"We should talk about confidence and conviction and cohesion in written communication in terms of an awareness of ever-changing cultural dimensions. The audience is often much more complex than our initial intentions."
I like starting out discussions about theories of intercultural communication and relevance to composition in two ways. First, as I've already said, the rhetorical triangle must expand. We must consider location and modality in addition to reader, writer, and text, in every form of communication, because of the "scale" and "change" factor in communication today that Kirk talks about. Second, we need more developed intercultural communication competence. What constitutes competence? It's a sliding scale, and depends on each situation, of course. But here's the thing: we're graduating students who are functionally interculturally incompetent, and that's not a good thing. Instead, we should talk about confidence and conviction and cohesion in written communication in terms of an awareness of ever-changing cultural dimensions. The audience is often much more complex than our initial intentions.
"...involving another perspective in our own arguments, without second-classing that perspective either directly or indirectly, is an intercultural communication competency that I want our students to have in composition, rhetoric, and technical communication."
Okay, this is pretty slippery, I realize, but so is rhetoric. It, well, depends. But there are frameworks or models in intercultural theory that can really help us in composition instruction to navigate slippery situations or, at least, to keep moving forward. One I really like to use comes from Milton J. Bennett of the Intercultural Communication Institute. Bennett (2004) has an essay called "Becoming Interculturally Competent" in which he relayed a continuum called "The Stages of Development." It's a movement basically from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism, which relates to user-centered thinking or even just getting students out of writer-based writing to reader-based writing or audience awareness. In order to create plausibility in our writing, which leads to persuasion and effective argumentation, we have to understand audience perspective. And we have to understand it in an integrated way.
I like Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein's (2014) ideas in They Say, I Say, which are related. They pointed out that good writing includes conviction and believability, and that starts with putting one's main claim in the context of an ongoing conversation. A writer can use believing and doubting to engage readers with content, but where many students fail is they don't really believe; they only doubt. We train them to, unfortunately. We teach students how to set up argumentative structures that value difference in negative ways rather than positive ones. We can live with difference and differing viewpoints. Trying on another perspective for size is more effective if integrated rather than alienated.
Bennett relates well to this; that is, as we should work to move from a more ethnocentric to ethnorelative perspective when communicating with people with different cultural values, we can break down our process like Graff and Birkenstein do. Just as we need to understand "they say" before relating our own claims, so too do we need to move through stages of development to find conviction and effective communication. Bennett said the stages of intercultural development are denial, defense, minimization, acceptance, adaptation, and finally integration, and that few people from one culture can ever fully integrate into another. It's the move from denial toward integration where communication and understanding is more effective, I'd say. Keep moving forward. Involving another perspective in our own arguments, without second-classing that perspective either directly or indirectly, is an intercultural communication competency that I want our students to have in composition, rhetoric, and technical communication.
—webtext & interview by Gustav Verhulsdonck 2017