Beyond stereotypes

When used intelligently, national stereotypes can positively affect cross-cultural encounters

A cultural stereotype is a widely held, generalised and simplified conception or image of a specific group of people. The construction of stereotypes often serves as a way to create a group identity by establishing a positive image of self (in-groups) against less positive images of others (out-groups). Stereotypes of national cultures and people may be created and perpetuated through historical accounts and media representations. Creating stereotypes of the national culture of groups of people within multinational corporations may also serve to build organisational identity. The acceptance of taken-for-granted images of a given country or people such as ‘pragmatic Danes’ or ‘polite Japanese’ is referred to as “banal nationalism”. Whether harmful or helpful to the image of those being categorised, stereotypes may be fundamental to the way we process information and make sense of experiences. Without any generalisations, meaningful intercultural business communication would become even more difficult than it already is. To concentrate only on the individual and to approach every intercultural communication situation from ground zero would be exhausting and not very productive. It is a given that we perceive other cultures through projections based on our own culture: for the most part, we do not first see and then define; we define first and then see. People rely on their own personal perceptions and own cultural backpack to understand encounters.

Lisbeth Clausen

Lisbeth Clausen is an associate professor at the Asia Research Centre and the Department of Intercultural Communication and Management at Copenhagen Business School. Her research interests are corporate communication and cultural globalisation with a focus on Japan.