Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations: An interview with Eugene Quinn

“Interviews”Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations. An interview with Eugene Quinn by Gabriel Furmuzachi.

Eugene Quinn is a Londoner who lives in Vienna. He is an urbanist, a DJ, one of the founding members of the social intervention group Space and Place. He is a rebellious optimist, as he puts it himself. One of his projects is the Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations. Inspired by An Intimate History of Humanity, a book by the English philosopher Theodore Zeldin, he tries to bring people together and give them the chance to have meaningful conversations about how they see the world and about life in Vienna.

Where did you get the idea to do something like this? What made you think that people who do not know each other would happily sit together for a meal and talk not only about what it means to be a foreigner or a native in a city or in a country but also about their life and sometimes even about their hopes and fears?

Vienna is not a city which welcomes strangers. The locals are shy, intellectual and full of angst. It can be difficult for incomers to make friends, or understand the soul of the city. But I know that there is lots of curiosity amongst the Viennese about the international community here – specially the U.N. office – and so we wanted to create a forum where insiders and outsiders meet as equals. In an age of right-wing intolerance, we wanted to send out another message – that Vienna is engaged and modern and open to the world. And for travellers, there is a fashion to go beyond the cliches and discover the real life of locals, instead of Sissi and Schnitzel.

Our urban culture group Space and Place explores the soul and identity of contemporary Vienna. We celebrate the city in all its modern complexity. I find the coffeehouses an important part of our evening (we have moved between 5 different cafés), because so many radical and avant-garde movements in art, literature, architecture, psychoanalysis and music were developed in these brown, intimate, bohemian spaces. We want to tell some new stories about our home town, and open up new dialogue.

Read the entire interview as a PDF.

Intercultural Dialogue and New Media Research: An Interview with Robert Shuter

“Interviews”I recently sat down with Robert Shuter, director of the Center for Intercultural New Media Research, to talk about possible overlaps in our areas of interest. Here’s a brief summary.

Intercultural dialogue typically assumes people from different cultural backgrounds interacting face-to-face, with the intention of coming to some understanding of their areas of similarity and especially difference. Intercultural new media research examines the relevance of culture for mediated communication, specifically when using any of the new social media.

There is an obvious need for research into the ways in which technology can be used to facilitate intercultural dialogues. A few possibilities have already been investigated. One approach examines efforts to link students(especially those studying intercultural communication or learning a language) with peers located in different countries. As yet, there is only a little published research on this topic. A very different form of virtual intercultural dialogue involved placing large electronic screens in public spaces in Australia and Korea, facilitating virtual interaction between populations not typically in dialogue, and then analyzing the results.

Other studies have examined virtual collaboration but collaboration is frequently missing requisite dialogic elements like empathy and deep understanding. At the same time, it may lead to intercultural dialogue, and perhaps is a precursor to dialogue. Hence, the question remains: Is intercultural dialogue possible in the virtual world?

One possible answer may be found by considering Fred Casmir’s concept of third culture. Casmir posited that individuals from different cultures can optimize their relationship through the development of a third culture which combines elements of each of their cultures into a new whole. Dialogue is necessary to develop a third culture, which Casmir argues cannot be achieved without empathy and deep understanding of others. Once achieved, a third culture provides an ideal climate to interact because it is mutually accepting, supportive, and cooperative.

As Shuter puts it in a recent publication (2012): “Although third cultures are difficult to create in the physical world, some research suggests that they may be more achievable in virtual communities. McEwan and Sobre-Denton (2011) argue that the ease of technological access to cultural others combined with reduced social and economic costs significantly increase the probability of developing third cultures in the virtual world. Virtual communities, unlike organic ones, do not require leaving ones domicile to be an active member nor are they plagued by face threats due to social errors, according to the authors. In fact, new media provides users with technological tools to manage social distance, which McEwan and Sobre-Denton suggest increase cultural risk taking and experimentation, leading more readily to virtual third cultures.” (p. 225)

Andreas Pöllmann adapts Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital to propose the relevance of intercultural capital. Essentially this expands beyond intercultural proficiencies (the typical list of intercultural skills, competencies, sensitivities required for intercultural competence) to include more subtle elements. A few examples to make his proposal concrete: those who are bilingual are especially useful in multilingual groups; those with international work experience can most quickly find their footing when sent to yet another country to conduct business. Such individuals should find their skills and experiences valued, and themselves much in demand, whether as employees or friends. The implications of cultural capital are enormous, as they suggest that those in the third world who are multilingual have something of great value that many in the first world lack. The question will be: how does intercultural capital play out in new media contexts?

Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz, Director
Center for Intercultural Dialogue

See the following articles for references to supplement these comments:

Leeds-Hurwitz, W. (2015). Intercultural dialogue. In K. Tracy, C. Ilie & T. Sandel (Eds.), International encyclopedia of language and social interaction (vol. 2, pp. 860-868). Boston: John Wiley & Sons.

McEwan, B., & Sobre-Denton, M. (2011). Virtual cosmopolitanism: Constructing third cultures and transmitting social and cultural capital through social media. Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, 4, 252–258.

Pöllmann, A. (2013). Intercultural capital: Toward the conceptualization, operationalization, and empirical investigation of a rising marker of sociocultural distinction. Sage Open, April-June 2013, 1-7.

Shuter, R. (2012). Intercultural new media studies: The next frontier in intercultural communication. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 41(3), 219-237.