Understanding Co - cultural Communication Theory and How it May Apply to You.

Updated: Mar 8

"A co-cultural theoretical approach provides a lens to understand how traditionally underrepresented group members communicate within societal structures governed by cultural groups that have, over time, achieved dominant group status" (Oxford Bibliographies, 2021).


Co-cultural theory (CCT) was developed and created by Mark Orbe in 1996. The idea and thought behind the creation of the theory was to better understand individuals’ experiences who were apart of oppressed or marginalized groups.

According to Orbe (2017), “co-cultural communication refers to interactions between underrepresented and dominant group members, as well as interactions within co-cultural groups.” (Orbe, 2017). During the 90’s the theory evolved, and some may say it was updated to include scholarship which investigates the intersections of culture, power, and communication. At its core, CCT aims to explain how individuals navigate and negotiate their marginalized or co-cultured identities, in leu of trying to work/succeed within societal constraints which do not always honor or uphold other aspects of their identity. It is also worth noting that in many ways, CCT was not the first theory of its kind. Scholars also reference or think of communication accommodation theory (CAT). This theory was used to study cultural groups within national and international communities which may have also struggled with assimilation norms like dominate group expectations.

The fundamental assumptions of the theory stem from two previously created theories which include muted group theory (MGT) and feminist standpoint theory (FST). The most important aspect to note about these theories (which include CCT) is that each of the theories and its theoretical frameworks build and put emphasis on one’s societal positioning. Two of the explicitly stated and fundamental assumptions about the theory that I found most interesting include:

1. “Co-cultural group members reflect a widely diverse array of communicative

lived experiences based on individual and cultural factors. Simultaneously, they

also share a similar societal position that situates them as marginalized and

underrepresented within dominant societal structures” (Orbe, 2017).

2. “In order to negotiate dominant communication systems and achieve any measure of “success,” co-cultural group members strategically enact certain communication practices when functioning within the confines of public communication structures” (Orbe, 2017).

One of the strengths of the theory is that it does account for the reality that those who identify as existing in a co-culture, also believe their identity is complex and believe they have multiple identities which they draw on depending on the context of the situation they are in during a specific moment in time.

A weakness that was evident in this week’s reading included the example given in the Orbe (2017) article about the European woman and the Black man engaging with one another. Because the theory does not do a great job of helping distinguish who should be considered a part of a co-culture, when both individuals are indeed a part of a/the co-culture, this should be considered as a weakness. Also, a paper which addressed the struggle of Black people in higher education administration roles Razzante (2018), was particularly salient because it is the area in which me as well as other scholars, spend, and dedicate so much of their time to each and every day. I also thought this article was very informative and encouraged deeper thought because it is my hunch that when asked, majority of those who are Black or come from a "marginalized" group and work in academia, have expressed having or attempting to go through one of the various ways in which co-culture assimilate.

If I were to use this theory (CCT), I would definitely want to use it potentially in a content analysis of the NFL, looking at the way in which players engage with various communities via social media. I’ve always been interested in the power dynamics which exist between players who make millions while also carrying a subordinate employee status/identity, especially being that each team has an owner, GM, manager, and head coach. It is important to note these superiors or leadership figures usually exist within the dominate culture (which is what Brian Flores detailed in his recent lawsuit against the NFL) and are usually from what CCT and other related theories view as part of the dominant social group. I would be interested to see how Black players negotiate their identity as Black men in a Caucasian male dominated space/roles where there are more Caucasian men than Black or racially diverse men in superior positions. I would also be interested in seeing what CCT domain they draw on or rely on most even though the list in the Orbe 2017 article did not encompass all the likely domain possibilities).

Useful References

Orbe, M. P. (2017). Co-cultural theory. In Y. Y. Kim & K. L. Mckay-Semmler (Eds.), The international encyclopedia of intercultural communication (pp. 1-14). New York: Wiley.

Razzante, R. J. (2018). Intersectional agencies: Navigating predominantly White institutions as an administrator of color. Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, 11(4), 339-357. https://doi.org/10.1080/17513057.2018.1501082

Zirulnik, M. L., & Orbe, M. (2019). Black female pilot communicative experiences: Applications and extensions of co-cultural theory. Howard Journal of Communications, 30(1), 76-91. doi:10.1080/10646175.2018.1439422

Co-Cultural Theory and Communication - Communication - Oxford Bibliographies

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