A Culture Bump as an opportunity – not a problem…

     Approaching cultural differences from the perspective of a culture bump allows an individual to view cultural differences, not as problems to be solved,but as opportunities to learn more about oneself and others.  The focus of culture bump training is not to solve and eliminate a bump but to reveal new insights into one’s own character or culture.  Indeed, culture bump theory assumes that culture bumps are never eliminated since ones’ own culture is never eliminated.  However, without self-reflection, culture bumps maintain the potential for misunderstanding. The culture bump approach represents a paradigm shift from traditional intercultural communication approaches.

Intercultural communication includes diversity and global communication

     Intercultural communication covers a wide spectrum of interests in the cross cultural and multicultural education fields.  While multicultural education and diversity concentrate primarily on domestic issues in the United States,the field of intercultural communication also includes the branch which concentrates on educational, business and governmental exchanges between nations.  This sub-speciality in the intercultural communication discipline emerged from the USA involvement in the Peace Corps.  It is primarily concerned with how to develop relationships among people from different backgrounds so as to be effective in living, working and studying in cultures different from one’s own.  It is ably represented by such individuals as Hannigan, Benneett, Gundykunst and Ting-Toomey.  While it emerged from the same source, it has developed differently from multicultural education and diversity training.

Diversity emphasizes group identity and equity

     Specifically, the field of multicultural education which emerged from the Civil Rights Movement led into diversity training in the United States.  The diversity movement deals primarily with issues of equity for various groups of people in our country.  A wealth of information about these various groups of people who reside in the United States has been developed by this branch of intercultural communication in its concern with ensuring equitable treatment for all groups – particularly those that have historically been excluded from power.  The diversity movement has found a voice in leaders such as Robert Suzuki and James A. Banks.  Banks has developed both theories and strategies for teaching ethnically different populations.  He states, “The multicultural curriculum should help students to master higher levels of knowledge so that they can better understand race and ethnic relations and develop the skills and abilities needed to make reflective personal and public decisions. (Banks, 1997, p. 59)
     He identifies four approaches for dealing with differences among people ranging from the contribution approach in which heroic individuals from various cultures are studied along with overt cultural traditions and artifacts to the social action approach.  In the social action approach, students view situations from other perspectives and then are asked to take a position to help solve them.
     The social system and its historical processes along with social change and personal awareness are important parts of multicultural/diversity studies.  The strength of this approach is in its identification of various groups that are not normally recognized in the countries’ collective consciousness, and further in understanding the process they undergo in living in a culture in which they are not the majority and finally focusing on the need for personal and social change.  This discipline, however, does not provide a structured way in which the participants make the transition from recognition of different perceptions to an enlargement of their own worldview.  While self-awareness is included, it is given less importance than the need to focus on minority group characteristics and needs.

Cross-Cultural communication emphasizes methodologies

     In contrast, the field of cross-cultural communication has been extremely aware of the difficulties involved in training people to live cross-culturally and has been tied byHall (1959) and Chushner and Brislin (1986) to the face that individuals are unaware of their own culture and are frequently unable to do so. Indeed designs for successful cross-cultural training as described by Gundykunst, Ting-Toomey and Wiseman (1991) and Hannigan (1990) focus on creating cultural self-awareness in the participants by examining culture in general and examining a model for delineating and understanding cultural differences.  The strength of cross-cultural communication discipline has been in the development of effective cognitive and experiential methodologies.  The discipline however, lacks a structured way to facilitate a change in the participants.

Neither cross-culture nor diversity trainings have a structure for personal change

     One reason that a personal change structure has failed to evolve in either diversity or cross-cultural communication training is that both fields deal with individuals at a macro-cultural level.  The methodology for programs in these fields has been developed with a focus on individuals as products of a culture rather than focusing on individuals as generators of their own culture.  Multicultural education and cross-cultural communication theory has been built around identifying the various values and behaviors of individual cultures rather than focusing on how individuals create and interpret their own cultural identity.  While both approaches stress the need for recognizing different perceptions, neither approach provides a specific guideline for leveraging that awareness into a self-awareness that translates into a changed behavior.  The culture bump theory addresses this structural need for a change mechanism in cultural programming.  It thus incorporates both the strengths and diversity and cross-cultural communication by acknowledging and delineating cultural differences but expands the experience by incorporating a structure for moving the participants beyond the differences in a synergistically created interaction.  This is achieved by designing a training cognizant of human reaction to differences.

How culture bumps lead to cultural isolation

In examining how cultural knowledge is acquired, it is necessary to understand the reaction to culture bumps (or cultural differences).  It is assumed that human beings feel disconnected when encountering a cultural difference and adopt coping strategies in an attempt to alleviate their feelings of anomie.  Implicit within these strategies is the assumption that if the motive for the behavior were known, then the discomfort would be alleviated.  However, the information and the interaction emanating from these strategies are “culture bound” which means that they are characterized by a tendency to (1) focus on the contrast culture (2) identify the attributes of one or the other of the cultures and (3) perpetuate and replicate cultural differences in the structure of their interaction with individuals from the other cultures.  Therefore, the participants’ bias is neither identified nor acknowledged and remains embedded in their unconscious, intersubjective world.

How culture bump training leads to cross-cultural connections

     In a culture bump training, however, the participants continue their exploration with one another beyond the culture bound level of awareness.  Either formally or informally, they self-reflect on their (1) cultural characteristics and (2) cultural commonalties or universal themes.  Participants emerge from this process with a sense of detachment, a conscious recognition of the cultural relativism of their own expectations and a discovery of the meaning attached to those expectations.  A series of steps have been designed to guide individuals encountering culture bumps through the process out of which these three aspects become explicit.  This type of culture free interaction, while not as instinctive as culture bound interactions, provides the possibility for relieving the original, frequently unconscious feeling of anomie.
NOTE: This is an excerpt from a complete description of a culture bump training which can be found at http://culturebump.com/activities/training-for-effective-cross-cultural-communication/

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