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Rebensburg, C. Stengel, V. Tomasello, M. Triandis, H. In: International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 8, The problem: intercultural2 communication in organizations. How to approach it? The discrepancy between facts and situations on the one hand, and the narratives arising from researching them, on the other, can sometimes be as great as to generate knowledge that only partly corresponds to the reality it is trying to explain or describe.
Conceptual constraints derived from limited paradigms of analysis, together with inadequate methodological approaches are among the most affecting factors. Indeed, a remarkable quantity of research papers and books set itself as the basis of a substantial corpus of theories and knowledge about specific social phenomena, and constitute the axis of conceptual frameworks through which further analysis of reality is carried out; however, less frequently is method- 1 2 The author is currently working on her PhD project about intercultural communication dynamics in tourism organizations in the Mexican Caribbean, focusing on the ItalianMexican interaction.
The term intercultural here is used in a wide sense, including all types of communication practices between individuals that ascribe themselves consciously or not to different cultural or sub cultural systems, be they national culture, professional culture, organizational culture, a specific subculture, and so on. For a problematization of the definition of intercultural communication we refer to the work of Alejandro Grimson, , and Miquel Alsina, The field of organizational studies, as a relatively new and naturally interdisciplinary domain, has been characterized by an instrumentalization of research for not investigative purposes.
The case is even more so when it comes to intercultural communication in organizations, which is far too often addressed with the main objective of rapidly elaborating easy answers into practical pieces of advice to be used by high level executives or managers in their strategic tasks, or to be applied by experts in the training of culturally diverse teams in order to make them more respondent to the productivity standards of the company3. A methodological approach that traditionally focuses on forms and contents of communication in organizations, disregarding the actors of those social interactions, is undoubtedly contributing to this institutional and functional vision of communication that is however not making sense of the complexity of social life as it is performed and perceived by those subjects involved in and affected by it.
In the framework of what Mumby and Stohl define as Critical Organizational Communication, we might assume the 3 Examples of these studies abound in Journals and books about organizational studies, such as the Business Communication Quarterly, the Journal of Business Communication, Organization Science, Business Ethics Quarterly and the Journal of Business and Technical Communication, just to mention a few. The demand for a more holistic approach to communication in organizations is even more impellent in the case of interpersonal intercultural communicative dynamics. So, the core question that this paper tries to answer is the following: when studying intercultural interpersonal communication in the workplace, how do we balance the theoretical requirements of a scientifically coherent knowledge construction with the respect of the complexity and variety of social reality in organizations?
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Or, in other words, how do we make sense of communicative interpersonal interactions to produce a coherent corpus of knowledge that is conceptually relevant and valid? Far from intending to provide a final answer to those questions, the present paper addresses those issues from an interdisciplinary perspective by elaborating the proposal of a methodological combination of semiotics and anthropology as an adequate strategy for the study of interpersonal communication within organizations. Intercultural communication in organizations Organizations are dynamic systems where different actors and factors are intertwined to shape a social virtual or material group of people that share experiences, knowledge and practices.
The central role of communication processes in the determination of an enterprise has to be here emphasized, even though acknowledging certain blurriness in the definition of the specific range of communication in organizations. We acknowledge this first referent for the term, yet we advocate for the possibility of intellectually constructed and anchored polysemy that support this second semantic value of the word.
This definition is not modified when applied to interpersonal communication in organizations, however it is clear that the framework of the workplace does affect and has a strong impact of the specific significance and development of non-mediated communicative interchanges. Direct interaction itself can constitute an uncertain terrain to explore, even more so if cultural diversity figures among the factors involved in the communicative process. Therefore, it is once again necessary to stress the utmost relevance of considering new valid methodological strategies that can provide a solid conceptual framework within which a coherent combination of methods and techniques are proposed in order to study complex human phenomena like interaction, from a non-psychological point of view, but rather a communicative and anthropological one.
The organization, in its dynamic conformation, constitutes a multifold context in which communication practices take place: it is in the first place a physical space where individuals carry out specific tasks related to their job and functional to the goal of the enterprise; it is also a symbolic space in which shared interpretations of reality are fostered by the organization and adopted partially or completely by workers; and finally, it is a social space where interactions among individuals create formal and informal networks of interchange inserted in power geometries and hierarchic structures.
This view of organizations as a complex network of communication-based relationships — communication itself is in fact basically and essentially a relational operation — opens up the possibility to understand it as a metaphor of a linguistic universe constituted by diverse languages that are manifested through interactional practices at work.
Sprache, Kultur und Zielgruppen German
Given the basic assumption that behaviors stem from culture, or at least acquire their significance within a specific culture or a complex interweaving of specific cultures, in the case of workers of a corporation , observation of practices needs to be sustained by an explicit definition of the link between culture and its manifestations. The identification of specific cultural referents for the interpretation of observed behaviours constitutes a problematic task for the researcher, as a clear correspondence between practices and culture in organizations cannot be directly established: common practices do not necessarily imply a shared cultural background, and in the opposite case, individuals belonging to the same culture can behave very differently even when doing the same job.
The implication of the above mentioned complex interconnection between communication practices and culture raises relevant methodological issues regarding the most appropriate approach to their study. How do we make sense of what stands behind behaviour? Research cycle The traditional focus of classical communication studies has been mass media, ranging from the effects of media on society to specific analysis of media contents, from audience studies to the creation of genres theories5.
However, it is remarkable how the blurriness of the boundaries of communication as a discipline, which is reflected in the great diversity of its objects of study and methodologies, results in a still unclear definition of a specific methodological approach for the study of interpersonal communication. See Wolf and If a certain authority derived from experience and knowledge can be attributed to researchers, the risk of too subjective interpretations has also to be considered.
Our proposal goes in the direction of an objectivization of the third level of analysis proposed by Thompson through the involvement of the actual actors in the process of interpretation that explain the way they make sense of communication processes. Anthropology provides specific methodological instruments that can be incorporated into a more complex research cycle that combined with semiotic conceptualizations and methods Anthropological Semiotics 35 can be successfully applied to the study of interpersonal intercultural communication.
The following step consists on the reconstruction of the setting of the phenomenon to be studied through the gathering of context information such as social and historical background, demographic information, and so on. The researcher is at this stage entering a more specifically anthropological domain that is characterized by field work, during which most data will be collected using different techniques appropriate for the specific case. The moment of data collection in the study of interpersonal intercultural communicative interactions constitutes the highest moment of interdisciplinary synergy, as both anthropology and semiotics provide valid tools for diversified data collection that mutually support and require each other in order to obtain 36 Barbara Origlio relevant information.
The following step, which is here called data analysis and organizing, is based in the first place on operations of information crosschecking that progressively shifts the emphasis from anthropology back to semiotics with the systematization of the corpus. Finally, all variables identified in the collected data are organized according to a semiotic paradigm to result in a model of understanding of the phenomenon analyzed.
In our methodological combination, semiotics is inserted in the etic perspective, in that it is based on more objective data gathering and categorization, while anthropology represents the classical emic approach, emphasizing the subjectivity of the characters involved in the phenomenon to be studied. A more detailed depiction of the use of the two disciplinary methodologies is provided in the next two sections of the article. Semiotics The analysis of intercultural interpersonal communication at work can benefit from semiotics both on the theoretical and the methodological levels.
Conceptually, specific theories and categories of analysis are available that provide an organic vision of communication phenomena and interpersonal interaction, while the empirical character of the discipline offers the possibility to explain the interconnections between observed reality and theories resulting in models that can be generalized. From the perspective of Anthropological Semiotics 37 cognitive semiotics, communication is seen as a process called semiosis and based on the interpretation of signs through other signs, of different kinds, by a human interpreter.
In the framework of labour interactions, the reception of messages is vital to the operation of an enterprise, as it can directly affect practices. Habermas, from the domain of sociology, also points out the relevance of the cooperative character of communication processes, in which participants have to negotiate their reference to reality in order to be able to actually understand each other , The impossibility of a perfect transmission of a meaning is a key concept in communication studies, still it is important to define what elements and factors cause human beings to be unable to understand each other fully.
The following figure represents the most traditional representation of the process of semiosis as depicted by the father of pragmatic semiotics, Charles S. The cognitive process is meaningful only as it is performed by a human being. However, what we really interpret is not a single isolated sign but a set of organized signs that acquire specific unitary meaning to a group of interpreters and that we will name cultural units Eco Communication is therefore organized around the transmission of significative and significant units that are composed by different types of signs belonging to different languages and that constitute the portion of reality that is significant to a specific interpreter.pt.ocidywecus.cf
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These units are shaped culturally and contextually, and are therefore changeable substances that can be modified in time and space, according to the consensus achieved among members of the same interpretational community. In other words, a cultural unit is a meaningful bit that comprises all the different elements of reality that are grouped in the mind of an interpreter in a logical way so that they acquire significance if put together in a synergic way, but are not as significant, or are not significant at all if taken separately.
A social tacit agreement formed across history, practice, mass Anthropological Semiotics 39 media, etc.