgrounded. References are wide-ranging, well cited, and complete. Research dealing with other cultures are cited when applicable.

Meaningful, methodologically-sound, empirical evidence is integrated with theory. Further research will surely be stimulated by this work. The "problematic situation" approach is clearly applicable within Canada, especially as it relates to French and English comparisons to the U.S.

My only criticism concerns the chapter on cultural and student values. I was surprised, and dismayed, to find that the seminal work of Milton Rokeach was not cited. Rokeach's legacy to our field is rich and enlightening. It would have certainly added to the discussion in this book.

This text offers us a rare instance of true multi- and intercultural collaboration. This is exemplified by the "author symposium" at the back of the book which personifies the empathy each author has for the issues and each other. Likewise, the authors humbly hope that "teachers and students find this book useful and a source of gratification." I do, and I believe classes ranging from the sophomore to graduate levels will also. It is highly readable and understandable.

I believe the authors have accomplished their goal. They intend for this book to be "...as useful for a class in mass communication that has no experience in international issues as for those who are steeped in internationalism but who have had no empirical background."

They accomplished even more. They have written a book that has a heart and soul to complement its logical mind.



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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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