(Based on Mark Orbe By Dennis Bwalya COM 209, Fall 2018)
Mark Orbe, the author of the theory, is associate professor of communication at Western Michigan University. Most of the information for this explanation is from his 1998 book, Constructing Co-Cultural Theory
What is Co-Culture?
A Co-Culture is a group that has little or no say in creating the dominant structure of society. Examples of such groups are: Ethnic or religious minorities, LGBTQ+ community, the disabled, etc…
Co-Cultural Theory explains how members of co-culture groups co-exist and communicate with members of the dominant group.
Mark Orbe’s Co-cultural Theory is an answer to the question:
How do people traditionally situated on the margins of society; people of color, women, gays/lesbians/bisexuals, and those from a lower socio-economic status communicate within the dominant societal structures?
Orbe’s work is based on two long-standing theories from other fields: Muted Group Theory and Feminist Standpoint Theory.
Why is it important to learn about Co-Cultural Communication?
“Identification and explication of the communication practices of co-cultural groups are valuable and important for understanding how persons, marginalized in a dominant society, communicate with those who have direct access to institutional power.”
Orbe takes the approach, using “co-culture” to describe a disadvantaged or marginalized group in a society.
Co-Cultural Theory: Overview and Background
The main focus of this theory is to explain how people in a co-cultural group communicate when interacting with people of the dominant group. People choose different strategies, such as trying to eliminate stereotypes, working to build connections with the dominant group, or even avoiding the dominant group.
Co-cultural theory is built on the assumptions that “influences” on the communication choices co-cultural members make, his research suggests otherwise. Most of his work uses focus groups, interviews (for example, a study of how African American men use communication with and about White people) and rhetorical media analysis (such as examples of African American men in The Real World. The critical focus of the theory (that is, that construction of identity of a co-cultural group exists within the power structures of a dominant society, in resistance to that society, make this theory more critical than the original statement of the Communication Theory of Identity, though Orbe cites Hecht and Collier’s work in the constructing of his theory.
Orbe in many of his writings frames the background of the theory in terms of two feminist theories. Each of these theories focus originally on communication between men and women, but Orbe contends that what they say would apply easily to interethnic communication.
Standpoint (feminist) theory suggests that minority members (and women) have a different understanding of the world than dominant culture members (and men).
Each group has partial knowledge
Some partial knowledges are more complete than others: Subordinate group knows dominant more than dominant knows subordinate
It is important to learn perspectives of subordinate groups
Muted Group (feminist) theory suggests that minority cultures (like women) are silenced (muted) in several ways by the dominant culture.
Dominant group shapes the language of a society
Co-cultures must create their own language to make sense of their reality
Yet, dominant culture privileges one speech code (dominant) over the other (co-cultural), often through ridicule, marginalization, and (perhaps unintentional) dominance in modes of language creation and propagation
Co-Cultural theory has six universal influences and these are:
Preferred Outcomes—”What communication behavior will lead to the effect that I desire?”
Field of Experience– “What past interactions have I had with dominant group members that will influence my current behavior?”
Abilities– “What are my physical and psychological limitations in communicating with the dominant culture?”
Situational Context– “In what situation am I communicating with the dominant culture?”
Perceived Costs and Rewards— “What do I stand to gain and lose from an interaction with a member of the dominant culture?”
Communication Approach– “Which of the three approaches will I employ to achieve my preferred outcome?”
Aside from the influences, Co-Cultural theory also has three preferred outcomes.
Assimilation – trying to get rid of all cultural differences in an attempt of fit into the dominant culture.
Accommodation – insisting that the dominant culture reinvent or change the rules of society so it can incorporate the life experiences of each co-culture group.
Separation – rejecting the notion of forming a common bond with dominant group and seeking to maintain separate group identities outside the dominant structure.
Orbe’s Co-Cultural Communication Orientations lead to:
Three Communication Approaches
Nonassertive – behaviors in which individuals are seemingly inhibited and non-confrontational; putting the needs of others before one’s own.
Assertive – communication practices that encompass self-enhancing expressive behavior that takes into account the needs of others and one’s self.
Aggressive – communication practices that can be perceived as hurtfully expressive and self-promoting. Aggressive practices assume control over the choices of others.
From M. P. Orbe, M. P. Constructing co-cultural theory: An explication of culture, power, and communication, p. 110 (c) 1998.
Separation Accommodation Assimilation
Maintaining interpersonal barriers Increasing visibility
Dispelling stereotypes Emphasizing commonalities
Developing positive face
Assertive Communicating self
Embracing stereotypes Communicating self
Educating others Extensive preparation
Sabotaging others Confronting
Gaining advantage Dissociating
Applying Co-Cultural Theory What practical suggestions does it lead to?
Would this apply to women and men?
Would it apply to other groups?
People with disabilities (e.g., Deaf culture as opposed to deaf people)
Gays, lesbians, transgendered individuals?
Works CitedOrbe, M. P. (1998b). Constructing co-cultural theory: An explication of culture, power, and communication.
https://wmich.edu/communication/directory/orbeM. P. Orbe, M. P. Constructing co-cultural theory: An explication of culture, power, and communication, p. 110 (c) 1998
Orbe, M. P. (1994). ”Remember, it’s always whites’ ball”: Descriptions of African American male communication. Communication Quarterly, 42, 287–300.
Orbe, M. P. (1996). Laying the foundation for co-cultural communication theory: An inductive approach to studying non-dominant communication strategies and the factors that influence them. Communication Studies, 47, 157–176.
Kramarae, Cheris. “Muted Group Theory and Communication: Asking Dangerous Questions.” Women & Language, vol. 28, no. 2, Fall 2005, pp. 55–61. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com.proxy.missouristate.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=19610518&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Wood, Julia T. “Feminist Standpoint Theory and Muted Group Theory: Commonalities and Divergences.” Women & Language, vol. 28, no. 2, Fall 2005, pp. 61–64. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com.proxy.missouristate.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=19610519&site=ehost-live&scope=site.