Intercultural Communication: Building a Global Community


Fay Patel, Mingsheng Li & Prahalad Sooknanan

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    This book is dedicated to all those who strive for social justice in their day-to-day lives and who continue to demonstrate patience, tolerance and good faith in an effort to build a global community that values respect and dignity. It is our hope that in all intercultural communication interactions around the globe, respect and dignity will become the norm for future generations.


    I am grateful to God for the courage to pursue what is just and to strengthen my belief and faith in the goodness of all people. I thank my husband Feisal and our son Farhaan for their ongoing encouragement and support of my work in the area of intercultural communication and in the promotion of cultural diversity awareness. Without them at my side and without their unconditional love and patience, it would not have been possible to realize this dream and to complete the enormous task of writing a book about building global communities.

    Fay (Feiziya) Patel

    I express my gratitude to my wife Huaiyu Wang and daughter Zheng Li for their strong support, understanding and sacrifice. They came from China to be reunited with me in Australia when I did my doctoral studies and later we migrated to New Zealand.

    Mingsheng Li

    I particularly wish to thank my wife Valerie, daughter Shiveta and son Shival for their support and love and their patience during the years I studied in Ohio in the United States of America where I completed my doctoral studies.

    Prahalad Sooknanan

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    The authors of this book have embraced a challenging but very important task of providing insights into intercultural communication in ways that honour powerful and deeply held views from multiple cultures. Each of the three authors celebrates in these pages the struggles they have encountered in their own developmental journey and the message of this work is stronger for it.

    The book rightly points to the growing realization that freely-available education for all, opens doors to new ways of seeing and being in the world. Correctly, the authors describe how earlier generations valued education, realising its salience as a means by which social conditions could be improved and familial aspirations might be met. However, Patel, Li and Sooknanan also rightly show how education is more than about just opening the door to better jobs and income. These are important but, in a rapidly globalising world, not enough. Also essential is education that creates an improved person, one more sophisticated in their understanding of self and of others, and with enhanced insights into what it takes to create and maintain a just and prosperous new globalised world.

    This work also rightly draws attention to the tensions that inevitably accompany the interplay of cultures. The news media loves to spin intercultural meeting points as necessarily being conflict-ridden, typically employing phrases such as ‘the clash of cultures’. In this way the media ignores the wealth of new perspectives that might readily emerge from fresh engagement with new cultural ways of seeing. Sometimes people say that ‘no news is good news’ but the media evidently prefers the view that ‘good news is no news’. Much more productively, though, Patel, Li and Sooknanan, building upon their own deep intercultural experience, show us how to be open to fresh ways of seeing the world; and this is one of the enormous benefits of an enhanced intercultural communication.

    Of especial value within this book is its attention to the salience of religion and allied aspects of the sacred as the basis for cultural values and beliefs. In recent generations the West has become increasingly secular, but educators and writers from the West in particular need to be much more open than formerly to understanding the way in which what is understood as the sacred in many other societies in fact underpins culture and then, in turn, informs intercultural communication.

    The authors allude to ‘the great cultural journey’ that they have made in their own experience, which of course has led to this book. Equally true though is that in one way or another, nearly every citizen of this planet is also now undertaking his or her own version of a great cultural journey, as social communication media of numerous emerging kinds, especially mobile phones in developing societies, inexorably infiltrate nearly every society. In previous generations only the wealthy with time on their hands and an urge to travel could regard themselves as citizens of the world. These days, however, in a sense (like it or not) everyone is starting to attain this status. This book opens the door to the status of global citizen. In a practical sense it shows us as readers how to undertake that critical self-reflection which in turn leads us to a better appreciation of and insights into the diversity and cultural wealth possessed by communities worldwide.

    Often researchers and commentators rightly talk about the value of indigenous knowledge in societies that are newly encountering the impact of the West, and they describe the importance of honouring such indigenous knowledge. However, the role of true intercultural education, as in this book, should not really be just about putting a barrier fence around indigenous knowledge to protect it as if it is a kind of rare and endangered species. Instead, the larger task of intercultural education is to issue a wake-up call to Western societies and open them (us) to an improved understanding of how the West will benefit from a new understanding, founded on humility and openness, to how we can obtain powerful insights into the historical legacies, practical spirituality, and everyday value systems from which we ourselves might also be enhanced. You will find argued here the crucial global need for the everyday practice of social justice, along with practice of the critical virtues of patience, tolerance and good faith. These are more than a statement of aspiration: they underpin how we are to relate to others in a global basis, in what is now an essential effort to build a global community in which the dignity of all is valued. As Patel, Li and Sooknanan claim, only when each of us understands how to ground ourselves within our own traditions of family, spirituality and history, can we properly respond and do justice to others whom we encounter in our rapidly-emerging new global environment.

    Finally, Patel, Li and Sooknanan offer us their very insightful thought that ‘often our voices are one and yet they are unique all at the same time’. Perhaps this is one of the deep and enduring paradoxes at the heart of intercultural communication and one of the special gifts of this book. Each of us needs to be proud of our uniqueness, celebrate our diversity, but, as well, open ourselves to learn from others and then, via intercultural communication, find commonality on how to create a prosperous but sustainable global society. I congratulate the authors of this book for their important contribution to this goal.

    Professor FrankSligo Massey University, New Zealand


    Intercultural communication perspectives are relative to one's experience of intercultural communication events and encounters on a day-to-day basis. These perspectives are also fully entwined in our deeply held beliefs and values that guide our thoughts and actions within and across cultural boundaries. It is, therefore a challenging task to write about intercultural communication in a way that would embrace the deeply held views from multiple cultures.

    Building global communities has for different people a different meaning and for some it might seem an impossible task and a dream. For the authors of this book, the notion of building a global community is a desirable and an achievable goal in the twenty-first century. In fact, it is an imperative that we pursue that goal especially when cultures collide (Lewis, 2006) and continue to collide around us, at perhaps a more intense rate than before as a result of a variety of new communication and transport technologies that have brought more people together at greater speed around the world.

    Our own personal histories have contributed to the similar and diverse perspectives on many aspects of global community building and intercultural communication in this book. Our histories continue to impact our present and our future and are significantly bound to our land of birth: South Africa, China and Trinidad and Tobago. However, we have been educated in Western institutions and traditions of thought at some point in our lives and the influence of Western education creates an intercultural conflict within us. Thus, there remains an intercultural tension between our indigenous knowledge, historical legacies, family, spiritual beliefs and value systems, our reality and our Western-educated new identities. Within the context of the book and our writing, it is evident that often our voices are one and yet they are unique all at the same time. We are not a homogenous group even though we may have much in common, but what we aspire to is, building on what we share as the common good. We come from ancestries that have been colonized and which have suffered deep humiliation and atrocities based on race, class, nationality, caste, religion, gender, ethnicity and culture. We lived our lives with the belief that there is good in all people and that there is such a thing as social justice for all human beings. However, ‘commitment to a social responsibility ethic is a precondition for social justice’ (Patel cited in Naidoo and Patel, 2009). Unless we embrace and implement the social responsibility principles of honesty, integrity, goodwill, fairness, respect and dignity among all people in everything that we do, we cannot justify our claim to uphold social justice. We have to exemplify the belief that all human beings have a right to respect and dignity, to truth and to voice.

    Communities across cultures have fundamental beliefs and values that bind their histories and their destinies in a way that seems extraordinary. Philosophies and beliefs across cultural communities manifest their belief in goodness among all people in a variety of expressions that signify compassion, kindness, morality and honour. Examples of these are found everywhere. One example of how these expressions have a common thread is evident in the Golden Rule found in the resources and the literature of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding formed in 1992. The Golden Rule outlines the fundamental beliefs and values from twelve different religious and cultural perspectives, which all have a message for global understanding that suggests that both mankind and nature must be treated with the same respect that one feels is deserving of one. The twelve religious and cultural perspectives in the Golden Rule include Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Sikhism, Native American, Judaism, Jainism, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, Christianity, Buddhism and Baha'i. These 12 perspectives are noted at the start of each chapter.

    Our intention is to enable every individual to embrace intercultural communication as an open agenda, where all participants in intercultural communication events and encounters have equal opportunity and responsibility to make it a positive experience. We hope that this experience will become the foundation on which to build a harmonious global community that embodies mutual cooperation and understanding and one that remains firmly committed to respect and dignity for all. We hope that the book would be useful in advocating human rights for all, regardless of their diverse worldviews. Respecting and understanding diversity means that one recognizes, appreciates and accepts that individuals and groups approach life from their varying worldviews and that no specific worldview can be the dominant one.

    We believe that the book would inspire corporate and educational staff development consultants, human rights officers, employment equity managers, programme and course designers, teachers and learners, health care professionals, legal practitioners, government policy makers and politicians to develop and build a sustainable global community. It is important that each individual and group approaches the promotion of intercultural communication events and encounters, only after they have undertaken a critical self-reflection of their own stereotypes and prejudices. Stereotypes and prejudices have become internalized among us over time and they interfere with our natural human inclination to accept other people for who they are. Thus, it is the deep introspective and critical examination of self that would be useful in encouraging a deeper understanding of intercultural concepts and respect for diverse communities. Only after one revisits one's own fears and anxieties and challenges one's internalized notions of stereotypes and prejudice within the consciousness, can one truly embrace the notion of global community building and support it through the development of intercultural communication skills, strategies, competencies and dialogues within one's immediate community.

    Part One of the book, ‘Concepts in Intercultural Communication’, provides a theoretical framework based on communication studies and mass communication literature, as an attempt to provide a basis to understand how and why the concept of intercultural communication becomes complex when critically reviewed in relation to the environment, the expectations and the act of communication itself.

    Several perspectives on intercultural communication are offered by the authors and they bring their own unique perspective to the discussions. Common concepts and terminology are approached in diverse ways to provide readers with multiple approaches. Challenges and barriers to intercultural communication emerge in each chapter and they are examined and reviewed positively, so that we can move forward together as a global community that has the courage and the conviction to overcome adversity with renewed faith in humanity.

    Part Two of the book, ‘Critical Perspectives in Intercultural Communication’, offers the readers real-life every day events that have either been positive or negative experiences of interactions across cultures around the globe. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the deep structure of intercultural communication. We deliberately moved away from the concept of case studies and scenarios because we wanted to present global events as they occur as news media stories. News media stories have been adapted from a range of sources with the intention of providing a real-life event as close as possible to its original form. The selected events represent different realities for the readers and much of their interpretation is embedded within their individual and collective cultural understanding and perceptions of the world around them. These are real life events that happened and that require careful examination of the cultural contexts in which they have occurred. Klyukanov's (2005) principles of intercultural communication, such as positionality and grounding are crucial considerations in how we respond to these events. Questions that may help readers to critically examine each event include:

    • How do our stereotypes and prejudices affect our interpretation of an event?
    • What are the principles of intercultural communication that operate in the interpretation of the event?
    • Which environmental factors influence the response?
    • How would the other cultures represented in the event perceive the event?
    • How do they interpret the issues in focus?
    • What media reporting mode affects the event and why?
    • What social responsibility commitments are necessary to avoid such events?
    • How do the social justice principles apply in interpreting the events?

    It is important to keep in mind that the authors do not offer quick-fix solutions and that they suggest different approaches and considerations in understanding an intercultural communication event. Their perspective is presented as another way of looking at themselves and the world, as they make their way to their respectful places in the global cultural mosaic. Intercultural communication will be viewed more positively when communities around the globe begin to embrace notions of third culture and global community building as a desirable and acceptable way of life. Only when these notions permeate through a society's cultural fabric, can it be said that all people have successfully contributed to building a global community.

    The authors bring into the discussions, their experiences of intercultural communication, knowledge of the field of communication studies and mass communication, and perceptions of intercultural communication as a woman and as men from diverse ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds. They put forward what they perceive to be the world around them, based on their life struggles and experiences as people who have endured over centuries and decades derogatory labels, indignities and disrespect throughout their ancestry to present day. Through their historical past, their insecure present as residents, immigrants and migrants, and the unknown future of themselves and their children, the authors have worn these offensive labels—as people of colour, kaffirs, minority, non-white, blacks, brown and yellow people, coloured, boat people and people ‘fresh of the boat’ (FOB), plane people and people ‘fresh of the plane’ (FOP), coolies, niggers, sand niggers, coons, Chinee, goons, crabrangook, yellow peril, Chinaman, dougla, chamaar, kujaat, bandaar, kirwal and bound coolie—with a quiet patience, a deep tolerance and with humility, but they have not lost their respect and love for all human beings.

    FayPatel, MingshengLi and PrahaladSooknanan


    We acknowledge the wisdom and faith of our parents, our families and especially, our children. Our children encounter intercultural communication events in various forms in their daily lives as a result of the colour of their skin, language, religion, culture, ethnicity, gender, their family names and their historical origins. It is when they are asked by strangers to identify themselves in terms of who they really are and where they really come from that stereotypical and prejudicial threads begin to weave a web around their persona. It is then that identities, beliefs and values come to emerge as significant characteristics defining their intercultural selves. It is then that our children are forced to confront their cultural and ethnic identities and yet, until that moment, their dignities had remained intact.

    Our parents valued education and recognized it as a fundamental characteristic to improve our social conditions and thereby, improve chances of our acceptances into various groups and communities, both dominant and minority ones. Education was perceived to be the key to higher income, better material comforts and a prominent place in society.

    We thank all those who have influenced our thoughts and ideas about publishing a book on building global communities and intercultural communication perspectives. Over the years, discussions, meetings and collaborations with our colleagues and acquaintances around the globe have provided endless opportunities to reframe our ideas and to reshape these into a perspective that would encompass the values and beliefs of multiple cultures.

    We are indebted to Professor Frank Sligo, Head of School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing at Massey University for honouring us by writing the Foreword to our book. Frank's expertise and knowledge in the field of communication studies in New Zealand and internationally is especially impressive. His deep insights into various complex issues of intercultural communication, locally and globally, provide a good framework to situate the critical issues of the book.


    Fay is extremely indebted to her two co-authors, Mingsheng Li and Prahalad Sooknanan, who provided ongoing constructive feedback, support and encouragement. Mingsheng supported Fay with several versions of the earlier proposal since 2006 and especially when her husband took seriously ill. Prahalad was kind enough to join the co-authorship in 2009 and continued to provide additional support when Fay herself suffered a health setback.

    Fay is grateful to Katherine Quinsey for introducing her to Canadian multiculturalism within the context of the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. She is also appreciative of the rich exchange of perspectives on human rights, equal opportunity, cultural diversity and intercultural communication with Karen Roland and Cheryl Henshaw, with whom she worked closely at the University of Windsor to promote a socially just learning environment. Fay also thanks Gillian Lay (Manager, Professional Development Unit) at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia for her insights and perspectives on cultural diversity challenges within the institutional context. The many hours of discussion and reflection on various aspects of the cultural diversity project were useful in gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges and issues (for e.g. gender, race and class) that remain peculiar to the Australian cultural landscape in this new era.

    Fay also dedicates this book to her late parents, Ahmed and Amina Essack Gangat; her brothers Golam Gangat and Yusuf Gangat; and her sisters Bilkis Mohamed Kara, Fawzia Haroon Master and Khairoonisa Yusuf Hatia, who live in Durban, South Africa. She is grateful to them for their love, support and encouragement without which she could not have embarked on this great cultural journey that took them to five countries—South Africa, the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia—over the past 12 years. In every country, they confronted racial, ethnic, national and cultural challenges but they met every challenge with a special resolve. They found that racism was everywhere and that there is no true democracy in the developing world or in the developed western nations. However, their cultural travels have made them know themselves better through deep critical self-reflection and they have learned through a critical analysis of their own cultural and social mores to understand diverse communities more profoundly. Most important of all, they learned that family, spirituality and history have everything to do with who they are, how they view the world around them and how others perceive them.


    Mingsheng is grateful to La Trobe University, Australia, for its scholarships, without which he could not have completed his doctoral study outside China and without which he would not have embarked on his professional journey of intercultural communication and international education. Mingsheng and his family encountered countless cultural challenges, racial issues and institutionalized prejudices manifest in the difficulty they experienced in accessing schools for his daughter's education, finding decent employment and renting suitable accommodation. They were deprived of their Chinese nationality and their Chinese passport became invalid when they became New Zealand citizens. They are deeply aware of cultural issues and the importance as well as challenges of being a global citizen and building global communities.


    Prahalad wishes to acknowledge the assistance of the Organization of the American States for the award of a doctoral fellowship to read for the degree in Communications at the Bowling Green State University. He is particularly grateful to SUNY, College at Potsdam for the opportunity to teach intercultural communication thus reinforcing his interest in the field. The experience of teaching the subject to students on the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation remains the defining moment in his teaching career. Prahalad is particularly grateful to the lead author, Fay Patel, who has offered him the opportunity to share his intercultural experiences in this book.


    We thank our research assistant, Kay Govin (Karpagam Govindaswamy), for her unique viewpoint on various aspects of the manuscript as a Singaporean attempting to settle in Australia. Kay's research assistance (identifying current intercultural communication events, reviewing the references, formatting and preparing the manuscript for submission to SAGE Publishers India) was indeed valuable to the authors. Her critical cultural lens provided important insights and yet another cultural perspective on the content. Kay dedicates her contribution to her son Kabilan. Kay would like to thank Dr Fay Patel for giving her the opportunity to be part of this intercultural quest to build a global community.


    We also thank Farhaan Patel for designing the Diversity Circle that illustrates the different layers of developing diversity and for his technical assistance with the graphics. Farhaan's personal insights into various aspects of intercultural communication events and encounters were invaluable especially as these were based on his long journey through different lands (in particular, South Africa, United States of America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia) as a child, a youth and now a young adult.

    Undertaking the task of a collaborative book publication is a huge challenge especially when one works across three countries and we are indeed grateful to the technological advances that made it possible to communicate across time and space through the virtual networks. It was the passion and fortitude of all the three co-authors over the past four years and the invaluable assistance from the research assistant which led to overcoming the complex challenges of daily life, family commitments and health, and to reach this final stage of publishing their first book on intercultural communication perspectives. Of course, embarking on an ambitious and creative book project such as this one meant that all contributors had to find inspirational moments to pursue their passion in the private spaces of their lives.

    FayPatel, MingshengLi and PrahaladSooknanan
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    About the Authors

    Fay Patel

    Dr Fay Patel is a lecturer in Higher Education and academic developer at the Centre for University Teaching. Fay received her doctoral degree in mass communication and communication studies at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, USA. She is involved in a number of regional and local higher education projects in curriculum development and assessment, leadership in higher education, internationalization of the curriculum, and cultural diversity. Fay has over 25 years of experience as a professor, researcher, academic developer, programme and project coordinator, and leader in higher education in five countries (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States of America and South Africa). Fay is South African by birth, a Canadian immigrant and a migrant worker in Australia. Her research interests include the scholarship of teaching and learning, enhancing student learning through teaching development, internationalizing the curriculum; international development and global cultural communication perspectives, diffusion of new media technology, and online research methods and communication. She is the co-editor of Working Women: Stories of Struggle, Strife and Survival published by SAGE India in 2009. Fay is also author of the book Role of Attitudes and Perceptions in Diffusion of Innovations: Implementation of the Internet and Email in South Africa. Her forthcoming publication is a co-edited book on Diffusion of Innovations and International Development: Critical Perspectives in the 21st Century.

    Mingsheng Li

    Dr Mingsheng Li is a Senior Lecturer in intercultural communication and business communication at the College of Business, Massey University, New Zealand. His doctorate is in the areas of intercultural communication and English language teaching. Prior to his arrival in Australia in 1995, he was an Associate Professor in English language and literature. He was Vice Dean and Acting Dean of Foreign Language School, Yunnan Normal University, China, for over 4 years. His current research interests relate to international education, migrant studies and teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL).

    Prahalad Sooknanan

    Dr Prahalad Sooknanan is an Associate Professor at the University of Trinidad and Tobago where he is responsibility for the basic communication course. He also teaches at the Arthur Lok Jack, the Graduate School of Business, University of the West Indies, where he teaches the core course in communications to students in the Executive MBA programme. More recently, he has been serving as the local tutor in Trinidad and Tobago for the MA degree in Mass Communication for the University of Leicester's distance education programme. Dr Sooknanan formerly served as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Toledo and Assistant Professor at SUNY College at Potsdam. His research interests include topics in intercultural and mass communication.

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