Intercultural Communication or Post-Cultural Communication?

Guest PostsGuest Post by Paola GiorgisIntercultural communication or post-cultural communication? Reflecting on mistakes in intercultural encounters.

Some years ago, I worked with a total of about 350 refugees who, with the help of some radical activists, had become squatters, taking over an empty building which occupied almost an entire block. Most were from Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan; the majority were young men, a few women with children, and there were one or two couples with babies. A group of associations had gathered to offer help and, as an activist and volunteer in an association for human rights, I decided to participate. With the on-and-off support of the local Institutions (mainly town council and prefecture), the group of associations developed a project which had the goal of meeting basic needs – food, shelter, health care – and then organizing the integration of the refugees into the region through accommodation, language classes and vocational training courses. What I liked about this project was that its goal was not assistance, but rather creating a path to autonomy and independence. The first to be integrated were the women with their children, then the vulnerable males (young men with diseases or handicaps), and then all the rest. The project lasted for about one year, and at the end of that time, all the refugees were, more or less successfully, integrated and settled in the region.

Read the full essay.

Author: Center for Intercultural Dialogue

Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz, the Director of the Center for Intercultural Dialogue, manages this website.

2 thoughts on “Intercultural Communication or Post-Cultural Communication?”

  1. These are old discussions… esp. in anthropology… and now well accepted by many scholars working on these issues…
    One of my book series is actually entitled POST-INTERCULTURAL communication and education. I believe there is even a sense of moving beyond the intercultural in its empty/polysemic/ethnocentric forms.
    Two years ago I published the following book with my late colleague and friend Regis Machart: Cultural Essentialism in Intercultural Relations.
    The work of Adrian Holliday is of course essential here too….

    1. I am indeed grateful for this comment which, in my opinion, opens the ground for a very interesting debate on CID.
      Yet, before getting into the matter, I would like to clarify a simple thing about my Post. I am quite familiar with the theoretical debates which are addressed in the comment, yet I deliberately did not mention them, as my Post had a different purpose: I intended it as an open and public exercise in reflexivity. The experience described in the Post dates back to several years ago, before I had any sort of training or theoretical formation on intercultural issues. Therefore, recollecting that experience, I realized how many ‘mistakes’ I made then, reflecting on how they could be useful – and had actually been useful – for my future conduct in similar situations. That is ‘reflexivity’ as I have understood it afterward: a pro-active practice and process which, out of judgment or sense of guilt, observes one’s own behavior in a particular context – often marked by complexity – with the intent to identify and understand dynamics often hidden, not so evident, or taken-for-granted in the course of action – that is, a critical ex-post auto-ethnography.
      And now, I would like to get into the matter of what I consider a potentially very interesting debate to be opened on CID. At the end of the experience described in my Post, I had the impression that all the relations we then managed to generate were not the result of any particular intercultural attitude, but they rather developed because we were human beings who were open, curious and caring of one another – that is, because we were ‘simply’ human. That led me to consider that, in intercultural communication, we might have put too much stress on ‘culture’, rather than on what makes individuals interact with each other beyond – or notwithstanding – differences of cultures. Therefore, I suggested that we might consider ‘post-cultural communication’ as an option, which, in my view, is rather different from what is mentioned in the comment, that is ‘post-intercultural communication’. In my opinion, the first, ‘post-cultural communication’, sees ‘culture’ as the construct to be critically observed as the most crucial factor in communication, and instead moves the focus on what happens between individuals beyond their (supposed) cultural difference. On the other hand, ‘post-intercultural communication’, as much as I get it, focuses on ‘interculture’ as the construct to be critically observed.
      Here is precisely where I see there could be the ground for an interesting debate on CID: What do we all consider and take now, after so many years of debate, to be ‘intercultural communication’? Do we still consider the formulation ‘intercultural communication’ as a valid construct to understand and describe our contemporary complexity? And if we do, where do we put our main focus? On ‘culture’, on ‘inter-‘, on ‘communication’ – or on none of these?

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