adaptability communication cultivating our field human behavior interaction interculturalists leadership mitchell hammer observers Feb 15, 2022

The following article was published in the 1989 June/July Issue of SIETAR International’s Communique. It made me think of Janet Bennett, a pioneer and early settler in the intercultural field. My interest in Mitch Hammer’s perspective was piqued and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. Used with permission from the author. -- Sandra Fowler, Editor, The "I"


By Mitchell Hammer, Ph.D.

Those of us who identify ourselves as “interculturalists” of one sort or another have led a rather nomadic lifestyle. We may well have travelled to the far corners of the world, visiting different cultures for varying lengths of time. We oftentimes claim that our intercultural experiences have had a profound effect in terms of how we live our own lives; we have sampled the intercultural salad and found much to our liking. In a similar fashion, borrowing an image from Schramm (1933), our field of “intercultural “education, training and research" has had a nomadic history as well. Following World War II, researchers from such disciplines as anthropology, psychology, communication, sociology and international relations as well as practitioners from counseling, education and human resource development left the safety of their more established “areas of expertise” and travelled to a part of the human landscape that was then relatively uncharted: the intersection of “culture” and human interaction.” These early nomads, following the lead of such “intercultural observers” as Edward Hall (1959), began to ask questions concerning the relationship of culture (i.e., the values, beliefs, norms, and patterns of thought) to human behavior; particularly to human interaction that takes place between people from different societies and social groups.

What was once unfamiliar territory began to develop the rudimentary structure of a “field of inquiry and practice.” We began to attract greater interest, primarily from academic- and practitioner-tourists who stopped by for brief visits and applied their disciplinary tools to our emerging field of study. Yet those individuals who “settled” in our town shared a vision which they cultivated as our field grew. This vision consisted of three fundamental notions. First, our field is interdisciplinary and multicultural in focus, method and content. That is, if we are to understand the territory of culture and human interaction, we need to employ interdisciplinary and multicultural maps.

Second, our field is built on practical need. David Hoopes (1979) identified three such needs: (1) to train people to function more effectively in a foreign environment, (2) to help international students adapt to living in a foreign culture, and (3) to effectively manage “the explosive dimensions of interracial and inter-ethnic relations in the United States as the civil rights movement gained momentum in the early 1960’s” (p. 10). Recently, Alfred Smith (1982) added such practical global needs as integrating intercultural insights into the work of larger international political and economic institutions skills in negotiation, finance, law and transborder information flow analyses. As Smith (1982) suggests, those of us who have settled in their field need to focus attention on “the serious problems of the international scene, problems that are morbid and malign: routine wretchedness and strife, transgression and injustice” (p.262).

Third, our field fundamentally addresses the concerns of people. As Rohrlich (1987) aptly states: “why do we study intercultural communication? Because like a science it helps us understand the world around us, and like the humanities it helps us understand ourselves. It can help us with business, government, education, and language skills, all fields which ultimately depend upon interpersonal contact” (p. 127-128). 

Today, many of us are the “settlers” in our field. How we choose to cultivate the land will determine the kind of crop we will grow. And as our town grows, and we cultivate with increased sophistication, let us always remember the vision that guides our work in this field. Yet the question arises, how can we be sure we are cultivating the field with care? I would suggest that the final basis for determining whether our contributions are useful is to simply remember that increased understanding depends on increased skill in observation.

Let observation with extensive view,
Survey mankind from China to Peru;
Remark each anxious toil, each eager strife,
And watch the busy scenes of life.
                            Johnson, Vanity of Human Wishes


Hall, E. (1959). The silent language. New York: Doubleday.

Hoopes, D.S. (1979). Intercultural communication concepts and the psychology of intercultural experience. In M.D. Pusch (Ed.). Multicultural Education (pp. 9-38). Chicago, IL: Intercultural Press.

Schramm, W. (1982). The unique perspective of communication: A retrospective view. Journal of Communication, 33, (3), 6-17.

Smith, A. (1982). Content decisions in intercultural communication. The Southern Speech Communication Journal, 67, (5), 252-262.

Rohrlich, P. (1987). Why do we study intercultural communication? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 11, 123-128.