Viewing Conflict through the Lens of Culture

Article excerpt

The Conflict & Culture Reader.

How many times have you heard people say that the French are rude, the English are cold, and Asians are passive? And what about the term "the ugly American?" It is unfortunate that cultural differences are usually viewed through the lens of such stereotyping. It is doubly unfortunate when such stereotyping is carried over in situations of conflict.

This book is a compilation of articles on how conflict and culture affect each other. Together the articles offer a comprehensive view of a wide range of issues. While the book does not give out answers in neat boxes, it is effective in generating questions that could be a starting point for serious contemplation and further study.

In an article by Kevin Avruch and Peter W. Black, the definition of culture is tackled. While culture is typically treated as synonymous with customs and traditions, Avruch and Black say that culture is more than that. Culture, they say, is the sine qua non of being human. They say that "knowing" a culture doesn't necessarily mean predicting the act of each and every member of a group. So for the mediator or arbitrator trying to intervene in an intercultural conflict, the first task is to pay serious attention to cultural dimensions. "Conflict resolution in intercultural settings requires..an analysis of the conflict that is also a cultural analysis," according to the authors.

In another article, Howard Gadlin defines culture as "constituted by beliefs, norms, behaviors, and institutional practices." He writes that agreement and disagremeent, conflict and cooperation are all dependent upon and given meaning by the culture within which they occur.

Stella Ting-Toomey builds on the theory that describes cultures as low-, high-, or middle-context. Low-context cultures generally value individual orientation and overt communication codes. In contrast, high-context cultures value group-identity orientation and covert communication codes. Within this framework, countries like the United States, Germany, and Switzerland are considered low-context. China, Japan, and Vietnam belong to the high-context end of the continuum. …