In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Intergroup Communication

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Key Journals
  • Methods
  • New Directions

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Communication Intergroup Communication
Liz Jones, Bernadette Watson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0122


Intergroup communication proposes that when individuals interact with each other, it is most often their salient social memberships and not their individual characteristics that shape the communication. Thus, intergroup communication examines how our communication provides information about our identification with different groups in society, as well as how information about groups and group membership shape communication. While communication is acknowledged to be both an interpersonal and an intergroup phenomenon, intergroup communication scholars argue that much of our communication is in some way intergroup (where groups include, for example, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or political party). Intergroup communication views communication as a dynamic process where each speaker’s cognitions, emotions, and motivations influence communication behavior in interactions. These processes are argued by intergroup communication scholars to underpin communication across many different contexts. Intergroup communication also focuses on explaining conflict and miscommunication and, in particular, intergroup communication focuses on communication between dominant and subordinate groups. The systematic study of intergroup communication has its strongest roots in social psychology, together with socio-psychological areas of communication. This bibliographical review provides key authors and references for the area of intergroup communication. Many argue the field began in the 1970s in the United Kingdom with Tajfel’s work on social identity theory (e.g., Tajfel and Turner 1986) and Giles’s work on speech (later communication) accommodation theory (Giles 1973) (both cited under Theories: Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT)). Specifically, Giles theorized the bridge from social psychology to language and communication. However, owing to this area having a strong multidisciplinary heritage, the field of intergroup communication has links to earlier social psychological work of Lambert and his colleagues, with clear connections also to early work in intercultural relations and prejudice by Serge Moscovici, Thomas Pettigrew, and Muzafer Sherif. At the same time, the field also has links to early work in sociolinguistics, anthropology, sociology, and linguistics (see, for example, the work of Edward T. Hall, John Gumperz, Lesley Milroy, and William Labov). Initially mostly described as social psychology of language, a greater focus has emerged over time on communication rather than language, and intergroup communication specifically rather than the social psychology of language more generally. Early on, much of the research on intergroup communication was undertaken in social psychology, but, more recently, communication scholars have also adopted this approach. Early intergroup communication research was also primarily in intercultural communication, but the field quickly expanded to include research on gender, aging/intergenerational, organizational communication, and health communication. The field has continued to embrace new contexts, such as policing and civilian relations, internet communication, and the application of social neuroscience to measure brain activity across intergroup encounters.

General Overviews

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw a series of edited books published that focused on the emerging fields of social psychology of intergroup behavior and intergroup communication. An example of this is Giles 1977, which chronicles the development of the field and thus provides an excellent introduction to this domain. Coupland, et al. 1991 is an example of a key edited book from the period 1990–2000. Gudykunst 1998 is also included as a key general overview, as is Tracy 2002, which centers more on the individual’s perspective in intergroup interactions. More recently, a series of edited books on intergroup communication have appeared that outline key methodological and conceptual issues in the field, namely Weatherall, et al. 2007; Giles, et al. 2010; Giles 2012; and Giles and Maass 2016. In addition, these edited books also reflect the range of new communication contexts to which intergroup communication is being applied. So while the early work focused particularly on language and ethnicity, more recent books are far ranging in scope (terrorism, organizational issues, and media processes, to name a few).

  • Coupland, Nikolas, Howard Giles, and John M. Wiemann, eds. 1991. “Miscommunication” and problematic talk. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

    This edited book is a comprehensive analysis of problematic communication across a variety of social situations. It includes traditional areas of interest, such as aging, health, gender, culture, close relationships, and human-machine–based interactions. The introductory chapter provides an in-depth explanation of how society creates circumstances that serve to enhance miscommunication.

  • Giles, Howard, ed. 1977. Language, ethnicity, and intergroup relations. London: Academic Press.

    This edited book aims to present some theoretical order to an intergroup perspective on interpersonal communication. The book covers topics such as language and ethnicity, reactions to language varieties, ethnic identity and second language learning, and includes empirical studies and review chapters. The book concludes by presenting a theory of language in ethnic group relations integrating ethnolinguistic vitality, social identity, and speech accommodation.

  • Giles, Howard, ed. 2012. The handbook of intergroup communication. New York: Routledge.

    This book is part of the International Communication Association Handbook series. The handbook examines conceptual and methodological developments in studying intergroup communication. The handbook includes chapters on a range of social groups, including ones that are less studied, such as groups defined by sexual orientation, or religion or those with disabilities. The handbook also addresses a range of contexts, including health, organizations, families, media, and sports.

  • Giles, Howard, and Anne Maass, eds. 2016. Advances in intergroup communication. New York: Peter Lang.

    This edited book provides updates in established intergroup settings, as well as introducing a range of new settings, including the media and political parties. There is also a focus on new approaches to studying intergroup communication, such as neuroscience, web models to understand group diversity, social media, and social networks.

  • Giles, Howard, Scott Reid, and Jake Harwood, eds. 2010. The dynamics of intergroup communication. New York: Peter Lang.

    This edited book is divided into four parts. The first addresses communication between different social groups, including those based on culture, gender, police-civilian status, and religion. The second examines specific intergroup processes that transcend particular social groups. The third examines a range of social contexts, including family, different media, organizations, health, and sports. Finally, the book provides recommendations for future directions in intergroup communication, including an evolutionary perspective.

  • Gudykunst, William. 1998. Bridging differences: Effective intergroup communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This overview of intergroup communication focuses particularly on intercultural communication but also examines other group differences. It is primarily written for use in courses or training programs to improve intergroup communication effectiveness. The book is skills oriented.

  • Tracy, Karen. 2002. Everyday talk: Building and reflecting identities. New York: Guilford.

    This text emphasizes the discourse analysis of intergroup communication. It covers a range of contexts, from relationships, social class distinctions to ethnicity, but does so from the perspective of the individual’s assumptions and sense-making concerning another person’s group identity. It also reflects on two important perspectives that influence discourse, the rhetorical and the cultural perspectives.

  • Weatherall, Ann, Bernadette M. Watson, and Cynthia Gallois, eds. 2007. Language, discourse and social psychology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230206168

    This edited book focuses on language and social psychological research and acknowledges two methodological traditions: social cognition and discursive psychology. The book covers four topics of current interest: intercultural encounters, institutional talk, gender and sexuality, and discourse rhetoric and politics. Across these four topics, the chapters highlight the depth and range of methodology that is utilized in exploring social psychology and language.

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