Identity and Self

Correct citation:

Vallazza, O. (2011, October). Identity and self. Published at http://tinyurl.com/3tfjftp LinkedIn Forum on Competence in Intercultural Professions, available at  https://worldconnections.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/identity-and-self/

Hi everyone!

What a great discussion. Thank you for all your comments. I may be late in posting, but I nevertheless would like to add a few lines. Several posts seem to subscribe to the notion that intercultural experiences are by far and foremost a learning process, which occurs at the interface between meaning creation and experience, and develops within a context that is both personal and social. Von Glaserfeld’s (1989) constructivist perspective provides a valuable tool for the understanding of processes of intercultural learning and – I would add – transformation.

This also means that dynamics of intercultural adaptation become embedded in a larger process of intercultural individuation, where the context is made up of the complexity of the many intercultural frameworks crosscultural sojourners find themselves, and where their experience unfolds. I believe that rather than being an either-or choice between juxtaposed cultural systems and perspectives, the personal entanglement with one’s perceived identity is concurrently the result and the means towards transformation.

The vast and diverse arena in which intercultural interactions occur provides powerful stimuli that undoubtedly leave a mark on an intercultural sojourner’s personality and/or identity. There is of course a wide range of  differences found in the levels to which such experiences may be arranged within the context of each person’s cultural, situational, psychological framework. As Mariana pointed out, the A-B-C, affective, behavioural, cognitive dimensions presented in the works of Y.Y. Kim, Colleen Ward, Stephen Bochner, and Adrian Furnham, and Zaharna’ Self-Shock may provide an analytical understanding of the psycological aspects of the experience of intercultural sojourners. In my opinion, however, we also need to consider other aspects that do not necessarily fall into the realm of psychology. Such richness of intercultural relational factors has clearly emerged in this discussion. I am skeptical though, as to whether they can be arranged as a vademecum to be used as a desk reference for everybody coming to grips with the complexity of cross-cultural sojourning.

As pointed out in this discussion, nothing really remains the same, which means that – in a sense – there is no “going back” to a space and time that has meanwhile evolved to a different level of reality. I struggle with these ideas myself, as I am pondering my transcontinental relocation “back” to Europe. It’d be easy to believe that I could just drop my current persona and easily slip back into long-outgrown old clothes. Although the linear simplicity of such possibility makes it appealing, the complexity and ramifications of intercultural exposure make it sound rather naif, all the more so when I reflect on the factual changes in my A-B-C sphere. I would conclude that the powerful effects of our intercultural experience do not simply bring about changes that can be turned on and off at will, but also result in actual transformation, when single components can no longer be understood and lived separately from the complexity of our lives. As suggested by Y.Y. Kim (1994), the notion of permanence – once an Italian, always an Italian – is untenable. In the following excerpt, she emphasizes the evolutionary, in-flux aspect of intercultural identities:

“The evolutionary conception of identity presented in this essay, then, projects a personhood that is profoundly humanistic. It points to a sensible existence in the face of a multitude of divergent cultural identities. Both individuated and universalized, intercultural identity allows for ever-widening circles of self-other definition without diminishing one’s cultural root. The concept of intercultural identity further discourages the obsessive adherence to the rigid categorization of people, exclusive loyalty based on past group affiliations.” (p. 17)

Albeit rooted in a Western approach to individuation, Boulding (p. 206) is confident that “each of us can discover the shape of our own identity along the way, rather than insisting on the one already defined by birth and the scripts prepared by others.” (p.17) Washed over, sometimes overwhelmed by so many cultural stimuli, I believe that intercultural sojourners need to develop a critical awareness of the complex personal and cultural dynamics in their lives. This is of course a life-long learning process that requires all the well-known ingredients of intercultural competence, including tolerance for ambiguity and openness towards personal change and – possibly – transformation.

LITERATURE

Boulding, K. (1985). The World as a Total System. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Glasersfeld, E. von (1989). Cognition, construction of knowledge, and teaching.

Synthese 80(1):121–140. Available at http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/EvG/papers/118.pdf.

Kim, Y.Y. (1994). Beyond Cultural Identity Intercultural Communication Studies IV:1 1-24. Available at http://tinyurl.com/64pxrs

Addendum to the post:

Here is an interesting article on new approaches to understanding intercultural identity available on-line at:

http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/sussman/publications/Sussman_Identity_Model_2000.pdf

I also believe that change happens, In many cases, true transformation occurs, one that may not be understood by simply juxtaposing cultural perspectives. It is a transformation that transcends essentialist views and embraces a new dimension. Third-culture unfolds at the interface of our intercultural experiences and dilemmas, not unlike what TCK’s go through in their continue search for identity and understanding.

I have always been inspired by the following quote by T.S. Elliot:

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time…..

To me, it epitomizes the realization that the world is constantly evolving, so that upon”coming home” after many years we may see old familiar places under a new light, and experience them as the locus of a new chapter of our earthly adventure.

In Italian, the same quote reaches an even more epic climax:

Non cesseremo mai di cercare
E quando avremo concluso il nostro viaggio
Arriveremo dove siamo partiti
Vedremo i luoghi per la prima volta.

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