Individuals’ beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, values, and norms are the building blocks of identity. Since every human exists in a society and inherently belongs to a particular social group, personal and collective identities merge into cultural one (Kim, 2007). Through communication with other people, individuals not only convey information but also get a better understanding of their role in society. Today’s world is becoming increasingly diverse; thus, identity matters have become the subject of attention of sociologists, psychologists, philosophers, and cultural scientists. This paper aims to analyze how communication and identity relate within the context of a multicultural world.
Types of Identities and Communication Perspectives
When trying to understand the way communication and identity intersect, it is crucial to establish that people relate to various groups: religious, political, sexual, and others. Thus, every individual’s identity is a combination of racial, ethnical, sexual identifications, but also those conditioned by class, age, and gender (Martin & Nakayama, 2017). It is a common practice to be perceived as a member of a specific group when interacting with others. Social studies distinguish three communication perspectives on identity: social science approach, interpretive, and critical (Martin & Nakayama, 2017). The social science view is based mostly on the cultural background and is formed over an extensive period of time.
The interpretive approach stipulates that our identities are created through communication, how people view themselves, and how others portray them. Martin and Nakayama (2017) refer to these processes as “avowal” and “ascription” (p. 236). Therefore, this perspective’s fundamental idea is that human interaction is the primary channel of expressing people’s beliefs, values, and norms. The critical aspect relies on social context and development as the foundation of determining intercultural identities. It is also crucial to understand that personal, racial, sexual, ethnic identifications are not constant values and are always changing alongside the societal development.
Cultural Identity and Communication
Problems of intercultural communication arise when people from different social groups fail to understand each other correctly. Therefore, the examination of cultural identity term in inter-social contexts is a matter of various studies conducted by specialists in communication and social studies. Kim (2007) refers to cultural identity as “both a sociological or demographic classification, as well as an individual’s psychological identification with a particular group” (p. 238). There are several ways cultural identity can be communicated and comprehended. One of the trends widely observed in modern American society is the assimilative view. Using immigrant groups as an example, Kim stipulates that cultural identity undergoes a gradual transformation when assimilating into a new society (2007). Thus, communication serves as the main driver, forcing the adaptation, which quite often leads to loss of original identity.
There is another approach that views cultural identity as a variable continually changing in different social contexts. According to this approach, individuals may expose “associative/dissociative behavior when dealing with culturally and ethnically dissimilar others” (Kim, 2007, p. 245). In respect of minority adolescent groups, the interrelation between identity and communication quite often leads to the development of one’s identification and further commitment to the more significant group distinctiveness. This theory stipulates that inter-group interactions may lead to pluralism and integration of two or more cultural identities. Separatism and little knowledge of other cultures can create communication problems. The practice of viewing one’s cultural identity as a non-negotiable matter leads to “distorted intercultural communication” (Kim, 2007, p. 247). An example of this can be how many immigrants in the US face difficulties when adapting to a new life while being forced to forgo their cultural identities.
Stereotypes and prejudices are often considered to be side effects of intercultural communications. Due to an overwhelming influx of information, individuals form their perception of other people’s identities based on widespread beliefs. The unconscious act of stereotyping may result in racial or ethnic profiling (Martin & Nakayama, 2017). Prejudices can be described as aggressive behavior towards other social groups and are often exercised when communicating with people of different cultural identities. The two types of intolerant behavior are often developed into discrimination of particular groups within the society or on the global level.
Another aspect to consider is that today’s world is becoming extremely diversified, and the number of multicultural individuals is growing. On the one hand, the process of communication may seem to be more accessible due to the plurality of views and beliefs. On the other hand, people of multicultural identities often experience problems identifying themselves with a particular group. In this case, communication with others may directly affect the formation of their cultural identity.
Identity and communication are inherently connected and influence each other profoundly.
Through interacting with others, people can convey their personal, religious, ethnic, or group beliefs, values, and attitudes. Specific reactions such as acceptance, rejection or dismissal of personal or cultural identity by others can lead to communication problems. It can also result in assimilating and adapting to different beliefs or modifying and challenging own identity. The way individuals perceive themselves shapes how people communicate with others. Therefore, the relationship between communication and identity is correlative and is determined by the social context.
Kim, Y. Y. (2007). Ideology, identity, and intercultural communication: An analysis of differing academic conceptions of cultural identity. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 36(3), 237–253. Web.
Martin, J. N., & Nakayama, T. K. (2017). Intercultural communications in contexts (7th ed.). McGraw-Hill.