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The opinions and beliefs expressed in this essay are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the DoD.
I would like to thank Dr. Louise Rasmussen and Dr. Allison Greene-Sands for their review and comments.
One of the primary components of culture learning in the Department of Defense (DoD has been identified as cross-cultural competence 3C). 3C is the ability "...to adapt effectively in cross-cultural environments," which includes the ability to express or interpret ideas/concepts across cultures, and make sense of foreign culture behavior.1 The concept and application of 3C was embraced by DoD expeditionary organizations and became part of the Services' training programs. Professional military education programs are initiating a sequenced approach to developing 3C over the educational lifecycles of military personnel.2 3C has also been promoted as critical to DoD civilians who deploy in support of military operations, but who as yet do not have an institutionalized educational/training program integrating 3C.
3C is an anchor for initiating and sustaining cross-cultural relationships and promoting enduring partnerships from the individual to organizations benefiting a wide array of DoD populations such as General Purpose Forces, Special Operations Forces, Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and more. Through research, education and training programs and development of policy, defining the foundational competencies of 3C has become an important part of a larger solution for developing cultural capabilities in our deploying forces whose destinations today, and in the future, are unpredictable. A set of baseline competencies forms the foundation of 3C to be engaged through cognitive understanding of their utility and application of these competencies through continual modeling and experience. (3) Competencies making up this baseline are acquiring and applying cultural knowledge, cultural self-awareness, alternative perspective taking, and learning to observe.
Ethnography and Cultural Relativism
Here, I argue that ethnography, the anthropological (and other social sciences) research method, as a process, offers a model for the establishment of a 3C baseline as an important component for successful cross-cultural interactions inherent in Irregular Warfare (IW) Counterinsurgency (COIN), Building Partnership (BP) and those missions that support each, such as the Security Force Assistance (SFA). Ethnography, literally a description of a people, involves long term in-depth fieldwork among a population and features a variety of sociocultural research methods.4 Recently, many in anthropology and the social sciences have engaged ethnography as giving "voice" to those marginalized by global economic and political forces and in lands caught up in insurgency and terrorism. Ethnography has also been engaged as a tool to help rapidly assess environmental and human-made crises through data collection utilizing observation of cultural behavior, interviews, identification and use of appropriate data gathering technologies.
It is these elements of ethnography: experientially-based data collection, the ability to decipher "voice" in a culturally-complex environment, and the contemporary use of rapid assessment capability that have similar utility to military and civilian populations engaged in the array of missions consistent with stability operations. Social science research methods, many of which are part of ethnography, have been incorporated in the DoD Human Terrain System program, as social scientists utilize qualitative field methods to elicit relevant sociocultural information to aid on-the-ground leaders in their tactical and operational decision making.
Here, ethnography will be viewed through its historical and contemporary expression of cultural relativism, to objectively understand others' behavior in terms of their own cultural framework. Comparisons will be drawn between baseline competencies in what is proposed as 3C and those sociocultural behaviors employed in ethnography. The interpersonal competencies that are critical for the development of 3C are equally important in establishing and sustaining those interpersonal relationships that form the social network that provides data to ethnographers. I propose that an operationally focused methodological cultural relativism (MCR) provides necessary skills that lay the framework for successful cross-cultural interactions in stability operations and promotes the ability to discern meaning from socially distinct behavior. (5)
It may be that in developing baseline competencies in a coordinated fashion, MCR will develop as a consequence. However, as will be discussed later, stability operations, to include pressures and risk inherent in conflict and peace-keeping missions depart from ethnography conducted outside the scope of military activity. I suggest that introducing a 3C baseline (as it is both a foundation for 3C and ethnography) will be useful to military and civilian personnel who deploy downrange in stability operations. I take a brief look at how MCR can be developed in education and training programs and how the development of MCR and 3C can continue in an uncertain future of budgetary restrictions and a loss of a sustained need of "immediate" support to recent (Iraq) and current military operations (Afghanistan).
3C and the Baseline
In 2007, the concept of 3C was introduced into DoD research, education and training as a capability that facilitated successful cross-cultural interactions in a variety of unfamiliar and often times complicated social situations and settings.6 Over the last three years several researchers have investigated the concept and application of 3C to the military and DoD mission. These efforts …