Maria Flora Mangano: Space of Relationship as a Space of Distance

Guest PostsSpace of relationship as a space of distance: A new proximity. Guest post by Maria Flora Mangano.

NOTE: Maria Flora Mangano has previously written about dialogue as a space of relationship (2018, 20172014) as long-term followers of this site will remember. She suggested this might be a good time to think about what is now being called “Social distancing” and how it relates to the space of relationship that is required for intercultural dialogue to occur.  

Among the measures for controlling the infection of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the need to avoid interaction among human beings, and, when that is not possible, to fix a distance of at least one meter, according to the World Health Organisation. In addition to the medical masks, in almost every part of the world, this measure implies a prohibition on shaking hands, or hugging and kissing. The warnings stress the need to interact with others without having any contact, especially of hands and face, the parts of the human body which, more than others, may transmit the infection. These two also are the parts of the body which, more than others, transmit the message, thus play a central role in communication.

During these last few days, the global news media have reported several alternatives to greetings and physical contacts created by many people around the world, involving touching elbows, or feet. Also, people have rediscovered the use of non-touching hand gestures, as with namaste, the Buddhist greeting, where hands are put together, or even blinking, as ways to respect a safe distance, yet still acknowledge another person.

The COVID-19 infection is introducing a new space of relationship among individuals, related to our interpersonal communication. This is affecting everyday life at the moment and will probably have effects in the future on human communication. A “new distance” is arising, which may be added to the original four proposed by the anthropologist Edward Hall in 1966 in The Hidden Dimension. He distinguished four levels of distance in spatial interrelationships among humans, which vary by such factors as culture, education, gender, and status. We might now add what has been popularized as “social distancing”) to the intimate, the personal, the social, and the public spaces proposed by Hall.

Despite Hall’s emphasis on cultural differences, as the new distance is required for global safety reasons, this relationship of distance between individuals is the same all over the world. Therefore, it cannot, and it is not supposed to be, different depending such factors as culture, age, education, gender, or status. What may change is the resilient capacity of human beings to find alternatives, to adapt themselves to (almost) every condition, and to try to find an answer, even when it seems hard, as during this time.

The challenge to us all will be to consider this necessary distance imposed on individuals as an opportunity to rethink the space of relationship as a space of proximity to the Other. Distance, as well as proximity, are terms generally related to a physical space of relationship among humans. What happens when this space is dramatically and unexpectedly avoided or altered, as it imposes another dimension, even a fixed measure of separation among individuals?

The opportunity which this social distancing offers is to consider distance, and consequently proximity, unbound from a physical space of relationship. Distance may become another term for proximity, if we will be able to look at the face of the Other even through a medical mask, and from one meter. We may still be touched by the Other’s call, even without touching her/him with our hands.

If we will be able to overcome a physical space of relationship – in the sense of going beyond it, rather than over it – we might also discover a new sense for proximity. It may sound like a paradox, and probably it is, as the challenges required to the human behaviour which affect our daily life. If we will be able to accept the paradox of distance and proximity as one, we may discover that the safe distance established by social distancing can be overcome, in a way, not because we violate the prohibitions, but as we are able to go beyond ourselves towards the Other.

The Latin term alter literally refers to “the other than two”; social distancing is offering us all the chance to alter our perspective of the Other, every Other than us: close or distant, with a medical mask or without, by touching her/him or without using our hands. This implies the opportunity to modify the distance at which we stand from the Other, in terms of prejudices rather than medical or safety prescriptions. It might be surprising to realise, when the COVID-19 epidemic will eventually end, that we have reduced our mental and heart distance from the Other, in addition to again being able to reduce our physical distance.

In these new and solitary days, in our creative country [Italy], a spontaneous proposal was born. It was soon shared among the people and became viral (in every sense!): find a way to encourage the others, with messages posted on the windows and the balconies. The sentence proposed was: “Andrà tutto bene,” or “Everything is going to be fine.” The idea was to write on white sheets, drawing the rainbow. It was soon made by children and families. I thought to draw it on paper and I posted the design on my window facing the road.

Relationship as a Space “In Between”

Resources in ICD“ width=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, KC37KC81, 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.

Constructing ICD #9: ICD as an Activity of Daily Living

Constructing ICD

Constructing intercultural Dialogues is now available, “Intercultural Dialogue as an Activity of Daily Living” by Maria Flora Mangano. Her goal is to expand her vision of dialogue as a space of relationship by helping us see how it fits into our lives even in brief interactions, rather than only during formally organized events.

As a reminder, the goal of this series is to provide concrete examples of how actual people have managed to organize and hold intercultural dialogues, so that others may be inspired to do the same. As with other CID series, these may be downloaded for free. Click on the thumbnail to download the PDF.

Constructing ICD 9Mangano, M. F. (2018). Intercultural dialogue as an activity of daily living. Constructing Intercultural Dialogues, 9. Retrieved from:
https://centerforinterculturaldialogue.files.wordpress.com/2018/04/constructing-icd-9.pdf

If you have a case study you would like to share, send an email to the series editor, Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz.


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KC81 Dialogue as a Space of Relationship Translated into Simplified Chinese

Key Concepts in ICDContinuing translations of Key Concepts in Intercultural Dialogue, today I am posting KC#81: Dialogue as a Space of Relationship, which Maria Flora Mangano wrote for publication in English in 2017, and which Yan Sun has now translated into Simplified Chinese.

As always, all Key Concepts are available as free PDFs; just click on the thumbnail to download. Lists of Key Concepts organized chronologically by publication date and number, alphabetically by concept, and by languages into which they have been translated, are available, as is a page of acknowledgments with the names of all authors, translators, and reviewers.

KC81 Dialogue as a Space of Relationship_Chinese-simMangano, M. F. (2017). Dialogue as a space of relationship [Simplified Chinese]. (Y. Sun, trans). Key Concepts in Intercultural Dialogue, 81. Available from:
https://centerforinterculturaldialogue.files.wordpress.com/2017/09/kc81-dialogue-as-a-space-of-relationship_chinese-sim1.pdf

If you are interested in translating one of the Key Concepts, please contact me for approval first because dozens are currently in process. As always, if there is a concept you think should be written up as one of the Key Concepts, whether in English or any other language, propose it. If you are new to CID, please provide a brief resume. This opportunity is open to masters students and above, on the assumption that some familiarity with academic conventions generally, and discussion of intercultural dialogue specifically, are useful.

Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz, Director
Center for Intercultural Dialogue


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

KC81: Dialogue as a Space of Relationship by Maria Flora Mangano

Key Concepts in ICDThe next issue of Key Concepts in intercultural Dialogue is now available. The goal is to expand the concepts available to discussions of intercultural dialogue. Click on the thumbnail to download the PDF. Lists organized chronologically by publication date and numberalphabetically by concept in English, and by languages into which they have been translated, are available, as is a page of acknowledgments with the names of all authors, translators, and reviewers.

KC81 Dialogue as a Space of RelationshipMangano, M. F. (2017). Dialogue as a space of relationship. Key Concepts in Intercultural Dialogue, 81. Available from:
https://centerforinterculturaldialogue.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/kc81-dialogue-as-space-of-relationship.pdf

The Center for Intercultural Dialogue publishes a series of short briefs describing Key Concepts in Intercultural Dialogue. Different people, working in different countries and disciplines, use different vocabulary to describe their interests, yet these terms overlap. Our goal is to provide some of the assumptions and history attached to each concept for those unfamiliar with it. As there are other concepts you would like to see included, send an email to the series editor, Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz. If there are concepts you would like to prepare, provide a brief explanation of why you think the concept is central to the study of intercultural dialogue, and why you are the obvious person to write up that concept.

Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz, Director
Center for Intercultural Dialogue


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Bergamo (Italy) visit 2014

WLH_ManganoOn May 26, 2014, I was able to re-connect with Maria Flora Mangano, one of the participants in the NCA Summer Conference on Intercultural Dialogue, held in Istanbul, in 2009. We have kept in touch, as she has kept in touch with others from that event, but this is the first time we have had the opportunity to meet in person again. It took a bit of travel (I was coming in from Lugano, Switzerland, and she was coming from her home near Rome), but the conversation was worth the effort. Her work will be familiar to regular visitors to this website, as described in her post on A lesson dedicated to the genocide in Burundi: An occasion of dialogue as a space of relationship among cultures.” A chapter of hers is included in Case Studies in Intercultural Dialogue, currently in press with Kendall Hunt, and one of the results of the Istanbul conference.

Although Maria Flora already holds a PhD and has been teaching for many years now, she is currently pursuing further studies at the University of Bergamo, which is why we met there. Much of the University is located in the old city, Bergamo Alta, dating to Roman times, and many of the faculty are housed in historic buildings. This part of the city  is especially impressive, from the funicular ride up the hill on which it rests, to the grand views once you arrive. Many of Maria Flora’s classes are held in a former monastery in the lower city, with a stunning courtyard, also impressive.

Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz, Director
Center for Intercultural Dialogue