New approaches to intercultural communication 2

Correct citation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are some additional thoughts.

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Vallazza, O. (2010). Processes of nurturing and maintenance of multicultural identity in the 21st century. A qualitative study of the experience of long-term transcultural sojourners. Master thesis. Linköping University, Sweden. Available at Linköping University press:


GLL – Role of the state / Utopia

COURSE: Global/Local Learning– GLL

FORUM: Samarbeta

TOPICS: local global learning, utopia, “Small is beautiful”, Trent, government

Step 2 – Part2: on Populism and Adult Education, Frank Youngman

Link to forum

Link to blog


Marie wrote:

As I write this, the idea that local solutions are the answer seems a bit utopian to me, but perhaps with tweaking, this is a good starting point for solving the current global economic/environmental/polarity crisis.  I have often observed in Canada’s North that the breakdown of indigenous linguistic/cultural systems goes hand in hand with environmental degradation and that little of comparable value is given in the exchange.  It seems to me that sociocultural diversity is integral to environmental diversity and that both are required for the long term health of their systems.

Hi Marie,

Allow me to interject some thoughts on this last statement.

For me utopia is to believe that a distant, centralized government may know and do best what’s needed to ensure that people, locally, may have a chance to have a life that is worth being called one. I instead do not consider utopian when we envision a world made up of interconnected realities – each in its own right, with its own characteristics and traits – that are capable of micro and macro manage (as a wholistic result) their own affairs. I am obviously not talking about a return to the Middle Ages, when – at least in Europe – city states were acing each other off in a localistic and futile attempt to overcome their enemies. I am talking about a mature international framework that may eventually replace our current allotment of countries that base their existence on at times artificial justification for their independent statehood. My previous post gave as an example the situation in my home region. I am not trying to suggest that that framework is a model of universal applicability, but I just want to present it as a viable alternative to “government as usual.”

In other words, like economist Schumacher used to affirm: “Small is beautiful,” which would also apply to the size of government and of “administrative areas” (for lack of other words). In fact, I would argue, what is more effective and people-centered than a local government that is mindful of peoples’ needs and of the impact that political decisions have right there where laws are made? The flexibility inherent in such form of self-government also includes the recognition and inclusion of minorities and issues of marginality. True, at times this may sound like an experiment, but – in my opinion – it’s something worthwhile trying, also considering that over the decades there have been many examples of successful local governance.



If you look for some inspiration, I find this collection very empowering:

GLL – State and Civil Society

COURSE: Global/Local Learning– GLL

FORUM: Samarbeta

TOPICS: local global learning, development, Third Way, Education, Marxism, Trent, active citizenship, co-participation

Step 2 – Part2: on Populism and Adult Education, Frank Youngman

Link to blog

Link to forum

Wonderful comments! Thank you.

I see how we get into troubles when we try to find a solution of universal applicability. When dealing with the complexity of the issues under discussion, I feel that there should be first a clear framing of local conditions (factors, stakeholders, agencies, state, goals, resources, outside influences, etc.). That would allow for contextual and systemic analysis that may yield different solutions to different areas.

One example. In my home area (The autonomous province of Trent) the provincial government is enacting education and learning policies in contrast to those put forth by the state (national government). In this regard, it is acting more as an entity akin to Civil Society, in that its actions are parallel but distinct to those of the state. However, view from within the provincial borders, the provincial government acts like a state, and deals with a complex and variegated  universe of local NGO’s, which diversifies educational opportunities for the people.

I believe there is merit in Gloria’s comments on whether Civil Society is indeed capable to sustain a viable system outside the state’s control (I am paraphrasing; I hope I am correctly interpreting Gloria’s thoughts). In my home region, the local provincial government is acting as the main reference agency, at the center of a web of other agencies and relevant relationships. I would agree with Gloria that, in that specific geographic, cultural, historic, social and environmental context, things are better served with the local government acting as a clearing house, making relevant laws – through political debate – that provide a shared framework for civil society.

Words that come to mind when thinking of such synergistic approach are — dialogue, inclusion, motivation, social capital, co-participation, and active citizenship. It also reminds me of a “connective model” for work and learning in general.

Link: A Roadmap to Work and Learning

GLL:Example of global/local learning

COURSE: Global/Local Learning–GLL

FORUM: Samarbeta

TOPICS: local global learning, Trento, cultural diversity

Step 1 – Part 1: example of global/local learning

Link to forum

Link to blog

Illustrative example of “global/local learning”

My example stems from the historical, political, economic and cultural context of my home region (Trentino- South Tyrol), which is home to several languages and relevant traditions: German, Italian, Ladin, the dialects of individual valleys and the languages of newly arrived immigrants from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. Within and beyond its geographic borders one notices a complex interaction among local and global cultural components. The region reaches out to the world, but also functions as a laboratory for cultural learning processes that are enfolding within its borders. By embracing the challenges and complexity of the larger globalized context, the local context transcends the limitations imposed on it by outdated nationalistic views. Let’s now examine some local aspects and how they intersect with old and new global trends.

Local context

The autochthonous populations in the region have lived peacefully together for many centuries. Such experience has resulted in some kind of mutual learning that, unfortunately, suffered a set back during the nationalistic conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Global influences

Today this original local context has been “broken into” by recently arrived immigrants, who are undoubtedly influencing the established socio-cultural-economic processes. The perennial flow of international tourists is another example of intersecting local/global experiences.

Adherence to the spirit and policies of the E.U. and the creation of a Euro-region that includes the Austrian Tyrol further contribute to shaping the interconnections between the region’s local and global characters.

These “external” phenomena strongly influence local learning attitudes and policies. (I believe that these phenomena are by now so embedded at the local level as to have lost their “external” character).



FORUM: Participation in education and work; identity and social exclusion.(BLOCK 2)


THE CASE OF TRENTINO (linkItslearning)

In my home region (Trentino-South Tyrol), the provincial governments are in charge of education and formation policies. As anywhere else, the region knows issues of discrimination and exclusion as they have been presented in our group discussion. I would like to focus on one in particular, i.e. discrimination and exclusion affecting immigrants mainly from non- E.U. countries. This group has been known for being a target of social exclusion and discrimination. The problem is not unique to the province but find resonance across national and regional borders, which is why I decided to introduce it into our discussion.

In fact, “Similar barriers (in labour market conditions) are found in all countries:

– language difficulties

– a lack of recognition of qualifications and working experience

– difficulties with access to vocational training

– different social and cultural backround

– discrimination” (Action against discriminations in labour market, 2007)

According to the Italian Council on the Economy and Labour, in the province of Trent, a.k.a. Trentino, immigrants represent 12% of the total population. (Consiglio Nazionale dell’Economia e del Lavoro, p.12.) They face difficulties adjusting to a culture that is dramatically different from their original ones. In fact, the province has been till recently sheltered from immigration flows and has enjoyed a relative isolation and prosperity, which is now attracting an increasing number of immigrants.

Recognizing the global nature of such issues, the provincial government engages in collaborative projects that extend beyond the local boundaries.  This will transition  the discussion into the third part of our assignment, which is concerned with “strategies and policies that might be considered in order to address this phenomenon.”

I will talk more about this in the relevant discussion thread, where  I will also present a summary of strategies and policies as they emerged from the readings for this assignment.

Education and Formation in Trentino-South Tyrol

Intercontinental Master’s Program in Adult Learning and Global Change

Course: Work and Learning  (UBC, Vancouver, Canada) Assignment 1.3: Final Post

Instructors: Dr. Garnet Grosjean

Discussion Group: The IncREDibles    Tutor: Deo Bishundayal            Date: 02/ 13/2009


How would you classify the policies pursued toward work and learning by your own country compared to the descriptions provided in the readings? In other words, are the suggestions in the readings similar or different from what you perceive happening in your country? Maximum length for this submission is 1000 words.


FORUM: Current development and discourses on work and learning


ASSIGNMENT 1.3 FINAL POST (link to Itslearning forum)

ASSIGNMENT 1.3 FINAL POST (link to e-portfolio)

ASSIGNMENT 1.3 FINAL POST (link to Essays)


According to Italian Law, in the Region Trentino-South Tyrol education and skill formation are the domain of the autonomous provinces of Trent and Bolzano. Consequently, in these matters provincial laws override national laws and regulations. (Statuto Speciale, Art. 8)

This post will address how this assignment’s questions relate to the case of the Autonomous Province of Trent, next referred to as “the Province.”

Brief overview of the provincial context for work and learning.

The provincial system of “Education and Formation” is regulated by a provincial law, a long and comprehensive document that addresses many aspects of education and professional formation in the Province. (Legge 7 agosto 2006 n. 5) Next are some salient principles presented in the law that I deem relevant to this post:

  • The establishment of a comprehensive education system named “Provincial Education System (sistema educativo provinciale); (Art. 1)
  • The central role of public schools; (Art.2)
  • The definition of learning as relevant to human, cultural, social and professional development, from a perspective based on social integration and the building of relations with others and the region. (Art.2)
  • Education and professional formation must promote local economic and social sustainable development, and also support individuals’ choices with regard to work opportunities at the local, national, and European level. The curriculum must be informed by principles of peace, solidarity and international co-operation; (Art.2)
  • The recognition of and support for life-long education and learning;(Art.2, 68)
  • Provision for inclusion with regard to people with special needs and social disadvantages;(Art.2)
  • The promotion of professional formation and development through opportunities available locally, in the E.U. and abroad;(Art.2)
  • The promotion of co-operative education projects between the Provincial Education System and regional society and enterprises;(Art.2)
  • The presence of a network of vocational schools and of co-operative  venues for formative work experiences (similar to Canada’s); (Art. 65)
  • The establishment of a system for “advanced professional formation” (alta
  • formazione professionale); (Art. 67)
  • The promotion of Adult Education opportunities at different levels; (Art. 69)
  • The view of Education and life-long learning as both agents and product of “active citizenship.” (Art. 61, 69)

Brief comparative Analysis of the local context.

Although it was difficult to locate material on the topic with regard to the Province of Trent, I believe that – based on my own learning in this course – the system established by the Provincial Government is consistent with European Union policies. In particular, the important concept of “active citizenship” presented in the Provincial Law also appears in a citation in the ILO chapter. According to the EU Memorandum on lifelong learning, active citizenship is about how “people participate in all spheres of economic and social life, the chances and risks they face in trying to do so, and the extent to which they feel that they belong to, and have a fair say in, the society in which they live”. Furthermore, The Cologne Charter (1999) – also cited by ILO – calls for “a renewed commitment by governments, investing to enhance education and training at all levels; by the private sector, training existing and future employees; and by individuals, developing their own abilities and careers.” Universal access to learning and training for all, including the disadvantaged and illiterate, and the importance of life-long learning is also emphasized.(Chapter 1, p. 7) In its provincial education and formation network, the Province seems to adhere to accepted European views and recommendations.

I perceive the provincial system as a mixture of traditional learning approaches and social constructivist views. It is the result is a holistic framework that organizes the different levels of education, formation, professional development, co-operative projects, and life-long learning in agreement with broad and inclusive E.U. recommendations. These ideas find support in Illeris’ article, particularly in his model of multilayered learning based on a social constructivist approach that views learning as wrapping around several dimensions that include both the social and individual levels; cognition and emotions; and technical-organizational and socio-cultural contexts.(Illeris, pp.432,434,440)

In the past, at least in Europe, we have witnessed a welfare view of society that influenced many of the employment and formation policies in the European Community first, and later in the E.U. As explained in Kearns and Papadopoulos’ article, to this day, many countries’ education and training plans are founded on such premises. (2000)

Historically, education in the Province is rooted in the Central European tradition that still informs relevant policies in Austria and Germany, where a dual system of cooperation between educational institutions and employers exists. (Kearns and Papadopoulos, p.4). However, I believe that the original framework has been expanded and adapted to the needs of today’s society. In a systemic effort to develop an all-encompassing view of future developments, the provincial government has integrated policies of social inclusion with – among others – policies that recognize the need for personal growth/affirmation and environmental/economic sustainability.

I think that the provincial system strongly promotes “social capital.” However, I believe that such concept is understood in the terms defined by the OECD as “aspects of social life – the existence of networks, institutions, policies, norms and relationships – that enable people to act together, create synergies, and build partnerships,” (Kearns and Papadopoulos, p.16), rather than by Putman’s initial definition as “the networks, norms, and social trust in a given social organization that enable cooperation and collaboration toward mutually beneficial outcomes.” (Smith, p. 70)

In conclusion, I would argue that the Province is moving away from the original idea of education being a product of the welfare state and part of a dual system that benefited the needs of late 20th century’s employment market. We are witnessing the transformation of the aforementioned approach into a matrix of relationally connected learning contexts that engages the many stakeholders and agents in and outside the region. This results into a multileveled dialogue aimed at the development of experiences of life-long learning towards the construction of professional competencies and active citizenship at the local, national, European, and international level.


This post was based on Block 1 readings. Additional resources are listed below, together with the sources cited in the post.


Illeris, K. (2004). A Model for Learning in Working Life. Journal of Workplace Learning, 16 (8), 431-441.

International Labour Organization. Learning and Training for Work in the Knowledge Society. (Only Chapters 1 and 2 required reading.) Retrieved January 5, 2009 from

Kearns, P. and Papadopoulos, G. (2000). Building a Learning and Training Culture: The Experience of Five OECD Countries. National Centre for Vocational Education Research, Leabrook, Australia. Retrieved on January 30, 2009 from

Provincia Autonoma di Trento, Legge 7 agosto 2006 n. 5, Sistema educativo di istruzione e formazione del Trentino, (08/16/2006), Bollettino ufficiale della Regione Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol n. 33, suppl. n.2 (testo originale), Retrieved on Feb.9, 2009 at

Smith, P.J. (2003). Workplace Learning and Flexible Delivery. Review of Educational Research 73 (1), 53-88.

Statuto Speciale per la Regione Trentino-Alto Adige/Suedtirol, Testo unico – D.P.R. 31 agosto 1972, n. 670, (11/20/1972), Gazzetta Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana, n. 301, Retrieved on February 10, 2009  at:

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