New approaches to intercultural communication 2

Correct citation:

Vallazza, O. (2012, December). New approaches to intercultural communication_2. Published at http://tinyurl.com/a468kmd LinkedIn Forum on Alternative Perspectives in Intercultural Communication, available at https://worldconnections.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/new-approaches-to-intercultural-communication-2/

This thread is like a Pandora box full of possibilities. It continues the discussion posted at https://worldconnections.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/new-approaches-to-intercultural-communication/

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 (http://tinyurl.com/33u6r8z). 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 http://www.unu.edu/dialogue/papers/evanoff-s5.pdf

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: http://tinyurl.com/3z4lcbt

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.

EXCERPT:

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).

CITED BIBLIOGRAPHY

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 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.

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: http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-59533

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GLL – Swedish Study Circles

COURSE: Global/Local Learning– GLL

FORUM: on Larsson’s Study Circles

TOPICS: local global learning, development, Transformation, Adult Education

Step 4 – Part 1: Adult education/learning in civil society organisations and social movements

Keywords: Study circles, Sweden, civil society, democracy, pluralistic citizenship

Link to blog

Link to forum Link to Forum 2

Larsson, S. (2001) Study Circles as Democratic Utopia: A Swedish Perspective, in Bron, A.&  Schemmann, M. (eds) 2001 Civil Society, Citizenship and Learning. Bochum Studies in International Adult Education, vol. 2. Transaction Publishers, USA/UK

ARTICLE SUMMARY

In this article Larsson presents the case of the Study Circles as “a mass-phenomenon in contemporary Sweden.” (p. 1) Study Circles refer to both the content and the educational framework within which learning occurs.

Since the foundation of the first study circles association in 1912, Study Circles in Sweden were understood as a means to the advancement of education from the bottom up. Unlike traditional education, they were based on the following “grammar” derived from democratic principles of egalitarian participation:

“1) There are no examinations or merits to be gained; 2) Participation is voluntary; 3) One operates with the expectation of a limited number of persons in a circle, normally somewhere between 5 – 19 persons; 4) Time is often treated in a different way from ordinary schools – often study circles will meet for 3 hours once a week with a break in the middle. A study circle will often consist of 10 to fifteen of such meanings; 5) A circle will have a leader, who does not have to be an expert – it can be one of the participants. On the other hand, there are often experts acting as leaders.” (p. 2)

Study Circles have focussed on learning activities that would strengthen people’s active participation in democratic society by offering a plethora of topics that would represent diverse world views.

Historically, Study Circles underwent a transmutation.

Originally, their activities were entwined with the civil society movements that were the driving force behind the popular participation in the circles. In fact, “participation in study circles during the first half of the century was often part of a relatively strong, sometimes class based, relation to a specific movement.” (p. 3) From that perspective, study circles were “in sharp opposition to state and market.” (p.3)

In the course of the twentieth century, however, with the weakening of popular movements and the corresponding emerging of institutions of representative democracy within the state, Study Circles lost their relevance as loci of political activism.

Compared with the limiting effect that states exercise elsewhere on education, the role of the state in the Swedish Study Circles is ambivalent. In Sweden the state provides financial support to the study circles without imposing limits to their mission.

In discussing Study Circles, Larsson examines their relevance for and impact on today’s adult learning education in Sweden. He recognizes the loss of importance experienced by civil society movements over the last century, partly due to the emergence of a globalized society and what that entails. It seems that “the power and the possibilities of the civil society have been reduced, since there is less that is decided upon through democratic decision-making in the society as a whole.” (p.15)

This has led to a shift of focus in the activities of Study Circles. They went from being the educational arm of class-based social movements to being more and more involved with the pursuit of learning at the personal level. The effect on civil society and the state institutions is not to be found anymore in the action taken by the related popular movements, but in the small-scale influence that individuals may exert in their private political spheres.

The core pillar in the Swedish Study Circles still clearly rests on Oscar Olsson’s original view of “education for and through the people.” (p.12) He is considered the father of the study circles. In spite of their changing role, Study Circles are therefore still based on the promotion of equality, knowledge, active participation, democracy and diversity. These issues are by all means not clear cut and remain highly contested in the ways they may be achieved and by whom.

COMMENTS

Today’s function of Study Circles

Larsson recognizes how the function of Study Circles in relation to the State and Civil Society class-based movements has changed since their inception.  In particular, the promotion of action does not appear to be any longer the driving force behind Study Circles. Recognizing this loss of political traction reminds me of our discussions on Youngman and Freire with regard to the actuality of their views. I believe many of us have recognized the change in today’s context and conditions. Study Circles appear to have been highly adaptive to such changes.

Consequently, they reflect the shift from a context dominated by popular movements to one that values participation as “individual and private rather than something that is supporting the influence and power of a civil society versus other societal powers.” (p.13) Maybe one could argue that Study Circles were never meant to be the tools for political actions. In fact, even in the past, political action was the domain of social movements. What has changed is the intensity of how the learning activities developed in Study Circles would transfer to political action.

Diversity

With regard to diversity, Larsson emphasizes how Study Circles have provided an arena for the production of new identities, concluding that “the study circle tradition provides a system that is very much adapted to support diversity. We can also note that this is not only a potential but it is in fact used in practice as a place to produce and reproduce diverse identities.” (p.11) I find this specific point very important to our course and the relevant discussion on glocal education. I believe the relational nature of Study Circles provides a fertile ground for dialogue that would consider diverse narratives and discourses. That could be the prelude to the emergence of a transformative and then enactivist perspective and possibly a new holistic cultural paradigm based on Third-Culture building practices.

Global citizenship, European model.

I find Larsson’s article refreshing in its affirmation of the concept of “pluralistic citizenship.” (cited from Johnson, 1999) It reflects current approaches to people’s participation that transcend both Freire’s and Youngman’s class-based thinking. Of course, I recognize that his views are rooted in the Scandinavian tradition, quite different from the contexts discussed by the other authors. Nevertheless, his vocabulary is suitable for a comprehensive discussion of transformative education that relates to the changed landscape of the new millennium. I am saying this not because Freire’s observation on inequality and oppressions do not have merit nowadays, but because I believe we have now gained deeper, systemic insights into the relevant issues.

In Larsson’s words, the alternative to a traditional, juxtaposed idea of democracy

“will be a view, where there is no universal truth or ‘correct’ decision, but rather that democracy is about peaceful solutions of conflicting interests and world-views, in other words, negotiations and compromises between a multitude of groups in the population who have elected representatives. Possibilities to develop a diversity of opinions and form organisations based on this diversity become a prerequisite for such democracy” that would” embrace diversity and cultural pluralism.” (p. 9)

This will also entail politics of mutual recognition.

As an example of this kind of societal transformation, I would like to bring up the case of a EUROPA as outlined at http://www.euroalter.com/about-logo/ and http://www.euroalter.com/about/ . The language used in these web pages is consistent with Larsson’s findings and – in my view – also with the Cape Learning Region as conceptualized by Walters.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cohen, J. L., & Arato, A. (1995). Civil society and political theory. Studies in contemporary German social thought. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.]: MIT Press.

Larsson accept the definition of civil society given by Cohen and Arato. They believe that “social movements constitute the dynamic element in processes that might realize the positive potentials of modern civil societies.” Check this for more on Cohen and Arato: http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/jbmurray/research/jbm_ayacucho.pdf

DISCUSSION

>>>>>

MARIE WROTE:

He does not mention the potential of the Internet as an opposite force to this, similar in a sense to study circles, but on a global scale.  I would argue that wikis, blogs, social networks, the diversity of web pages (self-promotional, knowledge-based, and otherwise) made available through the Internet offer similar eclectic, self-initiated, and non-hierarchical options to informal adult learning.  Because these go well beyond geographical state borders, are divorced from physical or locally situated constraints, they open up diverse knowledge building, and a kind of equality that restricts membership based on technological access alone. It remains to be seen whether this medium will reinforce collective participation in self governance or merely further fragmentation of local civil societies.

Hi Marie!

Thank you so much for your eloquent post. I found it meaningful, easy to read and well-written.

Here are some comments on the issue of changing educational venues.  On reading Larsson, I had this picture of a Swedish landscape scattered with small, self-contained communities, where people gather in cosy buildings with a very warm atmosphere to work on their social networking and personal adult education advancement. It is a comforting image, one that may reveal an aspect of Swedish society that may be hard to find in places outside Scandinavia. It is an image that may look quintessentially Swedish, and by extent is more familiar and palatable to Europeans, especially Northern Europeans, than to people in South Africa. I may be wrong, but this image may still dominate the Swedes’ approach to their adult education extension programs such as the Study Circles, because it is “culturally appropriate”, situated in the Nordic tradition. This may be a reason why immigrants are underrepresented in such context. As you point out, IT education opportunities are nowadays available. I wonder if they would satisfy the need for personal interaction sought after by the aging Swedish population. That would be the topic for another research project.

What is important here in terms of glocal education – I think – is to imagine. Let’s imagine how the learning spirit typical of study circles would work elsewhere. For example, would it be relevant to the specific context of South Africa? And let’s imagine how learning approaches from other places would benefit the Swedish adult education environment. How would that affect society? Transformation in the global age is about new ways in which we can imagine a different world.

Oscar

>>>>>>>

Kathy wrote:

dear oscar and Marie

just to add to your images of fireplaces and cosy rooms – the same organisation who is using Reflect in SA has been piloting a few study circles. They are working in the rural areas of the eastern cape in one of the poverty nodes of South Africa. so the study circles will be happening in in mud huts around a fireplace. People believe that in these areas, the original home of Nelson Mandela, Ubuntu still exists.

I guess the methodology of Reflect and a study circle would complement each other as both allow people a space to explore and develop; to work without an ‘expert’ towards transforming ones own community.

kathy

Dear Kathy and Marie,

The image of people gathering in mud huts to learn is very empowering. My stereotyped image of Sweden was actually more representative of the past. I am aware that things have changed a bit (-: . My point was that, for the Swedes, that image still holds power over the way democracy may be understood as belonging to the people. It’d be interesting to hear about this point from some of our cohorters in Scandinavia.

Kathy wrote: “to work without an ‘expert’ towards transforming ones own community.”

That reminds me of how David Bohm envisioned dialogue. On this, I’d like to share the following excerpt from Klenemas (2008), which I believe reinforces the philosophical approach of the Study Circles.

(emphasis added) “David Bohm sees equality of/among the participants as an important feature of dialogue. He says that this equality can be reached through a fair hearing of all parties involved. This demands of course also a certain degree of openness among the dialogue partners and that everyone has the chance to participate.

Bohm claims that hierarchical power structures would be counterproductive to the interaction. In his eyes, a discussion – in contrast to a dialogue – aims at a win-lose situation, where the parties “play” against (i.e. not with) each other. In a dialogue, on the other hand, people aim to reach a win-win situation.

To say it differently, dialogue is not about convincing or persuading the other. (This would mean that I know everything about my opinion, but nothing or little about the others’.) It is through listening carefully to each other without judging the others’ opinions that everyone can create the “same” stock of knowledge. Bohm is not saying that you should suppress your opinions and feelings. On the contrary, talking openly about facts and feelings is also important to reach what he calls “coherence of thought”. He stresses that if there is a coherence of meaning (or thought) the process and outcome will be much stronger and more effective. Let me sum up these three features of dialogue with David Bohm’s words:

‘How can you share if you are sure you have truth and the other fellow is sure he has truth, and the truths don’t agree? How can you share? Therefore, you have to watch out for the notion of truth. Dialogue may not be concerned with truth – it may arrive at truth, but it is concerned with meaning. If the meaning is incoherent you will never arrive at truth.’ (Bohm 1996: 15f)”

This approach brings Freire’s ideas on conscientization into focus by making it the individual’s responsibility to find coherence among a diversity of thoughts and meanings. For me, as I pointed out in another post (Link to forum ), this would be a supporting pillar for a new thinking paradigm.

Oscar

SOURCES CITED IN THIS POST:

Kleinemas Hanne (February 2008) Excuse me, is this the way to intercultural competence, in Coyote #13, Intercultural Dialogue, Council of Europe & European Commission Youth Partnership, Strasbourg, France. Accessed on September 2, 2009 at http://youth-partnership.coe.int/youth-partnership/documents/Publications/Coyote/13/Coyote13.pdf

Bohm, D.(1996): On Dialogue. Reprint 2006. London/New York: Routledge Classics.

>>>>>>> cultural essentialist view<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Thank you Annika for your comments as an insider. They play well into the etic vs. emic debate. (The “emic and etic” perspective is used in anthropology and cross-cultural counseling.)

Interestingly, you confirm the lower participation of immigrants in the Swedish Study Circles, which in turn may highlight the Nordic nature of such particular approach to adult education and the difficulty in transcending its original cultural imprint. This is a good example how complex issues of glocal education are, highlighting the difficulty of applying ideas across cultural differences. With regard to Study Circles, hat many view as a well-organized approach may feel and look to others – e.g. immigrants, broadly generalizing – as constrictive and at odds with their own ideas of learning. At the beginning, in Sweden it was assumed that Study Circles would work well to address local adult education needs. It was a system that was culturally appropriate and responding to Swedish minds. Extending the system to “outsiders” may be tricky, as it may reveal that not everyone agrees on the original assumption.

On this particular point, I would like to write some considerations. Larsson says that, “Even though there was a strong tendency to celebrate scientific knowledge at the time, study circles gave in fact space for diverse world-views. In that sense pluralism was in fact supported in worldviews by the organisational structure of independent study associations with different ideological connections.” (p. 2) He continues with several examples of what this diversity of world views is about. His thinking betrays a basic essentialist view of diversity, one that is necessarily limited – at least at the beginning – to diversity as perceived within Swedish society, and therefore mostly relevant to aspects of Swedish civil society. Even when he mentions issues of globalization, he considers them from a Nordic perspective.

It would be interesting to know if non-autochthonous variations of diversity now exist along Larsson’s examples of diversity as cited in his paper, and how these levels interact.

Oscar

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