To better understand intercultural communication, it is important that we know more about the nature of culture and communication and, equally important, how culture may relate to communication or vice versa. The ensuring discussion in this section is a conceptual orientation of these topics.
What is culture?.
There are many perspectives on culture. But we will focus on two of the fundamental ones.
The more "traditional perspectives on culture" has been espoused by many thinkers throughout the centuries. In the West, for example, Matthew Arnold defined culture in his 1869 book, Culture and Anarchy, as "the best that has been thought and said in the world." Culture, according to this traditional view, is looked upon as a standard of excellence and usually refers to achievements in the arts, literature, architecture, and the like.
Similarly, many people also relate culture to standard in (formal) education--as in "the more you're educated, the more culture you have." Culture, from this angle, refers to the outcome of a formal and programmatic learning process (as in going through schooling). For example, in various parts on Mainland China, the expression "someone has culture" means someone has received an extent of formal education. So, according to this notion, a college graduate has more culture than a high school graduate, a high school graduate has more culture than an elementary graduate, and so on.
But the above perspective is currently thought of by many scholars as a "class-based" or elitist view of culture. After all, someone, a class of people, or an institution in society is defining or legitimizing what is culture (or what is good, significant, and valuable) and what is not. For instance, most of the artifacts, "traditions," or past events we see in the typical art, culture, or history museums represent the vision or interpretation of the curators who have their own sets of ideology and preference; their selection is determined by a privileged class of people.