New approaches to intercultural communication

Correct citation:

Vallazza, O. (2011, April). New approaches to intercultural communication. Published at http://tinyurl.com/3f483kd LinkedIn Forum on Competence in Intercultural Professions, available at https://worldconnections.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/new-approaches-to-intercultural-communication/

I hope I am not straying from the main question in this thread by engaging in the conversation with the following comments. It seems to me that some contributors, including myself, feel strongly about the need for new tools for understanding intercultural dynamics. I believe that intercultural trainers may be more restricted than scholars in their scope and choice of theoretical approaches, in that they are called upon to “deliver results.” Such scenario may justify the adoption of a somewhat “rigid” intercultural communication measurement tools that are based on widespread reductionist and essentialist views of cultures. Nevertheless, I believe that much of the classification in use may have been made obsolete by the development of globalism and complex globalization processes, as Bernard Saint-Jacques states in an article of recent publication that he mentioned above. Saint-Jacques, B. (2011). Worldview in Intercultural Communication: A Religio-Cosmological Approach. In L. Samovar, R. Porter, E. McDaniel, (Eds.), Intercultural Communication. A Reader (pp. 45-56). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

I’d like to use his article as a reference for further discussion, for which I have adapted some of the conclusions about a research carried out in 2010. The full text of the paper is available at http://tinyurl.com/24sfh6m

The preceding posts cover a broad range of topics, including issues of identity, intercultural adaptation, theoretical approaches to intercultural communication, new ways of approaching cultural definitions and categorizations, and how that may change the way cultures are presented and studied. Let me get started.

ACCULTURATION AND LEARNING

Bernard writes: “Following several authors, Waldram (2009) argues that the concept of acculturation has outlived whatever usefulness it may have had, and that scholars should focus on the process of enculturation, or culture learning.”

I agree. I believe we need to consider transformative learning approaches as those presented by Mezirow (1991). The language used by Merizow provides a much needed syntax for the needs of current and future Intercultural Communication research and praxis.

I believe that intercultural processes may progress beyond the confinements of mere adaptation to a majority culture and reach “a generative stage in which entirely new forms of culture are creatively produced” (Evanoff, 2001). Mezirow’s (1991) Transformative Learning Theory supports this evolutionary view of multicultural identity formation in that it postulates emancipatory change through individual transformation. His theory confronts and challenges the taken-for-granted norms, leading to a dramatic shift or transformation in the learner’s (intercultural sojourner) way of viewing the world. According to Mezirow, at the core of transformational learning lies individual learners’ ability to construe, validate, and reformulate the meaning of their experience. The emphasis is on ‘perspective transformation’ as a means to promote personal growth and, eventually, the emergence of a new society. In her analysis of transformational learning, Lena Wilhelmson (2002) also concurs that “perspective transformation leads to a revised frame of reference, and a willingness to act on the new perspective”. I believe that such approach would inject new inputs and a fresh perspective into the understanding of intercultural dynamics. Such transformational learning approaches cultural assumptions through cognitive reflection, which would lead “to a dramatic shift or transformation in the learner’s way of viewing the world . . . [by] bringing of one’s assumptions, premises, criteria, and schemata into consciousness and vigorously critiquing them” (Fenwick, 2001). As Bernard Saint-Jacques says in his article, this would be made possible “through questioning, debates, discussions, reflective writing about one single cultural aspect, thus allowing the person to reflect about her or his own perception about one cultural aspect, often linked to other aspects of the culture.”

RELATIONAL VIEW OF IN-FLUX CULTURE AND IDENTITY

My approach to intercultural communication concurs with Bernard’s and with Aneas and Sandin’s (2009), who also reject the idea of culture as a “collection of fortuitous traits,” (Par.57) and emphasize the relational, ever-changing character of culture.

The findings of my research indicate that culture is not the sum of specific traditional traits, but the result of relational dynamics. They also show that the lived experience of intercultural sojourners cannot be easily generalized, which would indicate that a mechanistic taxonomy is insufficient to define multicultural identity development processes. In times characterized by a global Diaspora, there is a need for a new way of contracting one’s own cultural identity beyond essentialist limitations and monocultural allegiances.

As in Bernard’s article (“Identity, particularly in the age of globalization, is never a fixed reality, a pre-given identification; it is a dynamic and evolving reality.”), my study also shows that multicultural identity derives from the idea of the self as an ever-changing concept that varies based on the relational context people are in, and develops out of the exploration of multiple meanings. Intercultural identity is therefore in flux (Aneas & Sandin, 2009; Martin & Nakayama, 1999; Peter Adler, 1977; Kim 1994), and changes depending on and through the nature of intercultural relationships. This is particularly important for those who do not clearly fit the mold of a single culture, but instead see themselves as the product of several cultural influences.

FUTURE OF INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION

With regard to the future of intercultural research, I believe it would be important to break away from unidirectional approaches that focus on an individual’s adaptation to a specific new cultural context but fail to consider relevant transformative processes within the host cultures (Evanoff, 2006). Future research should recognize the complexity of processes of intercultural adaptation by including relationships of “third-culture building” (Casmir, 1999), an approach that considers cultural identity not as the result of “fixed trajectories but in dynamic, interactional, and complex patterns” (Roth, 2003, par. 82).  Such broader dialogical approach could include an investigation of glocal dialogue (Matoba, 2003) as a practical application of intercultural communication. A better understanding of dialogue might in fact help people break out of essentialist cultural mindsets and explore a wider range of possibilities for our global society. In turn, this would also improve opportunities for effective co-operation on many common issues (Evanoff 2001).

My question now is on how we can move closer to a systems-oriented view of intercultural communication and avoid the trap of falling into using established essentialist notions and standardized cultural classification. What are the tools available to us for “making sense” of intercultural dynamics within the complexity of globalization trends? Is Bohm’s idea of Dialogue a viable alternative?

Adler, P. S. (1977). Beyond cultural identity: Reflections upon cultural and multicultural man. In R.W. Brislin (Ed.), Topics in Culture Learning, 2, 23-40 Honolulu, HI: East-West Center. Retrieved on July 7, 2002 at http://www.mediate.com/articles/adler3.cfm.

Aneas, M. A., & Sandín, M. P. (2009). Intercultural and Cross-Cultural Communication Research: Some Reflections about Culture and Qualitative Methods. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10(1), Art. 51, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0901519 Accessed on Dec.10, 2009 at http://www.qualitativeresearch. net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1251.

Casmir, F. L. (1999). Foundations for the study of intercultural communication based on a third-culture building model. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 23(1), 91-116.

Evanoff, R. (2006). Integration in intercultural ethics. International Journal of Intercultural Relations 30, 421–437.

Evanoff, R. (2001). Discussion Paper on intercultural dialogue and education. UNU – United Nations University Accessed on-line on September 2, 2009 at http://www.unu.edu/dialogue/papers/evanoff-s5.pdf.

Fenwick, T. (2001) “Experiential Learning: A Theoretical Critique from Five Perspectives” Information Series No 385, ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career and Vocational Education now located at the Centre for Education & Training for Employment at Ohio State University, retrieved on June 2, 2009 at http://www.uni-koeln.de/hf/konstrukt/didaktik/situierteslernen/ fenwick1.pdf.

Kim, Y.Y. (1994). Beyond Cultural Identity Intercultural. Communication Studies IV:1 1-24. Retrieved on Dec. 2, 2008 at http://www.trinity.edu/org/ics/ ICS%20Issues/04%20ICS%20IV%201/Microsoft%20Word %20-%20p%20%201%20%20Y.%20Y.pdf.

Martin, J., & Nakayama, T. K. (1999). Thinking dialectically about culture and communication. Communication Theory, 9, 1-25.

Matoba, K. (2003). Glocal Dialogue Transformation through Transcultural

Communication. Paper presented at ENGIME Workshop: Communication Across Cultures in Multicultural Cities 7-8 November 2002, The Hague. Retrieved on Dec.28, 2009 at http://www.idm-diversity.org/files/infothek_matoba_glocaldialogue.pdf

Roth, W-M. (2003). Culture and Identity. Review Essay: Ayan Kaya (2001). “Sicher in Kreuzberg” Constructing Diasporas: Turkish Hip-Hop Youth in Berlin / Carl Ratner (2002). Cultural Psychology: Theory and Method [94 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 4(1), Art. 20, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0301204.

Saint-Jacques, B. (2011). Worldview in Intercultural Communication: A Religio-Cosmological Approach. In L. Samovar, R. Porter, E. McDaniel, (Eds.), Intercultural Communication.  A Reader (pp. 45-56). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

Vallazza, O. (2010). Processes of nurturing and maintenance of multicultural identity in the 21st century. A qualitative study of the experience of long-term transcultural sojourners. Master thesis. Linköping University, Sweden (91 pages) Available at Linköping University press: http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-59533

Wilhelmson, L. (2002). On the Theory of Transformative Learning. In Bron, A. & Schemmann, M. Bochum (Eds.), Social science theories in adult education research (180-210) Studies in international adult education, v. 3. Muenster: Lit Verlag.

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