Interculturality serving multiple interactional goals in African American and Korean service encounters

Hye-Kyung Ryoo


This paper analyzes service encounters between African American customers and Korean immigrant shopkeepers. It is based on ethnographic data of tape-recorded interactions, interviews, and observations made at a Korean immigrant-owned store. The study focuses on analyzing the ways in which the participants constructed various social as well as cultural identities within the situational frames evoked. A close analysis of the talk reveals that the participants’ differing cultural backgrounds was not the most dominant interactional factor governing participants’ talk in their routinized service encounters. Instead, the majority of service encounters revolved around the various types of situated identities of participants (e.g. shopkeepers and customers) rather than their cultural/ethnic identities as African American or Korean. Based on the view of interculturality as a locally managed and situationally bound entity, this study describes the intricate ways in which the participants’ cultural (ethnic) identities were made relevant or irrelevant in the course of their interactions. Furthermore, this paper demonstrates the ways that the participants came to achieve practical ends in their interactions. It specifically shows how interculturality was not a debilitating factor that hindered the communication between the participants, but rather, that it played a positive role in helping participants to achieve multiple interactional goals.

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