COURSE: Fostering Learning in Practice

FORUM: Koala 5

TOPICS: Identity, Chappell, Rhodes, Solomon, Tenant and Yates, Selfwork


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Hi Terri, Edouard

I would like to write some comments to both of your thought-provoking posts.

I’ll begin with what Terri described as a two-level identity, one rooted in deeply entrenched cultural experiences, the other emerging almost “on demand” as required by a specific context.

I am familiar with both types of identity. I see the first one as a version of ascribed identity that we derive from something external. It has been embedded in ourselves through different processed of enculturation, education, up-bringing, and many people are not even aware of that. I personally do not always subscribe to those identity tags, as I believe they are meant to make me conform to a prescribed cultural framework. Chappel recognizes the danger of such lack of awareness when he talks about “how the ‘outside’ gets ‘inside’.” (p.6)

The other, “lighter” level of our identity instead sounds more like a form of avowed identity, one that we claim for ourselves to serve us in our relational interactions in a variety of different contexts. Interculturally I consider this as one very important intercultural competency, i.e. the ability to relate to different cultural contexts. In this regard, here is a quote:

“Intercultural communication competence then is defined as the mutual avowing confirmation of the interactants’ cultural identities where both interactants engage in behavior perceived to be appropriate and effective in advancing both cultural identities.” (Collier, 1989, “International Journal of Intercultural Relations”, 13, 287-302 in Wijseman, R.L. and Koester, J. “Intercultural Communication Competence”, 1993)

Cross-cultural contexts are complex scenarios filled with this kind of identity negotiation processes. Stella Ting-Toomey, a scholar of Intercultural Communication, defines effective identity negotiation as “the smooth coordination between interactants […] that requires an individual to draw on a wide range of cognitive, affective, and behavioral resources to deal with novel, identity-improvisation situations.” (Stella Ting-Toomey, Communicative Resourcefulness – An Identity Negotiation Perspective” in Wijseman, R.L. and Koester, J. “Intercultural Communication Competence”, 1993)

I believe that these definitions go hand on hand with the perspectives on identity presented in this course, and share the same vocabulary.

Edouard, you mentioned the role of ID cards. Those are artifacts that clearly reflect the identity that has been ascribed to us. One may carry a passport that does not really reflect that person’s national identity. The identity embedded in our ID cards is based on the assumption that identity is something that we are born with. To me, the data contained in such documents express a very static view of identity that does not recognize our personal bibliographies. As you said, the ID states “who the person is,” which is a picture of that person frozen in a specific time. ID’s do not reflect people’s rich narratives, but they can be useful resources for as to analyze and put together someone’s history. (think of the documents that allowed us to trace back the Diaspora of African slaves to their original place of birth from where they were taken).

A question you may want to ask is how much you believe such ID’s represent you. Think for example that in the 70’s U.S. President Nixon introduced legislation to classify Americans according to stereotyped ethnic groups – white, black, Asians/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Eskimo, and Hispanic. Today, countless forms require people to check a box that corresponds to one of those ascribed identities. Needless to say that I do not feel represented by any of them. A similar view of a static identity was presented in a movie called Classified People about racial profiling in Apartheid-era South Africa.


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