Communication Rhetoric and Intercultural Communication
Soumia Bardhan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0273


The convergence of rhetoric and intercultural communication has led to the development of intercultural rhetoric, a subfield of communication, where culture is seen as an implied aspect of rhetoric. The term rhetorical tradition or rhetorical legacy in intercultural rhetoric studies refers to the culture-specific ways of framing and understanding arguments, namely, the general set of prescriptions for public advocacy that are distinctive to a particular cultural worldview. Studies with an intercultural rhetoric framework attempt to represent the cultural sensibility and rhetorical traditions invoked by a particular intercultural interaction. Rhetorical practices are seen as emerging from the beliefs and values of distinctive cultural communities, and the convergence of intercultural communication and rhetoric becomes evident when people act rhetorically, and their diverse cultural assumptions gradually or suddenly become apparent during intercultural interactions. It is also claimed that intercultural rhetoric illustrates how culture-based arguments are strategically constructed by advocates during intercultural interactions and how the arguments make sense within a particular cultural frame or worldview. Rhetoric is understood to be communication that emerges from a sociocultural context, is designed to invite a preferred response from an audience within a particular cultural context, and is directed to listeners who have a choice to respond. The enthymeme, the unspoken premise in practical reasoning, presumes shared cultural knowledge and consensus among listeners. It also presumes a commonly and culturally understood epistemological process for making and advancing claims for public acceptance. In addition, the connection between culture and rhetoric is seen in audience analysis, especially in the context of public speaking; the analysis of the audience by the speaker—the inquiry into audience values and attitudes to better persuade—is a form of cultural analysis that accounts for the possibility that the speaker might not share the same cultural values as the audience and is aware of this. Recent methodological developments have allowed critics to represent diverse rhetorical traditions more comprehensively and to discover novel ways to understand intercultural conflicts and mediate cultural differences. Conceptualizing rhetorical situations as intercultural communication suggests that intercultural and rhetorical theorists need to be mindful of the multivocal quality and cultural diversity of social discourses.

Intercultural Rhetoric

Intercultural rhetoric becomes evident when people act rhetorically and their diverse cultural assumptions and understandings gradually or suddenly become apparent during intercultural interactions. González and Tanno 2000 characterizes intercultural rhetoric as rhetorical practices that are seen emerging from the beliefs and values of distinctive cultural communities. This study also explores the origins of this subfield of communication. In the mid-1970s, rhetoric and cultural communication came together in a research program termed ethnography of communication. It was a synthesis of ethnographic methods drawn from anthropology, linguistics, rhetorical criticism, and intercultural studies. Specifically, by adopting an ethnographic perspective and elaborating the speech codes of a specific cultural community or social setting, Philipsen 1986 succeeds in making culture a direct concern of communication research and rhetoric. The author elaborates that the ethnographer of communication is interested in the native understandings of speech interactions; for instance, based on analysis of transcripts of interactions and participant observation, the ethnographer tries to answer how cultural members establish their place in the community, negotiate conflicts, and register misunderstanding. Carbaugh 1993 continues this program and studies speech codes using ethnographic interpretation. González and Bardhan 2017, in an in-depth discussion of intercultural communication and rhetoric, claims that ethnography of communication allows critics a means for identifying the cultural base from which rhetorical expectations and prescriptions arise. However, Starosta 1984 is the first work by a US intercultural communication scholar to use the term intercultural rhetoric. Starosta cautioned against traditional rhetorical goals that emphasized persuasion for self-benefiting purposes and opposed the exploitation of hierarchical relations between rhetor and audience. This caveat reinforced the general concern among many interculturalists that a spirit of equal participation in interaction should prevail. González and Cheng 2003 presents a comprehensive list of the scenarios that can be identified as intercultural rhetoric. Works by communication scholars, such as Black 1978 and Starosta 1984, have challenged the prevailing notions of rhetoric found in rhetorical literature, specifically, the classical Greek treatments of public oratory. The argument has been that because the rhetorical literature had been generated by Western critics, it was grounded in Western culture, hence, of limited value beyond a Western context. These cultural explorations of rhetoric, also undertaken in Lu and Franke 1993, Sutton 1986, and Xiao 1995, nuance and globalize rhetorical criticism and theory, and, at the same time, they draw attention to the limitations of established Western rhetorical frameworks. Finally, it is imperative to mention, as Atkinson 2004 states, intercultural rhetoric is also framed as contrastive rhetoric in the field of linguistic studies. This entry, however, undergirds the discussion of the origin, evolution, characteristics, and application of what is labeled as intercultural rhetoric.

  • Atkinson, D. 2004. Contrasting rhetorics/contrasting cultures: Why contrastive rhetoric needs a better conceptualization of culture. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 3.4: 277–289.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.jeap.2004.07.002

    Atkinson discusses attempts in contrastive rhetoric (CR) to interpret the linguistic and rhetorical differences found in anglophone and non-anglophone scholars’ academic discourses. Atkinson’s goal is to highlight the need to go beyond a priori concepts like language and culture as explanatory variables in academic intercultural rhetoric. He urges CR scholars to go deeper and be more nuanced and consider the differences arising from a history of academic socialization to diverse communities of discourse, different assumptions of what constitutes appropriate academic genres, and the identities co-constructed in rhetorical moments of action.

  • Black, E. 1978. Rhetorical criticism: A study in method. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

    Black urges scholars of rhetoric to begin to expand their purview beyond neo-Aristotelian criticism of elite oratory. That is, study important new phenomena, such as social movements, and create new critical tools for the analysis of rhetoric as symbolic action. He insists that rhetoric should become a topic of reconsideration in literary criticism, post-structural critique, and critical-cultural studies.

  • Carbaugh, D. 1993. “Soul” and “self”: Soviet and American cultures in conversation. Quarterly Journal of Speech 79.2: 182–200.

    DOI: 10.1080/00335639309384028

    Carbaugh analyzes a televised discourse, namely, an episode of the Donahue talk show. This episode was taped in the former Soviet Union and aired in the United States. His analysis illustrates the uncomfortable moments that occurred when US native conversational rules came into contact with Russian rules. Specifically, for the show’s host, invoking a topic initiation–problematizing-response cycle was appropriate in the United States for public problem-oriented discussions. However, this topic cycle encroached upon Russian cultural practice, where discretion is appreciated in public spaces.

  • González, A., and S. Bardhan. 2017. Identity and intercultural rhetoric. In The international encyclopedia of intercultural communication. Edited by Y. Y. Kim. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118783665.ieicc0066

    This encyclopedia entry describes the connections between rhetoric and intercultural communication. Methodological considerations and critical approaches to intercultural rhetoric are highlighted. Intercultural rhetoric is discussed from the perspective of rhetorical criticism, Chinese rhetorical studies, ethnography of communication, whiteness studies, and vernacular rhetoric.

  • González, A., and H. Cheng. 2003. Intercultural rhetoric. In The rhetoric of Western thought: From the Mediterranean world to the global setting. 8th ed. Edited by J. L. Golden, G. F. Berquist, W. E. Coleman, and J. M. Sproule, 471–478. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

    In this piece, the authors identify one or more of the following to be scenarios of intercultural rhetoric: (a) rhetorical action crosses two or more cultures. This is most likely to occur with media messages; (b) rhetorical action from two distinct rhetorical traditions collides over common topics; (c) a rhetor is of one culture, and the primary audience is of another culture; and (d) the critic selects concepts and evaluative tools from one rhetorical tradition and applies these concepts to a rhetorical activity that originates from another tradition.

  • González, A., and D. V. Tanno. 2000. Rhetoric at the intercultures. In Rhetoric in intercultural contexts. Edited by A. González and D. V. Tanno, 3–10. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    While claiming that intercultural rhetoric is an emerging and highly active communication studies research program, Gonzalez and Tanno highlight key questions that lie at the core of intercultural rhetorical studies. These include: What critical tools are available, must be modified, or be newly developed to render critical assessment of intercultural rhetoric? They also discuss how, starting in the 1970s, rhetorical theorists began to ask questions about the interplay between diverse rhetorical traditions, thus setting the stage for intercultural rhetorical studies.

  • Lu, Y., and D. Franke. 1993. On the study of ancient Chinese rhetoric/Bian. Western Journal of Communication 57.4: 445–463.

    DOI: 10.1080/10570319309374467

    Lu and Franke note that in the West, the study of rhetoric has featured Occidental traditions and this Western bias has prompted some rhetoricians to deny the existence of ancient Eastern rhetoric. However, Chinese rhetoric, in particular, has received attention from few Western scholars. Nevertheless, their descriptions of Chinese rhetoric have been narrow. This study, therefore, aims to broaden the portrayal of Chinese rhetoric to reveal a rich Eastern tradition of speech and argumentation that historians of rhetoric should pay attention to.

  • Philipsen, G. 1986. Mayor Daley’s council speech: A cultural analysis. Quarterly Journal of Speech 72.3: 247–260.

    DOI: 10.1080/00335638609383772

    Philipsen shows how the cultural speech of a working-class Chicago neighborhood intersects with other communities. His examination of a 1971 speech by Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley identifies a code of honor and shows how themes of identity, loyalty, and community are associated rhetorically and structurally with these terms. He traces these speech codes to an Irish rhetorical tradition. Daley’s speech displays local working-class codes that collided with a broader journalistic and political code stressing objectivity and individual self-worth.

  • Starosta, W. J. 1984. On intercultural rhetoric. In Methods for intercultural communication research. Edited by W. B. Gudykunst and Y. Y. Kim, 229–238. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

    In this self-reflexive piece, Starosta presents eleven propositions to explain and extend the premise that cultures are self-promoting. Three of the propositions set the foundation of this premise, five establish the implications of this premise for the intercultural rhetorician, and three discuss the consequences of the practice of intercultural rhetoric.

  • Sutton, J. 1986. The death of rhetoric and its resurgence in philosophy. Rhetorica 4.3: 203–226.

    DOI: 10.1525/rh.1986.4.3.203

    In an analysis of neo-Aristotelian criticism, Sutton states that the dichotomy between logos and pathos—hallmarks of Aristotelian rhetoric—had fragmented rhetoric, privileging logical appeals and diminishing the value of pathos, ethos, and style. She argues that placing logic and reason above emotion had its roots in Western culture, where the separation of mind and body was central to Judeo-Christian tradition and philosophy. Reflecting the dualism of his era, Aristotle’s preoccupation with logos can be contrasted with Eastern thought, particularly Confucianism, which values a heart-mind (hsin) approach in determining the appropriateness of behavior.

  • Xiao, X. 1995. China encounters Darwinism: A case of intercultural rhetoric. Quarterly Journal of Speech 81.1: 83–99.

    DOI: 10.1080/00335639509384098

    Xiao analyzes Yan Fu’s Heavenly Evolution, a translation of Thomas Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics, in this study. This translation was instrumental in spreading a version of Darwinism in Confucian China at the turn of the 20th century. The analysis highlights the rhetorical role of the native interpreter in interpreting Darwinian ideas, essentially contradictory to Chinese ways of thinking. Xiao’s goal is to explore how significant texts of one culture are adapted to the needs and thinking of another cultural system.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.