Many studies of intercultural communication are predominantly concerned with providing a ‘cultural account’ for mis-or nonunderstanding in interactions involving people of different ethno-linguistic backgrounds. They typically start with cultural differences, take cultural memberships (for example, Chinese versus American) as something given and attribute mis-or nonunderstanding in intercultural communication to cultural differences in values and beliefs. While these studies provide a valuable source of information and draw attention to both salient and subtle differences between different cultural groups, they carry the risk of stereotyping and overgeneralisation. Questions have been asked about the issue of cultural regularity over variability (Kesckes, 2012; Spencer-Oatey & Franklin, 2009; Scollon, Scollon & Jones, 2012), and the diffi culties in explaining communicative behaviours that seemingly contradict the dominant values associated with a particular culture (termed as ‘cultural paradox’ by Osland & Bird, 2000). Some scholars (e.g. Scollon, et al., 2012; Sarangi, 1994) are also concerned with the problem of circularity and reifi cation. Scollon et al. (2012: 4) once asked,
How does a researcher isolate a situation to study as “intercultural communication” in the first place? If you start by picking a conversation between an “American” and a “Chinese”, you have started by presupposing that “Americans” and “Chinese” will be different from each other, that this difference will be significant, and that this difference is the most important and defining aspect of that social situation.