Saturday, March 25, 2006

Review Part One: The Silent Language

One of the Originators of Cross-Cultural Research
Review Part One: The Silent Language
Edward T. Hall (1959, 1981)
This review is to highlight a basic element of research and possibly of interest to readers who might have little, if any interest in attempting to take the road less taken on the best possible goals. Namely, understanding cultural values in a way that is respectfully complimentary to the global age. There is often a misguided belief among many westerners, that "white people have no culture". Realistically, this myth has been perpetuated mostly through mass marketing and media penetration. Edward T. Hall among others of his period helped early define the differences between sociological and anthropological studies of global cultures and the lack of relevance that non-comparative learning might have in the present international business dominated world. He and others like him helped build the foundations of specifically the study of cross-cultural theories through early attempts to rationalize the differences and similarities between cultures proven most useful to international management research, multi-national, cross-border, and globalizing business corporations.
Mostly Hall notes in his introduction the purposes of this book: To explore the vast field of unknown, unverbalized, culturally relevant communication which the billions of this planet knowingly (and unknowingly) engage in daily. His interest is that the intrinsic silence of communication often communicates far more about individuals and collective cultural programming than the fields of lingusitics or anthropology could possibly evaluate. Notably, that which depends most on our definition of self, culture and awareness exists on the periphery of human consciousness, beyond awareness, in the depths of the unspoken.
Certainly in such an area, each is equally blind, and colourless.
In later interviews near the end of his life, Hall summed up that he believed his greatest contribution to the study of cultural communication was in his perspectives on the variations of world cultures in their approaches to time. So his first chapter essay is naturally, "The Voices of Time". One interview may be reviewed at:
In "The Voices of Time" Hall illustrates cultural variations in time perception with examples such as American businessmen attempting to navigate South American time contexts, such as scheduling meetings or using time references in a linear versus orbital relationship. He reaffirms that clock based time is naturally culturally bound and most closely aligned among cultures of Europe and some of their colonial descendants. However he contrasts research among the Navaho to prove that many non-western cultures have taken clock time on mostly as a novelty, similarly in the Arab world where clocks and watches remain more about prestige than linear time keeping.
Next, Hall progresses to an essay in Chapter Two titled, "What Is Culture?" He reveals that the first known western definition of the term can be traced to a certain E.B. Tylor in 1871. It is noteworthy that culture was not even an actual concept to be defined prior to the industrial age.
He states that for many decades, those leading up into the thirties, forties, and indeed the fifties when he was writing this book, a clear definition of the meaning of culture was perhaps only important to anthropological researchers rather than laymen. He reveals that it was in his collaboration with George L. Traeger that he began to attempt to analyze the question to examine five basic steps:
Five Basic Steps in the Defining of Culture
1. As in reading the notes of a compositional analyze the foundation stones of culture.
2. To connect the foundation stones (pieces or isolates) biologically to allow for cross-cultural comparison with conditions are uniform and repeatable, thus scientific.
3. To compile data and research methods that allow the teaching of cultural situations as languages may be taught without requiring empathetic qualities in the researcher.
4. To construct a theory of culture that is unifed and permits continued research.
5. To make the studies and findings relevant to non-specialists.
This chapter may be summarized through short quotation:
...we must learn to understand the "out-of-awareness" aspects of communication. We must never assume that we are fully aware of what we communicate to someone else. There exists in the world today tremendous distortions in meaning as men try to communicate with one another (Hall:1959, p. 29).
Chapter Three is titled: "The Vocabulary of Culture" and begins a description of explicit knowing in terms of individual orientation to culture particularly our comfort in the familiar versus discomfort in the unfamiliar. Hall defines American culture as constantly familiarity in externalities but intrinsically unfamiliar, vastly different locally, from one place to another. Early Hall admits he could find no one foundation or concept to explain cultural differences, particularly on the intrinsic level. However, with Traeger he evolved a series of criteria to illustrate attempts at defining culture.
Qualifying Elements of Culture As A System
A. Biological activities with deep connections to the past.
B. Able to conduct analysis of itself in isolation from other cultural entities, with various isolated components which could be arranged in levels of increasing complexity.
C. "Consituted as a reflection of the rest of culture and reflected in the rest of culture."
These are operational criteria or human activities defined as ten components existing as a primary message system.
Ten Primary Message System
1. Interaction:
Increasing in complexity on the scale of philogenetics.

2. Association:

Beginning from the joining of two cells, leading to the flocking of sheep, hunting in packs, staus versus deference, human organisational hierarchies.

3. Subsistence:

Nutritional requirements, special language behaviours, ranking of work.

4. Bisexuality:

(Not contemporary elided usage of the term) Sexual reproduction and sexual differentiation, the combinations of genes.

5. Territoriality:

Taking possession, use, and balance of life and usage of space.

6. Temporality:

The cycles and rhythms of life, concepts of time and association.

7. Learning:

Behaviour modification, adaptive mechanisms, and the various patterns of learning as agents of culture.

8. Play:

Joking relationships, intimately interwoven with learning, competition primarily as displayed in the west versus vast continuum among various cultures with wider specturm of vast degrees of enjoyment.

9. Defence:

Through warfare, religion, medicine and law enforcement, internal or external dependancies, cross-culturally various degrees of contemporary compartmentalization.

10. Exploitation (materials usage):

Elaboration or materials, in dress, tools, toys, books, signs of status, etc.

Hall admits that these systems are enormous categorizations with infinite degrees of particularisation. His set does ocrrespond with similar systems based analysis of culture over the interim fifty years of cross-cultural research. However his is one of the first points of reference on the topic and should be considered, while classical, the best starting point of reference for any reader truly interested in developing more than a relativist perspective on cultural differences. Which has only really evolved out of a mass marketing and mass media perspective (that would be my opinion on cultural relativism there).

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