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Kevin Avruch is Professor of Anthropology at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia and a faculty

member of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, which is based at the university. Among
his publications is Culture and Conflict Resolution (Washington: U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 1998).
0748-4526/00/1000-0339$18.00/0 2000 Plenum Publishing Corporation Negotiation Journal October 2000 339
Culture and Negotiation Pedagogy
Kevin Avruch
Both in theory and practice, our understanding of what culture is
remains limited; the subject, in fact, is either misrepresented or all but
ignored in most of the popular and scholarly literatures. The author offers
six mutually related ideas that help to explain what culture is not. He then
describes an approach to understanding cultures that he finds more useful.
The implications of that approach have led him to several different tech-
niques for teaching the subject in negotiation classes.
Of the three concepts in the title of this essay culture, negotiation, and
pedagogy I want to direct most of my remarks to the first. My presump-
tion is that negotiation pedagogy concerned in any way with culture, in the
end, can only be as good as the concept of culture it draws upon. And so far,
the picture does not look very encouraging.
This is so for two reasons. First although the situation is improving
students of negotiation (as analysts and practitioners) have generally paid
scant attention to cultural issues. Early classics in the field whether oriented
analytically (e.g., The Art and Science of Negotiation [Raiffa 1982]), or
toward practice, simply neglected to mention culture. In its first edition
(Fisher and Ury 1981), the best-selling Getting to YES, the epitome of negoti-
ation practice for many folks today, mentioned culture not at all. A second
edition (Fisher, Ury, and Patton 1991) added a section addressing ten ques-
tions people asked about the first edition, rather like a rabbinical responsa,
and here culture is lumped, in a single question along with personality and
gender. Readers of the second edition of Getting to YES are warned to look
out for culture but not to stereotype (good advice!). And a comprehensive
review of mainly experimental research on negotiation devotes barely two
(out of about 200) pages to culture, in a concluding section called
prospects for further research (Pruitt and Carnevale 1993: 197-8). This
small proportion, Im afraid, reflects accurately the amount of substantive
work on culture done by experimentalists, at least through the early 1990s.
The second reason for not being encouraged by the treatment of cul-
ture in works on negotiation reflects the defective way in which the idea
usually has been conceptualized. I say this with humility. Culture is, as Ray-
mond Williams (1983: 87) remarks, one of the two or three most
complicated words in the English language. And even those of us who
spend a lot of time trying to think seriously about culture often get discour-
aged by the baggage, conceptual as well as political, carried along with it.
Despairing conceptually (postmodernists condemn it as totalizing),
some want to drop the term culture entirely in favor of related ideas: dis-
course or perhaps episteme as understood by Foucault, or habitus by
Bourdieu, or worldview, to name a few. As for its political encumbrances
(postmodernists here damn it as neocolonialist), think of how culture has
been used strategically by some actors in the human rights debate
counter-(neo)colonialist as a way of defending their practices when criti-
cized by the West. Now the usefulness of culture as a social science idea is
threatened by its having been taken over by the political actors it is meant to
explain.
The defects I have in mind are different ones, however, though they are
in some ways reactions to how complicated the concept actually is. First,
culture is reduced, turned for example into a label, a handy name for per-
sons aggregated in some social, often national, sometimes ethnic group
and used to distinguish this group from other aggregates. Secondly, culture is
essentialized, shorn of all processual or emergent qualities, made unitary
and freed from inner dissensions: reified, homogenized, and frozen spuri-
ously in synchronic stasis.
In either case, the conception of culture thus brought to bear is an
exceedingly thin one. In return for thinness, however, researchers in this tra-
dition get something they can use: a variable. As a label for certain kinds of
social groups in their normative aspects, culture is thus reduced by simple
nominalization; essentialized, it is amenable to scaling. Either way, we can,
without too much difficulty, count it.
What Culture Is Not
But what is it, precisely, that we end up counting? The notion of culture that
predominates in much work on negotiation typically relies on recycling rem-
nants of what used to be national character studies in the 1950s and
340 Kevin Avruch Culture and Negotiation Pedagogy
Negotiation Journal October 2000 341
1960s. This is perhaps exemplified nowadays in work dealing with national
negotiating styles. Such a notion of culture is based upon at least six mutu-
ally related ideas, ways of conceiving culture that are inadequate. Peter Black
and I (Avruch and Black, 1991; Avruch, 1998: 14-16) have discussed these
ideas at length elsewhere. Briefly, they are as follows:
1. Culture is homogenous. This presumes that cultures are free of dis-
sensions, of internal contradictions or paradoxes such that culture provides
unambiguous behavioral instructions for individuals.
2. Culture is a thing. Reified, culture is presumed to act independent of
individual agency. As in Samuel Huntingtons (1996) scheme, cultures
clash with one another across static geopolitical landscapes in Spenglerian
epics.
3. Culture is uniformly distributed among members of a group. This
inadequate idea is what makes nominalizing culture - turning it into a label
possible. Like national character, it fits the requirements of work that
stresses the national negotiating styles approach. Intracultural variation, if
ever noted, whether at the individual or group level, is dismissed as
deviance.
4. An individual possesses but a single culture. Usually the culture
here is national or ethnic. The individual is simply and monolithically Mexi-
can, Moroccan, Moluccan. Once again, the effect is to make culture a
synonym for group identity. When predominantly identified with national or
ethnic groupings, moreover, this inadequacy makes it more difficult for
researchers to think productively about other vessels filled by cultural con-
tent: professions or occupations, or organizations and institutions, for
example. It also tends to freeze culture in a single sociological category, at
the expense of recognizing situational or contextual factors think of the
important research on boundary roles or negotiating definitions of the situ-
ation, that could benefit from a nuanced cultural perspective.
5. Culture is custom. Here, culture is virtually synonymous with tradi-
tion, customary ways of behaving. It is thus reduced to a sort of
surface-level etiquette. Cultural variation becomes, as Peter Black once put it,
merely a matter of differential etiquette.
6. Culture is timeless. In this construct, a changeless quality is imputed
to culture, especially to so-called traditional cultures. We speak here, for
example, of the Arab mind as though a unitary cognizing element has
come down to us from Muhammads Mecca. Or, Be careful, the neophyte
heading off to Beijing on a mission is told: The Chinese have been negotiat-
ing for a thousand years. (One wonders if the adviser has any particular
Chinese in mind.)
I hasten to add that these inadequate ideas about culture are at least
deployed by those researchers in negotiation who count (or count on) cul-
ture at all. In other approaches, as noted earlier, culture is rendered so thinly
as to come out all but invisible, as in Getting to YESs first edition or The Art
and Science of Negotiation.
What would explain this invisibility? First, there are the cloaking poten-
tialities of power. Many researchers and instructors coming to negotiation
from realist or neorealist positions within the field of International Relations
(IR) assume the state is an independent unitary actor in an anarchic interna-
tional environment where power ultimately trumps everything else and
what constitutes power is self-evident and acultural. Secondly and this
realist IR shares with much of the social psychology of negotiation there
are the overriding presumptions of rational choice theory, also cloaking cul-
ture, that guide researchers thinking, modeling, and gaming. States, like
individuals, are presumed to act in ways that strive rationally to maximize
universally held and self-evident material interests, or utilities like security.
Among others, one question raised by this notion would focus on the
nature of utilities. In a sense, we can know about them only after the players
have chosen them behavioral choice then determines cognitive prefer-
ences (and the tautology is complete). We can assume a universal set of
preferences, but explaining the choices of some other players who appear to
have other preferences those in other cultures, for instance becomes
problematic. Or, we can admit that utilities can vary with context (culture),
thus admitting cultural preferences into the model but preserving its essen-
tial character of rational choice. This is the usual tack taken by those who
see culture operating only at level of values in a conflict or negotiation. But
including values does not address the generally attenuated psychology pre-
sumed by rational choice, nor does it give to context the full weight of its
potential constitutive influence on defining the situation on players cog-
nitions and affect.
Comaroff and Roberts (1981: 17), looking at dispute resolution among
the Tswana, point to the dilemma here: [Once the dispute] process is
linked with utility whether utility be conceived in terms of the universal-
ist maximization of interest or the pursuit of indigenous valuesit is a short
step to treating sociocultural context as given and its relationship to the dis-
pute as unproblematic. Elsewhere Wildavsky (1987) has made a similar
point, arguing for the cultural variability of interests rather than assuming
their universality. And perhaps most interesting, Ross (1997: 308) has
pointed out that from within a given cultural context say, our own
culturally constituted affective motives can appear identical to rationally
chosen interests. That is, when interests are shared intraculturally, they
certainly operate like motives, offering a readily available account of why
people behave as they do. It is only when we consider cross-cultural
encounters [that], the difference between interests and motives is more sig-
nificant. Sometimes in such intercultural encounters, in fact, we may have
difficulty even interpreting their (apparent) motives as rational interests at
all. Serious misunderstandings may result when the culturally constituted
342 Kevin Avruch Culture and Negotiation Pedagogy
Negotiation Journal October 2000 343
motives of one party do not match the assumed universal interests posited
by the other.
One upshot of this culturalist approach is not to deny the relevance or
usefulness of rational choice theory, but to see it as a culturally constituted
ethnopsychology, explanatorily relevant for particular actors in specific
domains, situations, or cultural settings all to be ascertained empirically.
Until this is recognized, rational choice theorists will naturally cloak cul-
ture, rendering it wholly invisible or relevant only at the level of values.
In addition to the seductions of power and the power of rational choice
theory, there is another reason for cultures neglect in much research on
negotiation, and this is especially germane pedagogically as it reflects the
special role played by practice in negotiation scholarship. As Sara Cobb
remarks, negotiation is a field particularly occupied by scholar- practitioners.
Faculty who teach and conduct research on negotiation are often them-
selves skilled practitioners. Additionally, the questions that drive research
bubble up from dilemmas in practice (Cobb 2000: 2). To my mind, this
insight is key. All too often, the theory of negotiation propounded by expe-
rienced practitioners derives strongly from their experience and practice.
Here I hold to the proposition that where practice is situated, there is the-
ory derived.
And for negotiation as, indeed, for conflict resolution in general
the practice overwhelmingly has been culturally situated within a North
American, male, white, and middle-class world (see Avruch 1998: 76-80).
There are political, as well as conceptual or pedagogical, corollaries to this
proposition. For once the folk practice of a particular cultural world ours
gets enshrined as experts theory, then, in intercultural encounters, it
may be exported or imposed on our interlocutors with a total lack of self-
consciousness about the home-court advantages that we gain by insisting
that our model be followed. In short, by suppressing the cultural dimension,
including the epistemological implications of situated practice, we run the
risk of losing at the same time a way to get at the asymmetries of power in
intercultural negotiations in the real world.
Some Thoughts on What Culture Is
Thus far I have dwelt mostly on what culture, in my view, is not: an homoge-
nous, essentialized, uniformly distributed, customary, timeless, and stable
thing. I shall now say a few words about how, in contrast, I conceptualize
culture, and then some words on how I approach teaching it to students of
conflict resolution.
Following Schwartz (1992: 324), I see culture as consisting of the
derivatives of experience, more or less organized, learned or created by the
individuals of a population, including those images or encodements and
their interpretations (meanings) transmitted from past generations, or con-
temporaries, or formed by individuals themselves. In the main, this is a
symbolic (stressing interpretation and meaning) and cognitivist definition,
stressing images or encodements that others have called schemas or cogni-
tive representations.
But note that such schemas are not just handed down unchanged and
authoritatively by generations past: some are created afresh by individuals,
and all derive ultimately from experience in and of the world from social
practice. Moreover, the definition must be expanded to maintain that these
images and encodements are not uniformly distributed in a population; they
are differentially distributed both sociologically (i.e., in terms of class, gen-
der, ethnicity, occupation, region, etc.) and psychologically (in terms of their
differential psychodynamic internalization their affective and motivational
loading by specific persons).
Because culture now consists of numerous schemas derived from
diverse experience and distributed across complex social and psychological
landscapes, one is led immediately to understand that, for a given individual,
culture always comes in the plural. It is unlikely that a single cultural descrip-
tor can authoritatively characterize an individual across all contexts or
situations. This is one reason why the national negotiating styles literature
is so unsatisfactory to some negotiation researchers (e.g., Zartman 1993). As
is well known, sometimes scientists, engineers, or military officers from dif-
ferent cultures can communicate more easily with one another across
the negotiating table than they can with those on their own team, who may
share national but not the negotiation-relevant professional images and
encodements. (And even the assumed sharing of national culture, given
sociological and psychological distributional complexities, can be all too eas-
ily overestimated, as well.)
Some Thoughts on Teaching About Culture
Finally, with respect to negotiation, how do I teach students using this con-
ceptualization of culture?
First, I do not teach that culture is another variable that can be
arrayed alongside age, income, or passport nationality. Nor is culture another
independent causal vector in schematic models of negotiation. Culture is
context, not cause. It is, speaking metaphorically, the lens through which
causes are refracted.
Secondly, I am mistrustful of simulations wherein students are expected
to play the roles of cultural others, particularly in negotiations involving so-
called deep-rooted or protracted identity conflicts. Even for teaching
purposes, if one wants to simulate an Israeli-Palestinian negotiation, go to
Israelis and Palestinians to do it. I have a healthy respect for the definition of
the situation to affect role players behavior a cursory consideration of
Milgram (1974) or Zimbardos work (see Haney et al. 1973), on obedience to
authority and guard-prisoner roles, if nothing else, commands this respect.
But intercultural negotiations, especially around affectively-loaded identity
issues, are simply not modeled well by outsiders in semiscripted roleplays.
344 Kevin Avruch Culture and Negotiation Pedagogy
Negotiation Journal October 2000 345
Third, although students expect to jump right into problems of negoti-
ating with other cultures, I never begin by teaching about intercultural
negotiation even from first-rate books like Raymond Cohens Negotiating
Across Cultures (1997). Cohens book comes very near the end of the
course. Instead, I begin with two or three substantive ethnographies, or cul-
tural accounts, of particular cultures, preferably those that also stress social
conflict and conflict resolution. In my opinion, students should first grapple
with understanding what negotiation or conflict resolution looks like
inside a culture, before they can move to the complications of cross- or
intercultural negotiation or conflict resolution.
Two books I have used for years to illustrate conflict resolution within
particular cultures are Carol Greenhouses Praying for Justice (1986) and
Lawrence Rosens Bargaining for Reality (1984). Greenhouses book
focuses on the culture of Southern Baptists in a suburb of Atlanta (who are
conflict-avoiders); Rosens on Moroccans in the city of Sefrou (for whom
nearly everything social is negotiable). I use these works to set out what a
good cultural analysis looks like, how it is done, as well as its limitations
(e.g., causality, as mentioned earlier). I also use them to show why culture
analysis that depends completely on counting culture is deficient.
Take a trait like individualism, usually counterposed to collec-
tivism in scores of aggregating cultural accounts Geert Hofstedes
(1980), for example. Both the American, Protestant folks of Greenhouses
account and the Moroccan, Sunni Muslims of Rosens, can be characterized
as individualistic. But aside from what Wittgenstein called family resem-
blance, this individualism, as historically derived, phenomenologically
experienced, and socially deployed by Baptists and Muslims, looks very dif-
ferent in the two contexts and both are different from the individualism
of Hobbes or Adam Smith. When students grapple with deconstructing indi-
vidualism in different cultural settings, most come away with less faith in
the predictive power (a few, even in the validity) of aggregating cultural
accounts.
And fourth and finally, I have to remind some of my students that they
we have culture as well. Culture is not just something possessed by
the others the ethnics, the third-worlders, the clients of the World Bank
and the IMF, the objects of our humanitarian peacekeeping interventions.
Cultural analysis is always reflexive. Sometimes I can even get some of them
to see the cultural underpinnings of such expert theories as rational choice
or principled negotiation.
REFERENCES
Avruch, K. 1998. Culture and conflict resolution. Washington: U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 1998.
Avruch, K. and P.W. Black. 1991. The culture question and conflict resolution. Peace and Change
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Cobb, S. 2000. Negotiation pedagogy: An overview of a research survey. Report distributed by the
Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, at the Hewlett Conference 2000: Focus on
Negotiation Pedagogy, 9-12 March 2000.
Cohen, R. 1997. Negotiating across cultures. Revised ed. Washington: U.S. Institute of Peace
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346 Kevin Avruch Culture and Negotiation Pedagogy