Intercultural Dialogue via Organizing International Academic Conferences

Guest PostsMy name is Margarita Kefalaki and I hold a doctorate in Intercultural Communication. When I returned to Greece after 8 years study in France, I knew exactly what I would like to do: to communicate and exchange with people from all around the world. The organization of international academic conferences was a dream come true. This dream became reality with the Communication Institute of Greece (COMinG) in 2013. This association was established originally in France in 2003, under another name, but the focus on communication and interaction was always central. Academics, researchers, PhD students and anyone interested in communication, interaction, education, and exchange is welcome to join the association and/or participate in our conferences.

It is true that “…a more interactive and dialogic conference format creates a space for different voices and experiences to be heard, permitting the emergence of long-term networking and friendships” (Leeds-Hurwitz, 2015, p. 3). This is how communication, exchange, and collaborative projects can be created. This is what COMinG is trying to achieve by proposing small conferences and events, where everyone has the time and the occasion to interact.

COMinG is a non-profit association, established to promote research, education and to facilitate communication among academics, communication and management professionals and generally passionate by the communication and its power to educate, from all around the world.

In 2017 (24-27 April) COMinG organized its 3rd Annual International Conference on Communication and Management (ICCM2017), in Athens, Greece. The presenters comprised academics, professors and researchers, communication and management professionals, and PhD students from around the world: 41 papers and 64 presenters, coming from 20 different continents, universities and countries (Denmark, Cyprus, United Arab Emirates, Italy, New Zealand, Turkey, Albania, Greece, Morocco, United Kingdom, Romania, China, India, Croatia, Singapore, France, USA, Taiwan, Poland and Australia). Details are on the conference site, including the conference program, abstracts, resulting publications, press releases, and future conferences.

Attending conferences is one important element in the work of the academic community. Researchers, professors, and graduate students need presentations in international conferences to acquire feedback on a paper, learn about the work of others, communicate with colleagues from the same or from other disciplines, and exchange ideas (Borghans et al., 2010). Participation in conferences can also help academics ameliorate their Curriculum Vitae, develop new collaborations, and even combine a work trip with vacation time exploring a new location immediately before or after the conference. In fact, the need of participants to combine their scientific activity with relaxation has been identified by researchers (Kefalaki, 2013)

International academic conference location seems to be an important factor in determining attractiveness of scientific conferences (Terzi et al., 2013). The evaluation criteria regarding this factor include: a) infrastructure to meet the needs of both conference organizers and participants (accommodation, food quality, entertainment services, sightseeing opportunities), b) historical and cultural heritage, c) comfortable weather, d) available travel services, e) variety of transportation modes, f) safe destination (free of terrorism, theft and injuries), g) calm local community environment, h) adequate health conditions, and j) the use of English as an international language that can help the participants communicate.

COMinG wishes grow its activities and I hope that one day this association will be able to propose a number of good quality academic conferences in different disciplines. How can someone not feel blessed when such multicultural interaction take place? Thank you for being a part of this!

Best regards,

Dr Margarita Kefalaki (mke AT
President, Communication Institute of Greece (COMinG)
Visiting Professor, Hellenic Open University


Borghans L., et al. (2010). What makes a good conference? Analysing the preferences of labour economists. Labour Economics, 17, 868-874.

Kefalaki M. (2013). Intercultural communication: A key factor for a successful international academic conference. Presented at the 3rd International Conference on Tourism and Hospitality Management, 27 – 29 June 2013, Athens, Greece.

Leeds-Hurwitz, W. (2015). Facilitating intercultural dialogue through innovative conference design. In N. Haydari & P. Holmes (Eds.), Case studies in intercultural dialogue (pp. 3-22). Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt.

Terzi M. C., et al. (2013). International events: The impact of the conference location. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 73, 363-372.


Migration, Language and Dialogue

Guest PostsMigration, Language and Dialogue
by Gabriel Furmuzachi

Migration brings with it, no doubt about it, important changes in the lives of those who chose to leave. Identity is one these fundamental changes. One needs to find one’s place and one’s self in a new environment without the benefit of a tradition and without the support of one’s family, history and language. As an immigrant, one becomes another, one’s identity has to be reassessed, built up from scratch. We are not talking here about personal identity in the sense analytic philosophy considers it. Instead, our understanding of identity relies on narratives: we come to understand ourselves and our place in the world through stories we tell or are told about ourselves. The fabric of these stories gets torn once we decide or are forced to leave. We should strive to mend it and we think one can only do this dialogically. These are the issues we will try to discuss here.

We are going to quickly follow three accounts of immigrant lives. Then we will attempt to make sense of them by appealing to a couple of philosophical concepts, namely dialogue and cosmopolitanism, which we consider to be viable solutions to the difficulties brought about by migration.

The first account we’ll talk about is the one from Strangers to Ourselves by Julia Kristeva, the second, from Eva Hoffman’s autobiographical novel Lost in Translation and the third focusing on the immigrant stories documented by the Haitian/American writer Edwidge Danticat in her Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Writer at Work.

Read the full essay.





Amritsar: Conflict & Harmony

Applied ICDAmritsar: Conflict and Harmony
Guest Post by Linda J. de Wit

Amritsar is a medium-sized city in India serving as a tourist destination for two main reasons. First, it is the location of the holiest temple of the Sikh religion; second, it is the closest city to the Wagah border crossing with Pakistan where thousands of visitors assemble to watch the ceremonial closing of the gates every day.

The city and its surroundings have great significance in the history of Partition and the border ceremony is probably the most tangible example of the persistent tensions between the countries separated in 1947. In a remarkably aligned military drill, soldiers on both sides parade up and down, accompanied by hostile looks, aggressive hand gestures, and kicks so high they are basically standing splits. The audiences cheer every move in what almost looks like a dance-off.

When the two flags simultaneously are lowered, a single brief handshake takes place before the border gates are violently slammed shut in the neighbor’s face. The crowds applaud and shout patriotic slogans. The ceremony is a joyful event with music and dancing, having the atmosphere of a sports game. The souvenirs on the Indian side signal that the subject matter is more serious, as they boast about the “world’s largest border guarding force.” Most visitors have probably never been, and will never go, to the other side.

Back in the city, one can visit the Partition museum, the only one in the country. It recounts how the division of British India along religious lines caused millions of people to leave their homes. Amritsar’s train station saw refugees leaving in both directions, as well as packed trains arriving with no one alive, attacked because they were Muslims or Hindus.

A stone’s throw from the museum is a walled garden, Jallianwala Bagh, where a massacre took place by British forces among peaceful protesters in 1919. Gatherings had been forbidden and, without providing a warning, soldiers opened fire on the crowd for ten minutes, killing hundreds. This was one of the events that nourished the independence movement in India.

The city’s main attraction, however, is a different place, drawing more visitors than the Taj Mahal: the Golden Temple. It is the spiritual center of Sikhism because it is where the original version of the religion’s holy book lies. The Temple’s four doors symbolize that people from east, west, north and south can enter the place, irrespective of caste, creed and sex: Sikhism’s fundamental values include absolute equality and the unity of humankind.

The free information booklets distributed around the Temple describe how Sikhism holds that, in essence, all religions are an expression of the same fundamental truth. The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak (1469-1539), strove to bring Hindus and Muslims together: “his life and teachings were a symbol of the harmony between the two communities.”[1]

The peaceful ambience of the Temple complex is a heartening change from the city’s gloomier connotations. Tears may spring to the visitor’s eyes, due to mountains of onions being peeled by countless volunteers: every Sikh place of worship has a common kitchen distributing free meals. At the Golden Temple some 75,000 people per day share the same food, sitting together in a row on the floor.

For the moment, such harmony is, on a larger scale, still something to strive for. Last December, the Heart of Asia peace summit took place in Amritsar, but India and Pakistan did not successfully initiate a dialogue process.[2]

The significance of Amritsar in history, as in the present, remains ambiguous. The city is the backdrop of some of the most intense examples of failing intercultural and interreligious dialogue and the consequences thereof. At the same time, as the capital of Sikhism, the city is imbued with the inclusive philosophy of tolerance and unity. For all its contrasts, Amritsar ultimately is a symbol of hope of a better future.

[1] Dr. Sir Radhkrishnan, as cited in: Singh Shan, H. (2015). Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The Unique and Universal Scripture. Dharam Parchar Committee.



Intercultural Challenges of the Deaf HIV/AIDS Epidemic

Intercultural Challenges of the Deaf HIV/AIDS Epidemic
Guest Post by Leila Monaghan

I grew up in New York and worked in the theatre industry in the 1980s. The profound impact of the AIDS epidemic was clear. Death was everywhere. When I returned to school to study Deaf culture I learned of the impact of AIDS on the Deaf community. One of my fellow students at the Gallaudet 1988 summer program was Gene Bourquin, part of the early Gay Men’s Health Crisis buddy network providing support for people with AIDS across New York City. From him I learned how the city’s flourishing gay Deaf community had been massively impacted. He shared the story of an isolated Deaf man in the Bronx he had worked with, his first buddy and one of the earliest to die.

By 2003, I had my PhD and had finished an edited collection, Many Ways to be Deaf. While editing this volume of ethnographic studies of international Deaf communities, I realized that Gene’s experiences with the scourge of HIV/AIDS were not unique. Deaf communities from the US to Africa to Asia were struggling to disseminate information, protect people, and care for the sick. This led to a book co-edited with my colleague Constanze Schmaling, a scholar of Hausa Sign Language, HIV/AIDS and Deaf Communities, and ongoing intercultural dialogue, sometimes successful, sometimes failed, on the topic of HIV/AIDS and Deaf communities.

I have learned so much from my Deaf colleagues, including my co-authors Deborah Karp and Mark Byrd, and activists including Michel Turgeon and Don Pilling of the remarkable Coalition Sida des Sourds du Québec, and John Meletse of South Africa. My colleagues have shared with me stories of friends dying unsure of why they were so ill, the problems so many Deaf people have interacting with systems built on languages they don’t understand, and the lack of attention to and funding of Deaf issues. My main roles have been publicist, organizer, and intermediary, trying to get officials and attendees of the biennial international AIDS conference to understand how the disease has an unusually deadly impact on Deaf communities.

I presented a poster about Deaf HIV rates in the United States at AIDS 2006 in Toronto, presenting data on how US Deaf people were twice as likely to be HIV+ as their hearing counterparts. There I met Michel and Donald Pilling from CSSQ and Deborah Karp from the Maryland Deaf AIDS Project. We organized an informal press conference. While there is often distance between Deaf groups and Disability Rights groups, everyone came together to discuss the issues around the lack of recognition of the Deaf and Disabled communities within the larger fight against AIDS.

For AIDS 2008 in Mexico City, I organized a Deaf and Disability Pride Zone in the community village and various other events including panels and a press conference. I also lobbied for interpreters. Many people unacquainted with Deaf culture do not understand the practices and needs of professional interpreters.  Although two interpreters fluent in Spanish, Mexican Sign Language (LSM), and American Sign Language (ASL) were hired for the conference, they were hired at the last minute and then subjected to grueling conditions.

For AIDS 2010 in Vienna, Jill Hanass-Hancock took over organizing the Disability Zone and I continued to organize Deaf outreach and lobby for interpreters. Because the official languages of the conference were English and Russian (part of an outreach to Eastern Bloc countries because of Russian bans on discussing AIDS), British Sign Language and Russian Sign Language interpreters were hired—languages that no one at the conference was actually using. It took a week of lobbying to get Austrian Sign Language interpreting for the one official Deaf outreach event.

AIDS 2012 in Washington DC presented different challenges and an opportunity was missed to do a Deaf oriented mini-conference at Gallaudet University despite months of lobbying. I was not able to attend AIDS 2014 in Australia or AIDS 2016 in South Africa. I know of no Deaf presence in Melbourne but was delighted to see that Nkosinathi Freddy Ndlovu lead a Deaf outreach in Durban.

Language creates the world as we know it. Successful dialogue shifts the world into new places. While the dialogue has not always been successful, I have learned much from my Deaf colleagues and some of this information is now part of the larger discourse at the international AIDS meetings. Deaf discourse is visual and depends upon understanding not only understanding distinct sign languages, in this case ranging from American Sign Language to British Sign Language, from Russian Sign Language to South African Sign Language, but also the logistics of space and movement involved with communicating in any sign language. Learning the requirements of communication is the first step to communicating ideas and needs.

There is still so much work to be done on the issue of HIV/AIDS in Deaf communities. My colleagues and I continue to try to bring awareness to the issue. Next stop is the AIDS 2018 conference in Amsterdam!

Literature for Intercultural Awareness: A “Key to Perception”?

Literature for Intercultural Awareness: A “Key to Perception”?
Guest Post by Michael Steppat (University of Bayreuth)

It has been said that literary works can benefit and advance intercultural understanding. For instance, Mazi-Leskovar maintains that “literature should alert readers to all those who are in one way or another different from the readers themselves. Literature thus encourages inter- and intracultural awareness” (2010, p. 10); “multicultural literature remains one of the sources through which issues related to intercultural communicative competence can be successfully addressed” (2006, p. 278). Wasikiewicz-Firlej (2012) explains that “works of literature enable the reader to observe the world from multifarious perspectives and cherish the diversity of individual perception. The power of literature lies in its unique ability to deeply involve the reader both at a cognitive, as well as emotional level.” Taking Japanese writer Haruki Murakami as an example, Kuryleva and Boeva have found: “The overwhelming majority of the writer’s literary heroes, placed into alien cultural environments, become the participants of intercultural communication” (2010, p. 171). This is not only a feature of recent literature, however. In the very beginning of western literary culture, Homer’s Iliad culminates in a Book 24 which poignantly depicts the furtive (and rather desperate) visit of Trojan ruler Priam in the quarters of the Greek enemy, at risk of his life.

Of course it is more recent developments that are especially relevant for us today. We owe to Edward T. Hall an insight into sources of knowledge that bring to light the concealed snags of what we like to take for granted, what culture “hides” from its own members. In The Hidden Dimension, Hall illustrates this with the desirability of using literary artifacts as “a key to perception”: from fictional works of different cultural origins one may gain data on the experience and perception of spatial distance as “a significant cultural factor” (1966/1982, pp. 94ff.). Some time after this, communication scholar John C. Condon suggested: “The potential of literature and film for our understanding of intercultural relations is considerable, and can be explored both through the analysis of cultural patterns expressed in the works, and in the analysis of intercultural themes, of conflicts and resolutions by the characters in novels, biographies and films” (1986, p. 153). It is hence not surprising that Patrice Buzzanell, studying intercultural adaptation, should develop an argument about career design processes partly by calling attention to narrative fiction, viz. Lionel Shriver’s novel The Post-Birthday World (2012, pp. 85, 91-92): by bricolage, the same set of skills and abilities “can be channeled into different career paths.”

Literature, in fact, is now being explored especially for its intercultural dimensions, using a comparative approach. Studies edited by Lindberg-Wada offer a global perspective, tracking literary developments and genres “across times and cultures.” Aiming to overcome distortions in western biases when writing about genres in non-European literatures, the approach includes “intercultural comparisons between literatures.” This means studying, for instance, the history of Indian, Chinese and Japanese drama, and demonstrating that “intercultural understanding in the literary field is now more indispensable than ever before.” With the shifting picture which a tracing of multiple lines of analogy and difference brings about, it becomes easy to recognize that beneath its surface literature is strongly mobile, on the move. As “the product of many logics,” we are told, literature “teaches us to think polylogically rather than monologically” (Ette, 2016, p. xxii). The closer we look, the more we are likely to find that fictional works have the capacity to open up “other spaces, dimensions and patterns of movement.” Very often, cultural experiences from outside our previous knowledge are inscribed in them, so that literature characteristically traverses its terrain without a distinct terminal point. More often than we may sometimes realize, we are dealing with literature that has “no fixed abode.” If so, can we as readers try successfully to stand still? “The texts move along, even without us, and leave us behind” (Ette, 2003, p. 9). We have Umberto Eco to thank for this provocation, when he remarks that seemingly enduring narrative characters, as individuals, are “becoming evanescent, mobile, and shifting, losing that fixity which forced us to acknowledge their destinies” (Eco, 2004, p. 11). As in Alexander Calder’s mobiles, the form itself “moves” before our eyes, so that the work becomes “an opus in movement” (Eco, 1989).

This experience illustrates a transcultural condition. From another angle, it’s a transtextual one. A mobility across borders, which interweaves local dynamics of seemingly fixed and stable individual texts within one e-book reading program or one codex, not only allows but compels textual bodies to be read through each other beyond imposed limitations of genres, media forms, and sociocultural determinants. The same applies to the motion picture. In tackling such works, and attempting to unlock their interpretive potential, one would expect an educated reader to employ tried and tested methods—from stylistic or rhetorical analysis to narrative focalization. Or mise-en-scène and montage. And, instinctively, the recipient might indeed do so. Classical methods of investigation can help in making cultural comparisons and seeking to overcome a particular culturally-bound bias.

But is that really enough? Regarding literature, we are dealing with what librarians sometimes (and helpfully) call “Intercultural Communication Fiction“ (as in from Shaila Abdullah’s Saffron Dreams (2009) to Riichi Yokomitsu’s Shanghai (2001). In looking more closely at such works, a comparative approach which more or less tacitly assumes that there are given cultural communities which may or may not interact with each other reaches its limits. We might even suspect that many imaginative works, not only those of one genre or in recent years, would require an understanding of culture as process (Faulkner et al., 2006, for instance pp. 40-43), one “in which the different cultures penetrate and alter each other,” a “transcultural phenomenon that is all mixed up” (Ette, 2003, p. 11).

A closer look will show that we have a rich variety of cases in which the usual methods reveal less about complex works as a key to perception than we may reasonably expect for adequate understanding, in which methods fail or do not carry all that far. If literature is mobile, and the cultures of which it speaks are “mixed up,” it is hardly sufficient to keep analytical tools out of the mixture. Should we go beyond disciplinary boundaries? Hwa Yol Jung in Transversal Rationality & Intercultural Texts does indeed urge us to navigate disciplinary border crossings, for a “fusion of cultural (and disciplinary) horizons” (2011, pp. xii, xiii, 22, 29). For the imaginative shaping of situations in which different cultures communicate and penetrate each other, research in the wide terrain of Intercultural Communication can open new perceptions. The conference of the International Association for Intercultural Communication Studies (IAICS) in summer 2016 has gone some way in illustrating the potential.

Just consider, for example, the well-known Sino-American writer Gish Jen, as in her witty second novel Mona in the Promised Land (1996). The two sisters, Mona and Callie, who are children of immigrants in the US, for a time live in a co-ethnic area where rocks (and also crab-apple mash) are thrown at them—as a nasty brand of welcome. In unexpected ways, the Chinese minority in America can turn against group members. This “hyphenating” world, a setting filled with communicative mishaps, challenges the sisters as well as further characters to learn to reshape their identities by interactions, which turn out to be different for each ethnic community with which they have to deal: Chinese, Caucasian, Jewish, Black. The novel has been read with the help of certain standard methods: as testing the idea of ethnic identity’s fluid nature, exploring interethnic coalitions to enable a genuine mutual understanding, going beyond demands of ethnic authenticity. It has been read from a postcolonial concept of hybridity, and from a focus on over-determination by class differences. Useful as such readings are, they do not go far enough. One of the sisters may appear to enjoy a subjectively free and individual choice of who and what she desires to be, yet the novel operates at least partly with the forms of cultural contract as mapped by Ronald Jackson (as in Hecht et al., 2003), in which choice becomes complexly related to its opposite. (Mis)Communication processes are at work beneath the surface, which have hardly been explored. In another work, Gish Jen has pointed to “the seriousness of human communication” (“Birthmates”), and one can locate it also within the seemingly light mode of Mona. The different solutions at which Mona and Callie along with further characters in the novel arrive indicate the need to look more carefully. In particular, as a sample analysis shows, the processes at work emerge as those mapped in Identity Negotiation Theory—which can add precision, with attention to intersectional conjunctions, so as to place concerns of hybridity and class in perspective. Such possibilities may well be worth tracking.

That is just one little illustration. As we have seen, interculturally oriented communication scientists use literary works, and I would argue that, conversely, studying intercultural literature(s) can gain a vital dimension by making use, with all due caution, of the methods and findings of Intercultural Communication research in its various branches. The “borderlinings of scholarly disciplines” open the opportunity of a dialogue which can point us in new directions (Ette, 2003, p. 13). The borderlinings can help us to ask questions about literature and also film, such as: Is there any representation of other cultures’ (nations, regions, ethnic groups) attitudes toward the cultural background patterns, as hetero-images? What predispositions and stereotypes are shown regarding ingroup and outgroup identification factors? If no background patterns and/or predispositions are depicted at all, what reason could there be? By what narrative devices or tropes or semiotic methods are auto-images represented, if at all? Or: Is there any depiction of a search for interpersonal and relational identity for fictional communication partners, to renegotiate apparently fixed or distinct cultural identities? Are alternative ways suggested to cope with new cultural context, from which a selection becomes possible in any situation? Does the interpretation which socioculturally subordinate personae or actants give to their conduct differ from the interpretation of that conduct by any dominant ones? With what means of representation is this shown? Such questions are just samples, from a wider range being developed within linked thematic cycles. A research program can open from such beginnings, one that would benefit from the participation of anyone who might be interested in joining the cluster that has begun forming. Together, we could explore a catalog of analytical questions to enhance the supportive potential from across a disciplinary frontier, for more productive reading.

For any scholars interested in exploring these options: The author may be contacted via e-mail, <>


Buzzanell, Patrice M. (2012). Transforming Career via Intersectionalities and Inter/cultural Processes. In Xiaodong Dai and Steve J. Kulich (eds.), Intercultural Adaptation (I): Theoretical Explorations and Empirical Studies (pp. 75-96). Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.

Condon, John (1986). Exploring intercultural communication through literature and film. World Englishes 5.2-3, 153-161.

Eco, Umberto (2004). On Literature. Trans. Martin McLaughlin. London: Secker & Warburg.

Eco, Umberto (1989). The Open Work. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Ette, Ottmar (2016). Writing-between-Worlds: Transarea Studies and the Literatures-without-a-fixed-Abode. Trans. Vera M. Kutzinski. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Ette, Ottmar (2003). Literature on the Move. Trans. Katharina Vester. Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi.

Faulkner, Sandra L., Baldwin, John R., Lindsley, Sheryl L., and Hecht, Michael L. (2006). Layers of Meaning: An Analysis of Definitions of Culture. In John R. Baldwin, Sandra L. Faulkner, Michael L. Hecht, and Sheryl L. Lindsley (eds.), Redefining Culture: Perspectives Across the Disciplines (pp. 27-52). Mahwah, N.J., & London: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Hall, Edward T. (1982). The Hidden Dimension. 1966. New York: Anchor Books.

Hecht, Michael L., Jackson, Ronald L. II, and Ribeau, Sidney A. (2003). African American Communication:  Exploring Identity and Culture. 2nd ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Jen, Gish (2000). “Birthmates.” Ploughshares. Ed. Gish Jen. First published 1995.

Jen, Gish (1996). Mona in the Promised Land. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Jung, Hwa Yol (2011). Transversal Rationality & Intercultural Texts. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Kuryleva, Lyubov A. and Boeva, Svetlana A. (2010). Literary Texts by H. Murakami in Terms of Intercultural Communication. Intercultural Communication Studies 19, 168-175.

Lindberg-Wada, Gunilla, ed. (2006). Literary History: Towards a Global Perspective. 4 vols. Berlin & New York: de Gruyter.

Mazi-Leskovar, Darja (2010). Fiction for adults promoting intercultural and intracultural understanding. Facta universitatis Linguistics and Literature 8.1, 9-17.

Mazi-Leskovar, Darja (2006). Exploring diversity through literature or intercultural awareness with multicultural literature. In Čok, Lucija (ed). The Close Otherness (pp. 277-284). Koper: Založba Anales.

Wasikiewicz-Firlej, Emilia (2012). Developing cultural awareness through reading literary texts. Taikomoji kalbotyra 1. Web. March 2017.

Peace Profile of Sebastiano D’Ambra

Peace Profile: Sebastiano D’Ambra
Guest post by Belinda F. Espiritu

A Peace Profile is a short biography about an individual peace activist or an organization dedicated to working for peace. It describes the individual or organization, what actions they have taken in working for peace, and what contributions or achievements they have made to foster peace in a particular peace issue or area of conflict.

Multiple peace profiles have been published in Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice in recent years. Among the peace activists described have been the following notable persons: Arundhati Roy, Aung San Suu Kyi, Dorothy Day, Gush Shalom, Gustavo Gutierrez, Herbert Jose de Souza, Jayanti Kirplani, Jeanette Renkin, Martin Buber, Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, David Dellinger, Jayaprakash Narayan, Larry Hartfield, Le Xun, Stephen Biko, Salvador Allende, Federation of African Women’s Peace Networks, Afghan Peace Volunteers, Christiana Thorpe, and many more.

Sebastiano D’Ambra is an Italian missionary priest who has been working for peace with Muslims and Christians in the southern part of the Philippines for almost four decades. In coming to the Philippines for the first time in 1977, the height of the Martial Law, he saw the violence and prejudice between Christians and Muslims in Mindanao, the burning of mosques and churches, the mutual killings, and the displacements of communities due to the fighting between the Philippine military and the Muslim rebels. He dreamed of peace in such a conflict-ridden place and so he founded the Silsilah dialogue movement, a holistic approach to cultivating the spirit of dialogue and peace between Muslims and Christians in Mindanao, Philippines. This movement for peace extends to the wider world which is also very much in need of peace. The work of D’Ambra in cultivating mutual understanding and peace between Christians and Muslims is very much called for in a world rife with terrorism, Islamophobia, and prejudice between Christians and Muslims.

This peace profile of Sebastiano D’Ambra is a humble contribution to the aims of the Center for Intercultural Dialogue. The full citation is:

Espiritu, B.F. (2017). Peace profile: Sebastiano D’Ambra.  Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 29(1), 112-119.

The essay was published online by Taylor and Francis on 31 January 2017. Visitors to this site may contact me for a full copy of the manuscript of the article through this email: bfespiritu AT

Intercultural Communication or Post-Cultural Communication?

Guest Post by Paola Giorgis

Intercultural 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.

Most of the activists, me included, had a regular job, so we had to organize shifts to bring food (which was offered by some associations involved in the project), to take women and children to hospital, to the lawyers who were following their cases, or to the communal baths, as the place where the refugees stayed had no water facilities.

As one can imagine, conditions were really hard. People were crowded into a small space, with no heating or electricity, they were frustrated and angry, and these conditions sometimes fueled fights, which we volunteers had to deal with – trying not to involve the police as much as we could, as they would have immediately evacuated the building.

I felt frustrated and angry myself, as I could not conceive how so many people could be left to live in such conditions in a so-called civilized western country. There were many political issues at stake, and things were not always easy within the different groups of volunteers and activists, as well as between the associations involved.

With no formal, or even informal, training, I found myself confronted with an asymmetrical intercultural context of relations involving all the sensitive issues of potential intercultural misunderstanding and conflict:

Issues at Stake Volunteers Refugees
Role – issue of power active (the ‘givers’; the ‘helpers’) passive (the ‘receivers’; the ‘helped’)
Gender mostly female mostly male
Age mostly middle-aged women mostly young men
Religion mostly non-religious or atheist mostly religious
Language mostly monolingual mostly monolinguals (different languages than the volunteers)

To manage each of these issues, cultural and linguistic mediators were involved, but things were not always easy for them either, as sometimes they were not accepted by their own community – when, for example, they belonged to a different ethnic group than the majority of their group – and it sometimes happened that we volunteers had to mediate between the groups and their own mediators.

In a few words, situation was very complex, I was totally unprepared to deal with it, and I made all of the possible mistakes.

First of all, as there were so many people, I perceived them as groups rather than individuals – on one floor were the Sudanese, on the other the Somali women, on the next the Somali men, etc. It was only little by little, and when people were less, that I could see and appreciate differences between them, but sometimes it was too late as they were about to leave. Another mistake was that, as they all had very basic needs, I was mainly focused on doing things – bringing food, taking them to hospital, etc. – rather than trying to get some time to simply be there, stay with them, and get to know them. That attitude contributed to creating fixed roles on both sides, and sometimes I felt frustrated as I had the impression I was perceived only as a problem-solving machine. Fixed roles also meant that I saw the refugees as people in need, which of course they were, but the fact was that I could only see one side of the coin, and I was not able to notice and relish their resources and skills, which of course were many – and which, again, I was able to see only later on in our relationship. Given that several issues were at stake simultaneously, I found it difficult to cope with them: being totally untrained for this context, I swung from an almost omnipotent attitude to a sense of impotence, a fluctuation which caused frustration to me as well as to the refugees. The sense of guilt which derived from this fueled my sense of inadequacy, and only after a while was I able to replace it with a sense of responsibility able to trace good boundaries, which prevented both peaks and valleys and therefore offered greater stability to the refugees, and to myself too.

Though I made a lot mistakes, some of the refugees were able to see beyond them (a good example of their resources and skills, by the way), and that brought about several episodes where true communication occurred. For example, one day an old wise man from Sudan invited me to have a coffee in a nearby café. As soon as we got out of the building, our roles blurred: I was no longer the person who provided food, and he was no longer a person in need, but we were just two people going to have a coffee together. In the café, we talked in English about our families, and exchanged comments and opinions about children’s education. Another day, a woman invited me into her room – women rarely went out of the building, and when they did, it was to go to the doctor, or to the hospital for their kids. She offered to comb my hair; I sat down and she combed my hair in silence because I could not speak her language, nor she could speak mine. It was a precious moment of silent dialogue, as when another woman invited me to have tea in her room. We spent some time together drinking tea in silence, smiling to each other. And though there was actually not much to laugh about in general, it also happened that, with some of the refugees, we enjoyed a good laugh together – for example, we often laughed at my efforts to say some words in their language. Actually, we found out that trying to look at things, and ourselves, from a slightly different and, when possible, even humorous perspective was a good way to relieve tensions and stress, and to create connections.

We were painfully aware that this subversion of roles was only temporary, and that we would soon return to our highly asymmetrical conditions; yet, these moments created the opportunity for relationship and dialogue. I think these episodes occurred when (and because) we reciprocally put down our pre-established roles (in fact, when we decided, more or less consciously, to subvert them), and we were mutually open, curious, and generous. Then, are these attitudes – not taking people or people’s roles for granted, openness, curiosity, generosity and a little sense of humor  – the fundamental characteristics of good intercultural communication? I don’t think these were episodes where intercultural communication occurred: we did not communicate so much between cultures as between individuals. Therefore, I now wonder: haven’t we devoted too much attention to ‘culture’ in ‘intercultural communication’, and not enough to individuals as the primary protagonists, and on what can encourage (or hinder) communication between them – which does not necessarily have much to do with ‘culture’? So, I ask myself whether it would be useful to critically consider intercultural communication itself, focusing more on what happens between individuals rather than between cultures. In sum: what if we try to think beyond cultures, and consider post-cultural communication as an option?

On Translation as an Intercultural Practice

Guest Post by Paola Giorgis
On Translation as an Intercultural Practice

It is an encounter with diversity which favors a critical reflexivity on what we take-for-granted of both emic and etic worldviews. It is practice that involves the constant exercise of moving in a space in-between. It represents the opportunity to engage in a double perspective. It is an experience which make us observe, challenge, redefine and move through borders. It is an occasion to look at our knowledge, assumptions and representations from a different point of view.  Well, no, it is not Intercultural Dialogue. It is Translation.

Translation shares indeed many characteristics with the intercultural perspective. Though translation necessarily requires the theoretical knowledge of different languages, it is mainly a practice and an experience. Translation thus combines cognition with exercise. after all, physical activity and spatial feature characterize it from its own etymological roots. The word ‘translation’ comes from the Latin ‘trans’ + ‘ducere’, where ‘trans’ means ‘across’, ‘beyond’, ‘through’, and ‘ducere’ is a verb meaning ‘to lead’, so that the literal meaning of translation refers to the actions of ‘leading from one place to another’, of ‘going through/across’, and of ‘moving beyond a place to reach another’.

Yet, if cognition and exercise necessarily characterize translation, they are not sufficient conditions for it to substantiate and display. In his seminal book on translation, Dire quasi la stessa cosa. Esperienze di traduzione [Saying almost the same thing. Experiences in Translation], Umberto Eco offers several factual, witty, humorous and sometimes paradoxical examples of all the problems, but also the opportunities, offered by the practice of translation. Eco’s volume originated from personal and professional experiences on and with translation which he was later asked to present in a series of conferences and, which, in turn, were collected in this text. The experiential element then characterizes the volume, but Eco does not miss the opportunity to reflect theoretically on the semantic units of ‘dire’ [saying] and ‘cosa’ [thing]. Yet, the key word there is ‘quasi’ [almost], that is the acceptance of the condition of being in-between two words, two languages, two cultures. Moving from one language to another always means, in Eco’s word, ‘negoziazione’ [negotiation], that is an activity in which usually two parties are ready to give up something in order to gain something else with the intent of being mutually satisfied. In translation, though, the practice of negotiation always implies the constant comparison between the structures of the different languages, a process through which each language can become its own meta-language.

Translation, then, encompasses several elements: theoretical knowledge, exercise, motion, negotiation, and reflexivity. And a further element too: the acknowledgment of the mutual influence of language and culture in shaping the link and the word/world. Anthropologists know it pretty well, as epitomized by (the now almost anecdotal) Sapir & Whorf’s example of Inuit snow-terms, or Claude Lévi-Strauss’ assertion that the French word ‘fromage’ ascribes to a different worldview than the English word ‘cheese’.

So, it is evident that translation is not so much about words, but, rather, it necessarily involves a reflexivity on how words shape our meanings, our cultural conceptualizations, our emotions. Therefore, reflecting on other words is a task which engages us to reflect on our own words: unveiling how much is cultural and situated in the folds of what we consider ‘natural’ and taken-for-granted in our language, translation invites us to explore the differences not only between languages, but within language too. Encountering the Other entails a reconsideration of the Familiar, so that translation implies the beneficial exercise of discovering l’étranger qui nous habite (Kristeva 1988), as well as the acknowledgment that foreignness and exile do not refer only to migrants, but are rather the archetypical condition of contemporary lives (Hoffman 1998).

It is then indeed a most suitable intercultural practice that the Center for Intercultural Dialogue has bravely launched from its pages. The translation of the Key Concepts into different languages is not only a political statement encouraging a reconsideration of the conventional use of English as the one-and-only language of academia and research, but it also elicits the profitable activity of the relativization and the decentralization of one’s own language and culture. A multilingual website is then very fit for the purposes of Intercultural Dialogue, as it does not involve the simple multiplication of languages, but it invites us to a critical reflexivity on how languages work, from within and in-between, and how they shape (and are shaped by) our cultural conceptualizations.


Eco, Umberto. (2003). Dire quasi la stessa cosa. Esperienze di traduzione. Milano: Bompiani.
Hoffman, Eva. (1998). Lost in Translation. A Life in a New Language. London: Vintage Books.
Kristeva, Julia. (1988). Étrangers à nous memes. Paris: Gallimard.

Intercultural Visual Communication

Intercultural Visual Communication
Guest post by Trudy Milburn

In February 2015 I had the opportunity to travel to Italy with my family and friends.  The first day in Milan, my friend Bethany remarked that she was surprised there was so much graffiti in the city.  As in many cities, Milan, Bologna and Rome have their share of writing-on-walls.  What my friend didn’t see initially was any potentially positive purpose behind the act.  She merely thought of it as defacing beautiful old buildings.  Rather than simply viewing the writing as criminal, we could think of wall writing as existing in “rhizomatic space” (Nandrea 1999 referencing Deleuze and Guattari), where “inscriptions can begin and end anywhere, can proceed unpredictably in any direction, can form surprising juxtapositions, layerings, and diagonal relations” (p. 111).

As we traveled south, we saw more mural-like wall paintings that seemed to convey political messages.

Visual Comm. Image1

Clearly the public display of opinion was alive and well in this college-town (Bologna).

When we arrived in Rome, at our apartment in Trastevere, the front door was covered in writing.  It was really the only such display on the nearby buildings.  One first impression might be that this was a sign of an undesirable location; perhaps a seedy section of town.  It was the first apartment I had rented in another country, so I was uncertain of what kind of place we had contracted.  Once inside we encountered very large and spacious rooms.  Later, we learned that this was a popular area for nightlife by local and study-abroad students.  

Visual Comm. Image2

Since this was our homebase for five days, it became a welcome site at the end long days of sight seeing. In fact, Johnson (2002), suggests we think of sites “not merely [as] the material backdrop from which a story is told,” but rather consider physical spaces themselves  as meaningful because they are “a sight-line of interpretation” (p. 293).

One of our final days was spent at the Coliseum.  It was here that we learned that the ancient Romans had some of the earliest forms of graffiti as demonstrated on a placard to illustrate the carvings into the stone (below).  While much writing in public places offers a more transient layer of potential meanings that can get worn away over time, that placard preserved ancient writing that was much more difficult to inscribe than modern tools of spray paint or marker.

Visual Comm. Image3

That night, we were having dinner with our friend Patrick who explained that his architecture class in Rome had just viewed, Exit Through the Giftshop (Cushing, D’Cruz & Gay-Rees, 2010), a film that depicts street art and artists from Los Angeles to the U.K. He described the importance of shifting how we come to understand the built landscape and the connotations it offers, moving from a simplistic view of graffiti as an act of vandalism to considering both the buildings and any layers of images and writing on them as meaningful additions.

While these images may be “curiously foreign script we cannot read” (Nandrea, 1999, p. 113), we shared an experience similar to what Nandrea (1999) observed, that that was that, “graffiti forces us to witness something” (p.114). Initially, we approached Italy as a site of historic monuments, but came to learn that  layers of newer symbols were added over time (and some have even been preserved). This trip helped us to acknowledge different form of communication and recognize that added writing, images or carvings shouldn’t be simply brushed aside as unimportant. When traveling, we seek to learn more about how is visual communication interpreted interculturally or internationally and how the multimodal layers will engage us in a different kinds of dialogue.


Cushing, H.; D’Cruz, J.; Gay-Rees, J. (Producers), Banksy (Director). (2010). Exit through the giftshop. [Motion picture]. United Kingdom: Revolver Entertainment.

Iedema, R. (2003). Multimodal, resemiotization: Extending the analysis of discourse as multi-semiotic practice. Visual Communication, 2(1), 29-57.

Johnson, N. C. (2002). Mapping monuments: The shaping of public spaces and cultural identities. Visual Communication, 1(3), 293-298.

Nandrea, L. (1999). “Graffiti taught me everything I know about space”: Urban fronts and borders. Antipode, 31(1), 110-116.

Refugees, Germany, Willkommenskultur and Intercultural Communication

Response to Dominic Busch’s guest post by Peter Praxmarer

Executive Director of EMICC (European Masters in Intercultural Communication)
Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) Lugano, Switzerland

Refugees, Germany, Willkommenskultur and Intercultural Communication

I find myself in almost full agreement with what Dominic Busch writes.

In particular, I find his reflections on language in what he calls “internal social discourse,” pertinent and well taken. Also, the fact that “the cultural argument” has been hijacked by the far right and the national populists, in our times, is not surprising. This would, by the way, merit a little more research: attention to the culture of others has more often than not been a child of animosity, enmity, hostility, rejection if not outright war, as the history of exclusion, but also of conquest, colonialism, imperialism, and domination in general, amply testifies. As we (should) know, the very idea of “intercultural communication” as a more or less independent field of study, research and practical application was born during WWII, as part of the “war effort” of the US (viz. Leeds-Hurwitz). From this, also, stems the particular and sometimes incongruent vocabulary of the field, which is utterly US-social-science-lingo dominated, with some inroads from languages which still claim their droit de cité in the global social science supermarket (or, more benignly stated, the Global Republic of Letters), e.g. French and German. The field of study called intercultural communication became less war-related only later (but not everywhere), when  nation- and culture-crossing processes and constellations other than war started to play a more important role in the modern world-system (to follow Immanuel Wallerstein’s still pertinent terminology, preferring it to the shallow term “globalization”) – but it has kept its very peculiar vocabulary, at least in the mainstream.

Aside from that, while reflecting upon the present discourse on refugees in Germany and the “cultural” problems of the more or less autochthon residents (the “Old Germans”, as Busch cites a fellow professor in his piece) with them, it is worthwhile also to reflect on the position of the very term Kultur in Germany. In Germany, and not only during Nazi times, there has long existed an attitude which was described as Am deutschen Wesen mag/soll die Welt genesen, meaning that German culture is the remedy for all other (cultural) ills, all over the world. The Allied Propaganda posters, both in WWI as in WWII, took up this cultural theme. Thus, e.g., US War Propaganda during WWI showed a Mad German Brute holding a club with written Kultur on it, or an US Sleeping Beauty by the name of Civilization, calling every man, woman and child to war  – these and similar illustrations were meant to convey that deutsche Kultur is not so peaceful as other civilizations. In historical perspective, one has to agree. Looking into what was done in the name of German Kultur and how Kultur was used during WWII and before, would just confirm the very xenophobic and worse essence of it, inhumanely and most horrendously. (Caveat: Allied war propaganda is not presented here as an authoritative source, but only to provide a stark illustration of the use of the cultural argument; and many other than German “cultures” and “civilizations” certainly also have their share in war, conquest and violence-in-the-name-of-culture, epitomized, e.g., by “The White Man’s Burden” or the “mission civilisatrice”.)

Therefore, and also in view of the fact that the populist right wing and nationalistic parties have been able to hijack the term “culture” for their purposes, it is so good to see how civil society in Germany has constructed a new culture which is not national or völkisch, nor aggressive or expansionist, but welcoming: Willkommenskultur. In addition, even the counterpart to civil society, the German state, not least through its Chancellor, is, to varying degrees and for various reasons, in favor of taking in refugees, as is, again for still other reasons and purposes, the economy and a great part of the media. A beautiful page in the otherwise not always so beautiful book of contemporary Europe. And also a great example of (co-)constructed (inter-)culture, as well as of the fact that  “culture” never stands alone and cannot be meaningfully explained without taking into account history, society, economy, the polity, as well as, in our day and age, the many influences and experiences of mediated virtual reality in all its forms.

Yet, I also want to mention a point of potential disagreement with what Busch writes, regarding the role of Intercultural Communication Studies and Research. It is certainly true that the term “culture” has been critically evaluated, and the field is rapidly moving away from an essentialist and relatively static position to a more constructivist interactional and dynamic view of culture, in very simple terms privileging “communication” and “inter” over “culture”. However, by and large the main concern of intercultural communication research has been predominantly either relatively elite or middle-class or strictly utilitarian, covering, e.g. management or other professional groups, hospitals, schools, the military, police, development cooperation, etc. Relatively rarely concerned with, e.g., social integration per se (if not in special trainings for social workers, etc.), or with social integration from below (viz. the reference to Conflict Discourse Ethnocentrism in Busch’s text). In other words, the field has been center- and middle-class- or elite-focused, and not periphery- and non-elite, and where non-elite, then mostly only in terms of social management of deviations from norms or dangers from (culturally defined) others. This has also impacted our methodology: we have not always tried to understand, but we have been “overstanding”, as Raimon Panikkar so masterly phrased it already a quarter of a century ago. This is exacerbated when interculturalists (have to) jump on data-driven “fast science” jets instead of cultivating philosophy-fertilized “slow science” gardens, since this leaves no time to reflect either on the cui bono question or on participative methods or more sophisticated research questions than the ones required and funded by the global social science marketplaces – and it most certainly does not give a voice to those directly researched upon and with. Also for these reasons (conceptual, exemplified by “culture”, as well as methodologically), I would argue, we have so little to say when it comes to refugee crises, or to horrorism/terrorism, or to many other social “problems”. One reason why “the cultural argument” has been so successfully hijacked by the right and the nationalists, could therefore probably be that the interculturalists have far too long worked – even if engaging in what Busch calls a “sophisticated” debate – with a de-historisized, de-socialized, de-materialized, de-economized, de-politicized and overly value-oriented and psychologized concept of culture (and communication, for that matter). In other words, if one wants to understand (parts of) social reality in terms of culture and communication (and “inter” dynamics and processes), one has to look at it as what Busch calls, following Michel Foucault a “Dispositiv” (“dispositif” or “apparatus” in Foucault’s terminology). Likewise, it is necessary to overcome the “Unbearable Lightness of Communication Research”, as The International Communication Gazette tellingly titles its forthcoming 2016 Special Issue.

This critical look at the field is of course not meant to belittle the many initiatives of academic interculturalists in Germany, of which “Helfern helfen” of the intercultural campus of the Interkultureller Hochschulverband is but one. Or the numerous other initiatives undertaken by people who have studied intercultural communication and want to put their knowledge to good use; not to forget all those who practice sustainable – and sustained — intercultural communication in their daily dealings with the Stranger, the Migrant, the Refugee, the Other. It is simply a call for more “social” intercultural communication studies – more social in more than one sense.