What is a Cultural Broker?

"The term “culture broker” or “cultural broker” is not particularly defined in the literature but is defined through common usage as a person who facilitates the border crossing of another person or group of people from one culture to another culture[2]. Jezewski (in Jezewski & Sotnik, 2001) defined culture broking as “the act of bridging, linking or mediating between groups or persons of differing cultural backgrounds for the purpose of reducing conflict or producing change”. Usually the culture broker is from one or other of the cultures but could be from a third group. Often they are capable of acting in both directions. The role covers more than being an interpreter, although this is an important attribute in cross-cultural situations where language is part of the role.

A broker is usually defined as a middleman (sic) and emphasises the commercial aspect such as in stockbroker. In terms of cultural broker, the use of the term broker is most in accord with “middleman, intermediary, or agent generally; an interpreter, messenger, commissioner” from the Oxford English Dictionary and the idea of reward is not necessarily financial (e.g. Szasz, 2001). (The Oxford English Dictionary does not give a specific definition for cultural broker.)

The origin of the term is in the field of anthropology in the mid-1900s, when several anthropologists wrote about native people whose role in their society was as a cultural intermediary or cultural broker, usually with the western society. The term ‘cultural intermediary’ was used in some of the literature, with ‘culture broker’ and ‘cultural broker’ as alternatives. Other terms used include ‘innovator’ and ‘marginal man’ (sic). The genre was given an historical perspective and the field of ethnohistory came into existence. The background to this can be found in the introduction to Margaret Connell Szasz’s Between Indian and White Worlds: The Cultural Broker (Szasz, 2001)."

Above text taken from: "The role of culture brokers in intercultural science education: A research proposal" by Michael Michie, Centre for Research in Science and Technology Education, University of Waikato - Paper presented at the 34th annual conference of the Australasian Science Education Research Association held in Melbourne, 10-12 July 2003.

To read complete paper, click here.

Why Cultural Brokers are Important

By Kimberly Newton de Klootwyk, Instituto Conexiones President

Anytime that a foreigner is coming into a new culture to conduct business, non-profit work or public work, it is imperative that he/she find someone that can be an intermediary and cultural sensitivity educator for him/her.

A good cultural broker will attempt to slowly step away over time, having imparted much knowledge and perspective to the foreigner as possible so that he/she can build good relationships with the new culture on his/her own. However, the cultural broker must always be available to keep track of the progress of the relationship between the two new cultures, as he/she is somewhat responsible for bringing the two parties together and his/her personal reputation with both sides is always on the line. Thus, cultural brokers have a personal and professional stake on making sure the relationship unfolds in a positive, win-win, way.

Thus, conflict resolution and project development skills are integral to the toolkit of a cultural broker. He/she must also have a good understanding of international foreign policy, business, international cooperation dynamics, and social psychology.

However, if a newcomer does not employ the services of a cultural broker at the beginning of his/her venture, he/she may do things that upset the new group he/she is interacting with, often times unwittingly or inadvertedly. This can backfire in many ways and at times has escalated to all out war when involving larger parties, such as foreign corporations and governments.

The cultural broker works to educate and prepare the host culture as much as the foreigner coming in - dispelling social myths and working through any cultural baggage that may keep them at arms distance from each other or at odds.

A cultural broker builds community and trust among people of different backgrounds - helping them better work together and build enterprises and ventures cooperatively - visions that will benefit both groups.

This means that all foreigners coming into a new culture MUST come with good intentions. If he/she is only thinking of how the relationship will benefit himself, then the relationship is doomed from the start. A good cultural broker must learn to recognize this type of exploitative thinking and re-educate the foreigner to understand why it is in his best interest to think more inclusively and the cultural broker must be able to show why social enterprise and cooperativism are a better business and public works models to employ.

The biggest challenge of a cultural broker is being paid for his/her work because although the peace work of a good cultural broker is vital in today's globalizing world, it is not always recognized or added to the budget.