cal anthropologist whose work focuses on cultural aspects of conflict and dispute resolution, including negotiation, mediation, and consensus building; (2) Alan Fiske, a psychological anthropologist who conducts research on social relations, including the models in which people characterize their social interactions; and (3) Donal Carbaugh, an expert on international and intercultural communication.
In the first presentation, Robert Rubinstein of The Maxwell School of Syracuse University came to grips directly with one of the key themes of the workshop: How much can sociocultural models do, and what are their limitations? In particular, he said, he is fascinated by the question of what data and principles exist that might be used to create a general predictive model of cooperative social behavior.
For a number of years, Rubinstein said, he has worked with United Nations’ peacekeeping forces, so he tends to think about cooperation in that context (for more about his work, see Rubinstein, 2008). In particular, he thinks about cooperation “in terms of the question of interoperability and the way culture plays into interoperability.” He said that interoperability can be thought of as “the ability of people and organizations to work together smoothly.” Ultimately, he is interested in building models of the sociocultural aspects of interoperability.
Sociocultural models have varying levels of complexity, Rubinstein explained. The least complex models are what might be called “traveler’s advice.” They include the sort of information given to someone who is traveling abroad, mainly advice about the things that one should not say or do so as to avoid a social blunder. “It is a very simple model. It works. People manage to get through a different culture and not make any mistakes.” Otherwise, however, it is not a particularly useful model, as it offers no insights in how the people in that culture generate new behaviors.
A somewhat more complex class of models can be described as “stereotyping.” As an example, Rubinstein presented a list of generalizations concerning cultural differences between the military and nongovernmental and other civilian organizations. For example: military organizations are hierarchical, whereas civilian organizations are decentralized; military organizations are culturally insensitive, whereas civilian organizations are culturally sensitive; and military organizations appreciate precise tasks, whereas civilian organizations thrive on ambiguity. Such models have a variety of weaknesses, Rubinstein said, including the fact that they assume that all military organizations and all civilian organizations are homogeneous and that each has a stable and static culture. “They give us a very false sense of understanding those groups.”