Beyond Culture

beyond culture

Beyond Culture is a 1976 book by American anthropologist Edward T. Hall where he describes a dichotomy between ‘high context cultures’ (focused upon in-groups) and ‘low context cultures’ (focused upon individuals). Low context cultures like the US don’t cater to ‘in-groups’ (a discrete group having similar experiences and expectations, from which, in turn, inferences are drawn), and there is less use of similar experiences and expectations to communicate. Much more is explained through words, instead of the context.

Conversely, high context cultures prefer high context messages over low context messages in routine communication. This choice of communication styles translates into a culture that will cater to in-groups. In a high context culture, many things are left unsaid, letting the culture explain. Words and word choice become very important in higher context communication, since a few words can communicate a complex message very effectively to an in-group (but less effectively outside that group), while in a lower context culture, the communicator needs to be much more explicit and the value of a single word is less important.

The book also investigated ‘extension transference,’ a term used to describe the symbolic sub-division of a particular goal or purpose so that the sub-divided concepts seem fragmented from the original purpose. ‘…when applied to language and experience, becomes a useful theoretical concept. Thus, spoken language is a symbolization of something that happened, is happening or will happen. Written language as an extension of the spoken form is therefore a symbolization of symbolization! This intellectual manoeuvre Hall terms ‘extension transference.’ The extension can become confused with or take the place of the process described.’

‘Extension transference is a phenomenon that occurs when we create systems to help us do things more efficiently and effectively an in ways that we can measure and control. Often these are processes that we once did quite naturally on our own.’ Hall said, ‘A key factor in explaining the sad state of American education can be found in overbureaucratization, which is seen in the compulsion to consolidate our public schools into massive factories and to increase to mammoth size our universities even in underpopulated states. The problem with bureaucracies is that they have to work hard and long to keep from substituting self-serving survival and growth for their original primary objective. Few succeed. Bureaucracies have no soul, no memory, and no conscience. If there is a single stumbling block on the road to the future, it is the bureaucracy as we know it.’

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