2012 Cultural Considerations

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Culture considerations explore the shared set of assumptions, beliefs and values of a particular group or nation state. These video clips reveal how culture influences perception, and how perception shapes identity of self and others. These factors influence international relations significantly as they make up the fibers that connect us and make meaning out of our interaction.

One of the challenges of cultural differences in international relations is that differing perceptions and views of the world are not always made explicit. All too often, a wink and a smile from one person’s vantage point is interpreted and understood differently from the other’s. The confusions that results from cultural miscommunication creates confusion that muddies the water of our work in the world together. It need not.

Clifford Geertz’s groundbreaking work, The Interpretation of Cultures, sets the stage for dialogue that is clear and characterized by understanding based on each person’s or group’s cultural and historical context. Meaning comes out of an exchange where self and other exchange openly and explicitly. This is the art of diplomacy.

In Geertz’s own words, “Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.”

In viewing the Camcast video in this section, consider how perspectives are created, shared, interpreted and misinterpreted. How do cross-cultural misunderstandings contribute to international crisis? How do cross-cultural understandings contribute to international breakthroughs? What are the qualities, characteristics and skills required of an effective diplomat?

Cultural Considerations Video Links

What is the Arab Spring about?, Deborah Amos

Revolution in the Age of Social Media, Deborah Amos

Al-Jazeera, Deborah Amos

The Arab Spring is a “Youthful Bulge”, Deborah Amos

Are Americans Comfortable with the Revolution in the Middle East?, Deborah Amos

Challenging Traditional Social Mores in Post-Revolution Egypt, Deborah Amos


Study Guide for Cultural Considerations

1. What is the Arab Spring about?

2. How is social media changing the way we communicate? How does it change the way information is disseminated?

3. Are Americans supportive of the revolution in the Middle East? How does Deborah Amos imply that most Americans are relatively uninformed? What are your thoughts on the matter?

4. What role has Al-Jazeera played in the Arab Spring? Discuss a few of the differences between Al-Jazeera and the major American television news networks.

5. How are cultural norms shifting in post-revolution Egypt?

6. Contrast what has happened in Egypt with what is currently happening in Syria.