Introduction and Outline
The people in an old peoples’ home were visited by me to investigate the ways in which culture and cultural meaning played a part in the reality of their social situation. Accounts were taken in relation to the cultural significance of certain facets of their lives so that a qualitative examination of their world view could be examined from the perspective of an ethnographical analysis. Names were taken and particular accounts were extracted from the various thoughts and discussions of the people in relation to the specific topic of stereotypes and were subsequently examined through factors pertaining to discourse analysis and social research. Open conversations within the home were documented on that day. This was so that there could be a certain bulk of general qualitative information that could be chosen during the ethnography. This was essentially a qualitative assessment that took into account discourse analysis and used certain examples of the general conversation to achieve the task.
Discourse Analysis and Factors that Arise From Discussions and Cultural Analysis
As this was ethnography and not just an interview then there would be certain factors that would be taken into account. As part of the discussions it was realised that there should be a focus, whilst at the same time a freedom to speak and allow the people to speak their mind without constraint. This meant that my role was primarily that of a listener. However, I also had to keep in mind the need to address certain aspects relating to cultural issues; namely stereotypes. This meant that being aware of the need to introduce certain topics into the discussion. This also meant that an understanding of the way in which people were prepared to discuss things and the nature in which meaning was produced within conversation was understood. Much research related to such concerns has been highlighted in discourse analysis and cross cultural studies: Factors such as the observation that Asian people generally tend to gather in groups and have group focused decisions compared to Western countries (Hofstede, 2001). This may seem irrelevant, but it has been noted that when discussing opinions people of an Asian ethnicity will usually form a point of view focused upon a more communal aspect (Fitzgerald, 1993). Conversely, opinions formulated by those from a more traditionally western culture or community will tend to be more representative of an individual perspective. This can make the notion of discussing stereotypes quite different, in terms of meaning. That is to say, that a different approach should perhaps be adapted to provoking conversation and understanding the nature of the response in each case. However, the aim of the ethnography was to see that to what extent people identified with their culture and to what extent they would formulate opinions and perspectives in relation to such things as their cultural identity. The nature of this ethnography with regards to this section was therefore concerned with determining some of the key issues that surround intercultural perception with regards to discursive factors that arise from such cultural factors. This means that as well as making practical cultural observations we also had to realise the need for open questions and allow for the necessary time it took for the people to answer them on their own terms. Furthermore, we had to be aware of the differences in discursive actions, so that we could see when certain accounts were more meaningful. This was so that we could make a better decision in choosing the accounts to be included as representative of the opinions taken from the home and those accounts that were not. Although the case could be made that all of the accounts were relevant, it would be unrealistic to include all of them and so a certain level of discernment was required and a brief general overview was given towards the end. By choosing specific representative accounts we hoped to be able to touch upon some certain features that many theorists have suggested go into forming such opinions and attitudes based upon cultural identity and ethnicity. For instance, features relating to cultural perceptions such as ‘ideology, socialisation, forms of discourse and face systems’ may emerge and so we will be looking to find evidence of these factors in our analysis of the accounts (Scollon & Scollon, 2005). Although analysis and support for such factors pertaining to cultural perceptions could be observed, critiqued and, to some degree, measured quantifiably by using rigid tools related discourse analysis, we kept to the spirit of ethnographical accounts and merely established that such discursive features play a role. It is from this that we conducted an analysis from the accounts taken on the basis of the opinions of mainly stereotypes and identity in the world at large. There were three people who were interviewed in the home, each with a different ethnicity. The exact ethnicities were not taken. However, all deemed themselves euro-centric. The accounts were as follows.
George began by discussing stereotypes from a broad perspective explaining why he believed that they existed and what use he thought they served. He reasoned that stereotypes were valid and acted as a hugely important feature in the construction of a world view that enabled us to categorise. In one such account he stated that,
”I think there’s nothing wrong with stereotypes. They’re natural. Its natures way of understanding the world as she can’t show us everything. They make it a little easier for us to understand the world and comprehend other people and who they are. Without stereotypes we wouldn’t be able to understand the differences in people. Of course, some are good stereotypes and some are bad”
It would appear that George had an interesting and practical view on stereotypes. Looking at much research into categorisation and its relation to our conceptual mind we can see that George is combining a very rational evaluation of stereotypes with an ethical consideration, as to the extent to which stereotypes can become detrimental. In the first instance, we can see that research by Tajfel validates this idea. He stated that,
‘Stereotypes are certain generalizations reached by individuals. They derive in large measure from, or are an instance of, the general cognitive process of categorizing. The main function of the process is to simplify or systematize, for purposes of cognitive and behavioural adaptation, the abundance and complexity of the information received from its environment by the human organism…. But such stereotypes can become social only when they are shared by large numbers of people within social groups.’ (Tajfel, 1982, p.146-147).
So we can see from this that George has understood this role of the stereotype. However, we can also see that he has been part of a large group, which has defined his set of stereotypes. This is without doubt part of the socialisation process that Scollon and Scollon indicate. In an account of stereotypes given by Marie the focus seemed to be placed upon a particular identity; the stereotype of people originating from France. After playfully toying with the idea of stereotypes, which indicated nervousness about the topic, she stated that,
”I don’t think its offensive to put everyone living in the France into one category. Stereotypes are just broad images that one thinks about people from certain areas. Like someone from France drinking wine in the afternoon and eating lots of onions in their diet, I wish I’d done that, I might still be living in a cottage. Stereotypes are usually just silly. I don’t think they do any harm unless someone intends to harm someone else.”
It would appear that this stereotype is revealed through the discursive form of face work that we mentioned in the previous section. In this instance, the humorous way in which the stereotype is discussed allows for a detailed account justifying its existence. This would appear to be more evidence of an identity to a specific cultural group. More than likely, the group that Marie associated herself with outside of the home (and perhaps now within the home) might have accorded certain stereotypes concerning an essential other group to reinforce their own shared values and cultural identity. In relevant research by Gudykunst it was indicated that,
“Some of our stereotypes are unique and based on our individual experiences, but some are shared with other members of our in-groups. The stereotypes we share with others are our social stereotypes. We may know what the social stereotype of a group is, but still hold a different view of the group.” (Gudykunst, 1997)
It would appear that Marie has done this. Essentially, through the socially acceptable medium of discursive convention known as facework (in this case humour) she has revealed that she has formed group stereotypes as a way of strengthening an in-group identity with her own ethic group. Turning to Thomas we found a much more serious account and reason for such perceived differences that manifest themselves in stereotypes. After broaching the issue of stereotypes himself, Thomas said that,
”I think the stereotyping is part of your national identity. If you look around you see a great deal of things that begin to tell you about yourself. These features become very important to you. They make you part of who you are. For instance, we form opinions about people living nearby; our neighbours. Well, it’s just the same for people from neighbouring countries. Only they’ve got a different history and different ideas. The stereotype is right from one perspective. We are different and think differently due to loads of things. It’s usually just a daft image, but it relates to all of these meaningful things that separate us ”
It would appear from this account that Thomas sees the stereotype as a cover for a much greater difference. It would appear that he has come across great ideological differences between people of differing nations and cultures. It would also appear that his stereotypes are drawn from an individual perspective, rather than a social one. Unlike George and Marie, Thomas seems to draw his stereotype from his experience, which could be dangerous. This is because, if someone were to see a person who was usually conceived as being a stereotype, then the image would be compromised and the stereotype would then have to be re-evaluated by the person. However, if Thomas has experienced people from other nations then he must surely have come across a few apparent anomalies. If so, then they have not deterred his ideological view of such a grouped type. With this, it is hard to see him accepting that people vary both across and throughout cultures and regions.
It was interesting to see such generalisations indulged and such stereotypes accepted, albeit in a variety of ways. It was also interesting to see them coming from people in the same social environment and witnessing the different levels and perceived meanings of such prejudices. It would appear throughout the discussions that stereotypes emerged constantly. The use of ‘we’ was employed to explain a variety of personal phenomena, indicating an identity to a certain group type. This was often contrasted with ‘they’, which again reinforced a stereotype as no particular description of a specifically defined group was ever mentioned beyond nationality or categorical type. The use of social stereotypes was assumed a great deal, which seemed to conform to socialisation and through the correct discursive techniques, were given freely by the people from the home that were interviewed. Ideological features were used as well, especially in the case of Thomas, who seemed to not only justify a rationale for the use of stereotypes but used them in association with experience, even though this experience must have surely brought up some anomalies and contradictory evidence to shatter such rigid stereotypes.
In conclusion to the day spent at the home with the three people who resided there, it could probably be said that generalising through various stereotypes based upon different levels of social bonds formed throughout cultural life was prevalent. It would appear that there are various cultural factors at work in the perspectives of the people of the home, such as those relating to the social, traditional and ideological, which have a deep impact upon the perception of both the world and of other people. Through the cultural and ethnic stereotypes that make up such perceptions we could also see the way in which these perspectives were validated and justified in the minds of the people from the home.