Cultural contracts

Cultural contracts

Cultural contracts refer to the degree that cultural values are exchanged between groups. [1] It extends identity negotiation theory and uncertainty reduction theory by focusing defining the negotiation experience from the perspective of minority groups when dealing with majority cultural norms. Cultural contracts theory was developed in 1999[2] by Dr. Ronald L. Jackson, an identity scholar and a professor in media and cinema studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Cultural contracts first appeared in Communication Quarterly in 1999. The theory is inspired by Ting-Toomey's (1986) identity validation model (IDM) that emerged from a study of European American and African American communication experiences.[3]. Both theories are rooted in the exchanges between strangers as described in Berger and Calabrese's (1975) uncertainty reduction theory.[4]. Cultural contracts focuses specifically on the exchanges between traditionally marginalized groups and majority groups in power in American society from the standpoint of the minority member. The theory is not limited to oral communication. Any value that makes up an individual's worldview, including behavior and other cultural norms, can be negotiated and subjected to a cultural contract.


Cultural Contract Types

Cultural contracts suggests that mainstream and marginalized identities are in natural conflict. In order to achieve communication, individuals must decide how much of their values will be negotiated. This results in one of three contracts by the minority identity: ready-to-sign contracts (assimilating to mainstream values); quasi-completed contracts (adapting marginalized values to accommodate mainstream values); and co-completed contracts (validating both mainstream and marginalized values).[5]. Most individuals are not aware that they create or sign cultural contracts.

Each contract is a “result of how identities have been personally and socially constructed and exposed."[6] The first contract is a ready-to-sign contract,or assimilation, which occurs when individuals replace their culture identity for the dominant culture. This contract can be temporary or long-term and benefits the majority. There is no room for negotiating marginalized identity with mainstream ideals in this contract with no perceived benefit to the marginalized group.Quasi-completed contracts (adaptation) result in temporarily incorporating a small part of an individual's value to the mainstream value, and vice versa. This is usually a short-term contract since neither identity is dominant in this interaction. Lastly, co-completed contracts (mutual validation) result in blending values together. Cultural differences are acknowledged and valued in this contract.[7] In certain instance, values are deeply penetrated and are not up for exchange. Others are more surface and the perceived benefits of the contract do not conflict with our core identity. This will determine if an individual is willing to sign a cultural contract or remain in conflict.[8]The contracts can be signed one or two ways: the signee perceives a benefit in accommodating or assimilating, or the signee is forced to accommodate or assimilate.

Applications. In addition to identity research, cultural contracts theory has been used in higher education scholarship to explore the relationships between White students and African American faculty[9][10][11] The theory has also been used to explore the cultural contracts African American women sign in their beauty and hair choices.[12]


  1. ^ Jackson, R. L. (2002). Cultural contracts theory: Toward an understanding of identity negotiation. Communication Quarterly, 50, 359-67.
  2. ^ Jackson, R. L. (1999). The Negotiation of Cultural Identity. Westport, CT: Praeger Press.
  3. ^ Ting-Toomey, S. (1986). Conflict communication styles in black and white subjective cultures. International and Intercultural Communication Annual, 10, 75-88 here
  4. ^ Berger, C. R., Calabrese, R. J. (1975). Some Exploration in Initial Interaction and Beyond: Toward a Developmental Theory of Communication. Human Communication Research, 1, 99–112
  5. ^ Jackson. R. L. (2004). Cultural contracts theory: Toward a critical rhetorical identity. In New approaches to rhetoric
  6. ^ Jackson, R. L. & Crawley, R. (2003). White Student Confessions about an African American male professor: A Cultural Contracts Theory approach to intimate conversations about race and worldview. Journal of Men's Studies, 12(1), 25-42
  7. ^ Hecht, M. L., Jackson, R. L., & Ribeau, S. A. (2003). African American communication: Exploring ethnic identity and culture, p. 248. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  8. ^ Jackson, R. L. (2002). Cultural contracts are not unique and can either be short-term or long-term. This depends on the level of confidence a person has in her worldview. Although negotiation of cultural differences is expected, mutual validation is not always the goal or intent of human interaction. Cultural contracts theory: Toward an understanding of identity negotiation. Communication Quarterly, 50, 359-67
  9. ^ Jackson, R. L., & Crawley, R. L. (2003). White student confessions about a Black male professor: A cultural contracts theory approach to intimate conversations about race and worldview. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 12, 25-41
  10. ^ Harris, T. M. (2007). Black feminist thought and cultural contracts: Understanding the intersection and negotiation of racial, gendered, and professional identities in the academy. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 110, 55-64.
  11. ^ (2003, April). “Intercultural relationships work best when both sides treat each other as equals.” Science Blog. <>
  12. ^ Robinson-Moore, C. L. , 2008-11-20 "Beauty Perceptions and Identity Negotiations: Examining Black Female Beauty through Cultural Contracts Theory" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the NCA 94th Annual Convention, TBA, San Diego, CA Online <PDF>. 2010-03-11 from

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