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Co-cultural communication theory

Co-cultural communication theory was built upon the frameworks of muted group theory and standpoint theory. The cornerstone of co-cultural communication theory is muted group theory as proposed in the mid 1970s by Shirley and Edwin Ardener. The Ardeners were cultural anthropologists who made the observation that most other cultural anthropologists practicing ethnography in the field were talking only to the leaders of the cultures, who were by and large adult males. The researchers would then use this data to represent the culture as a whole, leaving out the perspectives of women, children and other groups made voiceless by the cultural hierarchy (S. Ardener, 1975). The Ardeners maintained that groups which function at the top of the society hierarchy determine to a great extent the dominant communication system of the entire society (E. Ardener, 1978). Ardener's 1975 muted group theory also posited that dominant group members formulate a "communication system that support their perception of the world and conceptualized it as the appropriate language for the rest of society".

Communication faculty Stanback and Pearce (1981) referred to these non-dominant groups as "subordinate social groups". They noted 4 ways in which the non-dominant groups tend to communicate with the dominant groups. They also asserted that "From the perspective of the dominant group, the behaviors in each form of communication are appropriate. However, the meaning of these behaviors to the members of the lower-statused group are quite different, making them different forms of communication with different implications for the relations among the groups".

In the study of communication, Stanback and Pearce as well as Kramarae used muted group theory to help explain communication patterns and social representation of non-dominant cultural groups Kramarae (1981) believed that "those experiences unique to subordinate group members often cannot be effectively expressed within the confinements of the dominant communication system". She suggested that people within these groups create alternative forms of communication to articulate their experiences. Although, Kramarae used muted group theory to communications strategies of women she suggested that the framework can be applied with equal validity to a number of dominant/non-dominant relationships (Orbe, 1996).

Kramarae (1981) presented three assumptions of muted group theory as applied to communication between men and women concluding that women traditionally have been muted by a male-dominated communications system. Additionally, Kramarae proposed seven hypotheses originating in muted group theory. Standpoint theory was mainly used as a feminist theoretical framework to explore experiences of women as they participate in and oppose their own subordination, however, (Smith, 1987) suggested that the theory had applications for other subordinate groups. A basic tenet of standpoint theory is that it "seeks to include the experiences of subordinate groups within the process of research inquiry in meaningful ways". In other words, the members of the underrepresented groups become co-researchers.

  • Ardener, E. (1978). Some outstanding problems in the analysis of events. In. G. Schwinner, (Ed.), The yearbook of symbolic anthropology. pp. 103–121. London: Hurst.
  • Ardener, S. (1975). Perceiving Women. London: Malaby Press.
  • Camara, S. K. & Orbe, M. P. (2010). Analyzing strategic responses to discriminatory acts: A co-cultural communicative investigation. Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, 3(2), 83–113.
  • Dixon, L. D. (2001). Naming issues in the future of intercultural communication research: The contributions of Mark Orbe’s co-cultural theory. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Central States Communication Association, Cincinnati.
  • Heuman, A. (2001). Multiracial/ethnic identity: A co-cultural approach. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Central States Communication Association, Cincinnati.
  • Jun, J. (2012). Why are Asian Americans silent? Asian Americans' negotiation strategies for communicative discriminations. Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, doi:10.1080/17513057.2012.720700
  • Kramarae, C. (1981). Women and Men Speaking. Rowley, MA: Newberry House.
  • Lapinski, M. K., & Orbe, M. (2007). Evidence for the construct validity and reliability of the Co-Cultural Theory Scales. Communication Methods and Measure. 1(2), 137–164.
  • Orbe, M. (1996). Laying the foundation for co-cultural communication theory: An inductive approach to studying “non-dominant” communication strategies and the factors that influence them. Communication Studies. 47 (3), 157–176.
  • Orbe, M. (1997). A Co-cultural communication approach to intergroup relations. Journal of Intergroup Relations. 24, 36–49.
  • Orbe, M. (1998a). Constructing co-cultural theory: an explication of culture, power, and communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Orbe, M. (1998b). From the standpoint(s) of traditionally muted groups: Explicating a co-cultural communication theoretical model. Communication Theory, 8, 1–26.
  • Orbe, M. and Greer, C. M. (2000). Recognizing the diversity of lived experience: The utility of co-cultural theory in communication and disabilities research. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Central States Communication Association, Detroit.
  • Orbe, M. (2004). Co-cultural theory and the spirit of dialogue: A Case study of the 2000-2002 community-based civil rights health project. In. G. M. Chen & W. J. Starosta (Eds.), Dialogue among diversities (pp. 191-211). Washington, DC: National Communication Association.
  • Orbe, M. and Spellers, R. E. (2005). From the margins to the center: utilizing co-cultural theory in diverse contexts. In W. B. Gudykunst (Ed.), Theorizing about intercultural communication (pp. 173–191). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Ramirez-Sanchez, R. (2008). Marginalization from Within: Expanding Co-cultural Theory Through the Experience of the Afro Punk. Howard Journal of Communication. 19(2), 89–104.
  • Smith, D. E. (1987). "The everyday world as problematic: a feminist sociology of knowledge". Boston: Northeastern University Press.
  • Stanback, M. H. and Pearce, W. B. (1981). Talking to “the man”: Some communication strategies used by members of “subordinate” social groups. Quarterly Journal of Speech. 67, 21–30.


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