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‘Intercultural Services: a worldwide buyers guide and sourcebook’ by Gary Wederspahn

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Title: Intercultural Services: A Worldwide Buyer’s Guide and Sourcebook
Author: Gary M. Wederspahn
Publisher: Gulf Publishing Co., Houston, Texas, USA
Date of Publication: June 2000
Length: 364 pages in 6” x 9” hardcover
ISBN: 0-87719-344-4
Price: US$37.95


Not all book reviews need to begin with information about the reviewer, but this one probably should. I have known author Gary Wederspahn for years, though more by reputation than personally. (His reputation is excellent.) Like him, I am a 25-year-plus member of the intercultural profession. I have been a researcher, a theorist, and an author in this field, and from 1990 to the present I have been an owner and partner of a New York-based consultancy that provides intercultural services.

Wederspahn did not intend Intercultural Services for intercultural insiders like me, though many of us will buy it. Rather, he explicitly intended it for businesspeople who know little or nothing about intercultural services and wish to know more or actually may be thinking about purchasing intercultural products or services.

So Wederspahn set himself the task of getting into one 364-page book everything a neophyte who may become a buyer needs to know about the intercultural profession: its key concepts, their application to global business, the nature of intercultural products and services, guidelines for identifying and working with intercultural service providers, and finally, “The Case for Intercultural Services.”

My task, first and foremost, is to put myself into the frame of mind of that neophyte-who-may-become-a-buyer and ask whether Wederspahn’s book would be useful to me. My answer? A resounding “Yes!” From a neophyte’s point of view, Intercultural Services is well organized, understandably written, admirably comprehensive, full of suggested questions for analyzing your firm’s needs, and altogether of immediate practical use to anyone contemplating the purchase of intercultural products or services.

One reason this book is so useful is that it contains numerous resource lists, most notably a list of intercultural service providers throughout the world, complete with each one’s postal address, phone and fax numbers, and e-mail address. This list alone is 24 pages long. If there is a problem with this list, it’s that it offers no judgements about the relative excellence of these providers, and thus overwhelms. What Wederspahn does offer, however, are guidelines on how a neophyte can determine any provider’s worth.

In short, the people for whom Wederspahn intended this book should buy it. It is worth its price as well as the time required to read it. And, by the way, it has no competition.

My other task is to evaluate Wederspahn’s Intercultural Services as the insider that I really am. The outcome is that I’m still positive about it. . .but not quite so positive.

Some background: I have been professionally involved for 11 years in trying to market and sell intercultural services to businesspeople. What I’ve come to accept is that most potential buyers of these services have neither an understanding of intercultural concepts nor any basis on which to readily build such an understanding (because most people did not study intercultural relations, anthropology, or closely related topics at university). So it is extraordinarily difficult to persuade anyone merely by talking, or by presenting data, that intercultural services would be a worthwhile addition to his or her firm’s arsenal in preparation for and support of globalization.

Yet the intercultural profession is growing, steadily if slowly. Why is this? Because businesspeople become convinced through their own experience or observation that what interculturalists have to offer is worthwhile. I believe that most businesspeople who become buyers of intercultural services do so because they personally had a bad experience with culturally different counterparts, or because they know someone who speaks eloquently of their own bad experience, or because they see other firms opting for intercultural services and decide they had better do likewise.

Wederspahn’s book is predicated on the belief that businesspeople can be persuaded by talk. He told me personally about two years ago that one of his goals was to write the definitive apologia for intercultural services. The result of his effort is the final chapter, “The Case for Intercultural Services.” It’s a valiant attempt. But I don’t think he’s achieved his goal. It’s not his fault. You see, I don’t think the goal is achievable.

A related problem lies in the “suggested questions for analyzing your firm’s needs” that I spoke of earlier. Here’s one of them (page 153): “Are there any intercultural needs that affect your entire company or organization? If so, what are they?” Now how is anyone with little or no understanding of intercultural concepts supposed to answer that? Most cannot, even after reading Wederspahn’s introductory chapters, which are necessarily brief overviews. My concern is that readers will come up with answers that are they think are reasonably well informed when, in fact, they are not.

As an insider, then, my most basic concern about this book is that it assumes a higher degree of cultural understanding, or readiness for cultural understanding, on the part of its intended readers than most of those readers actually possess.

I as insider have other concerns, too. Here are my six big concerns:

  1. There is insufficient attention to quality determinants of expatriate training. For example, Wederspahn does not emphasize the superiority of post-arrival training.
  2. No mention is made of intercultural services available for international mergers & acquisitions, such as cultural integration and cultural due diligence.
  3. The explanation of one of our field’s key concepts, high- and low-context communication, is incomplete and may be misleading or insufficiently clear.
  4. The discussion of culture shock relies only on psychology and excludes physiology. Yet Wederspahn himself wrote knowledgeably about the physiological aspects of culture shock 19 years ago in the now-defunct intercultural magazine The Bridge (vol. 6, no. 4, Winter 1981).
  5. In the list of service providers, under “Multiple Location Organizations,” one or more firms are listed that should have been in a lesser category, leading me to believe that Wederspahn simply took at face value whatever he was told by one or more firms’ representatives (each of whom wanted to make their firm seem larger than it really is).
  6. The long lists of printed resources are useful but have surprising omissions; for example, I know of a mid-1980s article that won two awards for excellence and has been included in at least two subsequent anthologies, yet was overlooked. So I suspect that other significant contributions to the field have been overlooked as well.

These are, perhaps, more than mere quibbles, but the fact remains that Intercultural Services: A Worldwide Buyer’s Guide and Sourcebook is likely to prove as useful to intercultural insiders such as myself as it is to neophyte businesspeople.


Dr. Cornelius Grove, partner
Cornelius Grove & Associates, LLC
Email: [email protected]

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