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Introducing values studies

This article describes how values function. Guiding our associations with sameness and responses to difference, values affect cross-cultural interactions. Therefore understanding and clarifying them is important.

Starting from a need to associate with sameness

In the genetic, evolutionary, or God-given nature of human beings, there appears to be a deep, intrinsic, inherent yearning for association, for sameness. Rooted in basic human needs, this innate drive to affiliate with similar creatures leads us to pair off for reproduction and co-create communities.

Various needs drive us, at some level, toward forming social groupings in which we can feel satisfied, meaningful, important and comfortable. These desires are the basis of cultural values.

Values are standards of what is considered to be desirable within a collectivity, reflecting shared cultural traditions that are instilled in individuals, to varying degrees, by the major institutions of socialization operating in the collectivity. Thus, a Kultur is created.(Lipset, 1963)

Far removed from philosophers’ lofty ideas, the tacit-acquired side of culture includes a broad range of practices and solutions to problems with roots in the common clay of the shared experiences of ordinary people…In humans, tacit-acquired culture is made up of hundreds and possibly thousands of micro-events comprising the corpus of the daily cycle of activity, the spaces we occupy, and the way we relate to others, in other words, the bulk of experiences of everyday life (Hall, 1998).

Thus we unconsciously but cooperatively create cultures based on sameness and simultaneously disassociate from those dissimilar. Alternatively, encountering variance may arouse our curiosity about the reasons for such diversity.

Difference – encountering “Other” as a starting point for cultural awareness

As humans we are generally unaware of the extent to which we are embedded in our cultural patterns.

It is our shared, pass-on-able features that give us a collective identity. But this identity may only be salient when it needs to be distinguished. We can’t clearly know what our own culture is or that we even belong to one until someone or something presents “us” or “we” in contrast to “them” or “other.”

At some point in our maturing and experience cycle we encounter “otherness” for the first time. For most people, this is the first time we start to realize that our own life-orientation assumptions may not be assumed by everyone. . As Blaise Pascal noted, “There are truths on this side of the Pyrenees that are falsehoods on the other” (Pascal’s Pensées).

So whether our approach to understanding others or ourselves is based on sameness or difference, how do we study these dynamics? How do we get to the salient “core of culture” in our analytical observations or scientific examinations?

Original published as: Kulich, S. J. (2012). Values studies: The origins and development of core-cross-cultural comparisons. In S. J. Kulich, M. H. Prosser, & L. P. Weng (Eds.), Value frameworks at the theoretical crossroads of culture. Intercultural research (Vol. 4, Chap. 1, pp. 33-70). Shanghai, China: SFLEP.

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This article is from the free online course:

Intercultural Communication

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)