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Deep Culture: The Hidden Challenges of Global Living

reviewed by Milton Bennett - March 24, 2008

coverTitle: Deep Culture: The Hidden Challenges of Global Living
Author(s): Joseph Shaules
Publisher: Multilingual Matters, Clevedon
ISBN: 1847690165, Pages: 264, Year: 2007
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Deep Culture appears to be intended for two different contexts and audiences. Depending in which of these contexts an evaluation is located, the book is either more or less successful.

One audience is clearly language teachers, supported by the fact that the book is part of a series in which most titles are directed to language issues, published by Multilingual Matters, a house specializing in language learning. Many language teachers are relatively unknowledgeable about the history and current research in the field of intercultural communication, having been trained to treat culture as “everyday behavior” in which one should acquire “communicative competence” (Bennett, Bennett, & Allen, 2003). This often leads to a relatively shallow view of culture, as does a predominant concern with ethnic festivals. For this audience, the introduction of a contrasting idea of “deep culture” is accomplished coherently and persuasively.

Given his likely intention to juxtapose “deep” with the implied “shallow” of many current language-teaching approaches to culture, the author can be forgiven for not referencing Edward Stewart, an intercultural communication pioneer who introduced the term “deep culture” to refer to similar ideas in his classic work, American Cultural Patterns: A Cross-Cultural Approach (Stewart, 1972). Otherwise, in the first three chapters the author is reasonably comprehensive in his referencing of the classics, including the early cultural relativists, the Whorf/Sapir hypothesis of linguistic relativity, Edward T. Hall’s first definition of intercultural communication, Dean Barnlund’s notion of culture as the “collective unconscious,” and in his summaries of a selection of current writers from intercultural communication, psychology, cross-cultural psychology, business, and language education. These chapters constitute a clear and persuasive scholarly introduction to intercultural communication for neophytes, meaning people who are likely to define “culture” in more superficial ways.

A caveat to the coverage of seminal intercultural concepts is that an entire stream of literature based on the original Kluckhohn and Strodbeck idea of cultural value orientation is missing, replaced by the two current business-oriented value systems of Hofstede and of Trompenaars. As Shaules notes, Hofstede tends to be deterministic in his use of the system, contributing to the problematic idea that culture is a causal force in people’s behavior. While Shaules seems to reject this kind of cultural determinism, his continued reliance on categorization systems like Hofstede’s and Trompenaars’ betrays a failure to adopt the alternative idea of probabilistic distribution. The idea that all positions on a continuum (e.g. collectivism to individualism) are represented in all cultures, but are differently preferred, is at the heart of Kluckhohn and Strodbeck’s value orientations. This approach to values is more consistent with most definitions of relativistic subjective culture and the experience of cultural difference.

The book is particularly coherent in its presentation of “objections to culture,” such as the aforementioned idea that culture is a causal agent, or that culture is a form of personal identity. Shaules effectively differentiates the subjective “culture” of intercultural communication from the institutional “culture” of cultural studies and the identity “culture” of multicultural studies. By placing the idea of experience at the forefront, he not only shows how culture can be thought of as the communal experience of certain organizations of reality, but also that one can have a personal experience of the group norms. Altogether, the first few chapters effectively establish the need for teachers to have a sophisticated concept of group normative behavior and for them to include the experience of complex cultural worldviews in any rendering of communicative competence.

The second intended audience of this book is presumably intercultural scholars and practitioners, a group to whom the author wishes to present his doctoral research and make an original contribution to intercultural education. For this more knowledgeable audience, the initial chapters are unnecessarily persuasive in their tone, becoming at times a case of preaching to the choir. People who have studied intercultural or cross-cultural relations at even a rudimentary level do not need to be convinced that “culture” in the sense of “worldview” refers to subjective experience, since that was the main point of cultural relativists and the seminal work by E.T. Hall (1959).

The second half of the book is devoted to intercultural learning, a discussion that is largely based on the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), a grounded constructivist theory that posits a continuum of development from more ethnocentric positions (denial, defense, minimization) to more ethnorelative positions (acceptance, adaptation, integration) (Bennett, 1986, 1993, 2004). The summary of the DMIS is likely to be useful to the language teacher audience, as may be a distinction in the “depth of adaptive demands” added by Shaules. Woven throughout are excerpts from interviews with several representative sojourners with which he illustrates different kinds and depths of intercultural adaptation.

Shaules adopts the idea of “cognitive empathy” from the DMIS and does a nice job of explaining how taking the perspective of deep culture can translate into culturally adaptive experience. He uses this idea to counter a criticism of the DMIS as being overly cognitive and insufficiently relational by showing that cognitive empathy leads directly to closer and more successful relationships in cultures different from one’s own.

However, for a more scholarly audience possessing any familiarity with constructivist development, three major misunderstandings of developmental models in general and the DMIS in particular will stand out. One such misunderstanding is the perceived need to add a causal force to development – what Shaules calls the “adaptive demand” that he argues can occur in deeper or more superficial ways. He justifies this addition with the following observation: “[The DMIS] describes where the sojourner is along the road to an overall intercultural sensitivity, while this work (Deep Culture) tries to describe the experiential engine that drives that learning” (p129).

Actually, like most developmental models, the DMIS is itself a model of movement towards more “adaptive” organizations of experience within the context of its description. In the words of one article on the DMIS referenced by Schaules:

The DMIS supposes that contact with cultural difference generates pressure for change in one’s worldview. This happens because the “default” ethnocentric worldview, while sufficient for managing relations within one’s own culture, is inadequate to the task of developing and maintaining social relations across cultural boundaries. Assuming that there is a need for such cross-cultural relations… then there is pressure to develop greater competence in intercultural matters. (p. 74)

A second major misunderstanding involves the reification of a developmental model into a taxonomic system; typically when “stages” are taken to be discrete categories rather than demarcations of a range of positions along a continuum. And indeed, Schaules incorrectly assumes that individual experiences of cultural difference must be classified into one DMIS stage or another. He makes this allegation to justify how his own model is able to accommodate contradictory individual responses to adaptive demands. By “contradictory” he means that his interview subjects made statements about culture that appeared to indicate both ethnocentrism and ethnorelativism in DMIS terms. He attributes this contradiction to the missing dimension of cultural depth, so that the apparently ethnorelative statements were referring to elements of objective or surface culture, while the ethnocentric statements were referring to elements of deep culture. By introducing the dimension of cultural depth into a truncated set of categories (resistance, acceptance, adaptation), Shaules claims to explain the contradiction. What he really does is replace what he thinks is an incomplete taxonomy with another taxonomy.

Actually, like other developmental models, the DMIS is not a taxonomic classificatory system, but rather a description and explanation of how people get better at something (in this case, intercultural sensitivity). In the words of the same DMIS article quoted above:

Each change in worldview structure generates new and more sophisticated issues to be resolved in intercultural encounters. The resolution of the relevant issues activates the emergence of the next orientation. Since issues may not be totally resolved, movement may be incomplete and one’s experience of difference diffused across more than one worldview. (p. 74)

The more developmental explanation of his subjects’ “contradictory” statements is that they have not completely resolved some of the earlier ethnocentric issues, even though their predominant experience of cultural difference may be more advanced. For example, a person might be generally curious about cultural difference and willing to adapt their behavior according to cultural context (indications of ethnorelativism), while still being unable to understand how people might culturally value formality over informality. In developmental terms, this means that the person has been unable to get past a strong minimization issue (people everywhere must want to be informal, if possible), even though the minimization of cultural difference does not really characterize the person’s overall experience of other cultures. Alternatively, people’s predominant experience might still be ethnocentric, for instance, generally experiencing their own culture as superior to others, even though they may show acceptance or even adaptation to some aspects of subjective culture. If these people show only an appreciation of etiquette or similar superficial customs, they are not showing acceptance or adaptation at all, since these positions are defined in terms of subjective culture in the first place.

A third misunderstanding is of the kind of evaluation inherent to all developmental models. Shaules states that “the lower stages (of the DMIS) are seen as less desirable stages of intercultural sensitivity,” as opposed to his deep culture model that “assumes that all reactions to adaptive demands…are normal parts of the intercultural process” (p. 129). Actually, like other developmental models, the DMIS is describing “normal” behavior at any point on the continuum. But for a model to be developmental, there needs to be movement from some earlier point where expertise (in this case, intercultural sensitivity) is less developed to a later point where the expertise is more developed. Less expertise is indeed “less desireable” in a context demanding greater expertise. This is what William Perry termed “contextual relativism,” a relatively advanced ethical position in his scheme, the understanding of which is central to criticizing developmental models (1998).

Overall, in the context of intercultural scholarship, Deep Culture is overreaching for originality. The modification of the DMIS model rests on substantial misunderstandings of both development and constructivism, perhaps fueled by the need to justify a “new” model. The greater strength of the book is for language teachers, as it shows how intercultural communication concepts can add depth to the intercultural learning aspects of language education.


Bennett, M. J. (1986). A developmental approach to training intercultural sensitivity. In J. Martin (Guest Ed.), Special Issue on Intercultural Training, International Journal of Intercultural Relations. 10(2), 179-186.

Bennett, M. J. (1993). Towards ethnorelativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity (revised). In R. M. Paige (Ed.), Education for the Intercultural Experience.  Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Bennett, M. J. (2004). Becoming interculturally competent. In J.S. Wurzel (Ed.), Toward multiculturalism: A reader in multicultural education. Newton, MA: Intercultural Resource Corporation.

Bennett, J, M., Bennett, M. J., & Allen, W. (2003). Developing intercultural competence in the language classroom. In D. L. Lange & R. M. Paige (Eds.), Culture at the Core: Perspectives on culture in second language learning.  Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

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

Perry, W.G. (1998). Forms of ethical and intellectual development in the college years: A scheme. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (Originally published in 1970, New York: Holt, Reinhart, & Winston.)

Stewart, E. (1972). American cultural patterns:  A cross-cultural perspective. Chicago: Intercultural Press. (The reference to deep culture is maintained in the Revised Edition, Stewart, E. & Bennett, M. J. (1991).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 24, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15162, Date Accessed: 12/4/2021 9:51:09 PM

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About the Author
  • Milton Bennett
    Intercultural Development Research Institute
    E-mail Author
    MILTON J. BENNETT, Ph.D. is a former professor of intercultural communication at Portland State University, founding director of the Intercultural Communication Institute, and currently the managing director of the Intercultural Development Research Institute. Dr. Bennett is the originator of the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity and co-developer of its measurement, the Intercultural Development Inventory.
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