Associate Professor Sebastian Rasinger and Professor Guido Rings, authors of The Cambridge Introduction to Intercultural Communication, discuss Intercultural Communication and their latest textbook
What is Intercultural Communication? Is it about speaking to people from other countries?
Yes – and no. Traditional approaches to intercultural communication predominantly focused on face-to-face interaction between people of different national backgrounds, and very often these encounters were marked by difference, if not conflict. However, the field has developed: contemporary intercultural communication studies take into account that a lot of communication now does not only take place face-to-face, but through a variety of digital media, from messaging apps, social networking sites, and digital conferencing tools such as Zoom or Teams.
In addition, nowadays, interculturalists tend to define “culture” in a much wider sense than nationality or ethnicity, to include, for example, education, class, gender and age at local, regional, national and supranational level.
Finally, intercultural communication is as much about difference as it is about common ground. In fact, in the book we propose a definition of intercultural communication as “mediation aimed at creating mutual understanding between individuals or groups of different cultural backgrounds.” This mediation includes exchange and negotiation of common ground and differences, with particular focus on the cultural frames that shape interpretations of verbal and nonverbal behaviour.
What makes your book different?
We really wanted to stress the interdisciplinarity of the field. When we edited our Cambridge Handbook of Intercultural Communication (Cambridge University Press, 2020), it really brought home how many people from diverse disciplines, ranging from literary studies to psychology to law, are working on intercultural issues. We really wanted to capture this diversity, and provide readers with an easily accessible introduction that incorporates the different fields. Our Cambridge Introduction to Intercultural Communication therefore includes chapters on linguistic, sociological, anthropological, psychological, literary, filmic, business, military and health service approaches to intercultural communication, and it provides links to bridge the different perspectives, for example through common interests in the enhancement of intercultural competence, the importance of power in interpersonal interaction and the impact of storytelling.
Is intercultural communication mainly relevant in the business world?
Not at all. While a lot of early research focused on the business sector, intercultural communication affects all areas of life, and all sectors. In part III of the book, named Application, we therefore provide an overview of a range of very different context in which intercultural communication plays a role. For example, as we illustrate in the book, intercultural communication is a major issue in the healthcare sector, starting from culturally different perceptions around pain and medical care, to the most fundamental things such as what constitutes death. Similarly, a lot of armed conflicts see military personnel deployed to parts of the world with very different cultural contexts to their own, and often working with other personnel from different cultures. Providing appropriate training to handle these experiences is therefore vital. Finally, in increasingly more mixed societies, which show in mixed personal relationships, neighbourhoods, school classes, university seminars and teams at work, it is very important to have some kind of intercultural competence, which should be discussed as a wider social competence.