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Iceberg analogy of culture

Culture is much more deeply-rooted and interconnected with our sense of identity and self- understanding than people imagine. Thinking about what we can see and understand of a culture not our own is somewhat similar to the way we perceive an iceberg. Indeed, the same thing may be true even of what we understand to be our own culture. We may not even be aware how our specific culture dominates our value system and shapes our view of life, our interpersonal relationshps and so on.

Think of the iceberg. Though logic tells us we are only seeing a very small portion of an icerberg above water, it's still hard to imagine that we are seeing such a small part of it. Indeed, almost 92% of an iceberg lies below the surfance of the water. The first known use of an iceberg as an analogy to explain the concept of culture was by Edward T. Hall in 1976.

Drawing of a large iceberg showing how much of it is below the
waterline

Other analogies or metaphors for culture have included an onion, a pot of flower plants and even a fish swimming in water

Iceberg image modified from Gary R. Weaver, "Understanding and Coping with Cross-cultural Adjustment Stress" in Gary R. Weaver, editor, Culture, Communication and Conflict: Readings in Intercultural Relations, second edition (Simon & Schuster Publishing)

     -- Howard Culbertson


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