Book Review: Navigating Power

by
navigating_powerGelaye Debebe: Navigating Power: Cross-Cultural Competence in Navajoland. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2012. 167 pp. $60.00 / £37.95, hardback; $59.99 / £37.95, ebook.

Read the review by David Morand of Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg, published in the Administrative Science Quarterly September issue:

Navigating Power examines factors precipitating the success of interorganizational coordination among culturally dissimilar and politically unequal groups. Based on qualitative field observation, the book follows the Navajo (precisely, a Navajo Nation Organization fictionally entitled Navajo Member Organization) and an external economic development agency, one representing the surround- ing and previously dominant Anglo culture, as these two parties navigate inter- cultural communication challenges arising during the course of several economic development projects.

asq150In essence, there is most decidedly a history in the present case. It is the historical experience of the Navajo rel ative to their domination by white Anglo culture, a history of significant hegemony and cultural imperialism. While the Navaho desire the economic development, which is in essence a knowledge located outside of Navajo society, they do not want their cultural integrity to be compromised, quite clearly. As a consequence, we observe a set of powerful interpretive (and sometimes defensive) frameworks, specifically, interaction rules and norms employed by the Navajo to manage and control the project in a manner they perceive concordant with preserving their cultural value system.

Debebe’s conceptual framework for examining these interorganizational, intercultural communication challenges hinges on the juxtaposition of culture- based rules and power-based rules. Culture-based rules are said to pertain to etiquette appropriate for social interaction. This category of communicative problems resonates with our more or less standard understanding of how culture clashes unfold. Such clashes of interaction norms, instanced for example in Arab-Western interaction by the fact that displaying the sole of one’s foot is taken as an affront, produce discomfort and awkwardness. Overcoming these requires ‘‘mere’’ cross-cultural competence.

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