Book Review: Navigating Power

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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The Diversity Challenge: Part 4 of 5

Editor’s note: Today we’re continuing our series on diversity, targeting specific questions to invite discussion and exploration of related topics. If you have a question that you’d like to see addressed, add it in the comments below!


Part 4: What can organizations gain from the interactions of individuals in diverse groups?

Gelaye Debebe, Professor of Organizational Sciences at George Washington University and Journal of Management Education (JME) contributor, has published a new book, “Navigating Power Cross-Cultural Competence in Navajo Land” (Lexington Books, 2012), which provides insights into diverse groups in organizational settings.

From the publisher’s description:

Interactions among individuals representing culturally dissimilar and politically unequal groups are a ubiquitous feature of modern life. Navigating Power: Cross-Cultural Competence in Navajo Land by Gelaye Debebe is concerned with how these interactions affect task coordination in organizational settings. While much research has addressed the effect of cultural differences on these interactions, very little work has been done examining the role of political inequality. (

To read long excerpts from “Navigating Power Cross-Cultural Competence in Navajo Land” in Google Books, click here.

Hear the SAGE podcast with Professor Debebe on her JME article, “Creating a Safe Environment for Women’s Leadership Transformation,” on Management INK by clicking here.

Gelaye Debebe is Assistant Professor of Organizational Sciences at George Washington University and Faculty Affiliate at the Center for Gender in Organizations at Simmons Graduate School of Management. She received her PhD in Organizational Behavior from the University of Michigan. Her research has examined how people learn in difficult or stressful environments or situations. She has specifically explored the conditions necessary to foster transformative learning among women in formal training and how individuals who represent culturally dissimilar and politically unequal groups create new knowledge through their interactions. Her published work has appeared in Research in Organizational Behavior, Journal of Management Education, Advancing Women in Leadership Journal, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Human Resourced Development International, Issues in Intercultural Communication and Development in Practice.

Up next–the conclusion to our series: How can we improve organizational management and teaching strategies to increase diversity and inclusion?