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Provenance of Cultural Colour Meanings

The Green Hat and other narratives from Sino-Finnish business encounters

Mantua-Kommonen Kirsi

In different cultures, colours are sometimes assigned different meanings. Understanding the origins of these cultural colour meanings has become increasingly important with the ongoing advances towards digitalization of business and communication, and the most recent phase of globalization. However, academic research has largely neglected this phenomenon.

The purpose of this dissertation is to increase our understanding of the dynamics of crosscultural meaning-making for colours by examining the provenance of cultural colour meanings. This is achieved by employing empirical studies set in Chinese-Finnish business contexts, taking into account particular perspectives induced by globalization and online media, and their implications on the developments within the intersections of the research domains of business communication, culture, and colour.

Methodologically, this research applies an emic-etic cross-cultural approach, using withinmethod triangulation of qualitative methods to explore the phenomenon. The empirical materials consist of narrative, visual, and observation materials generated within studies conducted in China and in Finland between January 2007 and July 2009. The two countries were chosen due to the shift of interest of many Finland-based MNCs from China-as-a-factory to include China-as-a-market, and ensuing perception of previously unexplored cultural differences in visual conventions, colour meanings in particular.

Engaging in the debate within management and communication studies this research suggests a potential synthesis between the systemic and the process views to Culture. It finds that the significance of some cultural forces is inherited and thus more persistent (systemic view), while that of other cultural forces is more dynamic and transforming in nature (process view). Consequently, by framing Culture as dynamic heritage, this research proposes a conceptualization for Provenance of cultural colour meanings, contributing to the Multimodal theory of colour. Likewise, this research propositions the significance of the expressive function of the mode of colour borrowing from the former art historical and psychoanalytic approaches as well as based on the present empirical studies. Consequently, engaging with the Interactionist theory of communication, this research suggests that Meaning-making for colour can be conceived as an expression of cultural experience whereby the communicators become expressors of their respective cultural background and experience. Finally, this dissertation advances our understanding of meaning-making for colour in a multimodal context by adding the cross-cultural dimension to previous models, and shows that different modes can elaborate, extend, enhance, and contradict each other.


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