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Navigating Power

Cross-Cultural Competence in Navajo Land

Gelaye Debebe

Interactions among individuals representing culturally dissimilar and politically unequal groups are a ubiquitous feature of modern life. Navigating Power: Cross-Cultural Competence in Navajoland 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.

Research suggests that cross-cultural breakdowns arise from differing cultural values and assumptions. Overcoming these breakdowns requires cross-cultural competence. This competence entails the ability to sustain a learner stance in the face of ambiguity, uncertainty, and negative or ambivalent emotional states. Cross-cultural learning is also viewed as a mutual process in which individuals examine their assumptions and jointly construct novel solutions. This book suggests that where power inequalities rooted in historical events are coupled with cultural differences, politically subordinate group members have a keen understanding of the dominant group culture. For them, the violation of historical sensitivities rooted in collective memories, and not cultural clash, are potent triggers for communication breakdown. Because of political inequality, mutuality is not a given in the learning process. Frequently there is a presumption that the knowledge and expertise of dominant group members is universal, better and legitimate. Faced with this situation, subordinate group members draw on power-based rules to interrupt the dominant postures of the politically powerful group.

To illustrate these dynamics, Navigating Power draws upon qualitative data from an inter-organizational relationship between an Anglo and Navajo organization. It focuses on two contrasting patterns of interaction, the first of which involves ignoring and suppressing context, and the second involves reading and writing context.

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Lexington Books
Pages: 172Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/4
978-0-7391-1301-1 • Hardback • May 2012 • $84.00 • (£54.95)
978-1-4985-2524-4 • Paperback • October 2015 • $39.99 • (£24.95)
978-0-7391-7570-5 • eBook • May 2012 • $39.99 • (£24.95)
Gelaye Debebe is Assistant Professor of Organizational Sciences at the George Washington University and Faculty Affiliate at the Center for Gender in Organi-zations at Simmons Graduate School of Management.
Chapter 1: Introduction: Cross–Cultural Competence
Chapter 2: Theoretical Framework of Coordination among Unequals
Chapter 3: Membership Survey Project: Covert Conflict Inhibiting Coordination
Chapter 4: Job Trends Project: A Commitment to Unrevised Assumptions
Chapter 5: Analyzing Coordination Failures
Chapter 6: Canyon Inn Project: Resolving Ambiguity
Chapter 7: Analyzing a Coordination Success
Chapter 8: Conclusion: Navigating Power
Appendix: Qualitative Research Methodology
About the Author

Gelaye Debebe has developed a terrific synthesis and extension of theories and concepts that help explain the success or failure of coordination projects between Anglo and Navajo participants. Inter-cultural differences in power and culture, as well as the history and cultural memories of the groups and how these differences are handled, prove to be very useful in accounting for success. Debebe's study uses a variety of qualitative data sources and has implications for many other multi-cultural projects.
Mayer N. Zald, University of Michigan

Debebe provides refreshing insights into the conundrum of navigating the difficult terrain of intercultural conflict fused with unequal power relations. The book is a must-read for those committed to realizing true multiculturalism and educating others about it.
Stella M. Nkomo, University of Pretoria, South Africa

This book breaks new ground in the field of cross cultural collaboration. Debebe argues decisively that our current understanding of cross cultural collaboration is impoverished because it over-emphasizes culture and fails to address adequately the role of 'inherited power' or the history of power relations between groups. Debebe offers a framework for understanding the role of power, the skills and conditions necessary to navigate it successfully, and the perils and pitfalls commonly encountered. This is an important book for anyone studying or practicing in the field of diversity, cultural competence, or cultural sensitivity.
Joyce K. Fletcher, Simmons School of Management

What Debebe brings to the table, how her work adds substantial value to the field of organizational studies, lies in her portrayal of how powerful a force ‘‘inherited history,’’ or collective memory, can be and in her systematic analysis of how such history figures into the politics of intercultural coordination—in Debebe’s framework, because all organizations have cultures, by definition all interorganizational communication may also be characterized as intercultural communication.... Ultimately, one of the book’s virtues is that it can’t be pigeonholed neatly into a single stream of scholarship, for it bridges a number of areas. It will be of interest to scholars in cross-cultural communication, interorganizational learning, multi-party dispute resolution, and the development of dialogue among discrepant communities of practice.
Administrative Science Quarterly