Communication practices in a Japanese subsidiary in the U.S.: globalization in process

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Tsutsui, Kumiko

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This dissertation explores various communication activities in a multinational workplace where employees from different cultures engage in and attempt to make sense of their reality, their experiences, and other cultures. Using an interpretive approach, I analyzed communicative practices based on three different levels—macro, local, and micro—in a Japanese multinational company based in the United States. The triangulation of methods, including participant observation, interviews, analysis of documents, and discourse analysis is used to understand the complex phenomena of intercultural communication at work on a global, local, and individual scale. At the macro level of analysis, I present the global ideology that a parent company tries to exert in order to shape organizational actors’ sense-making, and influence their work attitude and motivation. Their relationality with the external world and the power relationship between the parent company and its subsidiary are highlighted. At the local level of analysis, I demonstrate a bicultural workplace and its constituent members’ learning and active negotiation by identifying mono-cultural, bicultural, negotiated, and shared cultural practices, which are likely to exist when two distinct national cultures come together in one organization. A macro level of analysis explores organizational members’ face-to-face communication, including terms of address, language issues, stereotypical images toward one’s own and other nationals, humor, and videoconferences. By looking at intercultural communication from the above three levels of analysis, this study shows that cultural factors, such as a shared ideology, goal, history, membership, or expectation, and habitualized practices influence successful interactions at work, regardless of members’ different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. In contrast, members from different cultures still retain mental cultural images or possibly conflicting perceptions and must constantly negotiate which is right, which is better, and which is the American or the Japanese way. Intercultural communication in the workplace is not a one time interaction, but an on-going activity involving habitualization, relationaility, and contextuality. This dissertation suggests both what should be emphasized in a practical sense when working with intercultural members of a working environment and attempting to find a middle ground, and what should be considered academically when studying intercultural communication in a multinational workplace in the future.