Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Importance of Symbols, Symbolisms, and Patterns to Cross-Cultural Relevancies

The Importance of Symbols, Symbolisms, and Patterns to Cross-Cultural Relevancies: A General Discussion on "The Silent Language".
What in effect could be considered the greatest benefit to cross-cultural research has been its relevancy to international business globalisation of workforces, systems, logistics, transnationalism and product or service standardization. This relevancy has allowed the internationalisation of media advertising and promotion. But how does the wonderous recliner rocker fit into such phenomena?
First, you may find such an inventive and relaxing variation on the rocking chair to be fairly urbane, colourless, simply a consumer product. However it may be one of my first concrete examples of what happens internationally on a cultural scale of comparative change or variation as a result of the application of mass media marketing and promotion in local national economies and would of course have been revealed to me in 1996 in Samchon'po, Korea. Perhaps cultural change is imperceptible to members of various generational segments of world population, mirrored by examples of fast paced development, which is also difficult to track on a conscious scale. The introduction of new products, technologies, and endless features, to what degree does international business impact upon changes in local national cultures?
The generally poor international perspectives which national cultural identities espouse in their own populations also play a role in lack of out of awareness cultural changes, most individuals have few if any skills in observing international aspects or global sources of local innovation. Even if such local variation includes such furnishings as the simple glider rocking chair. It is possibly assumed that changes in technology or process, operations, or human resource functions are borne out of local needs assessments, local objectives, local market conditions, or local innovation. As I have stated previously it is in the interest of business to erase such intrinsic values from collective cultural consciousness and comparable variations in out of awareness knowledge of culture among individuals because questioning the impact of changing market dynamics on a cultural values orientation adds vexing difficulties to the cross-border mass marketing of mass produced products. If each national market required nationally determined variations to an extensive degree then the costs of customization would exceed the profit margins of producing and selling that product.
While on first and general analysis, such possible local misconceptions of supply and demand patterns, namely that they are exclusively determined locally, are as easily a result of ethnocentrism. To varying degrees, each cultural group tends to view change and innovation as being nearly exclusively local in origin, and has some causal relationship with the tenets of Clyde Kluckhohn's theories which mirror Edward T. Hall's. Such mirroring is reassuring, since both share early approaches to cross-cultural research. Namely, that it should have relevancy to non-specialists. These tenets would include that humanity shares biological patterns and characteristics in the development of culture, and most specifically that it is a natural tendancy for people to believe their own collective cultural beliefs and practices are the global standard of normalcy and naturalness; that the beliefs, values, and standards of normalcy of other cultures are strange, or more importantly, inferior or abnormal (Kluckhohn, Mirror for Man, 1949).

This makes Korea a constantly and consistently interesting, perhaps most interesting comparative cultural subject as through cross-cultural research it has repeatedly demonstrated a virtual inversely proportional cultural comparative to the western concept of "American" culture. In terms of relativistic perspectives, there can be little concept of relativity in terms of culture if one thinks one's own culture to be superior to all others. This has been examined in various comparative business management research studies. Koreans probably have generally one of the most ethnocentric perspectives on foreign cultures on the global market. Still, how does this relate to an example of what globalized business has contributed to such cultural values, exemplified in the recliner rocker?
Namely, such cultural values have been a boon to new product entry and multinational companies operating in many developing nations with high degrees of local ethnocentrism early realize that differentiation is not necessarily an issue, local consumption assumes local innovation. In terms of creativity, demands locally create a need for new products independently of global values which may have helped create the consumer needs for them. In cultures with rapid economic growth rates, does not cultural identity similarly change, adapt, and possibly become less intrinsic to absorb new values, products, consumption patterns, and symbols which attach themselves to all products and services? Are not thus extremely nationalistic cultures then in some ways fully subverted by foreign products, services, in effect possibly fully absorbing at the cost of local intrinsics for the values of multinational corporations through increasing consumption of their products?
There it was. A brand new building, a high rise, the tallest commercial building yet constructed in Samchonpo, Korea had recently been completed. The top floor had a panoramic view of the surrounding city, coast, and local mountains. The design of the interior was notably modern, with glazed light fixtures, faux panelling and veneers, as well as stylish tables with glider rockers. My collection of regular students, thus my regular customers were very endearing, not only out of a desire for language studies outside of the paid classroom, their values were often repeatedly known to me, mostly out of my own contributions to conversation. As a foreigner in Korea, I am often reminded that there are situations where my status as a dignified human being, with my own set of cultural values, beliefs and intrinsic knowledge, imbued not only through decades of growth and living in my own culture, but similarly influenced through a decade of global employment, travels and localized knowledge may at times be in question.
I am not an anthropologist, but I fully understand this quote attributed to Clyde Kluckhohn.
“The lay reaction is well summed up by the remark of an army officer. We had met socially and were getting along very well until he asked me how I made my living. When I told him I was an anthropologist he drew away and said, "Well, you don't have to be crazy to be an anthropologist, but I guess it helps.""
As a university student in the early 1990s, I worked in the tourist industry, seasonal employment which makes up a large portion of the seasonal income of residents of my region of Canada. My mother was also working as a tour guide at a local national park with nearly a million visitors a year. So quite by accident she made new friends with a retired couple from Crowley, Louisiana, who made occasional trips by car or camper to The Maritimes in summer. On their latest trip they had purposefully made a trip to a furniture factory in New Brunswick to purchase a pair of recliner rockers and matching ottomans.
According to them, the recliner rocker was a Canadian invention, and it was universally known among Americans in Louisiana, or Crowley, or their immediate circle of tourist travelling friends anyway, that the best quality recliner rockers on the American market originated from a New Brunswick furniture manufacturer. I have attempted research online on the veracity of this claim. However, perhaps it is similar to an urban legend? I could find no evidence. But such "cultural knowledge" is perhaps an example of the intrinsic, even if it is false or inaccurate. Or it is also an example of extrinsic change, perhaps the origins of the recliner rocker were never really important to Canadian consumers. Certainly I have found no internet claims that the recliner rocker is a novel Canadian invention. Even in the ensuing decade and a half, perhaps that factory is long closed, its workforce left unemployed and its industrial plant duly shipped or relocated to a Mexican maquilladora (or a Chinese one).
American travellers to Canada on holiday, or American travellers to any foreign country are fairly anomalistic, according to various reports I have read Americans per capita travel to fewer foreign countries or possess passports in fewer relative numbers than virtually any per captia developed world population on earth. However at the same time, I was impressed that a plain living, by many means average elderly couple could have such highly specific knowledge about a product or the incentive to take a trip specifically to purchase such a product. At the time I was amazed by it. And what amazes me does not often escape my memory.
So returning to class following a visit to the "Sky Lounge Coffee Shop" in Samchonpo (itself long closed) my students were eager to know, "How did you like the coffee shop?" My reply was that it was very comfortable, and the style was "very western". Such a comment was not well received, various students offered dramatic reactions; my students were appalled. "It is not western...it is Korean..." was their collective response. Knowing what I thought I knew about the recliner rocker, I explained why I believed it to be western in style.
To some effect, I believe this comparative cultural and anecdotal information surrounding the recliner rocker illustrates the possibility that cultural values are only relative in relationship to complimentary global comparisons or outlooks. Enough variations exist to make particularistic comparisons measured and known, obviously in terms of international business, a highly profitable exercise. To some degree, various individuals of various cultures may be greatly interested in the actual exemplification of principles of the tenets and seeming maxims of early cross-cultural research including particular cultural differences which impact upon the globalized products and services they may be coerced into consuming (through advertising and manipulation of cultural values).
One may find concrete examples of cross-cultural variation in considering the relative origins of global versus local innovations, products, and distribution of services or new technologies, without necessarily any national cultural interest, knowledge, or collective programming in place as to the origins of such cultural changes. As my Korean glider rocker example possibly reveals, cultural values may be changing so quickly internationally that no differentiation between changes and deep-rooted local cultural values may exist in collective knowledge of out of awareness impacts. Everything is thus considered of local origin unless marketing determines foreign origin is a selling point or obviously of significant cultural content. Furthermore, such examples of intrinsic knowledge as that of the American couple, with information and knowledge currently impossible to communicate through mass media, marketing, or advertising may also exist which possibly suggests that it takes the anecdotal and non-scientifically gained information, which is equally unmeasurable scientifically to communicate beyond theoretical plausibility that culture in a globalized, multinational corporate trading world actually exists independently of the terms of trade, marketing, and advertising.
For many business-minded entrepreneurs, this might be too simple and thus unthinkable! Simply take a break. Intrinsically, enjoy a glide on a recliner rocker once in a while without fully deciding its cultural origins. It is an amazingly comfortable ride.

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