Leeds-Hurwitz, W. (2019). Thick description. In P. Atkinson, S. Delamont, M.A. Hardy, & M. Williams (Eds.), SAGE research methods foundations [Online]. doi: 10.4135/9781526421036765746
Several years ago I was asked to write about “thick description,” a concept used mostly by ethnographers. Briefly, thick description recognizes complexity and the role of context. It is often contrasted with “thin description,” understood to be limited and superficial.
Thick description typically takes a semiotic approach, emphasizing how people construct and convey meaning through signs and symbols, both for themselves and others.
The volume has just been published, which leads me to think about ways in which thick description might be useful to understanding and encouraging intercultural dialogue. The essay describes some research by Jeff Todd Titon which points in a useful direction. Titon is an ethnomusicologist who “proposes a move to multivoiced interpretive accounts, that is, ensuring that multiple voices be heard—not only that of the ethnographer but also those of multiple informants from different positions, exploring potential gaps or disagreements. He emphasizes dialogue (including study participants speaking back to the ethnographer), questioning the analysis, as well as ethnomusicology in the public interest.”
“Ensuring that multiple voices be heard” – now that seems useful to intercultural dialogue! So a thick description will typically involve multiple layers of meanings, supplied by different participants, gathered over time, which together permit a better understanding of human behavior by interweaving separate descriptions into a single, complex whole.
The Centre for Intercultural Learning has created a set of explanations of communication styles and other cultural information published on the Global Affairs Canada website.
These descriptions cover not only Canada, intended to be helpful to those traveling to that country, but dozens of other countries, presumably mostly for Canadians traveling abroad. Topics range from what is typically addressed in a first conversation with someone (for Canada, “what do you do?” meaning in terms of work or occupation) to relationship-building (“meals are good spaces for building rapport”).
The Centre for Intercultural Learning is part of the Canadian Foreign Service Institute of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.
Velasquez-Manoff, Moises. (28 June 2019). Want to be less racist? Move to Hawaii. New York Times.
A thoughtful exploration of race, racism, and the impact of a substantial mixed-race population in Hawaii on local thinking about race.
Mixed-race people, who make up nearly a quarter of Hawaii’s population of 1.4 million, serve as a kind of jamming mechanism for people’s race radar, Dr. Pauker thinks. Because if you can’t tell what people are by looking at them — if their very existence blurs the imagined boundaries between supposedly separate groups — then race becomes a less useful way to think about people.
“Dr. Pauker runs the Intergroup Social Perception Lab at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Maybe her most intriguing finding is that Hawaii can rub off on visitors, changing how they think about race.”
The article is illustrated by wonderful photographs by Damon Winter, showing some mixed-race locals.
International Center for the Rapprochement of Cultures established as a cooperation between UNESCO and Kazakhstan.
According to The Times of Central Asia, “an agreement between the Government of Kazakhstan and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on the establishment of the International Center for the Rapprochement of Cultures under the auspices of UNESCO was signed on June 25 in Paris. The agreement was signed by UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay and Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Gulshara Abdykalikova. . .
The proposed structure is planned to be created under the auspices of UNESCO on the basis of the Center for the Rapprochement of Cultures under the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Kazakhstan. . .The objectives of the Center will be the promotion of research, the preparation of publications, the organization of conferences and educational activities on the history and practice of intercultural interaction in Central Asia and beyond.”
The International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022) is a UNESCO initiative.
Unreserved is the radio space for Indigenous community, culture, and conversation on CBC Radio (Canada). Host Rosanna Deerchild takes you straight into Indigenous Canada, from Halifax to Haida Gwaii, from Shamattawa to Ottawa, introducing listeners to the storytellers, culture makers and community shakers from across the country.
Exploring the Complicated world of Cultural Identity looks at cultural identity and how Indigenous people see themselves in a world that wants to paint them all with one brush. Identity, of course, is a complicated and touchy issue in a lot of communities in Canada, as elsewhere.
A full list of podcasts is here.
It’s not part of Unreserved, but a brief video by CBC Radio is also interesting: What’s in a Name? From “Redskin” to Indigenous takes a look at what Indigenous Peoples have been called and what they call themselves.
An open online course for basic Finnish
Launched at the end of November 2015, the online course for Finnish uses texts, dialogues and assignments to teach basic vocabulary and grammar to beginners – from exchange students to asylum seekers.
The online course A Taste of Finnish is primarily intended for international university students coming to Finland, but as it is open to all and available free of charge, it can also help asylum seekers and people relocating to Finland for professional reasons get a taste of the language in their new home country.
Developed at the Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies at the University of Helsinki, the course comprises ten lessons covering basic Finnish vocabulary, involving situations such as introductions, visiting a café and talking about leisure activities. The lessons also discuss Finnish pronunciation and grammar.
Orbe, Mark P. (2019). Microaggressions. NCA Concepts in Communication Video Series.
The National Communication Association has begun posting a series of videos explaining various communication concepts to YouTube. Four are posted as of this writing, and one of those overlaps with intercultural dialogue.
Everett, S. S., & Gidley, B. (2018). Getting away from the noise: Jewish-Muslim interactions and narratives in E1/Barbès. Francosphères, 7(2), 173-196.
Abstract: This article offers a comparative lens on intercultural and interreligious encounter in urban contexts in France and the UK, focusing on the commonalities and specificities of different national and municipal contexts. It offers an account of three forms of encounter, based on extensive fieldwork in two neighbourhoods of Paris and London: commercial interdependencies embedded in early phases of immigration; voluntaristic ‘interfaith-from-above’ policies shaped by state agendas developed since the beginning of the twenty-first century; and still emerging ‘interculturalism-from-below’ generated by second- and third-generation children of immigrants, which is marked by nostalgia and selective reading of local heritage. In doing so, it bypasses the sharp disciplinary and methodological divides that separate research on Jewish histories and cultures, Muslim communities, immigrant quarters, and postcolonial/minority ethnic contexts. It aims instead to show how intercultural and interfaith encounters often occur in mundane spaces, and operate through and despite forms of ambivalence, and in this respect offer a context in which to displace the terms of spectacular accounts of racial and civilizational conflict.
Robles, J. S., & Castor, T. (2019). Taking the moral high ground: Practices for being uncompromisingly principled. Journal of Pragmatics, 141, 116-129.
This article asks questions relevant to many contexts of intercultural dialogue: “What actually happens when people are in the midst of unyielding disagreement? How do people accomplish intractability in interaction, and what might this tell us about the social and practical achievement and function of seemingly-incompatible positions in conflict?”
Abstract: “We examine how participants in a moral conflict hold fast to their beliefs during a highly publicized moment in an ongoing social controversy. We apply discourse analysis to a video-recorded confrontation between a same-sex couple seeking a marriage license, and a county clerk refusing to provide the license for religious reasons, which took place after the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act in the U.S.A. (and had prohibited same-sex couples from marrying).We examine how pragmatics of account avoidance sequences and framing are deployed in interaction to accomplish “being morally principled.” This case illustrates how mediated public conversations around social changes provide participants opportunities to perform moralities and define the terms of debate in relation to cultural institutions. We reflect on how the consequence of this event is a form of debate in which participants speak past each other ritualistically, constructing worldviews as incompatible and problems as unresolvable.”
Mangano, M. F. (2018). Relationship as a space “in between”: A transcultural and transdisciplinary approach mediated by dialogue in academic teaching. Bergamo, Italy: University of Bergamo Press.
What is special and uncommon about Maria Flora Mangano’s research is her clear focus on dialogue as a space of relationship. Often intercultural dialogue has been viewed as occurring at the global, international level, typically involving politicians. Maria Flora is one of a very few scholars to become interested in how intercultural dialogues occur within face-to-face interactions, thus at a more personal level. Dialogue more easily develops among those who have already succeeded in establishing a relationship, rather than between strangers.
The metaphor of creating a social space in which dialogue can occur is not unique to Maria Flora, but it is uniquely appropriate to her concerns. The data which form the body of the project demonstrate praxis – in this case, her actual teaching experience, where she creates a space of relationship in the classroom, permitting dialogue to occur. This should encourage others to follow where she has led, since sufficient details are provided which others can immediately use.
In sum, Maria Flora Mangano not only studies dialogue, she demonstrates it in a way others can easily follow. And her theoretical argument clearly explains why they should do so. As the conclusion suggests: “dialogue needs relationship to be realized, and, at the same time, dialogue creates relationship” (p. xiv). May we all learn to create a space for dialogue in our relationships.
Maria Flora Mangano has frequently been mentioned on this site, contributing a number of publications (Key Concepts in Intercultural Dialogue, 81 on dialogue as a space of relationship, Constructing Intercultural Dialogues, 2 on reconciliation, and CICD 9 on intercultural dialogue as an activity of daily living), translations into Italian (KC1, KC14, KC37, KC81, CICD 2), and guest posts (A space of relationship for dialogue among cultures, and Example of dialogue among cultures).
NOTE: This post is a shortened version of my Foreword to this book, appearing on pp. v-vi.