Book Review: Why Travel Matters

51Xh7kpNNhLWhy Travel Matters: A guide to the life-changing effects of travel, by Craig Storti, published by Nicholas Brealey, 2018.

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.
—St. Augustine

Are you looking for a terrific graduation gift? Just published last week, this quick, thought-provoking read will encourage any beloved young adult in your life to challenge themselves to develop new perspectives and values by experiencing the world around them fully.

Why Travel Mattersis an in-depth exploration of how to ensure travel experiences transcend tourism and transform the soul. “Through the ages it has been observed that travel broadens your horizons, deepens your understanding and changes your perspective. How? What must be done when traveling to make sure these things actually happen?”

Nothing is comparable to the new life that a reflective person
experiences when he observes a new country. Though I am still always
myself, I believe I have changed to the very marrow of my bones.
—Goethe

The book is written in typical Craig Storti style: engaging prose, good humor, content based on sound concepts and theory, well explained with lots of stories and examples. I read it on one leg of my flight last week and have already purchased several copies for the graduates on my gift list.

Not a typical travel book, Storti talks to the reader about the consequences of the trip rather than the trip itself, the inner as well as the outer journey, using quotations, insights, reflections and commentary from travelers, travel writers, historians and literary masters including Mark Twain, DH Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, St. Augustine and Somerset Maugham. He reviews the history of travel, including the importance of the grand tour beginning in 16th century Europe.

He goes on to explain the rise of modern tourism in the 1840s, thanks to Thomas Cook injecting the four elements of speed, comfort, convenience and tour groups, scrubbing travel of experiences that might disturb or discomfort—and, thus, removing its transformative powers. For me, with a passion for travel, who has hired a tour guide but has yet to take a group tour, who lacks the patience to lead a group of tourists, and who values a liberal arts education heavily grounded in study abroad and cross-cultural competence, the message this book promotes is music to my ears.

They had learnt life in a different school from mine
and had come to different conclusions.
—Somerset Maugham

Storti defines tourism as escape, recreational travel during which tourists are served by locals. Tourism is relaxing; tourists see the sights. Travel, on the other hand, is arriving at a destination. Travel is educational, travelers meet with locals and are stimulated to understand.

Travelers don’t know where they’re going
and tourists don’t know where they’ve been.
—Paul Theroux

Storti weaves in recent discoveries in neuroscience and recounts powerful passages from some of the world’s greatest travel narratives to support his thesis, including the story from Saint-Exupery’s Wind, Sand and Stars of the first time the Moors realized the Sahara was a desert and so very dry compared to other parts of the world—after they’d travelled and seen their first waterfall (p. 35). The reader thus learns that impressions formed abroad change how we see home once we return. He presents and reframes basic intercultural concepts in the context of travel: “You don’t see what is in front of you; you see your brain’s perception of it” (p. 24), sharing with us how JG Farrell saw blood spatters on the pavement during his journey through India, when in reality the red he was seeing was betel juice (Indian Diary), or Storti’s own inability to identify what his eyes were seeing when he first glimpsed icebergs from the air.

Each act of seeing informs and enhances all subsequent acts;
the more we have seen, the more we are subsequently able to see.
Why Travel Matters, p. 32

In Chapter 4 Storti provides a table of cultural dimensions, writing that travel helps “you realize most people behave logically most of the time. You may not approve of their logic… but once you realize there are reasons behind their behavior you begin to accept that it makes sense.” He does occasionally get over-zealous, in my opinion, continuing on to optimistically tell readers, “There will never be people you cannot understand.”

Knowledge of ourselves—what we at Cultural Detective call “subjective culture,” meaning knowledge of ourselves as unique individuals influenced by multiple layers of culture—gives us choice over who and how we are in this world.

One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.
—Henry Miller

Storti concludes in Chapter 5 by providing a list of eleven best practices or tips on traveling for personal growth. These include:

  1. Travel alone.
  2. Stay out of touch/off the grid; you can’t have an experience and share it at the same time, attempts at the latter diminish the former.
  3. Collect sights not sites.
  4. Secure an introduction, a friend of a friend or colleague, to provide you a look inside the life of a local resident.
  5. Frequent places where you’ll find locals.
  6. Be a regular.
  7. Get inside someone’s home.
  8. Read about the country before and during your travel.
  9. Enjoy yourself.

Why Travel Matters includes three appendices: an interesting collection of rules for travel from other authors; a selection of quotes from people who are against travel, which feels a bit out of place or forced; and a wonderful list of the world’s great travel books—several of which I’m confident you’ll want to add to your reading list. Here’s to enjoying and benefitting from the journey!

There is all the difference in the world between behaving academically,
with the intellect, and behaving personally, intimately,
with the whole living self.
Proverbs are platitudes until you have experienced the truth of them.
—Aldous Huxley

 

The Pulitzer’s of Diversity

Edith Anisfield Wolf, Photo from the Cleveland Foundation

Edith Anisfield Wolf, photo from the Cleveland Foundation

Do you think you are well-read on world cultures? Do you occasionally wonder what one person can do to promote justice in this world of ours? Are you someone who thinks that it’s primarily people of color who recognize the vital importance of diversity on our planet? If so, think again and most definitely read on.

Edith Anisfield Wolf, born way back in 1889, was a poet, businesswoman and philanthropist from Cleveland who had a lifelong passion for social justice. The daughter of immigrants, Edith spoke four languages (English, French, German and Spanish) and used literature as a means to explore racial prejudice and celebrate human diversity.

In 1935 she created the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, to honor books that explore these very issues. That makes 2015 the Award’s 80th anniversary! Congratulations and thank you, Edith! Note how visionary that makes her—establishing this important Award 20 years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision! Edith died in 1963, but her legacy lives on.

“The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures…Today it remains the only American book prize focusing on works that address racism and diversity. Past winners have presented the extraordinary art and culture of peoples around the world, explored human-rights violations, exposed the effects of racism on children, reflected on growing up biracial, and illuminated the dignity of people as they search for justice.”
—Anisfield-Wolf website

Over the past 80 years the Award has highlighted nearly 200 significant books, most of which I have not read. So I need to get going! For those of us who may be intimidated by such a long list, they also have a smaller list of 24 “Lifetime Achievement” books, or you can sort winners by year or according to the categories of fiction, non-fiction or poetry.

Again from the Award’s website: “The Cleveland Foundation, the world’s first community foundation, has administered the Anisfield-Wolf prize since 1963. Before then, the Saturday Review sponsored the awards. From the early 1960s until 1996, internationally renowned anthropologist and author Ashley Montagu chaired the awards jury. That panel of globally prominent scholars and writers has since been overseen by Henry Louis Gates Jr., the acclaimed scholar, lecturer, social critic, writer, and editor.”

Have you heard of this Award? Despite its prestigious history and huge contribution, and the fact that the Anisfield-Wolf’s cash prizes equal the Pulitzer’s, many people haven’t heard of it. Perhaps that’s due to how ahead of its time the Award was, though Karen Long, the Award’s manager, has another theory:

“[The] Anisfield-Wolf remains a relatively unknown honor. Awards manager Karen Long suspects she knows why. ‘Things that address race are considered, sometimes in the larger culture, as homework or broccoli or good for you.'” —USA’s National Public Radio

Cultural Detectives, I am thrilled to be on the journey to developing intercultural competence, respect, understanding, collaboration and justice with you. And, I’m feeling like we need to work together to make sure more people know about this incredible resource! Let’s start by watching the Awards via live feed this Thursday, September 10, at 6:00 pm Cleveland time (GMT-4), and by circulating this post widely to your networks.

Cultural “Madeleines”

Image from "Foodies," a blog by L. John Harris on Zester Daily

Image from “Foodies,” a blog by L. John Harris on Zester Daily

Another terrific guest blog post by CD Russia co-author Carrie Cameron, combining two of your favorites: food and literature. Smells and tastes evoke our deepest memories, and for Blended Culture people they can easily lead to a round-the-world reverie…

Perhaps you’re familiar with the famous madeleine of Marcel Proust’s A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past, or In Search of Lost Time, depending on the translation). The author takes a bite of a madeleine, a simple cookie, and the taste-memory drifts him off on a long reverie of his childhood, connecting him to the people and moments of long ago:

“…when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring…remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, by Anya von Bremzen, is not a cookbook, but a literary madeleine, evoking through food memories her childhood in Soviet Russia. It’s not about her favorite foods or emblematic Russian dishes. It’s about how a taste connects us with a moment in time and space.

Vobla, dried and salted Caspian roach fish, “brings out that particular Russian masochism: we love it because it’s such a torment to eat…I’d happily trade all Hemingway’s snails and Proust’s cakes for a strip of [this] petrified fish flesh.” A half-piece of black-market Juicy Fruit gum takes her back to the girls’ bathroom in elementary school, where she would auction it off to the other girls, having obtained it through some elite family connections. She describes salat Olivier as a “metaphor for a Soviet émigré’s memory… loosely cemented with mayo.” In her mother’s American kitchen in the 90’s, making the salat, she notes how “a taste of Lebanese pickle that uncannily resembles a Russian gherkin leads to a snippet from a Rodina song, which in turn rouses a political morality tale, or reawakens a recollection of a long-ago dream, of a fleeting pang of yearning.” Starting from these tastes and smells, the author skillfully depicts the cultural intimacies of a point in time and place which no longer exists, yet is very real and alive in her memory.

What tastes and smells evoke your cultural insights? What clues do they provide to other ways of life, and why?? Post your answers in the comments, and let’s compare!

Book Review: Global Dexterity

GlobalDexterity

Molinsky, Andy, Harvard Business Review Press. 2013.
ISBN10:1422187276, ISBN13:9781422187272

When it comes to cultural competence, there are some big gaps between knowing about, knowing how to, and actually developing and applying the skills to manage self in real situations. Andy Molinsky, in his new book, Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures without Losing Yourself in the Process, has provided us with a methodology for bridging into the third and most critical of these steps. His choice of the word “dexterity” in the title of the book is well chosen to express the fact that we become effective when we have learned how to develop “muscle memory” to respond to real situations in intercultural management and in life, when on strange turf. It is about translating knowledge into behavior and acquiring the habits that make us good at it.

The insights Molinsky provides are not so much about how cultures differ, though the stories he tells make the reader fully aware of the dynamics of these differences. Certainly, one must know and recognize difference, but the book’s key insights are more about how we function wholistically in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Global Dexterity is a workbook, and the work is up to the user.

Molinsky helps us identify our own “culture code” and that of others — differences in what he calls prototypical thinking and behavior, which may belong to people, to a place or a situation, or to all three at a given moment. In other words, the “detective” work of sniffing out the rules for what is seen as appropriate behavior in a specific cultural setting. The now online Cultural Detective, though not explicitly mentioned in Molinsky’s book, is a good tool for this work. Also, “culture code” as used here should not be limited to the Jungian approach for decoding cultural discourse developed by Clotaire Rapaille, for those familiar with it, though that is also a relevant form of investigation.

Since the variations in code can be almost infinite and therefore paralyzing when it comes to seeking out the right approach to a culture, Molinsky insists we not look for a single “right” behavior, but for a “zone of appropriateness,” a range within which to operate successfully in each culture. He then provides a practical navigational framework for looking into what is most likely to differ as we face situations in this zone. He asks us to pay attention to the relative measures of how direct, enthusiastic, assertive, self promoting and disclosing our behaviors are in comparison with those of the other party. These measures are, admittedly, not exhaustive, but are likely to give us the solid return on our investment of time used to understand and adapt our behavior.

Once aware of the culture code and the zones of appropriateness, the question is how can one stretch one’s comfort zone to overlap with the appropriateness zone of the other’s cultural code. Of course this can be a two way street, but in any case one must diagnose the situation, customize one’s behavior options to fit or bridge the gap, and, ultimately, integrate the customized behavior to the point that it feels right and can become the “new normal” for the situations it fits.

The author identifies three psychological challenges along the way, and he provides a process for dealing with them. First, he uses the word authenticity to speak of the challenge raised by conflict with values and beliefs. Secondly comes competence — does one have the know-how and skill to actually perform the new behavior? The final challenge is dealing with resentment — even if one can perform the behavior, will he or she feel embittered about having to do so?

The helpful metaphor in discussing these challenges is “acting.” An actor needs to learn a new role for a specific part of a drama. Here too, mastering the role needs to be seen as positive acquisition, the realization of potential, rather than as a loss or suppression of self. Today’s language teachers realize this when they no longer speak of “accent reduction” but rather of “accent acquisition.” The search for “authenticity” (the real me) unfortunately is wed to US pop psychology. Objecting, “It’s just not me,” is often an obstacle or an excuse for avoiding the discomfort involved in widening one’s repertoire. Thus, the theater metaphor is particularly useful here. In learning and practicing new skills, it is okay to say, “No, it’s not me…yet…”

So how does one make adopting new paradigm or behavior acceptable to the old self? Besides thinking of it as theater, one can enhance the recognition and acceptance of new behavior by calling on one’s own inner diversity to change one’s perceptions, viz., by aligning the new behavior with one’s goals, weaving it in with other personal or cultural values, or by working to understand and accept the other culture’s logic. If this automatically sounds like rationalistic deviation from what one holds as norms, it must be remembered that we regularly play one value against another in making changes and decisions, and that cultures themselves have both conflicting and complementary discourse to help us navigate life. The author again offers us process, “workbook” pages, for applying this alignment process.

None of this adaptation is likely to occur simply by knowing about differences, and it is here that Molinsky has most to offer to intercultural pedagogy and pedagogues. Few people can incoporate new and alien behaviors spontaneously. It takes practice, practice, paractice, and it is this feature that is most neglected in current intercultural praxis. Gone are the days when a trainer had four or five days to offer participants enough hands-on exercises to try out and then integrate new behaviors in a process of familiarization, rehearsal, and “dress rehearsal” or application to real situations. The reader will have to do this on his or her own, so the author provides pages, tools and questions to facilitate this. There is a potential here for online learning that should be pursued, and Molinsky’s approaches would combine extremely well with a subscription to the Cultural Detective Online tool to provide the ongoing, structured learning needed.

Inevitably, Molinsky points out, we are awash in trial and error, in the challenge of experiential learning. So, he offers further help. There are tips on how to increase one’s chances of being forgiven one’s mistakes, how to look for a cultural model to pattern oneself after, or even how to find a mentor who understands you and your culture well enough to provide feedback, information and support.

What happens, however, when absolutes collide, when ethical standards will be violated if one adapts behavior and accepts practices that are beyond the pale? Here is where the “without losing yourself in the process” line of the book’s title most comes into play. Our creativity for building options is challenged. Humor, gentle insistence, and, if the stakes are not too high, simply contradicting the local norm in your behavior, are given as examples.

Molinsky concludes the book and sums up its import with five key takeaways that compare conventional attitudes about cultural adaptation with the realities that become actionable using the insights, the paradigms and the processes he proposes.

The book is well written and an easy read. The challenge comes if one truly uses the tools it provides to put adaptation into practice. This is incumbant on intercultural professionals who need to model it for their clientele and students. We need to play with Global Dexterity’s excellent start and take it further, lest the old adage, “Those who can do, do; those who can not do, teach!” be applied to preachers of cultural competence who fail to develop and practice “dexterity.”

Book Review: Communication Highwire

by Dianne Hofner Saphiere, Barbara Kappler Mikk, and Basma Ibrahim DeVries
Intercultural Press, ©2005

Communication Highwire: Leveraging the Power of Diverse Communication Styles

Review written by Piper McNulty
Originally published in the The CATESOL Journal vol. 20.1

Communication Highwire, as the circus metaphor implies, explores the balancing act inherent in any intercultural interaction: how to remain true to oneself while exploring aspects of other styles, with a goal of achieving more effective communication.

After decades of teaching and training across, and about, cultural differences, these three authors have found that labels such as “direct,” “low context,” or “polychronic,” while providing initial insights, are not sufficient for their purposes, and that a more “robust, and dynamic” (p. xi) analysis framework is needed. In addition, unlike most books on intercultural interactions, Communication Highwire moves beyond appreciation of cultural difference to suggest ways to leverage diverse styles for improved communication across cultures.

Their model is additive, with a goal of expanding each individual’s communication-style repertoire. The book is divided into four sections: an introduction, five factors affecting communication style, a detailed breakdown of 16 specific styles, and an extensive collection of activities. The authors return throughout the book to the ongoing, often contentious relationship between two businessmen, Mike and Tanaka-san, who struggle to understand each other’s behaviors, articulate their own goals and preferences, try each other’s styles, and ultimately work together productively. Examples from many other cultures and contexts are also used to illustrate the concepts and strategies throughout the book, drawing on the authors’ extensive intercultural experience, both professional and personal.

Saphiere, Mikk, and DeVries explore communication across cultures from different client needs and perspectives, and they argue persuasively that successful communication requires a combination of styles. The best coauthored books present a mixture of ideas, experiences, and analysis and we are the richer for these authors’ extensive collaboration. Each chapter, and the themes that carry throughout the text, appear to be the result of extensive discussion, reflection, and collaboration. The book is full of engaging, highly readable examples, discussion prompts, and skills activities, which take the reader well beyond the obvious and the “common sense” of communication theory. Occasionally the sentences get a bit wordy, but the writing is clear and cogent throughout, and the authors do an excellent job of selectively substituting everyday terms where field-specific jargon could simply distract and frustrate the reader.

The book also stands out for its gentle reminders to consider multiple perspectives, to “hold…individual goals loosely enough to hear, accept and more fully understand each other’s goals” (p. 79). In addition, the analysis checklists are exceptionally thorough. For example, most intercultural communication (IC) texts simply state that in some cultures one should avoid eye contact with authority figures, yet we all know that eye-contact rules are not that simple.

These authors list four different descriptors of eye contact, and while such detailed analyses might seem more than the average ESL/EFL student needs, or can handle, adults in a second-culture context often struggle to adjust their communication behaviors to be more effective with their new interlocutors, and they are often very aware of fine nuances of style. Such students are usually more than ready to embrace this depth of analysis, because they want to understand why their interactions across cultures do not always go as intended.

Of particular interest to TESOL members will be the detailed analyses of functional language. Students trained to analyze miscommunication as these authors suggest will be at a significant advantage when discussing, negotiating, persuading, critiquing, or receiving feedback, skills that can come into play in academic contexts, the workplace, when renting an apartment, or opening a bank account. Also addressed are idea presentation, turn taking, expectations of communication process, use of emotion, permeability of new ideas, apologies, requests, praise and disagreement, feedback, and humor, among others. Language for describing details of both vocal characteristics and nonverbal behaviors are also provided. Making this global range of styles explicit is of great benefit to instructors and students alike.

The authors also emphasize that no individual will be predictably direct, or emotionally expressive, or quick to touch others in all contexts (to name just a few), but that communication styles are a situational tendency, providing a link between behavior and underlying intentions. To leverage our understanding of others’ styles, they present a four-step method: (a) reflecting, (b) analyzing, (c) discussing, and (d) deciding. While these steps might seem easy to carry out, discussing and deciding are not found in most IC literature, and the authors’ engaging analysis of the ongoing relationship between Mike and Tanaka-san helps instructors and clients develop their own version of the suggested analysis strategies.

The book is such a rich source of information and analysis tools to seem, at times, overwhelming, but the outline format and use of charts allow the reader to skim the chapters’ subtopics, selecting the specific communication styles or functions that are most applicable to their client/student population.

As for the activities, we have all read step-by-step instructions of skill-building activities and wondered whether we could achieve the outcomes promised by the author. Intercultural and diversity training can be particularly idiosyncratic and context specific, making it difficult for others to duplicate their success. However, the activities presented here are easy to envision, and the tips and suggested adaptations allay concerns that the exercises are too dependent on the original facilitator’s approach. In addition, the relatively large font, line spacing, and the wide margins leave plenty of room for underlining and notes.

Communication Highwire is an excellent resource for ESL/EFL instructors whether or not they use the activities in their own classrooms, as the tools provided may help them recognize where, and why, their own interactions with their clients, of any age or level, have gone awry, and what may be causing disconnects in their classrooms. The authors explore culturally different communication styles with depth, clarity, and insight.

Communication Highwire would be a useful supplement for teacher-training programs and a valuable addition to any ESL/EFL instructor or trainer’s library, no matter what the level or context of instruction.

Communication Highwire: Leveraging the Power of Diverse Communication Styles is a gem!

Book Review: Intercultural Communication, Globalization and Social Justice

by Kathryn Sorrells, Sage Publications, ©2013 ISBN 978-1-4129-2744-4

Intercultural Communication: Globalization and Social Justice provides fresh voice and much-needed current perspective on intercultural communication competence. Written as an undergraduate and graduate level text, as a 30+ year professional I also read it enthusiastically. From Sorrells’ debunking of racial color blindness (p. 62), to the commodification of culture (p. 190), to her closing call for global citizenship (p. 227), her keen intellect and passionate commitment to social justice is evident and unwavering throughout.

From the beginning the author makes clear the need to put intercultural communication in context and with a clear purpose:

“Regrettably, some of the most egregious injustices—exploitation of workers in homes, fields, and factories and violence perpetrated through racial profiling and ethnic cleansing—are performed within intercultural contexts and are enabled by intercultural communication.” (p. xiv)

…”the globalized context in which we live today makes ethnocentrism and ethnocentric approaches extremely problematic. The assumption that one’s own group is superior to others leads to negative evaluations of others and can result in dehumanization, legitimization of prejudices, discrimination, conflict and violence.” (p. 13)

“This text … provides a framework to create a more equitable and socially just world through communication.” (p. xiv)

By page 38, I knew I was in good hands, as Sorrells wove Amy Chua and her World on Fire into the intercultural mix, providing it as counterpoint to Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man.

The author appears to have challenged herself to address each topic, even the most familiar, through at least four lenses:
  • in what ways is the topic complex and contradictory,
  • how does the topic appear from micro, mess and macro views,
  • what are the local and global connections, and
  • how do the complexities and contradictions play out in our world today, particularly in terms of equity and justice?

Sorrells is an excellent teacher, providing rich yet succinct examples—unraveling the various interwoven threads of her stories to enable the reader to more clearly see each thread—while keeping the overall tapestry in mind. Her writing should energize and guide cadres of undergraduates, as well as professionals, to use intercultural communication theory and practice to bring more equity and justice to our world.

Sorrells covers the content you’d typically expect in a basic text on intercultural communication: nonverbal communication, context, dialogue, relationships, communication style, identity theory, use of space. What makes this book different is that she uses important current issues and topics to provide a fresh perspective and powerful, meaningful insight. She examines intercultural communication informed by topics such as power, hegemony, growing socio-economic inequities, the culture of capitalism, race, color-blindness, immigration, glocalization, hip-hop culture, appropriation, hybrid cultures, and online communication. She pulls from a variety of disciplines including feminist theory to address her topic. In the process, she introduced to this practitioner new ideas such as fragmegration (p. 131), culture jamming (p. 144) and polysemic space (p. 91).

The book begins by looking at why the intercultural field has not been able to settle on one definition of culture, tracing definitions of culture from anthropology, cultural studies, and globalization. The author next guides us through a much-needed review of the history of intercultural communication, doing so crisply and meaningfully. Revisiting the origins of the field may help us return to our collaborative purposes and away from the overly analytical comparative studies trends of today.

Each chapter concludes with discussion activities and questions, which for a trainer or coach will be invaluable. And they’ll make lesson planning for the classroom easy.

To enable students to navigate the complex intercultural spaces they inhabit, the author introduces a process of critical, reflective thinking and acting. She calls this “intercultural praxis.” Via six interrelated points of entry (inquiry, framing, positioning, dialogue, reflection, and action), “intercultural praxis uses our multifaceted identity positions and shifting access to privilege and power to develop our consciousness, imagine alternatives, and build alliances in our struggles for social responsibility and social justice.” (p. xvi)

Obviously the text is not intended for a basic-level reader of English! And, while this praxis model is definitely conceptually sound, it is far from easy to put into practice.

What were some of the points in this book that stood out for me? The concept of “positioning” is important:

… “how our geographic positioning is related to social and political positions. As you read these sentences, where are you positioned socioculturally? The globe we inhabit is stratified by socially constructed hierarchical categories based on culture, race, class, gender, nationality, religion, age, and physical abilities, among others. Like the lines of longitude and latitude that divide, map and position us geographically on the earth, these hierarchical categories position us socially, politically and materially in relation to each other and in relation to power.” (p. 18)

Sorrells explains that positioning “directs us to interrogate who can speak and who is silenced; whose language is spoken and whose language trivialized or denied; whose actions have the power to shape and impact others and whose actions are dismissed, unreported and marginalized.”

The author’s reference to modern-day anthropologists Jonathan Xavier Inda and Renato Rosaldo was also valuable. Their premise is that culture, in the context of globalization, has been “deterritorialized.” What this means is that “cultural subjects (people) and cultural objects (film, food, traditions, and ideas) are uprooted from their ‘situatedness’ in a particular physical, geographic location and reterritorialized, or relocated in new, multiple and varied geographic spaces,” (p. 43).

Hence, we find Hindi films and Amitabh Bachchan posters worldwide, with wildly different meanings attached. “Similarly, a person’s or group’s sense of identity, who migrates from Iran to Israel to the United States, for example, is reinscribed in new and different cultural contexts, altering, fusing, and sometimes transforming that identity.”

There were two very minor disappointments for me, amidst all the positives in this text. The first is that while this volume includes a great deal of content that other intercultural texts omit, Sorrells does not adequately address religion and its role in society today. The clash of religious and spiritual beliefs, the gaps between believers and non-believers, the judgments one to another, the fact that religion can provide access to power or motive for distrust, are important. Religion can divide or unite communities, nations, and continents. A chapter or at least a couple of pages devoted to the topic, as seen through Sorrells’ keen perspective, would be a valuable addition.

Second, while the book is overflowing with examples from all over the world, it is unnecessarily US-centered. Perhaps a US publisher wanted the book to sell to US universities, and thus preferred it be written that way. This could so easily have been a non-nation-centric book—with an even bigger market. It comes so very close that it seems a shame not to have gone the extra step.

Intercultural Communication: Globalization and Social Justice is a must-read for any intercultural professional or serious student of the field. And if you have the pleasure of teaching an intercultural communications class, this is a terrific new text.

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast!

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” — a quote that grabbed me during a recent keynote address by BNI (Business Network International) founder and Chairman Dr. Ivan Misner. He was introducing his new book, Business Networking and Sex (Not What YouThink!).

Those (in the audience of more than 1000 Kansas Citians) with more exposure to culture-related topics probably guessed that the book focuses on networking techniques of the different genders and how to be successful networking with the opposite sex. But to hear so boldly from this networking icon how powerful culture truly is in relationship building and the networking process resonated strongly with this Cultural Detective!

When I heard this statement from Dr. Misner, I wished I could have jumped up on stage and displayed the Cultural Detective Women and Men Values Lenses. It would add to the value of his research by providing clear underpinnings as to what motivates the networking behaviors of men and women, and it would help explain the “whys” behind the stories illustrating their differences which seem to be highlighted throughout the book.

Dr. Misner’s book takes a three-pronged look at business networking across the sexes by offering a surveyed objective look at how men and women think about, approach, and in what ways they are successful at business networking. He then counters that with a “he said” (Frank) and “she said” (Hazel) analysis and interpretation of the survey results.

Over a four-year period they surveyed more than 12,000 businesspeople globally (covering every continent) on 25 questions about business networking. The results and interpreted analysis could bring about some interesting and revolutionary changes to the way in which each sex approaches networking with the other. Communication gaps could be narrowed and connections broadened through Hazel and Frank’s guidance and revealing a bit of the opposite sexes “Lens.”

My only wish was that Dr. Misner would have take the results of the survey to a deeper level by breaking it down to country-specific data. But then again, that’s where Cultural Detective national Values Lenses could shed some light!

NOTE: While the book reviewed in this post references two genders, and we offer an excellent package with this same approach, Cultural Detective Women and Men, there are other ways to look at gender than just a polar division of male/female. Cultural Detective LGBT examines some of these complexities of gender and sexual orientation.

Book Review: How Maps Change Things

by Ward L. Kaiser, published by the New Internationalist and ODT Maps, 2012.
Free download through March 31 for Cultural Detectives

Anyone looking to develop a new class or training program to improve intercultural competence? This just-released book, How Maps Change Things: A conversation about the maps we choose and the world we want, could be the basis of one terrific learning journey! I highlighted something on nearly every one of its 188 pages. I learned so much, on so many different yet related topics, that I now have five or six threads of learning and discovery I want to pursue!

At first glance you might think this is a book about maps. Then you read on page six that it is about

“… how we shape and use maps and how they in turn shape us. It’s about how we see the world and how we therefore understand our place in it.”

So you start to hope that How Maps Change Things could teach us to be careful whether we label a certain body of water the “Arabian Gulf” or the “Persian Gulf,” or color-code parts of Kashmir as Indian or Pakistani, but it goes way beyond that.

“Because such maps encourage the feeling that some areas are home to movers and shakers while others shelter mere pawns.” — page 74

Mr. Kaiser, the author, is a big fan of equal-area projection maps such as the Peters, as most in the global diversity and inclusion field are, and points out how maps such as the Mercator aren’t good for much other than navigation. But in addition to showing us how maps can be used to perpetuate bias, he shows us how maps can also be used to promote perspective shifting, equity, and social justice:

“Through internalizing many ways to see the world we may even develop openness to other people’s points of view and greater self-awareness.”
— page 164

“What if people all over the world threatened by, well, you name it – logging, commercial development, polluting factories, hydrofracking chemicals in drinking water, say – what if they could all see maps as tools of analysis and action? …

How about a map to make clear where the hazardous electronic wastes of the developed world get dumped …

Bring together maps, available technology, human creativity, and people’s willingness to take a stand and you’ve got a powerful recipe for changing events.” — page 176

For these reasons and others this volume will be useful to interculturalists and those interested in diversity, sustainability, and social action.

The author premises that maps are tools that serve a purpose.

“Maps are verbs. They may seem to be tactile objects, documents we can handle or fold – nouns – but don’t be fooled. In persuasively framing questions and selectively supplying answers they act; they initiate; they function as agents.” — page 15

To illustrate this point he shares some terrific stories: one about the role of maps in a territorial dispute between First Nations people and the Canadian government (pages 35-39); another about how a map can skew our view of a country as a source of oil or as a residence of people and families (pages 8-17); and a third showing how a map was used to get one county to pay for a highway interchange that served another county (pages 34-35). There is a chapter about the connection between maps and faith/values (chapter 10 page 141), and how maps are used for disease control and health (page 170), as well as for crime prevention (page 173), a topic of special interest lately with concerns of profiling and ethnic bias.

The book is written in a lively, accessible style, though it gets heavier and slower toward the end; ironically, the final chapters are where Mr. Kaiser’s true passion seems to lie. It contains several embedded learning exercises (e.g., page 121) and interesting conversations such as how indigenous North Americans mapped (page 40). Via this latter conversation, he shows that the “culture” of map-makers is not universal. This, to me, is a hugely important point. Too many people believe their area of professional practice is culture-neutral or universal when, in fact, even science is culturally relative (as well as discipline-relative!).

One of the pleasures of reading How Maps Change Things is that it contains quite a few valuable “hidden” gems. One of my favorites: as the author discusses the huge socio-economic gap in our world, variously referred to by such inadequate (or judgment-laden) terms as North-South, 1st/3rd world, Developed/Developing nations, and Viable/Failed states, he provides in the footnotes a list of experts from diverse political persuasions and walks of life who share a consensus on the absolute need to bridge this gap (pages 138-139).

Through March 31 our friends at ODT Maps, the publisher, are offering this ebook FREE to our Cultural Detective community. I urge you to take advantage of this offer and help the author get this book put to good use!

Maps are tools, and can be purposed to perpetuate bias or to help us to create a better world. Cultural Detective has long been passionate about maps as learning tools. Way back in December of 2005 we dedicated an entire edition of our Cultural Detective e-news to maps (including 3 articles of activities and curricular ideas and a quiz), relying in large part on the expertise and generosity of our friends at ODT Maps.

It included: Using Physical Maps to Transform Mental Maps8 Map Activities for Intercultural Learning; a World Map Detective quizTraining with Map Power; and a free offer (a Mecca-centered Azimuthal map, a Peters Projection map, and a Population Map) from our friends at ODT Maps.

Bob Abramms at ODT has a wealth of books, DVDs, globes, puzzles, games, props, and  world maps for different purposes — terrific training material for intercultural and global diversity and inclusion professionals. If you’re not familiar with his great stuff, be sure to check it out.

Book Review: Transformational Diversity

Transformational Diversity: Why and how intercultural competencies can help organizations to survive and thrive, by Fiona Citkin and Lynda Spielman, SHRM, 2011. ISBN 978-1-586-44230-9

This book had me at the title. We all work with people different from us in gender, age, function, ethnicity, nationality, intellectual orientation or religious tradition, and many of us have also been involved in mergers and acquisitions that join two or more organizational cultures. We have a wealth of diverse human talent to draw upon to penetrate new markets and creatively solve problems, but how do we do so?

Books like this one, a compendium of the latest thinking along with sample designs and resources, are gifts. Such compendia guide the responsible practitioner through the maze of information available on the topic, sifting through to highlight for the reader what is most accurate or valuable, and ideally teach us where to turn for further learning. They help us take stock of where we are as a field, where we should be going, and the latest best practice for how to get there. This book does that in a no-nonsense, practical, and brief (131 pages before appendices and bibliography) manner.

The “new imperatives” that the authors cite are real and pressing. They include the need to:
  • Compete worldwide for the best talent,
  • Develop global workforce initiatives,
  • Coordinate all domestic efforts with an increasingly multicultural workforce,
  • Have diversity contribute more visibly to performance and the bottom line, and
  • Organize inclusion-oriented systematic education for all populations (p. 6).

Transformational Diversity aims to take diversity programming “beyond race and gender” (p. 1) to “more effectively enhance productivity and performance” (p. 3).  The authors tell us, “Transformational Diversity is a call for change in current diversity and inclusion programs, which in our experience seems [sic] to be struggling from fatigue and from challenges to produce measurable results,” (p. 5).

What does the book have going for it?

What most stood out for me is that they give voice, or, rather, print, to many of the things leading global D&I practitioners have been saying over the past decade. And this is valuable. Just a few examples include:
  1. The fact that organizations hire “diversity” and then proceed to erase it by teaching new hires to fit in (p. 10).
  2. The fact that so much diversity programming is U.S.-centric (p. 13), that U.S. diversity models have “historically been grounded in… government requirements and moral ground to redress past injustices and discrimination patterns” (p. 9), and that these rarely translate well overseas.
  3. That affinity groups have gravitated towards social and celebratory roles, when their real value is in education: “to make known any differences represented by the individuals within the groups so that the differences can be respected, and thus, accepted” (p. 76).
  4. The fact that understanding the dimensions of culture is not enough. “We do not have to choose between individual and group performance but instead make sure that the relationship between them becomes meaningful in the workplace” (p. 91).

The authors share numerous helpful examples and stories. They cite several research studies and reference statistics, another plus. Their approach is always practical, such as their three steps for rolling out Transformational Diversity (pp. 38-42) or their guidance for “Exporting U.S. Diversity Programs” (pp. 68-70). Many readers will find incredible value in the six programming templates (the authors call them “Archetypes”) the authors provide (Chapter 5).

Thus, there is incredible value in this book, and I highly recommend it for all of the above reasons. The authors do a commendable job communicating basic intercultural concepts to the diversity practitioner, with advice such as helping U.S. Americans to learn to see our biases (pp. 112-114).

What would I have liked to see in this book? Adding any of the below would have added volume and complexity, and one of the most terrific things about the book is its brevity and no-nonsense approach. But, with that qualifier, I felt many of the sample solutions were still heavily knowledge-focused rather than competence-building. This would seem to me a sign of the difficulty of breaking through to new paradigms from the old. The designs in the book are excellent, and with a bit more explanation they may center on skill development, but that fact did not show through as much as I would have liked.

Secondly, as an organizational development practitioner, I was very happy to read the authors’ cautions to embed change in the organization itself (p. 73). The importance of building organizational structures and systems to support Transformational Diversity seemed to me under-emphasized, however. The six Archetypes that the authors present, though they include one on coaching, seem to focus primarily on training. What about incorporating these new commitments and capacities into our hiring, promotion, and review processes, as well as into project management and other on-the-job activities? That is my bias, of course, and no book can do it all. This one is definitely worth the read.