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

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.

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.

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.

GLL – On Nadeau, D. (1996): Embodying Feminist Popular Education in Global Restructuring

COURSE: Global/Local Learning– GLL

FORUM: Case Study on Embodying Feminist Popular Education in Global Restructuring

TOPICS: local global learning, feminism, empowerment, Popular Education

Step 4 – Part 3: Adult education/learning in civil society organizations and social movements

Keywords: feminism, popular education, civil society, democracy, oppression, informal learning

Link to blog

Link to forum

Case Study 1
Nadeau, D. (1996): Embodying Feminist Popular Education in Global Restructuring (Chapter Two), in Gender in Popular Education: Methods for Empowerment, Cape Town: CACE Publications and Zed Books

Instead of answering each question, I have written a comprehensive post that will touch on the issues raised in the questions.

Definition of popular education

Nadeau defines popular education “as a method of group education and organizing that starts with the problems in people’s daily lives.” (p. 3) This idea parallels concepts outlined by Walters and Manicom (1996). One key element in their model is experience. “Women’s experience is seen as the point of departure for feminist popular education.” (p.10) Pre-existing experiences closely interact with processes of experience building. (p.12) Experience  is also seen as an overarching element in feminist popular education and one cannot detach the private, personal experience from its political and social dimension. They introduced the concept of Cotidiano, meaning the daily occupations in every woman’s life, which can be as intrinsically political, and as integrated with broader social relations and hierarchies of oppression.” (p.10)

Role of society and political stance
Nadeau also emphasizes that “Feminist popular educators quickly recognized that women, youth, the urban poor and indigenous people were playing central roles in building popular resistance and in creating alternatives located not in political parties but in the social movements.” (p.3) The potentials of her idea of feminist popular education is therefore rooted in popular resistance movement, and in women’s movements in particular.

Emphasis on the connection of body, mind and spirit

In her article, she often refers to such connection as being the means through which liberation from oppression can be achieved. Particularly, this approach seems to offer itself as an alternative to male-dominated discourses. However, her argument transcends the opportunity for an attitudinal transformation and embraces a polarized crusade, as explained next.

A mixture of apparently unrelated approaches

Parts of Nadeau’s article reads to me like a Greek salad of several “techniques” for which she does not clearly define how they relate to one another. I hope I do not sound too disrespectuf when saying that her narrative betrays the kind of enthusiasm that many Westerners show when coming in contact with non-western customs and traditions. Some people have called that “going native.”

She offers a blend of guided imaging, bioenergetics, Augusto Boal’s “theatre of the oppressed”, and several forms of body work as a way for women to promote the mind-body-spirit connection that is necessary for the development of awareness with regard of their oppression and relevant course of action. Unfortunately, she presents these “techniques” acritically, as if they could provide some kind of miraculous panacea to the many problems faced by women.

With regards to bioenergetics, for example, I would like to make a comment, having done individual bioenergetic therapy myself for three years. The tenets of such therapy is indeed on “letting go” of emotional blocks that have become engrained in muscular tension. However, recent studies are critical of the actual benefits that may derive to someone who – through this kind of therapy – forcibly takes out her/his anger with the therapist’s assistance. A discussion on bioenergetics would certainly require more time and knowledge than I have. I just want to point out that the way Nadeau describes it is very superficial and denies possible complications. (Many years ago, in Amsterdam, I joined a group for a week-end of bioenergetics. The experience was very distressful, as I found myself dealing with a level of intolerable anger that was thrown around at whoever was there to take it. There was nothing liberating in that experience. It was traumatic, to say the least).

She also talks about Augusto Boal’s “theatre of the oppressed.” In 2005, as part of a Master’s on Peace Studies, I spent two days with Boa. Even though the experience was interesting, I could not say that I was hooked on it. Honestly, I barely remember what it was all about. To me, that was another case of lack of contextualization, a theme we discussed in the thread on Freire.

Walters and Manicom (1996, p.13) mentioned the connection between feminist popular education and psychotherapy. I certainly understand how – to many women – their experiences can be very traumatic, and believe that a therapeutic approach to that is appropriate. I am not sure – however – that the same approach should be employed in “education/learning” for the society at large.

Criticism towards other views of popular education; assumption on ACTION; essentialist perspective

Nadeau believes that “traditional popular education had failed to address the reality of women’s domestic and community lives: the invisible ‘private’ sphere and the specific problems and possibilities of women as worker both inside and outside the home (Fernandez et al., 1991).” (p.4) That seems to be enough justification for her to affirm the better position of her approach. To that end, she suggests Gender and Development (GAD) theory as the good approach towards the analysis of issues of oppressions:

“GAD analysis has shown how the intersection of multiple oppressions – race, class and gender as well as colonial history – has shaped women’s economic subordination. It also uncovers how the exploitation of women’s unwaged domestic and community work is built into the dynamic of global restructuring.” (p.4) Such approach, sustained by emerging conscientization, should lead to action towards change. But apparently increased awareness does not necessarily convert into action. (p.4) This sounds like a contested statement. In fact, it neglects to consider the assumption that action is indeed the desired outcome. I am thinking of the Taoist concept of wu-wei, which refers to

“behavior that arises from a sense of oneself as connected to others and to one’s environment. It is action that is spontaneous and effortless. At the same time it is not to be considered inertia, laziness, or mere passivity. Rather, it is the experience of going with the grain or swimming with the current. Our contemporary expression, “going with the flow,” is a direct expression of this fundamental Taoist principle, which in its most basic form refers to behavior occurring in response to the flow of the Tao. We heed the intelligence of our whole body, not only our brain. And we learn through our own experience. All of this allows us to respond readily to the needs of the environment, which of course includes ourselves. And just as the Tao functions in a manner to promote harmony and balance, our own actions, performed in the spirit of wu-wei, produce the same result.”

(http://www.jadedragon.com/archives/june98/tao.html)

Interestingly, the principles stated above seem to be consistent with Nadeau’s view on the body-spirit-mind connection. They differ – however – in their lack of forceful advocacy for action.  From my perspective, enforced action follows the path of a mainstream Western approach to problem solving. I personally disagree with this approach, as I favour instead processes of societal and personal transformation that are not entrenched in dichotomous discourses. These thoughts lead me to what I perceive as Nadeau’s Essentialist view.

In my opinion, the following quote from her article clearly express the limitation of her approach, by positioning it firmly inside a specific camp.

“Women are involved daily in maintenance and care of the body: in nurturing their families, transmitting culture, providing health-care, preparing food and generally sustaining body and soul in family and community. Much of women’s work whether reproductive work, productive work, or community work, revolves around the body and its needs. The political economy of women’s bodies revolves around women’s work as consumers, sex partners, sex trade workers, and as reproducers of workers in their roles as mothers, teachers, nurses, day-care workers and so on. This labour is so critical that church and state try to manage women’s bodies – their reproductive capacities and freedoms and their sexualities. Men as individuals and groups try to discipline women through rape, beatings, disappearances and murder, that is, through the body. In many ways the body is the key site of struggle for women.” (pp. 4-5)

The language in this paragraph presents a string of gender-specific roles that strongly remind me of essentialist views. She talks about “women” and “men” as if she was referring to all women and all men. Having spent many years of my life trying to overcome similar schemata, I find a discussion premised on such stereotypes not very productive. I believe in the power of learning and education as tools and contexts for transformation, and not as means towards a self-perpetuating “alternative”. (An alternative implies replacing something with something else; transformation implies transmuting something into something new).

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>FORUM DISCUSSION

Ginger wrote:

Hi Marie,

Thanks so much for your break down of Nadeau’s views.  It was so helpful to push my thinking.  I wonder if the gender based duality is more ‘masculine/feminine’ than ‘men/women’, recognizing, as you say, that both men and women can be located in our bodies, but masculine socialization has disembodied lots of men as well as women. Accentuating a more feminine approach, with respect for emotions, non-verbal communication, personal experience, then can help both women and men to embrace more holistic learning, combining emotions and feelings with rational thinking and analysis.

Anita wrote:

A resounding “Bravo!”, Oscar. I agree. I have been a little perplexed throughout these reading that authors do not seem to feel the need to define what they mean by action, or the range of actions that they might consider successful results of their popular education efforts. Conscientization, to use Freire’s word, results in changes to one’s identity, and therefore to how one lives one’s day-to-day life, which is a powerful action individually, and unstoppable if there is a critical mass.

Anita

I agree with Oscar that this paragraph from Nadeau essentialized both women and men. I am not denying that some men, acting as individuals or as a group, control women through violence. But as the paragraph begins with what is clearly intended to be a generalization about women, the statement about men is either also intended as a generalization about men (which seems unreasonable), or is an example of very careless writing. In either event, the over-generalizations lead to both the essentializing and polarizing of experience. This, and treating ‘church’ and ‘state’ as monolithic, has the effect of erecting boundaries to thinking that are limiting and therefore unhelpful if the goal is social change.

Anita

Anita,

Thank you for reviewing my post and for all your comments above. You eloquently reinforced many of the points I was trying to make.

Like Ginger, I also believe that the issue is not to try to draw a line between men and women, but it is to try to understand the nuances that abound between the masculine and feminine. It’s more about attitudinal perspectives than gender-ascribed roles.

The concept of Yin and Yang comes to mind as a useful metaphor for what I tried to express in my post. Academically speaking, instead, I think of the definitions ascribed vs. avowed identities, which I discussed in another course. (see this link to view my reflections on this)

The terms highlight issues of essentialist definitions of identity, which I believe relates to Nadeau’s discussion on “women vs. men.”  Needless to say that, like Anita and others, I do not share such entrenched views, which remind me of a movie called Classified People about racial profiling in Apartheid-era South Africa.

Best,

Oscar

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

FLIP: dissonances in expectations and assumptions

COURSE: Fostering Learning in Practice

FORUM: Koala 5

TOPICS: expectations, assumptions, identity

WEEK 7 – TASK 1: dissonant expectations and assumption (link to forum)

Link to blog

  • Reconciling my perceived lack of experience in the field of education and the its unrelatedness to the intercultural dimension with my personal identity and its clear cross-cultural framework.

During assignment 1 I perceived a lack of experience in and exposure to the field of education. Whereas many of us sounded firmly grounded in their professional practices, I felt I was instead analyzing my current work environment without having – as a part-timer – much standing among my co-workers. To overcome such lack of “credentials” I developed my hot issue around the intercultural dimension, which appears very external to my current workplace, and has more to do with me than with my professional practice. If I were to identify dissonant expectations and assumption in these reflections, I would say that my strong interest in cross-cultural issues does not always resonate with the affordances found in my workplace. I feel as if I belonged to a relative small group of professionals engaging in a “mission” that does not get much recognition. My identity is heavily informed by my intercultural experience. It emerges from a rich narrative that reflects available discourses in intersecting fields relevant to the intercultural dimension of the human experience. This course asks me to draw connections between my identity and my workplace, but the reality at work does not easily accommodate the very intercultural dimension that I am advocating for.

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