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JOURNAL OF PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH, 18(1), 4565 Copyright 2006, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Cultural Identity in the Segmentation of Publics: An Emerging Theory of Intercultural Public Relations
Bey-Ling Sha
School of Communication San Diego State University

Framed by literature in strategic management and cultural identity, this article asserts that, in situations where avowed cultural identity is salient, differences in identification with a cultural group will predict differences in the variables of the situational theory of publics. Survey data showed that routinely avowed cultural identity significantly affected problem recognition, level of involvement, information processing, and information seeking. Canonical correlation showed respondents avowing a nonWhite racioethnic identity to be significantly more likely to become active on racioethnic issues, suggesting cultural identity as an antecedent variable in the situational theory.

The United States has become increasingly diverse in the racial and ethnic make-up of its people (Gibson & Jung, 2002; Ward & Anthony, 1992), and recent projections from the U.S. Census Bureau (2004) show that, by 2050, the country will be fairly evenly divided between White, non-Hispanics (50.1%, compared to 69.4% in 2000) and demographic groups currently called minorities. For instance, African Americans, who in 2000 constituted 12.7% of the population, will comprise 14.6% in 2050; Hispanics in 2050 will be 24.4% of the U.S. population, compared to 12.6% in 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). Consequently, organizations must determine whether cultural identities serve as valid criteria on which to base the segmentation of organizational stakeholders in ways that extend communication practice beyond ethnic marketing efforts. In this study, I examined links between cultural identities and the variables of the sitCorrespondence should be sent to Bey-Ling Sha, School of Communication, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA 921824561. Email:



uational theory of publics, the latter of which has been used to segment organizational stakeholders (cf. J. E. Grunig & Childers, 1988; J. E. Grunig & Hunt, 1984), which is a practice identified with the strategic management of public relations (Dozier, L. A. Grunig, & J. E. Grunig, 1995; J. E. Grunig & Repper, 1992). This research advances the public relations body of knowledge because the bulk of academic literature published to date does not address racioethnic diversity among organizational publics, examining primarily the importance of communicating with publics in other national cultures (e.g., Botan, 1992; Epley, 1992; Sharpe, 1992; Sriramesh, 2004; Sriramesh & Vercic, 2003; Sriramesh & White, 1992). Furthermore, public relations scholars tend to emphasize diversity primarily as it relates to gender diversity within an organization (e.g., J. E. Grunig, 1992; Hon, L. A. Grunig, & Dozier, 1992; L. A. Grunig, Toth, & Hon, 2001). Finally, the few extant studies dealing with race and public relations have examined the experiences of minority practitioners in the field (e.g., Kern-Foxworth, 1989c; LenRios, 1998; Zerbinos & Clanton, 1993), rather than the concept of race as a variable affecting public relations theories and their applicability to the practice. CONCEPTUALIZATION This article offers a first look at intercultural public relations, an emerging theory of our practice in which the importance of cultural identity permeates the communication process. As explained by Littlejohn (1999), the term theory is used in its broadest sense as any conceptual representation or explanation of a phenomenon (p. 21). As a theory, then, intercultural public relations represents an attempt to explain and account for the influence of cultural identity on the public relations behaviors of organizations and their publics and may be summarized in this theoretical proposition: P: In situations where the avowed cultural identity is salient, differences in identification with a cultural group will predict differences in problem recognition, level of involvement, constraint recognition, and type of communicative behavior; therefore, if an organization and its public hold different avowed identities salient to the situation, intercultural public relations becomes a necessary aspect of excellent public relations.

This emerging theory of intercultural public relations is framed by concepts from the strategic management of public relations and from cultural identity theories. Strategic Management of Public Relations The strategic management of public relations involves identifying organizational stakeholders, segmenting them into relevant publics, and communicating with



these groups (Cutlip, Center, & Broom, 2000; Guth & Marsh, 2006; Hendrix, 2004; Wilcox & Cameron, 2006; Wilson & Ogden, 2004), preferably before they can become active against the organization (cf. J. E. Grunig & Repper, 1992). One way to segment stakeholders is by using the situational theory of publics to determine whether people are likely to become active communicators in a given situation (cf. J. E. Grunig & Hunt, 1984). Decades of research using the situational theory has shown that people are likely to communicate actively in situations where they perceive a pertinent problem, feel sufficiently involved with the problem, and feel unconstrained in attempting to resolve the problem (J. E. Grunig & Childers, 1988; J. E. Grunig & Hunt, 1984; Sha & Pine, 2004). Some researchers (e.g., J. E. Grunig & Childers, 1988; Sha, 1995) also have distinguished between the internal and external dimensions of problem recognition, level of involvement, and constraint recognition. For an overview of the development of the situational theory and explanations of various studies employing it, see J. E. Grunig (1997). The power of the situational theory lies in its ability to predict which issues within a specific set of issues are likely to create active publics. According to J. E. Grunig (1997), four types of publics have consistently emerged in his research, using a variety of issues. An all-issue public is one that is active on all the issues of the situation set, whereas an apathetic public is active on none of these issues. A single-issue public is active on either a single issue within the set or on a subset of issues. Finally, a hot-issue public is similar to a single-issue public, except in this case the issue is one that has received widespread media coverage and is well known in general. In short, the situational theory of publics uses three variables problem recognition, constraint recognition, and level of involvementto predict communicative behavior. The four kinds of publics defined by the theory are useful for public relations practitioners attempting to segment their publics according to likelihood of active communicative behavior. Human behavior, however, is complex and results from much more than problem recognition, level of involvement, or constraint recognition. Scholars in intercultural communication, for instance, would argue that culture is a critical aspect of communication (e.g., Samovar & Porter, 2003). Nevertheless, the influence of culture and cultural differences on communication behaviors has not yet been accounted for by the situational theory of publics. Therefore, this study breaks new ground in our theoretical understanding of how cultural identity may affect individuals communicative behaviors and thus the communicative behaviors of organizations. Culture and Public Relations Scholarship The inclusion of culture as a variable in public relations scholarship has centered largely on international aspects of the practice, as researchers examined the ex-



tent to which public relations theories are applicable to other nations, given differences in those societal cultures (e.g., Sriramesh, 1992; Sriramesh & White, 1992). Also, researchers have considered the extent to which characteristics unique to various national societies affect the practice of public relations in those cultures (e.g., Culbertson & Chen, 1996; Moss & DeSanto, 2001; Sriramesh, 2004; Sriramesh & Vercic, 2003). This usage of the term culture is consistent with cross-cultural research in organizational management (e.g., Gannon & Associates, 1994; Hampden-Turner & Trompenaars, 1993; Hofstede, 1980; Nally, 1990; Tayeb, 1988), in which culture specifically denotes characteristics at the national level. Although the definition of culture at the level of national societies is useful for global or international public relations, such a definitional limitation could hinder the field if public relations scholars and practitioners forget that publics within a national society are not culturally homogeneous, as we know to be true given the demographic shifts in the United States and other countries. In other words, intranational public relations still may be intercultural in nature, and I believe that effective intercultural public relations within one country must logically precede attempts to practice public relations across national boundaries. For this reason, this article examines cultural groups within a single country. Although Hofstede (1980) used the term culture to designate national societies, he also pointed out that the term may be applied equally to other human collectivities or categories (p. 26) including organizations, professions, families, and ethnic or regional groups. Literature in intercultural communication uses culture in reference to a multitude of groups within a national society, including groups defined by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic standing, occupation, and physical ability or disability, among other distinguishing variables (Collier, 2003; Cupach & Imahori, 1993; Lustig & Koester, 1993; Martin, 1993; Samovar & Porter, 2003). In this study, I delimit culture to those groups defined by race and ethnicity because, first, these areas represent two of the most likely sources of the increasing cultural diversity in the United States (cf. Johnston, 1987; Ward & Anthony, 1992) and, second, these areas are those with official government statistics (cf. U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). In addition, this delimitation is appropriate because in discussing cultural identity (see later), I cite the research of others whose conceptualizations of identity deal specifically with race and ethnicity. Although their work may be extrapolated to other types of cultural groups, these authors did not explore identity concepts beyond those dealing with race and ethnicity. Finally, although scholars may include gender, profession, or sexual orientation as broad definers of cultural groups, the phrase cultural diversity in popular usage has become a politically correct way to say racial and ethnic differences. For all these reasons, it is appropriate for a study on cultural groups in public relations to at least begin with groups defined by race and ethnicity.



Race and Ethnicity in Public Relations Most studies published to date of race and public relations in the United States have concentrated on the experiences of minority practitioners in the field (e.g., Kern-Foxworth, 1989a, 1989b, 1989c; Kern-Foxworth, Gandy, Hines, & Miller, 1994; Len-Rios, 1998; Zerbinos & Clanton, 1993), although there is some trade literature on diversity efforts within organizations (e.g., Moore & Lindenmann, 1994). With the notable exceptions of Banks (2000) and Motion, Leitch, and Cliffe (2003), few scholars have taken a theoretical, rather than descriptive, approach to underscoring the need for public relations to deal with different cultures within a national culture. Thus, this study also breaks new ground in its inclusion of race and ethnicity as components of a theory, rather than as descriptive elements of practitioners and organizations experiences in the field. In the simplest terms, race refers specifically to color of skin, whereas ethnicity refers to country or place of origin. For example, Italian Americans are ethnically Italian and racially White. Members of a single race (e.g., White) may have different ethnicities (e.g., British, French, Irish). Conversely, members of a single ethnicity (e.g., Hispanic) may manifest different races (e.g., Black, White, Asian). Spencer and Markstrom-Adams (1990) defined ethnicity as a characteristic of unique cultural traditions and a heritage that persists across generations (p. 292). I must point out, however, that the terms race and ethnicity often are used politically, rather than objectively, and that their connotations often are evaluative, rather than descriptive (Begley, 1995; Montagu, 1974; Morganthau, 1995). Comas (1951) noted that although race as a linguistic term refers exclusively to a descriptive biological factor, its meaning often is defined politically, rather than biologically. As he illustrated, Whites and Asians, by virtue of their skin colors, clearly belong to different races. Nevertheless, Nazi propagandists, for political reasons, asserted that their Japanese allies were really part of the Aryan race, possessing the same superior intellectual and moral qualities as the German people themselves (Comas, 1951). Similarly, Punjabi Mexican Americans, originally from southern India, identified themselves as ethnically Indian until Pakistan won its independence from India, at which point some Punjabi Mexicans began to identify themselves as ethnically Pakistani (Leonard, 1992). These examples of the changing definitions of race and ethnicity are consistent with the assertion that cultural identities change because of economic, political, social, psychological, and contextual factors (Collier, 1994, p. 42). Even official government statistics are not immune to such factors, as illustrated by continuous changes in the racial categories used in the U.S. decennial census (cf. Bennett, 2000; Gibson & Jung, 2002). Furthermore, the concept of ethnicity has been defined since the 1970 census as whether an individual is of Hispanic origin (cf. Gibson & Jung, 2002). The most recent U.S. census of population



and housing, conducted by the Census Bureau in 2000, offered respondents, for the first time, the option to select more than one race. This modification in the collection of race data followed a policy change that directed federal agencies to begin collecting multiple race responses by 2003 (cf. U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 1997). Therefore, given that Americans now haveofficiallythe option to identify with as many cultures as they wish, the need for public relations scholarship to incorporate cultural identity as a theoretical construct has never been greater.

Cultural Identity and Intercultural Public Relations The question of cultural identity is important for organizations seeking to improve their communication with stakeholder publics, and not merely in the domain of ethnic marketing (cf. Davila, 2001; Morris, 1993; Tharp, 2001; Woods, 1995). As mentioned earlier, strategic public relations management involves not only segmenting stakeholders into publics, but also communicating with those publics once they are identified. If, in a given situation, an organizational public identifies with a cultural group different from the cultural group identity of the organization, then the communication between the organization and this public would be intercultural in nature. For example, university development and fundraising offices strive to establish strong ties with school alumni, often invoking memories of a shared college experience or a sense of shared pride in campus achievements. However, many universities also have alumni groups based on race and ethnicity (e.g., the Black Alumni Society), largely in recognition of the unique concerns of these groups of individuals. There are occasions when the university identity of the organization and its alumni publics may be sufficient, as when, say, the school encourages the purchase of season tickets for a winning football team. However, on other occasions, the cultural identity of organizations and publics may become more important than their shared sense of university identity, as when, for example, Arab alumni express to White school administrators their concerns about negative stereotyping on campus following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Thus, intercultural public relations differs from regular public relations in the salience of cultural identity in a given situation. What, exactly, is cultural identity? There are two research perspectives that seek to explain the concept of cultural identity: the social psychological approach and the communication approach (Collier, 1994). The traditional perspective, that of social psychology, holds that identity is a personal characteristic that affects the self in its relation to society (cf. Collier, 1994; Erikson, 1968; Waterman, 1985). Researchers in this approach attempt to find the components of this personal characteristic. For example,



Rotheram and Phinney (1987) asserted that ethnic identity includes several concepts, such as ethnic awareness, ethnic self-identification, ethnic attitudes, and ethnic behaviors. In addition to operationalizing components of racioethnic identity, much research using the social psychological approach to identity focuses on the processes by which these components are acquired or developed (cf. Helms, 1992; Rotheram & Phinney, 1987). For example, Cross (1987) emphasized that ethnic identity is a process of ego development rather than merely the acquisition of ethnicity concepts. In addition, Spencer and Markstrom-Adams (1990) defined ego identity as being characterized by the attainment of an ever-revised sense of psychological reality that is supported by a social reality (p. 291, emphasis added). Although this definition points to a linear process of identity attainment, the mention of social reality relates to the communication perspective on identity. Whereas the social psychological perspective views identity as an ego development process, the communication perspective considers identity as the enactment of cultural communication (Hecht, Collier, & Ribeau, 1993). In other words, a cultural identity is created by the exchange of messages between interactants; it is the particular character of the group communication system that emerges in the particular situation (Collier, 1994, p. 39). In this view, communication is the means by which individuals and groups negotiate, cocreate, reinforce, and challenge cultural identity. Furthermore, cultural identities emerge in communication contexts (Collier, 1994). When cultural identities are enacted, patterns of communicative conduct become evident, and these patterns may vary according to the culture of the communicator. Because public relations is concerned with the communication between an organization and its publics, the communication perspective on cultural identity would appear to be the more appropriate one in which to ground this study. However, the social psychological approach offers public relations scholars an important distinction between personal identity and group identity, just as the communication approach is useful for its distinction of avowed and ascribed identities.

Personal and group identities. According to Cross (1987), an individuals self-concept actually is a combination of personal identity (PI) and group identity, which he termed reference group orientation (RGO). The PI sector of an individuals self-concept deals with characteristics of persons as individuals; these characteristics exist in all humans universally. PI variables are the building blocks for all personalities, with culture, class, race, ethnicity, and gender mediating how much of the variable is present across cultures or different groups of people (Cross, 1987, p. 121). In other words, PI research examines universal components of human behavior and analyzes differences in behavior in light of race or ethnicity. In PI research, racioethnicity thus is treated as an independent variable and excluded from stimulus conditions or dependent measures.



In this article, however, cultural identity is used not as PI, but as RGO, a term that Cross (1987) finds more accurate than group identity because the latter may be confused with the concept of the identity of a group, whereas RGO deals with the identity of an individual in relation to a group. Specifically, this study examined cultural identity as the identity of individuals in relation to a racial or ethnic group.

Avowed and ascribed identities. The act of asserting or enacting an identity forms the basis for the communicative perspective on cultural identity (Hecht et al., 1993). When an individual avows a cultural identity, he or she identifies with a cultural group and asserts that membership. As Rotheram and Phinney (1987) asserted, a reference group [is] the group that one chooses consciously to imitate (p. 24). On the other hand, an ascribed cultural identity is the reference group assigned to a person by another person and may not be the same as the persons avowed cultural identity. The distinction between these two kinds of cultural identity, that which is declared by an individual and that which is assigned to him or her by another, appears often in the literature on cultural identity, although various researchers have assigned different terms to these concepts. For example, Cross (1987) distinguished between personal and ascriptive reference group orientation; Grotevant (1992) pointed to assigned and chosen identity. Hecht et al. (1993) discussed avowed identity as being internally defined whereas ascribed identity is externally imposed. For Rotheram and Phinney (1987), the performance criteria of ethnic identity refers to the extent to which one feels and acts like a group member (p. 16), whereas the ascribed criteria refers to how others see the individual. All of these distinctions parallel Colliers (1994, 2003) avowed and ascribed aspects of cultural identity, which are the terms used to maintain consistency in this article because they are the most intuitively understandable. Furthermore, I distinguished in this study between routine avowal and spontaneous avowal of cultural identity, with the former being racioethnic identity asserted in response to some routine prompt, such as completing paperwork, and the latter being an identity asserted without any particular stimulus related to race or ethnicity. Conceptually, a spontaneously avowed identity is stronger than one that is evoked only in response to routine questions about racioethnic background. Identity salience. Racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States have been referred to as subcultures, a term I dislike for its implication that one culture is less important than another. I also dislike the term coculture because it implies that multiple cultures exist at the same level of pertinence all the time, which I believe is impossible, in either a society or an individual. Thus, I prefer to use the terms dominant culture and recessive culture. The dominant culture in a heterogeneous society like the United States is that culture to which the majority of the members of that society subscribe and that which is generally reflected in the mass me-



dia of the society (Samovar & Porter, 2003). Taking the dominantrecessive terminology from genetic research, I contend that a heterogeneous society, in addition to having a dominant culture, also may have recessive cultures that are present in the society, but not always manifested, just as the recessive genes for blue eyes may be present in the DNA of a brown-eyed person. Just as a country can have many recessive cultural groups that come to prominence in given situations (e.g., Japanese Americans being detained during World War II or Muslim Americans being subject to racial profiling in the postSeptember 11 age), each person is comprised of a myriad of cultural identities, any one or combination of which may become relevant in a given situation. Indeed, of the three identity dimensionsscope, salience, and intensityidentified by Collier (1989), salience has received the greatest amount of attention in the literature (cf. Cupach & Imahori, 1993). Identity salience is the relative importance of a particular aspect of identity in a specific situation, relative to the other aspects of ones total identity (Cupach & Imahori, 1993, p. 114). This definition is consistent with the poststructuralist view asserting that an individuals identity at a given point is dominated by certain constructs of the total identity (e.g., Ang & Hermes, 1991). Cupach and Imahori (1993) further asserted that identity salience is situational in nature (p. 115). Similarly, Rotheram and Phinney (1987) pointed out that the importance and meaning of ethnic identity varies with the specific context and will be more salient in some situations than in others (p. 16, emphasis added). Some scholars have even suggested that a particular identity becomes more salient when it makes an individual stand out in a particular situation (cf. McGuire, McGuire, Child, & Fujioka, 1978); this distinctiveness postulate would suggest, for example, that a womans gender identity is more salient in a room full of men than in one full of other women. The situational nature of the salience of racioethnic identity (cf. Cupach & Imahori, 1993; Leonard, 1992; McGuire et al., 1978) further supports the need for public relations scholars to investigate the links between the situational theory of publics and racioethnic identity.

Defining Intercultural Public Relations The existence of many cultures implies a need for public relations practitioners to acknowledge the possibility of differences in salient cultural identities and the need to communicate with internal and external publics whose cultural identifications may differ from those of the practitioner or the organization. Cupach and Imahori (1993) considered intercultural interactions as a special case of interpersonal communication. They further asserted that intercultural and interpersonal communication share the same processes and that the two phenomena are distinguished only by the salience of cultural identity.



Extrapolating this argument to public relations, I assert that intercultural public relations may be a special case of public relations in which the salient cultural identity avowed by the organization differs from the salient cultural identity avowed by the public. I report here findings from the first part of the theoretical proposition set forth in this article, that differences in cultural identity predict differences in the variables of the situational theory. Specifically, the study sought answers to the following research questions: RQ1: How, if at all, is cultural identity related to the recognition of racioethnic problems? RQ2: How, if at all, is cultural identity related to level of involvement? RQ3: How, if at all, is cultural identity related to the recognition of constraints? RQ4: How, if at all, is cultural identity related to communication behaviors? RQ5: How, if at all, is cultural identity related to membership in an active public?

METHOD Answers to the research questions posed in this exploratory study were based on a mail survey of a systematic random sample of 632 undergraduates at a large public university on the east coast. I selected college students as the study participants because previous literature suggested that college is a time when students often renegotiate their racioethnic identities (cf. Alvarez & Helms, 2001; Jackson, 1998; Lewis, 2003). The sample was disproportionately stratified to include even percentages of students who had routinely identified themselves in the university computer system to be either Caucasian, White, or Euro-American; Black or African American; Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander; or Latino or Hispanic American. Variables of the situational theory of publics were operationalized using a standard set of items that had been validated extensively through several decades of earlier research, as reported by J. E. Grunig (1997). The situation set developed for this study included five issues common to U.S. college campuses: alcohol abuse, lack of financial aid, academic dishonesty, racial discrimination, and sexual harassment. Ninety usable questionnaires were returned, for a response rate of 14.3%. Wimmer and Dominick (2006) indicated that, in more than 20 years of communication survey research, their response rate range for mail surveys averaged 1% to 4%. These authors further noted that no matter what sampling design researchers might begin with, the sample they end up with still may be considered a volunteer sample because there is no way to force potential respondents to participate in research. Hence, the sample used in this study might be considered a nonprobability, volunteer sample, which is not inappropriate for a pilot study such as this one (cf. Wimmer & Dominick, 2006).



More than two thirds of the respondents were female (68.9% or 62 respondents), compared with 31.1% male (28 respondents). More than three quarters of the respondents (76.7% or 69 respondents) were between the ages of 18 and 20 (inclusive), whereas only 7.8% (7 respondents) were 17 years old or younger, and 15.6% (or 14 respondents) were 21 years of age or older. Nearly three quarters of the respondents were underclassmen (46.7% or 42 freshmen; 27.8% or 25 sophomores), and the remainder were upperclassmen (13.3% or 12 juniors; 12.2% of 11 seniors). In terms of respondents routinely avowed racioethnic identities, 25.6% (n = 23) were African American, 22.2% (n = 20) were Asian American, 16.7% (n = 15) were White, and 35.6% (n = 32) were Hispanic American.

FINDINGS In short, respondents who routinely avowed a non-White racioethnic identity were more likely to recognize racioethnic problems, to feel personally involved with those problems, and to engage in communication behaviors about those problems. Constraint recognition was not affected by racioethnic identity in this study. Problem Recognition

RQ1: How, if at all, is cultural identity related to the recognition of racioethnic problems? Respondents who avowed a minority identity were significantly more likely to recognize racioethnic problems on campus. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) indicated that problem recognition of racial discrimination was related significantly to respondents routinely avowed identities for both external, F = 3.603, p = .016, and internal, F = 10.440, p = .000, dimensions of this variable. Furthermore, the Scheff test, one of the most conservative tests for significance between means, indicated that, on the external dimension, African Americans were significantly more likely than Whites to recognize problems related to racioethnicity (p = .050). On the internal dimension, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans were all significantly more likely than White Americans to recognize racioethnic problems, and African Americans also were significantly more likely than Hispanic Americans to recognize such problems (p = .050).
Level of Involvement

RQ2: How, if at all, is cultural identity related to level of involvement? ANOVA indicated that both external and internal levels of involvement with racioethnic problems were significantly related to respondents



routinely avowed identities, F = 5.972, p = .001 and F = 4.185, p = .008, respectively. Furthermore, the Scheff test showed significance in the external and internal levels of involvement between African American and White respondents (p = .050). Constraint Recognition

RQ3: How, if at all, is cultural identity related to the recognition of constraints? ANOVA indicated that students routinely avowed racioethnicity was not significantly related to either external or internal constraint recognition, F = .928, p = .430 and F = .166, p = .918, respectively, and the Scheff test did not indicate statistical significance for constraint recognition among the different identity groups.
Communication Behaviors

RQ4: How, if at all, is cultural identity related to communication behaviors? ANOVA showed significance in the relation between routinely avowed racioethnicity and the processing of information about racial violence, F = 7.903, p = .0001. In addition, the Scheff test showed significant differences in the processing of racioethnic information between African Americans and White Americans as well as between African Americans and Asian Americans (p = .050). Similarly, ANOVA indicated a significant relation between routinely avowed racioethnicity and the seeking of information on cultural diversity, F = 7.334, p = .0002. The Scheff test indicated that African American and Asian American students both were significantly more likely than White Americans to seek information about cultural diversity (p = .050).
Cultural Identity and Activism

RQ5: How, if at all, is cultural identity related to membership in an active public? The answers to this research question go to the heart of this study. In short, canonical correlation identified two active publics: a youth public and a minority public. Respondents who avowed a minority cultural identity were significantly more likely to be members of the latter, whereas cultural identity had no bearing on whether respondents were members of the youth public. As shown in Tables 1 and 2, factor analysis of the five issues resulted in three factors, the first of which consistently related to racioethnicity and sex; that is, racial discrimination and sexual harassment loaded onto one factor for all the independent variables of the situational theory. For problem recognition, information processing, and information seeking, financial aid also loaded onto the first factor. A second factor was related to alcohol abuse, which loaded onto the same factor

TABLE 1 Factor Loadings of Issues for Communication Predictors External Predicting Issue Problem recognition Alcohol abuse Lack of financial aid Academic dishonesty Racial discrimination Sexual harassment Eigenvalue % of variance explained Level of involvement Alcohol abuse Lack of financial aid Academic dishonesty Racial discrimination Sexual harassment Eigenvalue % of variance explained Constraint recognition Alcohol abuse Lack of financial aid Academic dishonesty Racial discrimination Sexual harassment Eigenvalue % of variance explained F1 F2 F3 F1 Internal F2 F3

.14 .87 .10 .69 .85 2.5 51.3 .17 .73 .10 .78 .85 2.1 42.8 .37 .15 .04 .88 .67 2.1 42.2

.95 .01 .09 .54 .22 .91 18.3 .84 .48 .22 .12 .27 1.3 26.6 .76 .06 .82 .08 .27 .96 19.3

.09 .14 .98 .08 .02 .81 16.3 .31 .08 .95 .19 .02 .59 11.9 .22 .92 .36 .02 .23 .78 15.7

.09 .80 .16 .78 .70 2.2 45.4 .66 .17 .06 .71 .82 1.9 39.9 .59 .26 .12 .89 .66 3.0 60.9

.91 .25 .16 .27 .38 .99 19.9 .43 .03 .96 .02 .05 1.1 22.6 .62 .21 .93 .15 .18 .75 76.1

.15 .16 .96 .03 .21 .71 14.2 .28 .91 .06 .35 .17 .75 15.1 .18 .91 .18 .22 .54 .50 86.2

TABLE 2 Factor Loadings of Issues for Communication Behaviors Information Processing Predicting Issue Alcohol abuse Lack of financial aid Academic dishonesty Racial discrimination Sexual harassment Eigenvalue % of variance explained F1 .05 .81 .11 .78 .65 1.9 40.0 F2 .07 .03 .97 .10 .33 1.0 20.5 F3 .96 .13 .06 .15 .25 .83 16.7 F1 .13 .75 .18 .81 .77 2.3 46.1 Information Seeking F2 .94 .19 .08 .31 .21 .95 19.0 F3 .07 .27 .96 .01 .15 .75 15.2




for all the variables except for internal level of involvement; nevertheless, on that factor, alcohol abuse had a high secondary loading. Academic dishonesty and lack of financial aid tended to load onto either the second or third factors. In short, racial discrimination and sexual harassment, both of which consistently loaded together on the first factor, appeared as the strongest predicting issues. As shown in Table 3, canonical correlation revealed that the factors correlated with two canonical variates that identified two publics. The first variate identified what I called the minority public because problem recognition, level of involvement, and communicative behaviors all correlated strongly with this variate on issues related to racioethnicity and gender. Although the correlations for constraint recognition for these issues were weaker, they still were higher for this variate than for the second. Internal and external problem recognition of alcohol abuse and academic dishonesty correlated with the second variate, as did external level of involvement for these issues. This variate identified what I called the youth public because these isTABLE 3 Canonical Correlation of Communication Predictors and Communication Behaviors Variables Independent Variables Racial discrimination and sexual harassment External problem recognition Internal problem recognition External level of involvement Internal level of involvement External constraint recognition Internal constraint recognition Alcohol abuse and academic dishonesty External problem recognition Internal problem recognition External level of involvement Internal level of involvement External constraint recognition Internal constraint recognition Dependent variables Racial violence and sexual assault Information processing Information seeking Alcohol abuse and academic dishonesty Information processing Information seeking Canonical correlation Note. n = 83. For all variates, p = .000. Minority Variate Youth Variate

.804 .937 .811 .417 .214 .385 .062 .122 .186 .204 .101 .061

.098 .008 .016 .231 .066 .036 .500 .596 .562 .178 .209 .105

.776 .879 .042 .328 .899

.006 .301 .615 .642 .773



sues were likely to concern first-year students and those students under the legal drinking age. Financial aid did not load significantly onto either variate. Overall, ANOVA showed that routinely avowed racioethnic identity was significantly related to membership in the minority public, F = 6.339, p = .0007, but not to membership in the youth public, F = 1.010, p = .392. Furthermore, the Scheff test indicated that African American students were significantly more likely than both Whites and Hispanics to be members of the minority public (p = .050).

DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS The results of this study indicate the importance of cultural identity in the development of organizational publics, at least on issues related to race and ethnicity. As indicated earlier, ANOVA showed that routinely avowed cultural identity or the racioethnic identity one gives in response to the prompt of completing routine paperwork that asks for race and ethnicityis significantly related to problem recognition, level of involvement, passive communication, and active communication. The emergence of a minority public in this study may be explained by the high percentages of minorities (83.4%) and women (68.9%) in the questionnaire sample. Likewise, the emergence of a youth public may be explained by the large percentage of first- and second-year students (74.5%) and of respondents less than 21 years of age (84.5%). Those students under the legal drinking age logically would be concerned about issues related to alcohol, such as alcohol abuse by their peers, many of whom may be drinking illegally. For practical purposes, this methodological limitation suggests that organizations should pay special attention to publics in which those of certain cultural identities constitute large numbers. The findings of this study have implications for the continued development of the situational theory of publics as well as for the segmentation of stakeholders and the management of activist publics.

Developing the Situational Theory Because racioethnic identity was found to predict variables of the situational theory (except for constraint recognition), the data imply that racioethnic identity may precede, and thus influence, the independent variables. In the conceptualization, I discussed research by Cross (1987) referring to racioethnic identity as RGO. Although RGO is not the same as referent criterion, originally a fourth independent variable in the situational theory defined as a solution carried from previous situations to a new situation (J. E. Grunig, 1997, p. 11), the findings of this study seem to indicate that the two variables may be related, at least when



the reference group in question is a racioethnic one and the situations, old and new, involve racioethnicity. According to J. E. Grunig (1997), referent criterion was dropped from the situational theory because studies showed it to have little effect on communicative behavior. He later reconceptualized referent criterion as two separate variables: schema and cross-situational attitude. The findings of this study also could suggest a relation between cultural identity and each of these two concepts. Because culture influences the way a person sees the world, if schema is conceptualized as worldview, an individuals cultural identity logically may affect the manner in which that person views different situations and the problems found in those situations. Likewise, Rotheram and Phinney (1987) asserted that culture, through its definition of social rules, predicts individual behaviors regardless of situation. In other words, if a person identifies with a given culture, he or she may behave according to that cultures rules regardless of the situation at hand. This seems similar to the cross-situational attitude discussed earlier, although Grunigs (1997) concept refers to attitude, rather than to behavior. Thus, the findings of this study imply a connection between cultural identity and referent criterion, schema, or cross-situational attitude. Consequently, this study has a major implication for the situational theory of publics in that it supports the existence of a fourth independent variable that must either precede problem recognition, level of involvement, and constraint recognition, or operate with them to affect communicative behavior. More research is needed to establish a valid and reliable operationalization of cultural identity that would be applicable across cultural groups and communication situations. This study found that cultural identity influenced four of the five variables in the situational theory of publics; the exception was constraint recognition. The lack of statistical significance in this case actually poses tantalizing questions about this particular construct in the theory. Logically, one would assume that cultural identity affects the recognition of constraints; much research has been done in various disciplines suggesting that members of some cultural groups (e.g., Asians) are unwilling to communicate actively about some issues for culture-related reasons (e.g., face-saving measures). Perhaps the lack of significance vis--vis constraint recognition in this study is related to problems in the operationalization of this variable, as other studies have found low Cronbachs alphas for items measuring constraint recognition (cf. Aldoory & Sha, in press). Further development of this aspect of situational theory may yield productive insights into the question of how cultural identity may affect constraint recognition. Segmenting Stakeholders An understanding of culture and cultural identity is important for public relations because they affect the manner in which an individual behaves and com-



municates. In other words, if members of an organizational public identify with a certain cultural group, they may communicate differently from the manner in which the organization communicates. Consequently, public relations practitioners will need intercultural communication competencies. Although an in-depth treatment of intercultural communication competence (cf. Lustig & Koester, 1993; Martin, 1993) is far beyond the scope of this article, it is important to point out that public relations scholarship and practice would have much to gain from research in this area. Intercultural public relations also facilitates the process of stakeholder segmentation because organizations are encouraged to learn the salient cultural identities avowed by the publics, rather than merely ascribing identities to various publics. By acknowledging and incorporating the importance of cultural identity, intercultural public relations improves the ability of organizations to communicate in a culturally sensitiveand hence, more effectivemanner, which was the purpose of segmenting stakeholders into different kinds of publics. Managing Activist Publics Another primary contribution of this work to public relations theory and practice lies in the implication of cultural identity for the formation of activist publics. The real significance of cultural identity for public relations may lie in the capacity [of reference group orientation] to bring about consensus, unity, or a sense of peoplehood among a group of people (Cross, 1987, p. 126). Because activism is in essence a collective struggle, public relations practitioners should not overlook the importance of cultural identity in bringing the collective together. A refined version of the situational theory that included efficient measures of cultural identity would help organizations determine which stakeholder groups are likely to become active publics. With this ability to predict active communication behavior, public relations practitioners could plan communication programs to prevent or hinder the rise of activist publics or to encourage groups likely to become active in support of the organization, particularly in situations dealing with cultural issues. This would be especially useful for multinational corporations in the management of grassroots activist groups because their communication with diverse local stakeholders should already be intercultural in nature.

CONCLUSIONS In this study, differences in routinely avowed racioethnicity predicted significant differences in problem recognition, level of involvement, and levels of passive and active communicative behavior. Racioethnicity was a salient factor for African Americans more than for any other group. Although a larger sample size and



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