The Souls of B.A.M.E Academics in the UK and the Shocks of Intercultural communication
: An Ethnographic case study

  • Christian Atabong Nchindia

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research sought to understand and theorise how Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (B.A.M.E) academics navigated barriers that stemmed from intercultural communication at a UK university. The research employed an ethnographic case study methodology and data was collected through participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and document analysis. The five B.A.M.E academics who participated in this study originated from Vietnam, Pakistan, India, Nigeria, and Trinidad and Tobago. Each academic was observed on a single taught module over a period of six months. At the end of the observation period, each of the academics was interviewed for a minimum of 1 hour. 32 students purposively chosen from each of the participating lecturer’s classes were interviewed through groups and individual interviews. The relevant documents analysed were Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) document on race and equality terminologies; the University’s code of practice on equal opportunities and diversity; and an open letter from the University’s B.A.M.E ambassadors. Thematic analysis approach was employed to identify and regroup categories for subsequent analysis.

The study integrated four theoretical frameworks to interpret the data: Intercultural Awareness Model; Intercultural Competence Model; Communication Accommodation Theory; and Critical Race Theory. The combination of four theoretical frameworks and the three methods of data collection employed, helped to illuminate, and corroborate the findings.

A key finding of the study revealed that international B.A.M.E academics experienced culture shock due to mismatches in expectations between their home and host academic cultures. These mismatches might have compounded the feelings of alienation that some of them experienced. To overcome these shocks, B.A.M.E academics appeared to have adopted one or more of the coping mechanisms of fight, flight or play white. Furthermore, Intercultural awareness model and Intercultural competence model helped to reveal some inconsistencies in B.A.M.E academics’ intercultural awareness and competence. B.A.M.E academics appeared to demonstrate advanced cultural awareness and a higher level of intercultural competence in some circumstances than in others. This confirmed the view that intercultural awareness and competence are not sequentially attained and can fluctuate in different intercultural encounters. A compelling finding of the study appeared to establish a significant relationship between B.A.M.E academics’ perception of racism and their intercultural competence. The more awareness and competence that the academics appeared to develop about their host academic culture, the lesser they perceived racism around them. A further key finding revealed that accent and pronunciation were salient factors in intercultural communication in that accent could ignite racial tensions. The application of Communication Accommodation Theory highlighted that B.A.M.E academics appeared not to cognitively nor affectively converged their accents due to the asymmetric power imbalance between them and their students. Moreover, these academics seemed to take pride in maintaining their accents as a way of reasserting their identity.

Finally, the research revealed the prevalence of ‘herd mentality’ that drives students from similar background to gravitate towards each other. The clustering of students from similar background was found to be largely motivated by shared commonalities. However, the research argued that ‘herd mentality’ impedes intercultural interaction. Some incidences of both overt and covert forms of racism, especially racial microaggressions were reported, but institutional racism was not strongly evidenced in this study.

The research has made both theoretical, methodological, and practical contributions through an understanding of B.A.M.E academics’ experiences in higher education. The study has also led to the development of an assessment tool called the Sensible Assessment Criteria for Intercultural Competence (SACIC). This tool can be used to formulate both survey questionnaire on a 5-point Likert scale and qualitative interview guide. The tool is designed to gauge the training needs of academics in relation to intercultural communication.
Date of Award27 Sep 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLiz Bennett (Main Supervisor) & Ann Harris (Co-Supervisor)

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