Defining cultural competence in context: Dyadic norms of friendship among u.s. high school students

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9 Scopus citations


Cultural competence is often defined as the ability to adhere to a core set of beliefs and practices. In this article, I argue that in many cases competence also involves the creative and occasionally idiosyncratic use of conventional knowledge to meet both personal goals and the specific requirements of local relationships and settings. I illustrate this tension between adopting broadly shared cultural norms and adapting them to local circumstances by examining how U.S. high school students prioritize their expectations of "good friends." Drawing from cultural consensus approaches in cognitive anthropology, I analyze patterns of agreement among students to show that despite some population-wide sharing, friends share more similar priorities than do nonfriends, and individuals also maintain stable differences in their personal priorities. These patterns of agreement and disagreement support the view that individuals strike a balance between fitting their personal models of friendship to broad cultural norms and accommodating the goals and needs of particular partners. More generally, I argue that competence in a cultural domain (in this case appropriate friendship behaviors) must be examined in relation to the specific contexts of use and the scale of social interaction for that domain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)205-224
Number of pages20
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescence
  • Competence
  • Cultural consensus
  • Friendship
  • Quadratic assignment procedure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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