Learning by drawing on experience and promoting activism

November 21, 2014
This review is from: Intercultural Communication for Everyday Life (Paperback)
Baldwin and his team have unapologetically placed intercultural communication in the context of everyday life, but don't be fooled, as "everyday life" for the authors is focused on the challenges of dealing with culture in its full impact on real coexistence with oneself and others. That means addressing ethics, politics, and economics as well as managing diverse relationships. In short it stresses civic and political engagement enlightened by building an understanding of how culture works and how we experience it at home and on the street. It openly connects and integrates the diversity agenda with intercultural study. Success involves, but is not just "kiss, bow and shake hands" and mouthing a politically correct nostrums. Culturally, the book is quite globalized but in its practical focus very "US American", thus providing solid focus on its intended users' learning and life experience there.
The book opens with an invitation to examine the potential motives for doing this sort of study, starting with personal growth and then taking personal responsibility to the edges of the universe. There is a rich mix of theory and research explicitly about culture as well as a wealthy draft from the other human sciences, with ethical and behavioral questions always in the foreground. One feels a bit overwhelmed by the number of concepts and labels-too much to remember-though a rather complete glossary comes to the rescue.
There is the obligatory review of the history of cultural research and not just definitions, but different ways of looking at culture and how it functions within us. Perhaps the best moments of this are where it becomes clear how ongoing communication is constantly both creating and recreating culture as groups respond to and shape their environment. While there is extensive and respectful as well as critical treatment of dimensional approaches and the dynamics of stereotyping, the word "essentialism" does not seem to be used in the book.
Chapter Nine contains a topic rarely discussed in intercultural trainings despite the emphasis on communication differences and skills as key. Its title tells all: "Rhetoric and culture: How does my culture relate to persuasive writing and speaking?" How do we persuade? How do we persuade those different from us? What does our rhetorical tradition offer? The authors analyze rhetorical traditions, "roots" of several cultures, their origins and use, as well as how persuasiveness is created in multicultural contexts.
The book makes extensive use of popular culture in stories, examples and visual representations. Several chapters are focused on the functioning of media as products and shapers of culture and the new constellations of subcultures created by their users, both locally and globally. Admittedly, we live as much or perhaps more in our media than in our residential neighborhoods, a culture we are beginning to call "hyperconnectivity." So we can be both virtual and real expatriates at the same time. Managing these contexts and creating successful relationships where we find ourselves occupies the final part of this book, in a sense bringing together the learnings of what has gone before not just in summary fashion but by indicating behavioral directions for both authenticity and using our cultural endowment as we do the required shape shifting in a multiplex world.
Missing is any serious discussion of religion and its roles in belief systems and intergroup relations, despite it's role in the most serious conflicts of the day. It is hard to speak about responsibility, rights and justice as imperatives with only pragmatic grounding, though perhaps better than not speaking about them as a way of avoiding action. In a sense however the book brings with it the danger that it makes its believers "right" in a world where so much and so many are seen as wrong. The challenge remains that of trying to realign what is askew without generating an aura of self-righteousness, perhaps especially so when the target users of the book and its website are likely to be imbued with the idealism of youth.
Besides effective website integration for instructors, the book offers other interesting features, e.g., two Tables of Contents, one brief and one full. And this in a textbook cum website links for today's globally texting young folks, pointing them to what is "on the net" to illustrate and deepen their experience of what is found on the pages, raising relevant discussion questions and offering resources and tips as "Action points."
While I believe myself to be a rather quickly acculturating digital immigrant, as well as a long time university lecturer, I am still puzzled about the function of texts like these in the overall educational experience and their relationship to classroom methodology. Fortunately the instructor's resource website furnishes a full range of teaching tools from overheads to syllabi. The combination has the advantage bringing into one's hand a somewhat integrated presentation, guidance and a direction without the leakage and serendipity of online meanderings.

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