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date: 11 December 2018

Summary and Keywords

An enduring problem for all people is the universal call for figuring out how to live together. This problem, which requires some measure of organization, quintessentially is responded to and managed in and through communication. That is, humans coordinate their daily meaningful actions via situated webs of linguistic and nonlinguistic means during the course of daily social interactions. These situated webs can be interpreted as cultural codes about communication. Further, and importantly, these codes vary across social groupings—and the codes are distinctive. This distinctiveness arises from the reality that societies shape their respective codes according to their local means and meanings; that is, to their own sets of beliefs, values, and rules for managing their lives individually and collectively.

The communicative means and meanings in and by which humans create meaningful lives are the central concern of cultural communication, which is defined as follows: the social enactment of learned systems of symbolic resources, premises, rules, emotions, spatial orientations, and notions of time that groups of people use to shape distinctive and meaningful communal identities, relationships, and ways of living and being. Indeed, cultural communication pertains to the use of language and other communicative means to carry out the activities and commitments of their particular communities in and through the use of symbolic resources. These resources include verbal and nonverbal means, as well as the rules for using and interpreting them.

This paper is inspired by a number of scholars of cultural communication, including Dell Hymes, who conceptualized the ethnography of communication (EOC); Gerry Philipsen and his notion of codes of communication; and the many scholars who have followed their leads.

The definition of cultural communication requires some fleshing out—and in particular, the tension between the individual and the communal that exists within the concept of cultural communication needs attention. Empirically accessed, real-life examples of locations where communication can be seen, heard, felt, and experienced help to explicate cultural communication. Such examples include cultural terms, silence practices, terms of address, rituals, and social dramas. Indeed, cultural communication treats culture and people, not with wide brushstrokes where the features of daily life occur uniformly and generically, but rather as unique sets of social actors whose lives are composed of intricate webs of nuanced expressions and attendant meanings, wherein each enactor plays a part in animating the symbolic resources that comprise their richly diverse schemes of life.

Keywords: cultural communication, ethnography of communication, communication codes, cultural codes of communication, discourse and society, language and social interaction

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