Comparison as a mode of inquiry: Rearticulating the contexts of intercultural communication

Lance Cummings

Abstract


Though contrastive rhetoric has strong ties with professional and intercultural communication (Connor 2004; Kaplan 1966; McDaniel 1994), further discussions in comparative rhetoric can inform research in professional communication by developing more reflective approaches to comparison as a mode of inquiry. In the past, comparative inquiry has been intricately tied to notions of civilization that several scholars trace back to Greek and Roman attempts to categorize diverse sets of peoples that varied from their own cultures (Bock, 1966; Denzin & Lincoln, 2007; Vidich & Lyman, 2001), thus attaching colonialist and imperialist ways of knowing to the act of comparison — a connection thoroughly critiqued throughout English studies (Chatterjee, 1993; Lowe, 1991; Pennycook, 1998; Said, 1978).

Such historical ties to the comparative act should not invalidate these methodologies; rather, these sedimentations (or habits of methodological representation) should call for the rearticulation of comparative inquiry. Too often, variations in cultures, human behavior, rhetoric, or language use are seen as obstacles to developing national and cultural relationships, or problems to be solved, rather than generative moments of interaction, where new knowledge is being formed (Hall 1959, Hofstede 1991, Kaplan 1966/2001). Drawing from discussions among comparative scholars in English studies (Hesford 2006; Mao 2003; Xie 2011), this article examines comparison as a distinct mode of inquiry that requires more precise, yet flexible, methodologies, fostering self-reflexive approaches to knowledge that can rearticulate how we see professional and intercultural communication, particularly in multilingual and online spaces.

Keywords


comparison, methodology, intercultural communication, contrastive rhetoric, comparative rhetoric

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