On Being “Outside the Box” or Being “Inside”: Intercultural Communication, Relationship-Building and Identity Ascription Failures

  • Claude-Hélène Mayer
  • Lolo Jacques Mayer


In this chapter, the authors present an ethnographic case study which refers to the experience of failure in intercultural communication and relationship-building for members of different cultural and racial groups within a specifically selected public space in South Africa. The authors focus on concepts of erroneous identity ascriptions, intersectionalities and power which respond to the question “Who am I?” in a specific socio-cultural context. The aim of the chapter is to explore ascribed identities and their erroneous potential on a micro-level of intercultural interaction observed in a public municipal swimming pool. The consequences of failure in intercultural communication, relationship-building and ascribed erroneous identity intersectionalities are reflected. The research methodology used is an ethnographic description of observations and narrations of experiences within the specific cultural context, using a qualitative case study approach. Findings show that failed intercultural communication and ascribing identities in intercultural contexts can lead to erroneous assumptions about “the other”, interwoven in conscious and unconscious discourses of race, power and accessibility to resources—which contribute to the failure of employee–client relationship-building in intercultural public spaces. Conclusions are drawn, and the discussion explores how to transform failure and errors in the described context. Recommendations for future research and peaceful intercultural practice in public spaces in multicultural societies are presented.


Mistakes Errors Failure Intersectionalities (Ascribing/ascribed) Identity Power Cultural belonging Intercultural public spaces South Africa 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claude-Hélène Mayer
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lolo Jacques Mayer
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Industrial Psychology and People ManagementUniversity of JohannesburgJohannesburgSouth Africa
  2. 2.Institut für Therapeutische Kommunikation und SprachgebrauchEuropa Universität ViadrinaFrankfurt (Oder)Germany
  3. 3.Courtney College InternationalPretoriaSouth Africa

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