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Emma Williams

Former Research Student

Emma Williams

Research overview

My research interests are in exploring how we can better understand international negotiation through the prism of cultural grounding. My thesis focuses on diplomatic negotiations between China and America and analyses how the cultural grounding of Chinese and American diplomats may impact the negotiation process.

I am also interested in how differing cultures in emerging powers may change the international systems on the world stage, in particular, whether China may question the status quo of American led institutions.

Current Teaching

I currently work as a distance-learning discussant for the MA Diplomacy and International Relations, MA International Relations and International Law and the LLB International Relations and International Law.

I also facilitate workshops for Lancaster University Careers Service on “Focus on Cultural Awareness”.

In my second year of the PhD I hope to undertake further teaching as a seminar leader for the stage one students on the BA Politics and International Relations.

Thesis Title

Working Title: The Impacts of Cultural Grounding on American and Chinese Negotiations: Towards An Analytical Framework.

Thesis Outline

       Cultural implications on the negotiation process have been somewhat ignored both academically and practically within negotiation studies. In the wake of the ‘Asian Century’ there is a predicted shift in cultural norms globally and within international politics. China’s ‘peaceful development’ has led the United States (U.S.) to consider the importance of developing working relationships with, and their leverages over, China. For the U.S. and China to develop successful mutually understanding relations, an awareness and understanding of cultural implications within diplomacy is increasingly important.

     Negotiation is one of the most important processes within diplomacy. Research has shown that negotiation is affected by the cultural differences of the negotiators involved. Therefore, this thesis develops an analytical framework to explore the links between culture, cognition and negotiation. To develop an analytical tool for understanding the negotiation process and outcomes, three cultural dimensions will be explored: individualism versus collectivism, egalitarian versus hierarchical and long- versus short-term orientation.

     Discourse and cross-cultural studies from anthropology, psychology and international relations will be used to create the first part of the analytical framework in the form of cultural grounding country profiles using the three cultural dimensions. The second part of the framework considers the affect of the cultural dimensions on negotiation to create possible negotiation summaries of the U.S. and China respectively. Finally the analytical framework will be used to analyse whether cultural grounding has impacted three case studies on Sino-U.S. negotiation: the 1999 Chinese Embassy bombing in Belgrade, the 2001 EP-3/J-8 collision and the 2013 discussions on Cyber Theft.

Central Arguments

     The central argument is based on the concept of cultural grounding. Cultural grounding was coined in the discipline of anthropology and has been developed since in psychology and sociology. Several theories feed into the notion of cultural grounding, including: Franz Boas’ (1987) Cultural Relativism, Pierre Bordieu’s (1987) Habitus; Lave and Wegner’s (1991) Situated Learning/Communities of Practice; Vygotsky’s (1971) and Luria’s (1976) Situated Cognition/Cognitivism; and Hofstede’s (1980) Theory of Cultural Dimensions.

     Cultural grounding refers to the effects of a society's culture (habitus) on the values, norms and ideologies of its members, and how these values, norms and ideologies relate to cognition and thus behaviour. This thesis aims to demonstrate that delegates partaking in diplomatic negotiation are culturally grounded, via situated learning and situated cognition to a specific cultural programming of the mind, which directly impacts the way in which people understand and perceive negotiations. No tool has yet been developed to introduce the concept of cultural grounding to negotiation studies, hence this thesis aims to develop an analytical framework for assessing the impacts of cultural grounding on negotiation and thus argues that how delegates approach negotiation will differ based on their cultural grounding.

Major Conclusions

     The theoretical findings from the pilot study for this thesis suggested differences in cultural grounding could confound the outcomes of negotiation: especially when ignored or misunderstood. Moreover, the findings highlighted how the adoption and facilitation of a culturally respectful approach helped negotiations to advance. Therefore, the main conclusions to be drawn will be how the concept of cultural grounding is useful for understanding diplomatic relations, especially during negotiations and that for more successful negotiations in future that State officials and delegates should try to be aware of and understand potential cultural differences.


BSc Biological Anthropology (1st class Honours) from the University of Kent - 2012

MA Diplomacy and Foreign Policy (Distinction) from the University of Lancaster - 2013

Current Research

China and the Sea.

Sea Power with Chinese Characteristics – Myth or Reality?

Working within a group of six researchers, we are looking to explore how the cultural-historical approach (with a specific focus on the humiliation-rejuvenation and responsibility narratives) can help us to further understand China's emerging Sea Power. The paper will discuss what expectations we may be able to form regarding the development of China's Naval maritime culture and what type of Sea Power China is likely to become by analysing contemporary examples of China's Maritime activities.

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