What is culture? To define culture is not that easy. Early definitions of a scientist named Goodenough say a society’s culture whatever it is, one has to know or believe it. To start understanding it properly one should maybe rather think about culture and language than about culture and society as rooted in human activities. As per scientist Günther’s view culture is described as consisting of psychological structures. Therefore there is a danger that culture could be reduced to a psychological surface of rules and accordingly society could be interpreted as homogenous unit.
Culture can generally be seen as the social heritage of a group of people living in a certain time with its certain traditions, language, behavior and activities often dependant to the specific geographical orientation (not necessarily nations meant!!).
There are two general famous considerations approaching the Intercultural communication. Two different views and two different ways trying to understand how to explore, define and approach to culture. Those two are modeled by Edward T. Hall and Geert Hofstede who are cited over and over again in ICC studies. Both models try to define culture and both are highly problematic.
The more expedient model is in my opinion Hall’s “4 Dimensions of culture”. He starts his idea by stating that culture is communication. And communication itself can be separated into three things: words, material things and behavior. If you go further Hall compares culture to a giant complex computer in which language means the system, the use and material things are the artifacts, buildings and the other variable is behavior in everyday life – “Culture as a computer”!
His model “4 Dimensions of Culture” contains the dimensions High and Low Context cultures, space as a physical space of an individual, time and the last variable flow of information. With low context and high context cultures he means the differences in the amount of input you need to act in a certain cultural environment. For example a couple changing information with each other can be seen as a high context interaction whereas the directions of a technical instrument perhaps can be seen as a low context transmission. And then under Hall you find out that perhaps in Japan there is given a high context culture whereas in Germany or Switzerland there is given a low context culture. Another indication of the differing cultures would be for instance the importance of having an own office. While in the states highly important in Japan there is no general requirement from the population’s side. Another of Hall’s examples is that French people sit closer to each other than Germans or US citizens what underlines also the cultural differences in that case concerning Hall’s dimension “space”. The dimension time is divided into the monochronic part and polychronic part. Germans with their concentration on one topic or job, their worry about not disturbing others, taking time commitments seriously and who are used to have short time relationships etc.. are clearly separated to the monochronic part. Whereas French people doing many things together, changing plans very easily, worried about close relatives, having strong tendency to build lifetime relationships etc.. are put in the polychromic part of the dimension time. The flow of information is the aspect of information spread in low or high context cultures (High context: rapidly, Low context: controlled, highly focused, separated).
In order to give a personal evaluation to Hall’s view you need primarily to understand that cultural research is so complex that there is no general rule which can be used to understand or analyze every culture. But still even if Hall’s 4 dimensions cannot include the entire complexity of cultural research it covers a big part of it.