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Consistent Set of Cultural Traits and Norms
Historically, most societies had a shared culture— a consistent set of cultural traits, norms, and customs among members of that society. Most modern
societies, however, are a mix of different cultures. But you do not have to travel ab road today to encounter cultural differences. Intercultural communication,
which is a signif icant area of study in the communication discipline, is “the communication process in whic h individual participants of differing cultural and
subcultural backgrounds come into direct contact with one another” (Kim, 2010, p. 454). The United States, for example, is an ethnica lly diverse nation of
immigrants; in 2010, its foreign- born population was estimated at 40 million people, or 13% of the population (United State
s Census Bureau, 2012). If you reside and work in the United States, you live in a multicultu ral environment, and you may regularly come into contact with
people whose cultural back grounds differ from yours. We can view the United States as an open system culture: a culture that has continuous inpu ts and
outputs from and to the surrounding environment. In other words, American culture is influenced by and can influence elements of other cultures. One example
of this is our ad aptation of British television shows such as The Office. At the same time, who we are as a cu lture has also spread around the world in the
form of movies and television shows. Celebrit y international endorsements are also examples of the continued dispersal of American cult ure— for example,
singer Katy Perry’s promotion of Laundrin’, a Japanese laundry detergent, or r apper and entertainer Snoop Dogg’s association with German phone and music
brand Vybe mobile. Societies exert pressure on people to conform to the way things are done in that culture, bu t this pressure is often subtle. You may be
unaware of it until you do something unacceptab le or encounter people from other cultures who do things differently. You may like to think of yourself as your
own person, acting of your own free will. Although it is true that you can make choices about how to behave, if your actions are not considered acceptable in
your s ociety, you usually suffer consequences or endure punishment for not behaving “properly.” These consequences can vary. For example, you might be
excluded from group parties if yo ur manners are poor. In a more extreme example, you might be ostracized or removed from a group or from society at large if
you violate the formally stated laws of the land or traditi ons of a religious group. In summary, you could think of culture as a picture frame that surrounds and
creates a bor der for your behavior and your communication. You are, in a sense, bound by your culture because the words in your language, your vocal
characteristics, your nonverbal communica tion, and environmental influences can only be decoded correctly if someone is familiar wit h the cultural context. If
you are not knowledgeable about a culture, you will often misread cues.
Dominant Cultures and Co-Cultures
Cultural diversity can enrich a society by infusing it with new ideas, perspectives, and ways of doing things. However, this diversity can also cause social unrest and conflict. As you lear ned in Chapter 1, belonging is a basic human need, and as we discussed in Chapter 2, buildi ng and maintaining our self- concept is a
strong need. Immigrants to a new culture must often make difficult choices abo ut whether to retain their cultural heritage, primarily adopt the behavior
patterns of the do minant culture, or attempt to blend these cultural characteristics in some way. The domina nt culture, however, can also change when new
populations are large and become significa nt subcultures, or co-cultures, within the society.
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