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Knowledge mobilization

By Peter Muijres – Culture Class

Never in human history have we hunted for so much data, information and knowledge.

Never in human history have we gathered so much that is useful but not used.

The gap between existing and applied information concerns all types of human activity: raising children, buying food, designing products, disposing of waste, caring for the sick, governing resources, creating art. What are the results of research and development worth if nobody can use them, except perhaps a select few?

Knowledge Mobilization is a complex and emergent process that focuses on making what we know ready for action to produce value. The term was coined by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) in the first years of this millennium. The need for knowledge mobilization has arisen from the complex knowledge production process that has consistently failed to translate the most useful evidence resulting from practice and research into everyday outcomes that could benefit our decision making.

Why does new and useful intelligence often end in a file, on a shelf or in a head instead of being made available to public benefit? Many factors contribute to the knowledge gap. Policies aimed at smothering conflicting interests and delay caused by bureaucratic hurdles are only two of them. The ‘information revolution’ appears to provide another explanation for the knowledge gap between knowing and doing . As a result of internet, the “expert” is no longer viewed as a dominant source of knowledge. The increased competition between sources of information has led to heightened confusion and anxiety, as to what is the “best” method of ensuring positive outcomes for the decisions we take.

What can we do to make knowledge available for application? Peter Levesque suggests that knowledge mobilization is led from the middle and for the purpose. The issues of power and control are central – especially in institutional settings. He argues that more important than content, are considerations of context, capacity, and a culture that supports the use, sharing, and co-creation of knowledge(s), in its many forms. Value is always created in exchange. Exchange can be in multiple forms that depend on context, capacity of individuals and organizations, the accessibility of content, and he culture that supports exchange and value production.

Some core questions include:

  • How do we integrate multiple sources of data, information and knowledge into our daily activities, whether they be consumer decisions, or high-level policy decisions?
  • How do we, collectively and individually, move from making decisions based mostly on emotions and opinions to making decisions based on individual as well as collective understanding?
  • How do we move from holding on to what we know rather than sharing it and acting on it in ways that are mutually beneficial?

Having useful evidence available to us in a timely fashion, in a format that we can use, is critical to the change from simply knowing to doing – and doing the best we can.

Knowledge Mobilization also includes active processes of creating linkages and exchanges between producers and users of data, information, and knowledge to engage in value-added activities. It includes a more entrepreneurial perspective than is often seen in disciplinary academic research and includes awareness of opportunities, key partnerships, market conditions, technological supports, and concepts of innovation.

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The creative process

By Peter Muijres

The creative process involves five phases or states of mind. Although each phase feeds into another and the process as a whole, they do not need to happen in a sequential order.

Inspiration – Generate a large number of ideas

This is the research or idea-generation phase. The process is uninhibited and characterised by spontaneity, experimentation, intuition, and risk-taking. Many people wonder where creative people find their good ideas. The answer is, in amongst a huge pile of bad ones. Creativity is like mining for diamonds, most of what you dig is thrown away, but that does not make the digging a waste of time. If you ‘cannot think of anything’ you are having difficulty with this inspiration phase, perhaps because you are too self-critical, or expect good ideas to come too quickly. In the field of the creative arts the inspiration phase is often associated with a search for an individual voice, and with an attempt to conjure up deep feelings of (for example) empathy, spirituality, or an intense identification with the subject matter. This is not a phase in which to be negative or worried about form, practicality, rhyme or quality. You should be rejecting at least 90% of your initial ideas. Let yourself off the leash! If most of the ideas you create are workable, then you did not take enough risks. This phase is like brainstorming.

Clarification In which you focus on your goals.

Key questions are:

  • What am I trying to achieve here?
  • What am I trying to say?
  • What exactly is the problem I am trying to solve?
  • What would I like the finished work to be like?

And in more open ended work:

  • How could I exploit the ideas I have had?
  • Where could this idea take me – what could I make of it?

The aim here is to clarify the purpose or objective of the work. It is easy to lose your sense of direction while dealing with detailed difficulties in creative work. So you need occasionally to disengage from these obstacles and ask “what exactly am I trying to do?”

If you ‘get stuck’ in the middle of a project, then rather than dreaming up a stream of alternatives you need to clarify where exactly you want to go. How to get there is then often straight-forward, or even blindingly obvious. Clarification gets you out of the mire, but it is also required when say, an artist or designer agonises between two or more equally attractive approaches. Such decisions require a clear sense of purpose. If you feel lost, stuck, bogged down, confused, or uncertain about how to proceed, then clarification is what you need. In this clarification phase you have your eye on the ball, you are being strategic and logical, focussing on how the finished work will look. It is very common for those inexperienced in creative work to fail to clarify. Clarification is a process, not an event. It should take place at frequent intervals while you work.

Evaluation – A review phase in which you look back over your work in progress. 

In the evaluation phase you examine your work for strengths and weaknesses. Then you need to consider how the work could be improved, by removing weaknesses but also by capitalising on its strengths. Then there will probably need to be another perspiration phase to respond positively to the suggestions for improvement. Perspiration and evaluation phases often alternate to form a cycle.

Hardly anyone gets things perfect first time. Creative people adapt to improve. Many people dislike the evaluation phase at first. However, highly creative people are nearly always inveterate revisers. They tinker with work that would make others gape in delight. Actually this evaluation phase can be very rewarding, and no work of real merit will be produced without it. If Shakespeare and Picasso found they had to revise their efforts, then I expect even you will need to!

Distillation – In which you decide which ideas to work on.

Here ideas from the inspiration phase are sifted through and evaluated usually in the light of the findings of a clarification phase. The best ideas are chosen for further development, or are combined into even better ideas. This is a self-critical phase. It requires cool analysis and judgment rather than slap-happy spontaneity. However it should not be so critical as to inhibit productivity entirely. Remember, the ideas you have had are only ideas, not complete solutions – you must not expect too much of them. It is where the ideas can take you that counts, not the ideas themselves.

Incubation – Leave the work alone, though you still ponder about it occasionally, leaving it ‘on the surface of your mind’.

Many brilliant ideas have occurred in the bath, or in traffic jams. If you are able to stop work on a project for a few days, perhaps to work on other things, this will give your subconscious time to work on any problems encountered, it will also distance you somewhat from your ideas so that you are better able to evaluate them. ‘Incubation’ is particularly useful after an ‘inspiration’ or a ‘perspiration’ phase, or if a problem has been encountered. Creative people are often surprisingly patient and untidy, and are content to let half-baked ideas, loose ends and inconsistencies brew away in their sub-conscious until ‘something turns up’.

Whenever Sir Isaac Newton had a particularly thorny problem he always worked on it just before he went to sleep. He said “I invariably woke up with the solution”.

Perspiration – In which you work determinedly on your best ideas.

This is where the real work is done. You are involved in determined and persistent effort towards your goal, this will usually involve further ‘inspiration’ ‘distillation’ and ‘clarification’ phases.

Perspiration usually involves a number of drafts separated with clarification and evaluation phases. Uncreative people often accept the first draft as completion. Very creative people often go over and over a piece until it is too their liking. Matisse for example produced over 20 versions of his ‘Pink Nude’. The end result is child like simple, and paradoxically spontaneous looking. It is surprising to people who do not understand the creative process that a talented person like Matisse should need so many ‘drafts’. But such strategies are common in very creative people.

Determinants of expatriate adjustment – a 1985 vintage version

By Peter Muijres

What are the determinants of expatriate adjustment in a cross-cultural setting? The researchers Black, Mendenhall and Oddou suggested a ‘comprehensive’ model of international adjustment in 1991 based on a review of empirical studies on ‘overseas’ adjustment of expatriate managers by the latter two (Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985).

Eight years later, Shaffer et al. (1999) adapted the model by adding some new factors, including language fluency, and making a bunch of other changes. However, the 1985 review and the original 1991 model, displayed in the featuring image, included some useful handles that may help expats out there in their adjustment process. These individual and the ‘non-work factors’ in specific will be given full attention at the expense of all the rest.

The authors differentiated three sorts of ‘international adjustment’: (1) adjustment to work, (2) adjustment to interacting with host nationals, and (3) adjustment to the general environment. Good adjustment in one area spills over into another, as you might expect from anything having to do with people, motives and mental health.

The individual factors have been divided into a self-efficacy (self-oriented), relational skills (other-oriented) and perception skills. The self-oriented individual skill includes at least three subsets of skills:

(1) Reinforcement substitution: the ability to find replacing interests and joys.

This entails finding an alternative to fill the gap left by the loss of a cherished passtime that you cannot continue after relocation. If skiing is no longer an option, but photograpyhy is, perhaps that might develop into your new passion with a similar effect.

(2) Stress reduction: the ability to recuperate from stress.

Being exposed to an environment that is sometimes difficult to understand or predict is stressful. Some expats reduce that stress by regularly taking a time out for themselves to limit their exposure to external stressors and recuperate from stress, for example by engaging in a comforting activity like writing, yoga, or a cigarette break outside.

(3) Technical competence: on the job functionioning with good results.

Expats who are tuned into their sociocultural environment, perform better. Good performance promotes a positive attitude and successful adaptation and vice versa. However, HR people often wrongly assume that performance abroad will be as it has been at home and base the selection of future expats on their track record only.

The other-oriented individual skills has been relabelled ‘relation skills’. It involves the ability to develop new relationships and a willingness to communicate. Having host national friends (or indeed: lovers) may greatly benefit your intercultural adjustment in various ways.

Having local friends may not only enhance your opportunities to interact with host nationals, they may also introduce you to their way of life and help you to recognise, understand and appreciate the cultural differences. You might be introduced to their families or be taken to non-touristic places where you witness how things are done and people treated when undisturbed by office formalities and social expectations.

Even showing an interest in the non-expat population often earns you credits, as is learning the local language. However, beware of quick solutions and culturally insensitive approaches. Yelling local jokes out loud, reciting the tong twister of the local language (and pronunciating it wrongly), intruding into people’s breathing space and laughing hysterically at whatever one may say or do, doesn’t necessarily attract friends.

The perception based individual skills purport having a non-evaluative attitude and the ability to make correct intercultural attributions. Learned cultural differences in perceptions and evaluations of social behaviour often lead people from different cultures to misinterpret each other. Understanding the motives of host nationals also helps the foreigner to predict how their opinions and behaviour will be received.

The non-work factors affect the degree or extent of international adjustment, not how it happens. ‘Cultural novelty’, still called ‘cultural toughness’ in 1985, reflects the country specific variables that facilitate acculturation to a particular setting. Hofstede (1980) has made this dimension better known as ‘cultural distance’. Being in host countries with similar features as your home culture makes the whole process of settling in much easier.

Another non-work factor is ‘Adjustment of Family-Spouse’. Less exposure to and needs to come to terms with cultural differences make it less urgent adapt your mindset and personal life. Cultural restrictions in a male dominated society make adapting for western wives even extra challenging. Unsatisfied social and emotional needs of poorly adapted family members, and perhaps the associated consequences, may lead partners or dads to cut their assignment short and return back home.

Besides Individual and nonwork factors, also job factors, organisation culture and organisation socialization factors affect mode and/or degree of adjustment. The job dimension contain factors related to job clarity, job discretion, job novelty and job conflict. The ‘organisation culture’ dimension addresses the novelty of the organisation culture, social support and logistical help experienced by the expat. ‘Organisation socialisation’ entails tactics and content that only affects the mode, not the degree of expatriate adjustment. All these dimensions affecting in-country adjustment, are precipitated by Anticipatory adjustment factors. Intercultural training and previous experience affect ‘accurate expectations’ on an individual dimension. Selection mechanisms and criteria on an organisational level predict the mode and degree of in-country adjustment.

Although expatriate adjustment wasn’t much of a concern until the late 1970s and the research still in a very early phase in 1985, the research tradition has never changed much. Many different models of intercultural adjustment have been offered during the last four decades. Just like people or eras in time, each has its own pros, cons and particularities. Mostly, attention is paid to how individuals move around as actively processing centers of awareness, but less to the parts played in multiple systems. The transcultural dynamics involving the locally available social groups, the home front and virtual communities for example, as well as the adaptation process as an often emotion based process that takes time do not always receive the attention they deserve.

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What’s in a word: Culture in context.

Written by Peter Muijres – http://www.cultureclass.org

The last blog post was about the question how the availability of words in different languages facilitates people to express things. Right now, this emphasis will shift towards the question whether a language is able to express cultural uniqueness and what implications this would have for cross-cultural communication. ‘Intranslatable’ foreign words are often quoted and explained to show there is nothing special about the culture that generated them.

The Swedish word Mångata, is popular for example, meaning: the road-like reflection of the moon on the water. Next one; the Spanish sobremesa is the leisurely time spent at the table together after people have finished eating. Easy. Next, one: utepils means enjoying a beer outside in the sun. Next one in line is the Japanese Komorebi. English language might need several words to describe the effect of sunlight filtering through leaves where the Japanese need only one, but in the end we are talking about the same thing, aren’t we?

That remains the question. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that words that exist only in one language expresses an unique experience particular to that culture, because the meaning of words determines what we are capable of thinking of. At the other hand, the structuralist approach in linguistics, proposes that the words in a language are like the holes in a fishing net. Each language group throws the fishing net in its own way over a surface, which represents reality. Although the net and the holes will always fall differently, and different words cover different aspects and dimensions, the reality underneath stays basically the same. The methaphor is used to illustrate that people all have a similar experience of reality, although the words they use to catch this reality may differ.

What does this mean to cross-cultural communication? Structuralists might argue: ‘communication between cultures is possible because people understand the words they use in the same way‘. Cultural differences are superficial and no experience is exclusive to people in one culture, the structuralist view holds. At the other hand, cultural relativists, like Sapir and Whorf, might argue that ‘communication between cultures goes wrong all the time, because people understanding the words they use in different ways’. The latter suggests that people from different cultures make sense of reality differently and should therefore be understood in their own terms.

An abilty to explain something (‘erklaeren’) and having an interpretative understanding (‘verstehen’) are two different things, Max Weber once explained. By now, you might have a notion of what utepils is. However you still have no idea what it means to live through a long, dark Scandinavian winter and the mindset, social setting and joyful expectations of spring and summer that the Norwegians tend to associate with ‘enjoying a beer in the sun’. Understanding the meaning of a word means something different than understanding that meaning in its cultural context. Let’s sink our teeth into two examples.

The German word ‘Fingerspitzengefuehl’ literally translates as ‘fingertips feeling’. The concept describes a certain strategic awareness, tact and intuition that allows for a quick responding to situational changes. The description might have drafted a picture by now, but it probably won’t include the almost geek-like joy and satisfaction that fingertips feelers may derive from observing how all particles in an incomprehensible scheme ingeniously work together to produce the tangible, hoped for result. A commitment to understand what needs to be done, why and in what way fosters a carefully cultivated mindset of punctuality, discipline and critical curiousity on a level where skills turn into art. Famous for their attention to detail, planning and punctuality, a missing cultural context would fail to make understandable why Germans were among the first to come up with a word for ‘Fingerspitzengefuehl’.

The opposite of planning is delicately caught by a word the Portuguese came up with: desenrascanço. Literally meaning “disentanglement”, desenrascanço refers to improvised, ad hoc solutions that prevent the problem from getting completely out of control and without a solution. So, that be a serious reason for concern?

Although you may have an idea of the translation of desenrascanço, developing cultural sensitivity requires a context. Desenrascanço is normally used to express an ability to solve a problem without having the knowledge or the adequate tools to do so, by use of imaginative resources or by applying knowledge to new situations. Portuguese people are said to strongly believe it to be one of their most valued virtues and a living part of their culture. There is a distinct pride and pleasure involved in the resourcefulness associated with the ability to handle unexpected situations and is not to be confused with an endorsement of amateurism, irresponsibility and lack of planning.

This brings us back to the original question: is a language able to express cultural uniqueness and what implications would that have for cross-cultural communication? The purpose of raising questions such as these is not to end up with a final answer that should be copied and applied across situations indifferently.

One post on cultureclassblog mentioned that picking up easily on new languages indicates cultural intelligence, because it shows an ability to recognize and apply subtle culture specific meanings in communication. What did the American expat, who refused to speak anything but English, communicate by stating : “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s surely good enough for me!”? That speaking in the same language is no guarantee for being on the same page.

More important than the content of words is your view of self, others, your relation to others and the world that you communicate. Relationships depend on communication and over 80% of it happens non-verbally. Attending to mind whether another person really understands and feels understood may not seem necessary at times, but may contribute something else  within a context where borders are crossed and opportunities created together.

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Words on words 

Written by: Peter Muijres – http://www.cultureclass.org

Everyone who speaks more than one language surely has experienced the feeling of being ‘lost in translation’. In one language, you may know exactly what you want to say, but the very same expression just doesn’t translate from one language into another. Those who have to translate struggle with this on a daily basis. People sometimes say a language is ‘rich’ when it has a great vocabulary to pick from, but what does ‘rich’ actually mean? How do numbers of words and their meaning enable people in a specific context to piece together a message in different languages? The next two blogs seek for answers to these questions.

Some languages may count more words than others, but cultural factors skew the interpretation of those numbers. Cultures differ in what people consider and accept as ‘official’ language. For example, to be included in an English dictionary, a word like ‘LOL’ (Laughing Out Loud) simply has to exist. Russians, however, feel that dictionaries should reflect only ‘proper’ words representative of the official language. Dictionaries are one of the main resources of people learning about a language. Not including words in a dictionary means limiting access to a number of words and their meaning and makes a language appear less voluminous or ‘rich’ than it actually is or should be.

Does a considerable amount of words with the same or a similar meaning indicate some meaningful hotspot in a given culture?Researchers supporting the hypothesis of linguistic relativity, introduced by Sapir and Whorff, say it does. The language we speak and the words that are part of it or not reflect and affect our view of the world. The many words Eskimos have for ‘snow’ is well known cliché, we owe to the work of anthropologist Franz Boas (1911). Also, the 300 Arabic words for ‘love’ are sometimes brought up to suggest that the entire group of native speakers is more inclined towards poetry and love. ­ However, one critical question is how you define a ‘word’.

Some Eskimo languages have different words and word endings to differentiate between where the snow is, how much it is or where it goes. Frans Boaz (1911) provides examples: Aput means ‘snow on the ground’; qana means ‘falling snow’, and qimiqsuq means ‘drifting snow’. Other languages simply add an adjective or few describing words to say what the snow is doing, rather than coining a different word. More differential words do not necessarily add more meaning than word combinations.

But sometimes having many words , does reflect and foster a bigger awareness of the nuances entailed in whatever that concept is. Those among us who have learned to identify and appreciate snow in all its varieties and settings, are more likely to know and use specific words to describe those differences as well, adding depth to conversation.

Consider the variations in meaning of the synonyms of the adjective ‘mean’ offered by Merriam-Webster online. ‘Mean’ suggests small-mindedness, ill temper, or cupidity <mean and petty satire>. Ignoble suggests a loss or lack of some essential high quality of mind or spirit <an ignoble scramble after material possessions>. Abject may imply degradation, debasement, or servility <abject poverty>. Sordid is stronger than all of these in stressing physical or spiritual degradation and abjectness <a sordid story of murder and revenge>. Provided your conversational partner is able to grasp the subtle meaning you are trying to convey to the same extent, the more different synonyms may help to communicate the subtle nuances of a message to others who understand too.

Having more words at your disposal does entail a psychological advantage by enabling wordplay. Wordplay lets air into messages that might otherwise become overly earnest. The English, well known for difficulties with earnestness, employ wordplay in almost every other heading in the British tabloids. A play of word also facilitates rephrasing of points of view, which is a powerful therapeutical tool to help people take a different perspective at things. Words are such powerful precision tools that it doesn’t hurt to have more of them – provided that you know how to use them and others still understand you. However, especially when words travel across cultural borders, the meaning of words is at risk. The next blog will concentrate on the impact of culture on the creation, context and export of words.

Literature: Boas, F. (1911). Handbook of American Indian languages, pp. 25-26. Whorf, B.L. (1949). “Science and Linguistics” Reprinted in Carroll 1956.