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Co-Cultural Theory
Mark Orbe

CULTURAL CONTEXT: INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION


  1. Members of co-cultural groups have less power than members of the dominant culture.
    1. Mark Orbe uses the term co-cultural to refer to marginalized groups of people who are typically labeled as minority, subcultural, subordinate, inferior, or nondominant.
    2. It’s a neutral term that designates significant differences from the dominant culture, but with no hint of contempt or condemnation.
    3. There are many varied co-cultural groups in the United States, such as women, people of color, the economically disadvantaged, people with physical disabilities, the LGBTQ community, the very old and very young, and religious minorities.
    4. Orbe sees co-cultural theory as an extension of both standpoint theory and muted group theory—two other theories concerned with unequal power.
    5. Orbe thinks it’s important to spend time and effort focusing on co-cultural communication—“communication between dominant group and co-cultural group members from the perspective of co-cultural group members.”
    6. Orbe has found that, to maneuver within the dominant culture and achieve some degree of success, co-cultural group members will adopt one or more specific communication orientations in their everyday interactions.
  2. Communication orientation: What they want and what they say to get it.
    1. Orbe claims there are nine communication orientations that different co-cultural group members adopt when trying to survive and thrive within the dominant group culture.
      1. Communication orientation is the term he uses to describe a co-cultural group member’s preferred outcome pursued through the communication approach he or she chooses to achieve that goal.
      2. The three goals—assimilation, accommodation, separation—describe the preferred outcomes co-cultural members might seek when face-to-face with members of the dominant culture.
      3. The three communication approaches—nonassertive, assertive, aggressive—identify the verbal and nonverbal behavior co-cultural members might use to reach their chosen goal
      4. A three-by-three model (i.e., crossing preferred outcomes with communication approaches) yields nine communication orientations.
    2. Inside each of the nine communication orientation boxes are shorthand descriptors of communicative practices.
      1. These practices summarize the specific verbal and nonverbal actions that co-cultural group members take when interacting with members of the dominant culture.
      2. The cluster of terms labeling the practices in each box reflects how that orientation plays out in actual types of behavior.
    3. As Orbe listened to co-cultural group members talk about their interactions with the dominant culture, their words strongly influenced his recognition and interpretation of the three preferred outcomes, the three communication approaches, and the nine different communication orientations they form.
      1. A nonassertive approach is where “individuals are seemingly inhibited and nonconfrontational while putting the needs of others before their own.”
      2. An aggressive approach is behavior “perceived as hurtfully expressive, self-promoting, and assuming control over the choices of others.”
      3. Orbe pictures the nonassertive and aggressive approaches as anchoring opposite ends of a continuum on which an assertive approach (self-enhancing and expressive behavior that takes into account both self and others’ needs) falls roughly in between.
  3. Assimilation as a preferred outcome of communication.
    1. For co-cultural group members, assimilation means fitting into the dominant culture while at the same time shedding the speech and nonverbal markers of their group.
      1. Nonassertive assimilation: Co-cultural members attempt to meet their own needs as best they can by unobtrusively blending into the dominant society.
        1. Emphasizing commonalities—focusing on similarities; downplaying differences.
        2. Developing positive face—Being graciously attentive and considerate.
        3. Censoring self—Remaining silent to inappropriate or offensive comments.
        4. Averting controversy—Moving conversation away from risky or dangerous areas.
      2. Assertive assimilation: Co-cultural members with this orientation attempt to fit into dominant structures by “playing the game.”
        1. Extensive preparation—Preparing thoroughly prior to interaction.
        2. Overcompensating—Making a conscious and consistent effort to be a “superstar.”
        3. Manipulating stereotypes—Exploiting the dominant image of the group for personal gain.
        4. Bargaining—Making covert or overt arrangements to ignore co-cultural differences.
      3. Aggressive assimilation: This is a single-minded, sometimes belligerent approach, which seeks to be regarded as part of the dominant group and not as members of a co-cultural group.
        1. Dissociating—Trying hard to avoid the typical behavior of one’s co-cultural group.
        2. Mirroring—Adopting dominant communication codes to mask co-cultural identity.
        3. Strategic distancing—Stressing individuality by cutting ties with your own group.
        4. Ridiculing self—Taking part in discourse demeaning to one’s co-cultural group.
  4. Accommodation as a preferred outcome of communication.
    1. Rather than following the other guys’ rules as those trying to assimilate do, co-cultural members who seek accommodation work at changing the rules to take their own life experiences into account.
    2. As out-group members adapt their behavior to become more similar to that of the dominant in-group culture, they gain credibility for advocating at least incremental change.
      1. Nonassertive accommodation: By conforming to the norms of the dominant culture, co-cultural members desire to gain acceptance
        1. Increasing visibility—Maintaining co-cultural presence within the dominant group.
        2. Dispelling stereotypes—Changing images of the group by just being yourself.
      2. Assertive accommodation: Co-cultural members whose abilities and interpersonal skills are valued work cooperatively within the dominant culture, advocating for the needs of both cultures.
        1. Communicating self—Interacting with the dominant group in an open, genuine manner.
        2. Intragroup networking—Talking with co-cultural people with a shared worldview.
        3. Utilizing liaisons—Seeking support from dominant group members you can trust.
        4. Educating others—Explaining co-cultural norms and values to the dominant group.
      3. Aggressive accommodation: Working within the dominant culture, these co-cultural advocates offer a prophetic voice calling for major transformation of structures and practices that hold co-cultural groups down.
        1. Confronting—Asserting one’s “voice” in a way that may violate others’ rights.
        2. Gaining advantage—Calling out dominant group oppression to get a response.
  5. Separation as a preferred outcome of communication.
    1. The co-cultural group members who desire separation work to create and maintain an identity distinct from the dominant culture.
    2. Separatist speech is akin to what Giles labeled divergent communication (see ch. 34) and is used to accentuate differences between the two cultures.
      1. Nonassertive separation: These co-cultural members have an inherent belief that their lives will be more tolerable when they “stick to their own kind.”
        1. Avoiding—Staying away from places and situations where interaction is likely.
        2. Maintaining personal barriers—Using verbal and nonverbal cues to stay aloof.
      2. Assertive separation: Co-cultural members with this orientation make a strategic decision to remain separate from an oppressive dominant culture.
        1. Exemplifying strengths—Making the group’s strength, success, and contribution known.
        2. Embracing stereotypes—Putting a positive spin on the dominant group’s biases.
      3. Aggressive separation: This is often employed by a powerful co-cultural group leader when segregation from the dominant culture seems imperative.
        1. Attacking—Inflicting psychological pain through personal attack.
        2. Sabotaging others—Undermining the benefits of dominant group membership.
  6. Phenomenology—Tapping into others’ conscious lived experience
    1. Orbe is convinced that the goals of co-cultural group members and the different styles of communication they adopt are the key factors because he has great confidence in the research method that revealed them—phenomenology.
      1. Phenomenology is a research commitment to focus “on the conscious experience of a person as she or he relates to the lived world.”
      2. Orbe enlisted the help of nearly 100 marginalized people from a variety of co-cultural groups and listened to their stories of interactions with people in the dominant culture.
      3. This inductive type of qualitative research is akin to what Baxter did with relationship partners in developing relational dialectics theory (ch. 11), and how Deetz partnered with corporate employees to form his critical theory of communication in organizations (ch. 21).
    2. It’s a multiple-step process.
      1. First, Orbe invited his co-researchers (his phenomenological term for “participants”) to describe their experiences within the dominant culture, recorded everything they said, and later made a word-for-word transcript.
      2. Next, Orbe pored over this record, looking for repeated words, phrases, or themes that described and gave meaning to their communication.
      3. He conducted this phenomenological interpretation by finding meanings that weren’t immediately apparent in the first two steps.
      4. Through this process, he also identified four other factors that influence how members of co-cultural groups interact with members of the dominant society: Field of experience, situational context, ability, and perceived costs and rewards.
  7. Quantitative research supports a qualitative theory.
    1. Cultural phenomenologist Orbe teamed up with Michigan State University behavioral scientist Maria Knight Lapinski to create self-report scales that measure the two most important dimensions of co-cultural theory.
    2. They asked co-cultural members to respond to a variety of statements about their preferred outcome and communication approach when they are the only co-cultural person at a dominant culture gathering.
    3. The researchers then ran a sophisticated statistical test to determine that co-cultural group members saw the three preferred outcomes—assimilation, accommodation, separation—as distinct from each other.
    4. For scientific scholars, the results of this quantitative analysis offer assurance that Orbe’s qualitative interpretation of what his original co-cultural researchers said was on target.
    5. Another fascinating result was the positive relationship between a co-cultural group member’s desired goals and choice of communication style.
      1. Co-cultural respondents who sought assimilation into the group favored a nonassertive approach.
      2. Those whose aim was to get those members of the dominant culture to accommodate their beliefs and practices tended to prefer being assertive.
      3. Co-cultural group members who desired separation were more likely to adopt an aggressive style.
  8. Critique: An interpretative theory both ambitious and limited.
    1. Mark Orbe uses the criteria set forth in Chapter 3 to favorably evaluate his interpretive theory.
    2. His phenomenological methodology is prototypical qualitative research.
    3. To read what his co-cultural researchers said is to gain a new understanding of people who are trying to survive and thrive in a dominant culture created by privileged men who at least tacitly work to maintain the status quo.
    4. Clarity and artistry are the two faces of aesthetic appeal.
      1. As for clarity, It’s hard to see how the four additional factors of field of experience, situational context, ability, and perceived costs and rewards fit into the framework of the theory.
      2. As for artistry, Em regards many of the quotes from co-cultural group members as found art.
    5. Orbe’s stated indebtedness to muted group theory and standpoint theory gives co-cultural theory a built-in community of agreement among communication scholars who take a critical approach.
    6. Orbe doesn’t call for reform of society or take on the role of advocate. Co-cultural theory seems descriptive rather than prescriptive.
    7. As for clarification of values, rather than show either pity or scorn for those who are marginalized in the United States, Orbe expresses admiration for how his co-researchers use or don’t use communication in order to cope as outsiders within a dominant culture. 


CHANGE TO View by Type

Resources
by Theory














Instructors can get additional
resources. Read more

Archived chapters (PDF)
from previous editions
are available in
Resources by Type.
See list

New to Theory
Resources?

Find out more in this short
video overview (3:01).


Co-Cultural Theory
Mark Orbe

CULTURAL CONTEXT: INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION


  1. Members of co-cultural groups have less power than members of the dominant culture.
    1. Mark Orbe uses the term co-cultural to refer to marginalized groups of people who are typically labeled as minority, subcultural, subordinate, inferior, or nondominant.
    2. It’s a neutral term that designates significant differences from the dominant culture, but with no hint of contempt or condemnation.
    3. There are many varied co-cultural groups in the United States, such as women, people of color, the economically disadvantaged, people with physical disabilities, the LGBTQ community, the very old and very young, and religious minorities.
    4. Orbe sees co-cultural theory as an extension of both standpoint theory and muted group theory—two other theories concerned with unequal power.
    5. Orbe thinks it’s important to spend time and effort focusing on co-cultural communication—“communication between dominant group and co-cultural group members from the perspective of co-cultural group members.”
    6. Orbe has found that, to maneuver within the dominant culture and achieve some degree of success, co-cultural group members will adopt one or more specific communication orientations in their everyday interactions.
  2. Communication orientation: What they want and what they say to get it.
    1. Orbe claims there are nine communication orientations that different co-cultural group members adopt when trying to survive and thrive within the dominant group culture.
      1. Communication orientation is the term he uses to describe a co-cultural group member’s preferred outcome pursued through the communication approach he or she chooses to achieve that goal.
      2. The three goals—assimilation, accommodation, separation—describe the preferred outcomes co-cultural members might seek when face-to-face with members of the dominant culture.
      3. The three communication approaches—nonassertive, assertive, aggressive—identify the verbal and nonverbal behavior co-cultural members might use to reach their chosen goal
      4. A three-by-three model (i.e., crossing preferred outcomes with communication approaches) yields nine communication orientations.
    2. Inside each of the nine communication orientation boxes are shorthand descriptors of communicative practices.
      1. These practices summarize the specific verbal and nonverbal actions that co-cultural group members take when interacting with members of the dominant culture.
      2. The cluster of terms labeling the practices in each box reflects how that orientation plays out in actual types of behavior.
    3. As Orbe listened to co-cultural group members talk about their interactions with the dominant culture, their words strongly influenced his recognition and interpretation of the three preferred outcomes, the three communication approaches, and the nine different communication orientations they form.
      1. A nonassertive approach is where “individuals are seemingly inhibited and nonconfrontational while putting the needs of others before their own.”
      2. An aggressive approach is behavior “perceived as hurtfully expressive, self-promoting, and assuming control over the choices of others.”
      3. Orbe pictures the nonassertive and aggressive approaches as anchoring opposite ends of a continuum on which an assertive approach (self-enhancing and expressive behavior that takes into account both self and others’ needs) falls roughly in between.
  3. Assimilation as a preferred outcome of communication.
    1. For co-cultural group members, assimilation means fitting into the dominant culture while at the same time shedding the speech and nonverbal markers of their group.
      1. Nonassertive assimilation: Co-cultural members attempt to meet their own needs as best they can by unobtrusively blending into the dominant society.
        1. Emphasizing commonalities—focusing on similarities; downplaying differences.
        2. Developing positive face—Being graciously attentive and considerate.
        3. Censoring self—Remaining silent to inappropriate or offensive comments.
        4. Averting controversy—Moving conversation away from risky or dangerous areas.
      2. Assertive assimilation: Co-cultural members with this orientation attempt to fit into dominant structures by “playing the game.”
        1. Extensive preparation—Preparing thoroughly prior to interaction.
        2. Overcompensating—Making a conscious and consistent effort to be a “superstar.”
        3. Manipulating stereotypes—Exploiting the dominant image of the group for personal gain.
        4. Bargaining—Making covert or overt arrangements to ignore co-cultural differences.
      3. Aggressive assimilation: This is a single-minded, sometimes belligerent approach, which seeks to be regarded as part of the dominant group and not as members of a co-cultural group.
        1. Dissociating—Trying hard to avoid the typical behavior of one’s co-cultural group.
        2. Mirroring—Adopting dominant communication codes to mask co-cultural identity.
        3. Strategic distancing—Stressing individuality by cutting ties with your own group.
        4. Ridiculing self—Taking part in discourse demeaning to one’s co-cultural group.
  4. Accommodation as a preferred outcome of communication.
    1. Rather than following the other guys’ rules as those trying to assimilate do, co-cultural members who seek accommodation work at changing the rules to take their own life experiences into account.
    2. As out-group members adapt their behavior to become more similar to that of the dominant in-group culture, they gain credibility for advocating at least incremental change.
      1. Nonassertive accommodation: By conforming to the norms of the dominant culture, co-cultural members desire to gain acceptance
        1. Increasing visibility—Maintaining co-cultural presence within the dominant group.
        2. Dispelling stereotypes—Changing images of the group by just being yourself.
      2. Assertive accommodation: Co-cultural members whose abilities and interpersonal skills are valued work cooperatively within the dominant culture, advocating for the needs of both cultures.
        1. Communicating self—Interacting with the dominant group in an open, genuine manner.
        2. Intragroup networking—Talking with co-cultural people with a shared worldview.
        3. Utilizing liaisons—Seeking support from dominant group members you can trust.
        4. Educating others—Explaining co-cultural norms and values to the dominant group.
      3. Aggressive accommodation: Working within the dominant culture, these co-cultural advocates offer a prophetic voice calling for major transformation of structures and practices that hold co-cultural groups down.
        1. Confronting—Asserting one’s “voice” in a way that may violate others’ rights.
        2. Gaining advantage—Calling out dominant group oppression to get a response.
  5. Separation as a preferred outcome of communication.
    1. The co-cultural group members who desire separation work to create and maintain an identity distinct from the dominant culture.
    2. Separatist speech is akin to what Giles labeled divergent communication (see ch. 34) and is used to accentuate differences between the two cultures.
      1. Nonassertive separation: These co-cultural members have an inherent belief that their lives will be more tolerable when they “stick to their own kind.”
        1. Avoiding—Staying away from places and situations where interaction is likely.
        2. Maintaining personal barriers—Using verbal and nonverbal cues to stay aloof.
      2. Assertive separation: Co-cultural members with this orientation make a strategic decision to remain separate from an oppressive dominant culture.
        1. Exemplifying strengths—Making the group’s strength, success, and contribution known.
        2. Embracing stereotypes—Putting a positive spin on the dominant group’s biases.
      3. Aggressive separation: This is often employed by a powerful co-cultural group leader when segregation from the dominant culture seems imperative.
        1. Attacking—Inflicting psychological pain through personal attack.
        2. Sabotaging others—Undermining the benefits of dominant group membership.
  6. Phenomenology—Tapping into others’ conscious lived experience
    1. Orbe is convinced that the goals of co-cultural group members and the different styles of communication they adopt are the key factors because he has great confidence in the research method that revealed them—phenomenology.
      1. Phenomenology is a research commitment to focus “on the conscious experience of a person as she or he relates to the lived world.”
      2. Orbe enlisted the help of nearly 100 marginalized people from a variety of co-cultural groups and listened to their stories of interactions with people in the dominant culture.
      3. This inductive type of qualitative research is akin to what Baxter did with relationship partners in developing relational dialectics theory (ch. 11), and how Deetz partnered with corporate employees to form his critical theory of communication in organizations (ch. 21).
    2. It’s a multiple-step process.
      1. First, Orbe invited his co-researchers (his phenomenological term for “participants”) to describe their experiences within the dominant culture, recorded everything they said, and later made a word-for-word transcript.
      2. Next, Orbe pored over this record, looking for repeated words, phrases, or themes that described and gave meaning to their communication.
      3. He conducted this phenomenological interpretation by finding meanings that weren’t immediately apparent in the first two steps.
      4. Through this process, he also identified four other factors that influence how members of co-cultural groups interact with members of the dominant society: Field of experience, situational context, ability, and perceived costs and rewards.
  7. Quantitative research supports a qualitative theory.
    1. Cultural phenomenologist Orbe teamed up with Michigan State University behavioral scientist Maria Knight Lapinski to create self-report scales that measure the two most important dimensions of co-cultural theory.
    2. They asked co-cultural members to respond to a variety of statements about their preferred outcome and communication approach when they are the only co-cultural person at a dominant culture gathering.
    3. The researchers then ran a sophisticated statistical test to determine that co-cultural group members saw the three preferred outcomes—assimilation, accommodation, separation—as distinct from each other.
    4. For scientific scholars, the results of this quantitative analysis offer assurance that Orbe’s qualitative interpretation of what his original co-cultural researchers said was on target.
    5. Another fascinating result was the positive relationship between a co-cultural group member’s desired goals and choice of communication style.
      1. Co-cultural respondents who sought assimilation into the group favored a nonassertive approach.
      2. Those whose aim was to get those members of the dominant culture to accommodate their beliefs and practices tended to prefer being assertive.
      3. Co-cultural group members who desired separation were more likely to adopt an aggressive style.
  8. Critique: An interpretative theory both ambitious and limited.
    1. Mark Orbe uses the criteria set forth in Chapter 3 to favorably evaluate his interpretive theory.
    2. His phenomenological methodology is prototypical qualitative research.
    3. To read what his co-cultural researchers said is to gain a new understanding of people who are trying to survive and thrive in a dominant culture created by privileged men who at least tacitly work to maintain the status quo.
    4. Clarity and artistry are the two faces of aesthetic appeal.
      1. As for clarity, It’s hard to see how the four additional factors of field of experience, situational context, ability, and perceived costs and rewards fit into the framework of the theory.
      2. As for artistry, Em regards many of the quotes from co-cultural group members as found art.
    5. Orbe’s stated indebtedness to muted group theory and standpoint theory gives co-cultural theory a built-in community of agreement among communication scholars who take a critical approach.
    6. Orbe doesn’t call for reform of society or take on the role of advocate. Co-cultural theory seems descriptive rather than prescriptive.
    7. As for clarification of values, rather than show either pity or scorn for those who are marginalized in the United States, Orbe expresses admiration for how his co-researchers use or don’t use communication in order to cope as outsiders within a dominant culture. 


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