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Cultural Differences in International Relations

How can understanding cultural differences improve global/international relations?

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This solution will help you answer a short or long essay question on the importance of understanding another culture, in the field of international relations. Help is provided to structure a longer paper. For a shorter essay, it is usually better to use less examples, but not sacrifice detail--you want to provide depth, not breadth.

1. It is usually a good idea to briefly define your terms first. If you don't have source materials from your course, here are some definitions of culture with sources:

This web site has a number of definitions you can choose from, all sourced:


For example:
"Culture can be loosely summarized as the complex of values, customs, beliefs and practices which constitute the way of life of a specific group." Terry Eagleton, The Idea of Culture, Malden (MA), Blackwell, 2000, p. 34.

And the Encyclopedia Britannica online has a simple definition of international relations that you can use:

"the study of the relations of states with each other and with international organizations and certain subnational entities (e.g., bureaucracies, political parties, and interest groups)."


2. I can think of three different approaches to this question. Pick the one that seems best suited to your course material. For the first two I wrote sample paragraphs to show how you could talk about them.

a. Different fields:

There are professionals in a variety of fields--politics, economics, geography, business--who need to work within cultures that are foreign to them, or with partners from different cultures. Depending on the nature of the work, any number of miscommunications can crop up because of cultural differences, and while in some cases these might be benign, in other cases they may cause an entire project to fail. For example...

At this point you would ...

Solution Summary

This solution will help you write a short or long essay about the importance of understanding cultural differences in the area of international relations. The solution is just over 1000 words and includes the following:

* A brief reminder of the key elements needed in a paper;
* Sources for defining the key terms;
* Three possible ways to approach the question, with a sample paragraph to demonstrate how to launch a discussion for two of them (the two you would most likely be using);
* Three examples of cultural differences that had negative effects on international relations are provided (two drawn from the Iraq war, and one from Egypt.) Links to the news stories are provided, as well as explanations of the examples provided.