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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Some Observations on Internal Social Discourses on the Recent Increase of Refugee Immigration into Germany

Some Observations on Internal Social Discourses on the Recent Increase of Refugee Immigration into Germany

Guest post by Dominic Busch
Professor of Intercultural Communication and Conflict Research
Universität der Bundeswehr München, Germany

[A couple of weeks ago, Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz asked me to write down some remarks on the current situation of Germany receiving a growing number of refugees. It is an honor for me to be allowed to say something on that topic. And at the same time – being a member of the society under discussion – the topic seemed to be so overly complex to me that I felt I was not able to write something off the cuff. After some consideration, I have tried my very best, and still, I fear that I might have forgotten or overseen one or another aspect.]

In international news coverage, Germany recently has been referred to as having been approached by an increasing number of refugees and immigrants from Africa, the near East as well as from South Eastern Europe (see either this excellent quantitative visualization, or this textual introduction with many links to the news).

Here, I would like to provide some remarks on this discourse as well as on how the discourse relates to ideas of intercultural dialogue. I cannot but write these remarks from a perspective that must be acknowledged as a highly personal one. Writing as a white German male professor at a university in Germany, and having been born in Germany, I am in a privileged position. I cannot contribute from the perspective of migrant experiences. I am part of that wealthy world where some (not too many) refugees have arrived, and civil society grows in strength and self-confidence by successfully accommodating them, donating, teaching refugee children German language in newly installed “welcoming classes”, etc. Critics of my contribution may well refer to the fact that I have not been personally involved in any challenging situations in the context of refugee movements.

Still, I would like to give it a try from the perspective of intercultural communication, my field of research. Even more, I would like to warmly invite readers of this contribution to add their perspectives and thoughts in this blog’s comment section below!

The Basic Assumptions of European Political Discourse on Refugees

Inside Germany, refugee immigration has been by far the predominant news topic for the last ten months. Migration had not been a topic of much consideration in the German national news discourse as it is now. Recent surveys have repeatedly confirmed that, even today, for a large part of the Germans the refugee phenomenon is an issue that they do not experience except via news media. Nevertheless, almost everybody seems to have an opinion on the topic. The arrival of refugees centrally can be dealt with as an issue of socially constructed news discourse. Keeping that constructionist aspect in mind may better help in understanding the central characteristics of the debate: it is primarily lead by attempts to finding a position and attitude for a whole society facing a situation some of the people feel as being insufficiently prepared for. In other words, German society is faced with a new situation and they cannot clearly see where it will lead.

The Construction of Unpreparedness

To start with, the primary reaction of the EU as well as many of its member states concerning the increasing immigration of refugees is that they were not prepared for this. Overall, political discourse builds upon the assumption that the increasing immigration is an event that could not have been foreseen. From this initial perspective, discourse draws the legitimation for needing to look for new solutions – and (in case of need) to break with former principles. So, for example, some EU member states have decided to act autonomously in terms of the refugee movement, although they had previously agreed upon following common decisions of the EU on these matters. Specifically, some of the EU member states have autonomously decided to close their borders to refugees, while others have decided to limit the number of refugees they are willing to accept.


In the case of Germany, one central ignition to the debate may be seen in Chancellor Merkel’s now famous statement “wir schaffen das” [we can do this]), first pronounced during a press conference on August 31, 2015 and encouraging society that they (and the state) have the means to welcome and accommodate the growing number of refugees. Furthermore, taking the perspective of international human rights, Merkel avowed that moral behavior will not allow for limiting numbers of refugees arriving as long as they are fleeing prosecution or other significant dangers. Stating that, Merkel took a position that is more open towards immigrants than the one taken by her own political party’s center-conservative attitude.

From that point onwards, simply put, it can be said that German society has been split into two groups – one group supporting Merkel’s openness across any political camps, and another group campaigning for an enforced stop of further immigration as well as for expelling those immigrants that already have entered the country. Beyond this overall dichotomy, the debate has some further nuances, all speaking either for one political camp or the other one. Generally this divide may accurately be described by distinguishing between the “old” Germans and the “new” Germans, terminology introduced earlier by Professor Naika Foroutan, who is based in Germany. Foroutan sees a large part of Germany’s population as representing the new Germans, and being open for aspects of globalization, migration and internationalization. Separate from them, however, Foroutan sees a part of the population that determines national identities on the basis of origin. Foroutan terms these the old Germans.

Over the past one or two years, discourse on refugees into Germany has grown into political upheaval. Newly founded political parties have entered several regional parliaments after a strong gain of votes during recent elections within some of Germany’s regions – propagating right-wing totalitarian and anti-Muslim attitudes.

The Inescapability of Being Part of Conflict Discourse

So these are the basic facts. The question now: what does this have to do with intercultural dialogue? First of all: A look at contemporary German discourse strongly teaches that there are no “facts”. The stronger and the more pervasive a political debate and conflict grows, the more it becomes evident that (as authors like Holliday and Dervin have stated for the field of intercultural communication, recently) any statement on the topic is automatically political. Even although academic research, above all, claims to analyze social phenomena from a distance that allows far-sighted reflection and multiple perspectives, any academic statement turns out to support either one or the other opinion. This is the case for writing, but even more, it is an issue for social discourse, which no longer accepts any neutral position but immediately categorizes any statement into one of the political camps. To date, researchers have not been pulled into escalated conflict. But since some extreme right-wing groups claim that the German national press media frequently lie, media discourse takes up a clear position within the debate. For the time being, most of the national media voices are pro refugees – to some degree perhaps just to counter the extreme right’s accusations. Remembering Spivak’s famous phrase, it regrettably goes without saying that here again, refugees – despite standing at the center of the debate – have no voice at all.

In sum, although I have long been convinced of constructionist and critical discourse analytic approaches to social communication anyway, the situation in German discourse just described makes it clear in a very painful way that once you are in a conflict situation, you will be constrained by your position as a party to that conflict, and you will not be able to pull yourself out of that situation by your own bootstraps. Even if you want to, society will not let you. Thus, from a discourse perspective, German society has maneuvered into an intractable internal conflict more quickly than might have been expected.

Conflict Discourse Ethnocentrism

Another aspect that comes to mind from the perspective of intercultural research is the observation that the debate on refugees is, to a breathtaking degree, ethnocentric. German news discourse and social discourse construct the phenomenon of increased refugee immigration into Germany as a singular and particular case that cannot be compared to any similar cases, whether in the past or in any other country in the present. From this perspective, the vast field of existing international research on migration is not considered relevant. Even more, the debate largely ignores the fact that international migration, and flight-based migration in particular, have been a worldwide phenomenon for centuries, and that, in fact, they are seen as a central characteristic of contemporary processes of globalization. Instead, a discourse of self-victimization of citizens of Northern Europe is being promoted. This ethnocentric perspective hinders political and social discourse from considering the phenomenon of increased immigration from a distance and in a wider context. Instead of well-considered orientations, society constrains itself to the search for ad hoc solutions. Even more, a general feeling of helplessness, hopelessness, and despair on the issue of immigration pushes social discourse into a situation of feeling under pressure. This pressure results in a situation of perceived conflict where participants narrow their perspectives rather than widening them to find creative solutions. Social discourse gradually adopts a tone of conflict discourse. As a consequence, even those political camps that actually endorse the reception of refugees tend to construct the increased immigration as a problem, a threat, and even a crisis. The notion of a refugee crisis today is commonly mentioned in German national news media, although even this notion has to be understood to be a construction – with many potential alternatives. Again and again, some authors thus warn that the language and rhetoric of contemporary discourse on immigrants is taking a more and more dehumanizing style – at the expense of the refugees.

Strategic Culturalization vs. Anti-Culturalism and Culture as a Taboo

Although research on intercultural communication and on intercultural dialogue has developed a vast range of highly sophisticated and differentiating notions of culture, these notions have not played any considerable role in contemporary social discourse. Instead, supporters of right-wing parties opposing the reception of refugees strategically have made use of rather crude and essentialist notions of culture. Until this happened, scholars might have believed that their research had overcome such outdated concepts. Instead, assumed cultural differences between refugees and Germans are being used to foment fear of future social and/or cultural conflict inside the country. Cultural particularities are made responsible for a putatively higher crime rate and even terrorism. In other words, talking about culture in the debate on refugees has so thoroughly been monopolized by extreme right-wing voices that the rest of the political camps see only one chance to oppose them: Instead of arguing for more differentiating (e.g. interactionist or constructionist) concepts of culture, residing political parties as well as news media act as if their only option is to completely ignore and deny the existence of culture as a phenomenon. For supporters of non-right-wing political camps, talking about culture has become taboo. Speaking the language of intercultural research, an anti-culturalism here (again) turns out to be the only morally acceptable attitude. To some degree, intercultural research is significantly threatened by this taboo. Social and political discourse here passes up the chance of gaining insights into how cultural identities are co-constructed in both face-to-face and media interaction, and how their construction can be activated in cooperative as well as in discriminating ways. In short, a careful look at the role of culture and its force as a discursive construction might help in finding ways to transcend the conflict discourse, yet these ways seem to be blocked by that very discourse at the moment.

Insights into the genuinely constructionist nature of social and political discourse may turn out to be the only chance for evading and escaping the conflict circle that has been described here. Even though this line of argument may perhaps give the impression of being abstract, and even complex, interculturalists, opinion makers, and the news media should be highly encouraged to contribute to establishing this perspective.

NOTE: See the response prompted by this post, by Peter Praxmarer.

Intercultural Neologisms for a New Revolution

Intercultural Neologisms for a New Revolution

Guest Post by Wenshan Jia, Ph. D.
(Professor, Department of Communication Studies, Chapman University, California, USA)

Since the beginning of the third millennium, neologisms such as Chindia, Chimerica, and BRIC(S) have been floating in the English-speaking world, particularly in the field of international politics and diplomacy, international business and economics. The concept of Chindia was originally created to refer to the geopolitical unity between China and India by Jairam Ramesh, Rural Development Minister of Indian Government in 2005 (Ramesh, 2005). His argument is that given the large population of 2.7 billion shared by both China and India, almost 40% of the world’s population, the huge economic potential, geographical proximity, and cultural affinity, the two countries can jointly forge the leadership of Asia and potentially that of the world if the two parties can, to use his own words, “overcome suspicions and establish reciprocal partnerships” ( Chimerica was coined by Ferguson and Schularick (2007) to refer to “the sum of China, the world’s most rapidly growing emerging market, and America, the world’s most financially advanced developed economy” (p. 1). Specifically, Chimerica accounts for 13 percent of the world’s land surface, a one-fourth of the world’s population, a third of its gross domestic product (GDP), and over half of the global economic growth over the past six years since 2000. This symbiotic relationship between the US (as the big spender) and China (as the big saver) is compared to “a marriage made in heaven” and regarded as “the defining feature of the current world economy” (p. 1). Besides, the two countries are also co-dependent in their concerted global efforts to address global issues such as terrorism and nuclear proliferation, global warming and poverty, transnational crime, energy shortage, and gaps of intercultural communication. Last but not least, “the acronym ‘BRICs’ was initially formulated in 2001 by economist Jim O’Neill, of Goldman Sachs, in a report on growth prospects for the economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China – which together represented a significant share of the world’s production and population” ( In 2006, the four countries Brazil, Russia, India, and China decided to create a BRICs dialogue structure and hosted the First BRICs Summit and in 2011, BRICs turned into BRICS with the addition of South Africa. BRICS has now entered into deeper collaborations with the establishment of the BRICS Bank, the BRICS Think Tanks Council (initiated in 2013) as well as the BRICS Media Summit and BRICS Global University Summit (both initiated in 2015).

So far, these concepts have been primarily used by circles of international politics, diplomacy, international finance, international development as well as related media. Such terms have been creeping into related academic fields. For example, the India China Institute was established as part of The New School in 2005 to respond to the idea of Chindia first created by Ramesh. Nial Ferguson, a Harvard historian, who is the co-creator of the term “Chimerica”, has established a private company named Chimerica Media.

BRICS-related research centers have been established in almost all BRICS countries such as South Africa. Research bodies in various developed countries such as the United Kingdom have established research programs focusing in BRICS. Alluding to BRICS, the University of Cambridge has set up The Center for Rising Powers. To respond to the prospect for Chindia, and the possible rising power block of leading rising Eurasian powers such as China, India, and Russia which are the major pillars of BRICS, the United States initiated the so-called “Pivot to Asia” in 2011 which has been deploying more than 60% of the American military power in the Asia-Pacific region and has just approved the Trans-Pacific Partnership excluding China, India and Russia. However, few efforts have been made to research and promote intercultural communication, particularly between the US and the BRICS countries.

I myself have started the exploration of intercultural communication dimensions of neologisms such as Chimerica and BRICS. First, with regard to the concept of Chimerica, I redefined the original financial term so that it has become an intercultural term which now means an open and evolving transnational community of intercultural communicators who have acquired both the bilingual and bicultural competence in the US-China interactions at all levels, ranging from international relations to interpersonal dynamics (Jia, Tian, & Jia, 2010). I have also edited an innovative and forward-looking intercultural communication reader titled Intercultural Communication: Adapting to Emerging Global Realities (2016) with a focus, albeit not exclusively, on intercultural communication issues between the developed countries and the BRICS countries as well as among the BRICS countries. I have similarly proposed using BRIC(S), originally a political-economic concept for financial investment, as an intercultural as well as a geopolitical concept.

Indeed, the coming into being of these and similar terms itself is both a reflection and a continuation of a realistic dialogue on a global scale – a dialogue which I would define as a series of strategic discursive moves by nation-states and the like with an attempt to not only redistribute power and resources on a transnational and global scale, but also to alter the inter-civilizational structure so that the East and West, the North and the South could be on a more equal basis. In this sense, this kind of dialogue is not merely logo-centric; it is both geopolitical, and politic-economic-cultural. Our job as interculturalists may be limited in this process, but at least we could both help the players and the audience better understand the nature and functions of such dialogues and suggest ways to improve the processes and structures of such dialogues for more peace and equity.

However, far from enough scholarly literature has been produced on the (inter)cultural communication dimensions of such terms to meet the demands of the growing transnational dynamics, be it between China and India, China and the US, among Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, or between the developed countries (such as G7) and the BRICS. Such terms can only become fully acknowledged and included in the global field of intercultural communication studies after a large body of high-quality scholarship on intercultural issues from interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary perspectives becomes available. Obviously, the global field of intercultural communication needs another revolution. This piece of writing is my personal invitation to readers to join in such new research initiatives and directions in order to expand and deepen the global field of intercultural communication for the sake of humanity’s peace and prosperity.


Jia, W. (Ed.). (2016). Intercultural communication: Adapting to emerging global realities. San Diego, CA: Cognella.

Jia, W., Tian, D., & Jia, X. (2010). Chimerica: US-China communication in the 21st century. In L. A. Samovar, R. E. Porter, & E. R. McDaniel (Eds.), Intercultural communication: A reader (13th ed., (pp. 161-170). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Ferguson, N., & Schularick, M. (2007, Feb. 5). Chimerical? Think again. The Wall Street Journal, 1-4.

Ramesh, J. (2005). Making sense of Chindia: Reflections on China and India. New Delhi, India: India Research Press.

Military Cross-Cultural Competence

Military Cross-Cultural Competence

Guest post by Lauren Mackenzie

Context & Definition

Although the importance of cultural awareness has been widely acknowledged by the U.S. military for decades, questions of how culture should be taught and who should teach it have received renewed attention since 9/11. The wide range of missions across the U.S. military, the hierarchical rank structure, and the variety of military occupation specialties require a broad, multi-dimensional approach to culture training and education. Several service culture centers have emerged to meet the needs of this diverse population in the last decade, to include: the U.S. Army’s Culture Center (Sierra Vista, AZ), the Navy’s Center for Language, Regional Expertise & Culture (Pensacola, FL), the Air Force Culture & Language Center (Montgomery, AL) and the Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (Quantico, VA). The culture centers house a mix of military and civilian faculty from the fields of communication, anthropology, international relations, and psychology to teach, research and assess the implications of culture for military personnel. The Defense Language and National Security Education website lists links to them all.

The unpredictable nature and location of military operations requires a set of universal and transferrable culture concepts and skills that personnel can employ wherever they go. The different branches of service have acknowledged the need for personnel to learn “how to learn” about culture, to observe cultural difference, and how to interact appropriately and effectively no matter where they find themselves in the world. As such, cross-cultural competence (3C) emerged as a key outcome of culture training and education. A commonly used working definition of military cross-cultural competence (Selmeski, 2007) is: the ability to quickly and accurately comprehend, then act effectively and appropriately in a culturally complex environment to achieve the desired effect – without necessarily having exposure to a particular group, region or language. However, each branch approaches the definition slightly differently. Sands & Greene-Sands (2014) review each military branch’s definition as well as the research, policy, learning, and application considerations for military contexts, to include the historical development of cross-cultural competence in professional military education and training. Along with cross-cultural competence, the military uses the terms “intercultural competence”, “cultural capabilities” and “culture-general competencies” (Rasmussen & Sieck, 2015) to characterize the skills and knowledge that are applicable in any culture.

Considerations for Teaching Military Cross-Cultural Competence

Since 3C is no longer recognized as solely the domain of Foreign Area Officers or Special Forces, the Department of Defense has taken steps to create a culture policy for the General Purpose Force. A baseline has been put forth to guide culture instruction and includes such skills as: acquiring cultural knowledge, demonstrating cultural self-awareness, cultural perspective- taking, and cultural observation. A “living” annotated bibliography devoted to Cross-Cultural Competence in the Department of Defense (Gallus et al., 2014) surveys the hundreds of articles, reports and book chapters that have emerged from a wide variety of academic disciplines and military branches in the past decade. Most military culture education efforts acknowledge the variety of 3C enablers, such as: knowledge (e.g., of culture-general concepts such as holism), skills (e.g., decoding nonverbal cues), and affective characteristics (e.g., curiosity). Of the various 3C skills, however, most military culture training programs emphasize the behavioral outcomes (e.g., ability to conduct cross-cultural negotiations). Mackenzie, Fogarty & Khachadoorian (2013) review pertinent considerations for teaching military students and suggest best practices for designing and delivering on-line culture courses. Recommendations include:

Military relevance: Students respond best to course content that is both framed using tools that are familiar to them (e.g., OODA loop) and applied to scenarios consistent with the types of situations they are likely to experience in their military profession.

Self-paced: Students take courses while deployed or stationed all over the world, where Internet connections can be intermittent and time differences can be significant. In order to meet the needs of military students’ atypical and unpredictable schedules, asynchronous course offerings are recommended, with voluntary opportunities for student interaction (e.g., course wiki).

Academically sound: Contributions from a variety of subject matter experts in the areas of anthropology, communication, and cultural geography, etc address the interdisciplinary nature of culture. This, in turn, leads to more effective and robust academic content that is taught throughout the semester.

Systematically assessed: Conducting pre- and post-assessment measures, along with student exit surveys, help to continuously improve the course content and design.

Key Challenges

Assessment persists as a key challenge for developing military cross-cultural competence. As is the case in other professional contexts, self-report measures are used most frequently (due to the ease with which they can be administered) but with caution. For military purposes, ecological validity is crucial yet difficult to attain for measuring 3C in such a diverse population. Situational judgment tests and hybrid culture education courses with mission-centered, task oriented scenarios have been used with some success but can be difficult to sustain. The pervasive tendency to quantify the qualitative nature of culture and communication continues to be problematic. It is in collaboration and open dialogue among military academics and their civilian counterparts that the potential for addressing such challenges is beginning to emerge.


Gallus, J. A. , Gouge, M. C., Fosher, K., Jasparro, V., Coleman, S., Selmeski, B., & Klafehn, J. L. (2014). Cross-cultural competence in the Department of Defense: An annotated bibliography. Special Report 71. Ft. Belvoir, VA: U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences.

Mackenzie, L., Fogarty, P. & Khachadoorian, A. (2013). A model for military online culture education: Key findings and best practices. EDUCAUSE Review, 48(4) July/Aug.

Rasmussen, L. l, & Sieck, W. R. (2015). Culture-general competence: Evidence from a cognitive field study of professionals who work in many cultures. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 48, 75-90.

Sands, R. & Greene-Sands, A. (2014). Cross-cultural competence for a 21st century military. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Selmeski, B. (2007). Military cross-cultural competence: Core concepts and individual development. Royal Military College of Canada, Centre for Security, Armed Forces & Society, Occasional Paper Series—Number 1.

Multi/Cross-Cultural Education in Need of Paradigmatic Change

Multi/Cross-Cultural Education in Need of Paradigmatic Change
Guest post by Zvi Bekerman, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

As an educational anthropologist, I have been involved, for many years now, in the study of inter/cross-cultural encounters. At first doing ethnographic research on, rather short educational cross-cultural encounters, and for the last fourteen years following the activities of the integrated, bilingual Palestinian-Arab and Jewish schools in Israel. After so many years of continuous research I would have expected to have more clarity about the potential of these educational efforts to sooth conflict, yet I stay ambivalent. My ambivalence and, at times, my doubts have little to do with the qualities of those involved in the educational initiatives – teachers, principals, parents, students, supervisors and more. Any dissatisfaction I may sense has little to do with the quality of individual teachers or students and much to do with the quality of the systems we all cooperatively build for these educational initiatives to inhabit. This is not to say that these initiatives, as any other educational contexts might not benefit from a more critical approach to their implemented practices and their sustaining theories, it is just to make sure we understand that what could be considered unsuccessful practices are many times adaptive moves to local and global systemic circumstances we collectively create and sustain.

In this short note I want to point at some paradigmatic issues, which I believe if not dealt with, might stand in the way of allowing educational cross-cultural or multicultural efforts to contribute, even in a small way, to the improvement of relations among communities in conflict. These paradigmatic issues have to with the failure of multi/cross-cultural education to account for the primacy of national and psychologized educational perspectives in their theoretical analyses while failing to recognize the connection between their essentialist approach to identity and culture and their larger sociopolitical context, the nation-state. Theoretically I’m aligned with what has recently come to be identified as the ‘ontological turn’ in philosophy and the social sciences (Escobar, 2007; Kivinen & Piiroinen, 2004; Paleček & Risjord, 2013; van Dijk & Withagen, 2014), encouraging a move from the epistemological to the ontological.

The move starts by restoring the concept of identity/culture to its historical sources, thus de-essentializing it. It then points at the nation state as the definite product of modernity; a modernity that has produced a distinct social form, radically different from that of the traditional order of the past. This modernity is characterized by very specific forms of territoriality and surveillance capabilities that monopolize effective control over social relations across definite time-space distances and over the means of violence. The nation state can be viewed as a political socio-economic phenomenon that seeks to exercise its control over the populations comprising it by establishing a culture which is at once homogeneous, anonymous (all the members of the polity, irrespective of their personal sub-group affiliations, are called upon to uphold this culture) and universally literate (all members share the culture the state has canonized). Reflecting modern psychologized epistemologies upon which it builds its power, the nation state creates a direct and unobstructed relationship between itself and all its ‘individual’ citizens: not tribe, ethnic group, family or church is allowed to stand between the citizen and the State.

These moves produce new meanings which are then developed into a methodology – cultural analysis – that is to say the gaining of skills on how to read/describe the world through careful observation and recording of practical activity, which in turn allows for a shift from the individual or the socializing group as the crucial analytic unit for (educational) analysis to the processes and mechanisms of producing cultural contexts through social interaction. Finally, the process leads to a new articulation of major policy issues related no longer to identity/culture and its components (individual, texts, etc), but to the analysis of particular identities/cultures and how these are produced/constructed in the particular context of particular societies.

Looking at the world in this way, seriously and critically, means being open to finding new criteria through which to name categories and their phenomena. The process could be liberating in that it could bring about the understanding that identity/culture are not necessarily the right criteria through which to describe the world, its inhabitants and events; not that they do not necessarily exist or are only hegemonic constructs, but that though they are legitimate, they need not result in individual suffering.

When these elements are not accounted for in multi/cross-cultural educational efforts, they risk consolidating that same reality they intended to overcome. Multi/cross-cultural education is in urgent need of reviewing its paradigmatic foundations while problematizing the political structures which sustain the conflicts it tries to overcome.

We should not expect multi/cross-cultural educational initiatives to be able to offer solutions to longstanding and bloody conflicts that are rooted in very material unequal allocation of resources. Unfortunately, many times societies/governments find it easier to support such initiatives rather than work hard towards structural change. In my recent book, The Promise of Integrated, Multicultural, and Bilingual Education: Inclusive Palestinian-Arab and Jewish Schools in Israel (Oxford University Press, 2016), those interested will find the above arguments developed and expanded.


Escobar, A. (2007). The ‘ontological turn’ in social theory. A commentary on ‘Human geography without scale’, by Sallie Marston, John Paul Jones II and Keith Woodward. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 32(1), 106-111.

Kivinen, O., & Piiroinen, T. (2004). The relevance of ontological commitments in social sciences: Realist and pragmatist viewpoints. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 34(3), 231-248.

Paleček, M., & Risjord, M. (2013). Relativism and the ontological turn within anthropology. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 43(1), 3-23.

van Dijk, L., & Withagen, R. (2014). The horizontal worldview: A Wittgensteinian attitude towards scientific psychology. Theory & Psychology, 24(1), 3-18.