New approaches to intercultural communication 2

Correct citation:

Vallazza, O. (2012, December). New approaches to intercultural communication_2. Published at LinkedIn Forum on Alternative Perspectives in Intercultural Communication, available at

This thread is like a Pandora box full of possibilities. It continues the discussion posted at

Allow me to add a few comments about new approaches to Intercultural understanding, i.e. to the understanding of intercultural situations. This is something that I feel strongly about, and that’s also why I became a member of this group.

When we consider culture as a process in-flux, then essentialist definitions would seem too easy. If cultures develop like open systems, then their level of complexity increases, and at that point it’d be a poor choice to adopt linear, Cartesian tools to understand such complexity. We are now already using a new language, but we also need other tool.

I’d like to go back to the examples of Alsace and South Tyrol in my previous post and to your comments on the book American Nations by Colin Woodard. The discourse behind nation building intentionally avoids recognizing the existence of the cultures that existed prior to the creation of a national state. Consequently, I can safely say that nation states are funded on created myths, and sustained by the belief that those very myths represent the quintessential character of a nation. The word quintessential is an amplified form of the word essential, which – for the sake of our discussion – sounds a lot like essentialist. In other words, discourses behind nation building are politically motivated, to the exclusion of other, previously existing ones. Nation states are per se antithetical to multiple cultural identities, although there have been a few examples in history where the state was not in conflict with multiple, concurrent, transversal, overlapping language and ethnic cultural expressions. The Habsburg Empire was one such entity. It was declared unsustainable and dead way before its actual and factual demise, simply because it was at odds with the very premises of nation states. Something similar is happening today with regard to the European Union, which is presented in many circles as not-credible and utopian. This is a linear view of culture(s), one that lacks both depth and breadth, and only accepts one mono-dimensional cultural slant, eliminating or deliberately disregarding other possibilities. Such exclusiveness has been very often enforced through violent approaches aimed at the forced acculturation of entire populations, with ethnic cleansing being just one of the most obvious and brutal aspects of such endeavors. Discourses of nation building first remove other “competing” cultures (through a more or less violent process of cultural simplification and mystification), also by presenting other cultural perspective as threats and unworthy; then they reinforce the validity of the very mono-culture that they have imposed. To do that, the same linear view of culture that had been used to selectively install the prominent culture is used to establish strict guidelines within that same culture. That is when essentialist definitions are created, cherished, celebrated, and followed.

An example of such approach is the naturalization test administered to new US citizens ( To me, the test represents a quintessentially US-American example of acculturation, as it doesn’t offer an alternative to pre-defined definitions. That is of course understandable, if we consider the test as the product of the very nation building discourses on which the country is based. Going back to the supranational Austro-Hungarian Empire, it should not come as a surprise that its demise was sanctioned with U.S. President Wilson’s blessing. The question may be asked whether the mere existence of that type of state, if left on the map, would have represented a danger (or alternative) to the idea of nation on which the (US) Union was based as described in Woodard’s book on American Nations.

In our search for new intercultural communication frontiers, we are now faced with new possibilities offered by a non-essentialist approach to cultural understanding. That may entail two kinds of discovery: first, the non-conflicting and non-conflictual presence of multiple cultural views in the same geographic area; second, the non-essentialist character of each of these cultures. Let me briefly examine both.

I believe that a change of perspective would ignite a process of transformation. Whether the outcome of that is a desirable or a contested one remains to be seen. In the assumption that a desired outcome emerges from such transformation, the co-existence of multiple cultural views in a certain region (I avoid the use of the term “state” on purpose) may bring about more intercultural cooperation and even promote a process of third-culture building as suggested by Casmir, Evanoff and others. (see literature at the bottom). At the same time, the switch to a non-essentialist representation of each culture may heal issues of intra-cultural exclusion, power and access within each of the cultures present in the region. That will also require a new set of tools for dealing with cultural differences and nuances, tools that won’t be based on established definitions of culture, but rather on the understanding of the dynamics that govern the systemic interactions occurring within a web of multiple cultures and experiences stemming from their relevant historical, geographical, philosophical, religious, and environmental contexts.

My preceding comments touch on both personal and “professional” levels of inquiry.

Let’s start with the first one. You mentioned your family ties to the Habsburg Empire, and your desire to find tools that will allow you and others to elaborate and expand on “the streams of discourse that we carry with us.” I believe that is an interest that you share with a lot of people who are trying to achieve a more holistic form of ascribed identity. Let me say now that I also trace my roots to the Austro-Hungarian world. My grandfather was a career officer in the k.u.k. army, his personal path not unlike that of many of his contemporaries, who came from very diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. In my grandpa’s case, according to his military records, he spoke fluently German, Italian, Ladin and knew enough Hungarian to be posted in Budapest. When I was a kid little I knew of all this, as – after the end of WW I – his experience was banned even from family memories – no questions asked. It wasn’t until a later time that I became interested in my own family’s heritage, but by then it was too late to ask the protagonists, as by then they had already died. Apparently, the discourse that had sustained the first part of my grandpa’s life was quickly dismissed, demonized and removed from public view, with total disregard for all those people who shared that particular Weltanschauung. This refers to what I mentioned in my last post, i.e. that the discourse behind nation building intentionally avoids recognizing the existence of the cultures that existed prior to the creation of a national state. That kind of active plagiarism not only affected Austria-Hungary as an entity, but also the lives of millions who found themselves robbed of their personal histories. Now, having mentioned this, I would say that when it comes to tools, I’d definitely include personal engagement in the understanding of one’s own history. That is very important. Without framing culture within its proper historic context, it’d be very difficult to understand all the nuances of one’s heritage, and how that same heritage interfaces with personal experience and relevant discourses. I am talking here about the emergence of an individual narrative that is not separate from cultural archetypes and discourses. To achieve such level of consciousness, a good amount of genuine and inquisitive research must be carried out. A set of simple “tools” (as simple as paper and pen), and serendipity would probably help.

And here I come to the second level of inquiry – the professional level – that we need to consider in order to elaborate and enact new ways of understanding culture(s). Compared to the kind of personal inquiry I described above, this is a very different scenario. I said in my other post, that a linear approach would not serve well. Once we accept the idea that cultures are open system, always in flux and extremely non-essentialist, with an ever-increasing level of complexity, then we must find ways to move into a new era of intercultural inquiry. I don’t have the expertise to make scientifically sound suggestions, but I feel that system thinking would provide a plausible, viable alternative to the linear definitions and understanding of cultures that have been used so far. Of course, one thing is to build one’s own personal tools of cultural understanding: many of them have been already arrived at as part of the many discussions on Intercultural Competence and similar concepts. Another thing is to create a model informed by our new “theories” on culture, a model that would withstand empirical and practical challenges and that could be used as a new meta framework that could serve as a new reference for future intercultural work and research. Due to its non-linear, systemic nature, the crafting of such model will be a true challenge. Given the fact that similar models already exist in other disciplines, I am hopeful that in time even in our field we will make headway in that direction. This would require the elaboration of what Gregory Bateson called An Ecology of Mind. The kind of work he did may well serve as an inspiration for the vision we are trying to explore.

The good news is that we do not really have to start from scratch, as there has been already a great amount of intercultural work around these concepts. What’s missing is the kind of meta framework that I mentioned earlier. This could be undoubtedly a fascinating venue to explore, one that incorporates, expands, and transcends the very models that have guided the work of interculturalists for decades.

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. (2001). Discussion Paper on intercultural dialogue and education. UNU – United Nations University Accessed on-line on September 2, 2009 at

These are some additional thoughts.

In a discussion appeared in the Linkedin Group Competence in intercultural Professions, I posted some thoughts on the future of Intercultural Communication in which I elaborated on some of the issues I raised in this thread. You can read that post at:

Next is an excerpt from a Master’s research on multicultural identity formation that I did in 2010. It connects the two levels inquiry mentioned in my last post — the contextualization of personal narratives along with the development of a systems-thinking meta model for the understanding of cultural complexity.


Furthermore, for Kim (1994) processes of intercultural identity formation depend on external (present, past, context) and internal factors (temperament, desirability), both influenced by power issues. In more recent studies, Kim (1994) embraces an alternative “Systems Approach to identity” that envisions the possibility of complex identities that interact in a constructionist, dialogical fashion towards possible identity transformation. This would lead to the emergence of an in-flux intercultural identity that “would discourage the obsessive adherence to the rigid categorization of people, [and the] exclusive loyalty based on past group affiliations” (p. 17). This is summarized in a recent paper on Intercultural personhood (Kim, 2008) on her systems-based evolutionary view of intercultural identity. The term intercultural personhood would then be synonymous of multicultural identity.

Kim’s views are clearly located within a systems-thinking tradition such as Casmir’s and Martin and Nakayama’s, although the latter place her among traditional humanistic, interpretive scholars (Martin & Nakayama, 1999).


Kim, Y. Y. (2008). Intercultural personhood: Globalization and a way of being.  International Journal of Intercultural Relations: IJIR. 32(4), 359.

Kim, Y.Y. (1994). Beyond Cultural Identity Intercultural. Communication Studies  IV:1 1-24. Retrieved on Dec. 2, 2008 at

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

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. Available at Linköping University press:

Going “Back Home” – a Matrix View of Re-entry

Correct citation:

Vallazza, O. (2011, December). Going “Back Home” – a Matrix View of Re-entry

Published at LinkedIn Forum on Competence in Intercultural Professions, available at

Hi everyone!

I like this discussion. It is a great show case of the many oftentimes similar experiences of revisiting one’s original cultural settings. Allow me to add to it by changing the perspective that guides our understanding. I often think that there is something not right when people say that they have decided to “go back home” after an extended stay in another culture. In fact, there is no “going back”, unless we could turn back the clock and return to the exact point in time and space we were at when we left. We return to places we once called home and see familiar faces, and may think we are all in the same boat, but we are not. The life of each of us has progressed along different trajectories. Consequently, we may find ourselves sharing the same spatial location with others, but our position is also further determined by other dimensions, notably our experience, the level of our personal growth and transformation, and our position with respect to time. I believe that what appears to be a flat plane of reality – where we interact with people around us at a given point in time – is instead a complex matrix. We live in a multidimensional reality where people, places and times that appear along a linear continuum have most likely fewer and scattered contact points than we may think.

With only a low-context knowledge of the complexity of others’ experience, all the dimensions at play can only be considered and understood by approximation, so that the most effective way we can relate to one another with a certain degree of certainty under such circumstances would be by focusing on the moment, the “here and now” of the Taoist tradition. In my view, this may well be the only common dimension among all the infinite variations in the time-space interplay in each person’s life.

It is a different matter altogether when we are aware of the many nuances of our and others’ experience. This gives us a way to high-contextualize our “here and now” and bring as much as possible into focus whenever we reconnect with people, situations, cultures, language, and places.

To me, such highly fluid scenarios resonate with the perspective on parallel universes presented by quantum physicist Fred Alan Wolf. Indeed, even our vocabulary epitomizes the relativity of our movement when we say that we are “going back” home. Since that action is going to occur at some point after now, how is it that we use the expression “going back”? I wonder, can we really find ourselves at some physical junction (that we place in our past) by simply spatially moving to that location at a certain time in the future? Understandably, I will not attempt an answer here. I just wanted to present a somehow different take on the complexity of the circumstances that we find ourselves in when we actually embark on such voyage of re-discovery.

Safe travells!

Identity and Self

Correct citation:

Vallazza, O. (2011, October). Identity and self. Published at LinkedIn Forum on Competence in Intercultural Professions, available at

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.


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

Kim, Y.Y. (1994). Beyond Cultural Identity Intercultural Communication Studies IV:1 1-24. Available at

Addendum to the post:

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

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.

New approaches to intercultural communication

Correct citation:

Vallazza, O. (2011, April). New approaches to intercultural communication. Published at LinkedIn Forum on Competence in Intercultural Professions, available at

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

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.


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.”


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.


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

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, 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

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 fenwick1.pdf.

Kim, Y.Y. (1994). Beyond Cultural Identity Intercultural. Communication Studies IV:1 1-24. Retrieved on Dec. 2, 2008 at 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

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,

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:

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.


I know that it isn’t always easy to leave our personal beliefs and considerations out of the specific cultural context we are engaging with/in.

I like to think that a dialogical approach to understanding cultures is preferable to one based on essentialist views. Even within the western paradigm one can develop a mindful approach, which Ellen Langer says it would include at least the following:

Ability to create new categories;

Openness to new information;

Awareness of more than one perspective;

Attention to process (doing) rather than outcome (results); and

Trust of intuition.

I believe that these qualities can support one’s cross-cultural engagement with others.

Recently I wrote something on this topic that I would like to share. I apologize if some of the following paragraphs sound too academic, but I believe they illustrate well the concept of Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a process by which people draw novel distinctions and categories when dealing with IC situations. This can lead to an enhanced awareness of multiple perspectives in problem solving (Langer, 2000). Gudykunst (1993) suggests that “it is only when we are mindful of the process of our communication that we can determine how our interpretations and messages differ from others’ interpretations of those messages” (p. 43).

Citing Langer, Onwumechili et al. (2003) remind us that, among people operating in IC situations,

Those who create new categories resist being stuck with rigid categories, mindsets and ways of seeing the world . . . Mindful communication is juxtaposed to mindless communication in which case one does not lend attention to or allow others’ perspectives and worldviews to permeate his or her way of being (p.51).

I believe that these ideas resonate with Yoshikawa’s (1987) state of dynamic in-betweennes and posit the emergence of a form of identity that may lead to personal transformation and the emergence of a third-culture as envisioned by Casmir (1999).

The bringing into awareness of IC differences through the practice of mindful communication is central to the experience of people operating at the interface between processes of identity negotiation and IC adaptation. This finds support in Ting-Toomey’s recognition of the relational nature of mindful communication in people with multiple reacculturation experiences (cited in Onwumechili et al., 2003, p.52).

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.

Langer, E. J., & Moldoveanu, M. (2000). The Construct of Mindfulness. Journal of Social Issues. 56 (1), 1-9.

Onwumechili, C., Nwosu, P. O., Jackson, R. L., & James-Hughes, J. (2003). In the deep valley with mountains to climb: exploring identity and multiple reacculturation. International Journal of Intercultural Relations: IJIR. 27 (1), 41. Abstract available at:

Yoshikawa, M.J., (1987). The double swing model of intercultural communicationbetween the East and the West. In Kincaid, D.L. (Ed), Communication theory: Eastern and Western perspective. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

On teaching and identity

It is important to keep in mind that, despite all our good intentions, we may still remain trapped in the cultural framework from which we have emerged and in which we operate. This means that we construct our professional identity as teachers not as freely as we may think, and frame it so as it conforms to the established context, which remains for the most part unchallenged and is self-perpetuating. We need to keep in mind that in some cases “the self participates in its own subjugation and domination whether it is through ‘false consciousness’ produced by membership of a particular social group, or the internalisation of social ‘oppression’ through individual ‘repression’ ”. (Chappell et al, 2003, p. 6) The challenge for me, as a teacher participating in a professional context is to recognize such dynamics when engaging in mindful reflection.


George Simons of is working on a project initiated by SIETAR EUROPE to “initiate the conversation on ‘What is intercultural competence.’  The intention is to direct this discussion and the resources we are able to develop into a certification program for interculturalists.

More info at:

Here are some reflections on the topic. After re-reading paper after paper, it’s clear to me that a lot of what has been written on intercultural competence reads like reinventing the wheel. And so more and more definitions and labels are now available, but they still do not seem to make a dent into the role of intercultural communication in addressing urgent and practical issues in today’s world.

I believe that the level of IC competence we are trying to envision is one that goes beyond by-now known available taxonomies, to which increasingly wider audiences may respond with a sense of boredom.

One aspect of such competence that I am interested in is the level of supracultural synthesis that it could imply. Would the IC competence emerging from an increasingly intertwined world benefit from an approach rooted in Chaos Theory, as suggested by Casmir? In other words, is IC competence more about understanding and flowing with the dynamics developing in IC situations, rather than being about mechanistic knowledge of fixed cultural traits? One thing for sure: one cannot possibly develop a well-rounded and dynamic competence as long as this is made to depend on factual and rather essentialist descriptions of others’ reality. Real and dynamic IC competence, in my view, emerges from reflective, experiential learning stemming from dealing with the nuances, traps, and dynamics inherent in IC situations. We do not need a directory of “cultural differences to learn about” (although that has its merit, too); we might instead benefit from a new paradigmal approach to IC communication, which – like you say – would be outspokenly interdisciplinary, hardly scientific (in the way the hard sciences are), and widely chaotic with regards to predictability, ambiguity and definitions.


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