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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Studying Cultural Patterns

By Isaac Dashner

Special to CSMS Magazine

People and cultures are extremely complex and consist of numerous interrelated cultural orientations in addition to beliefs and values. A useful umbrella term that allows us to talk about these and other orientations collectively instead of separately is cultural patterns. You should think of cultural patterns as a system of beliefs and values that work in combination to provide a coherent, if not always consistent, model for perceiving the world. These patterns contribute not only to the way a person lives, but also to the way people perceive and think of the world. As you would suspect, these cultural patterns are in the study of intercultural communication because they are systematic and repetitive instead of random and irregular. Because of this systematic and recurring characteristic of cultural patterns, and because they are widely shared by most members of the culture, they can be isolated and investigated.

Obstacles in Studying Cultural Patterns

Before we open our discussion of cultural patterns, we need to offer a few cautionary remarks that will enable us to better use the cultural patterns that we present. It is often said that we are more than our culture. That is what we need to start our refection. We begin with an important point we made elsewhere. Simply stated, the value of the culture may not be the value of all individual within the culture. Factors as divergent as “socioeconomic status, educational level, occupation, personal experience,” age, gender, and co-culture affiliation also shape your view of your environment. Although we grant the complex nature of human behavior, we suggest, however, that culture has the strongest influence on your communication behavior because all of your other experiences take place within a cultural context. In addition, as one must note, cultural learning occurs very early in life. As Lynch and Hanson point, “Lessons learned at such early ages become integral part of thinking and behavior.”

Cultural Patterns Are Interrelated

Although we will be forced by the liner nature of language to speak of but one cultural pattern at a time, it is important to keep in mind that pattern are interrelated and do not operate in isolation. It might be helpful to visual these pattern as a large stone being cast into a pond that creates ripples. For example, a pattern that stresses a spiritual life over materialism (a large stone) also directs values toward age, status, social relationships, and the use of time (the ripples). Another example of patterns being linked could be found in a culture’s view formality. (large stone). Values toward dress, language, greeting behavior, the use of space, and age (ripples) would grow out of the key pattern.

Cultural Patterns Change

Cultures changes and therefore so do the values of the culture. The “women’s movement”, for example, has greatly altered social or organizations and some value systems in the United States. With more women than men now getting college degrees, we can see how the workplace and classrooms have changed in the United States during the last twenty years. As industrialization and Western capitalism and culture move throughout the world, we see young people in some traditional countries now wearing Levi’s and dancing to American pop music. However, even granting the dynamic nature of culture and value systems, we again remind you that regardless of the culture, the deep structure of a culture resists change. No matter how influential American culture can be around the world, every nation would resist, and sometimes violently, the take-over of its core values deeply associated with its distinct cultural identity. So, the study of cultural patterns is a very interesting subject in the field of cross-cultural studies.

Note:  Isaac Dashner is a Cross-Cultural Studies professor at Jacksonville University. He wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine

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