Identity as Reduction

I was in third grade when the topic of identity first sprung up in my classroom. It became part of my vocabulary, a frame of reference in professional introductions (as professional as a grade-schooler ever needed to be), and something to think about whenever the teacher made me check “Asian” on my standardized test forms. Ever since then, I had to re-imagine myself as something other than “Muslim,” which, not at all strangely, had been the only identifier I’d ever felt the need to express. I became a “Bangl-Indi-Musli-Merican,” and I couldn’t have been prouder.

But part of creating such a title for myself meant that I could not continue into college at a liberal university like DePaul without expanding it further, finally making my identity longer than my own name (and that is not an easy task.) Generally, if an ingredient or a concept is longer than my own name–which presents a bit of an identity itself, roughly translating to “The Elevated Master of Time,”–I tend to cast suspicion on it.

Am I really a combination of the markers that either are A) Chosen by me, B) Ascribed to me, or C) Attributed to me as the result of broader societal forces? Those three make up the views of the Functionalist, Interpretive, and Critical approaches of intercultural communication, respectively. If I am not ¬†at least one of those, then perhaps this train of thought isn’t leading anywhere. But if I am none of those, then I feel it may be appropriate to question the utility of this modern construction we call ‘identity.’

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Questioning the Utility of Intercultural Communication

It is difficult to claim that some form of intercultural communication is not required for living in a globalized society, where one cultural element can just as easily be divorced from its context as it can be immersed into another, and in a world where all politics are international, as the line between the domestic and foreign is dissipating. But I think it is important to question the nature of this communication. Take globalization: is it not simply an extension of American hegemony over other nations? The internet is an American creation; is its spread into other cultures not part of an American imposition?

I think the developments in exposing the NSA and other programs have taught us that all communication has motive. Whether the state of communication is “ethnocentric” or otherwise, it does not occur in a vacuum without the greater forces of politics and greed on a global scale. Most students of intercultural communication seem to limit its application to a classroom or business setting, ie. “How will you talk to a person from an East Asian culture and take care not to offend them?” Or, “What is the best way to conduct a transaction in a culturally aware manner?” But in reality, breaches of these guidelines for intercultural communication, especially those mentioned in college textbooks and job trainings, are minor infractions in comparison to the ones happening on a greater scale: “What is the appropriate amount of collateral damage in Iraq for tomorrow’s invasion?” Or, “When spying on our own citizens, which shade of brown skin color should be appropriately profiled as dangerous?”

Does abiding by the rules of intercultural communication truly allow us to address the greater issues, or are we geared toward circling around the minor ones with an air of self-importance for all of our academic careers? Perhaps the real power in studying intercultural communication, then, is the ability to critique its current practice and application, or lack thereof. If that is taken to be true, classes such as these can be springboards into a critical, unscared, and contemplative discussion of what it means to live in a world with an extreme abundance of information, rampant inequality, institutional-level oppression.

Some thoughts on technology and progress…

Humanity does not ‘progress,’ because it is simply not in its nature to do so. Humans have mostly committed the same two sets of actions, in response to the same two sets of challenges, forever: One: being reckless when things are good and despairing when things are bad, or two: being responsible when things are good and remaining hopeful when things are bad. Our salvation, then, is not in what we can invent or create, but by being part of the latter group in as much of our tenure on this Earth as is possible.