Dialogue in Cross-cultural Perspective

“Dialogue” is what Anna Wierzbicka (2006) has called a key cultural term. It is pervasive in its use, rich in its meanings, and dense in the morality for conduct its use brings with it. We can hear calls for dialogue in multiple academic and public discourses. Over the past few years, conferences have asked us to reflect upon dialogue, or to engage in it, especially with the phrase, “Intercultural Dialogue.” The European Union has declared our time as a time for “Intercultural Dialogue.” As a result, “dialogue” has become prevalent, prominent, and potent in its meanings, and in its declaration of a preferred form for the conduct of communicative action. Who, indeed, would be against “dialogue”?

In the United States, we have been asked to engage in a Dialogue on Race, on Education, and indeed about what it is to be “an American.” In spheres of activity where peoples are brought together, we are asked to reflect upon “dialogue” and the ways, including new ways of thinking about it, of engaging in it, especially with those different from or in conflict with us. We believe such pleas and calls for dialogue are important to heed. Yet also, we have discovered that each can bring with it very specific ideas about what this form of communication is. This project has been led by Donal Carbaugh (Massachusetts, USA) and has involved participants from several different languages and countries including Xinmei Ge (China), David Boromisza-Habashi (Hungarian), Elena Khatskevich Nuciforo (Russian), Saila Poutiainen (Finland), Makato Saito (Japan), Dong-shin Shin (Korea), among others. We  found that “dialogue” is of course valued as a type of social action, yet the type of action being valued varies by the goals being targeted, by implicit rules for conduct, by what was deemed proper as its tone, mode, and interactional structure. Different moral qualities are brought into play when pleas are made to “Come and Engage in a Dialogue.” Because of this, especially when people speak from different cultural circumstances, and different languages, one plea for “dialogue” may not match another, with strained relations, confusion, misapprehension, misattribution of intent and so on resulting. Equally difficult are circumstances when people are speaking the same language, increasingly English, but use that language differently all the while believing they are saying a similar thing.

This has led us to ask: what exactly is being targeted as people call for Dialogue? What form of social interaction is being requested? What motives for, and meanings of such action are at play? Our work has taken a look at several linguistic clusters related to “dialgoue” in order to ask: Is there something like “dialogue” in each, as a cultural concept and as a form of practice? The research explores each as an expressive system-in-use by examining both the relevant terms relating to dialogue in these languages and the practices referenced with those terms. Some preliminary findings are that these cultural discourses, considered together, reveal a wide variety of possibilities that are active when “dialogue” is being advocated, mentioned, and translated. Our latest publication is in the special issue of the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication on Dialogue co-edited by colleagues Prue Holmes (Durham, UK) and Shiv Ganesh (Waikato, NZ).

(Submitted by Donal Carbaugh)

Intercultural Dialogue issue of JIIC

The special issue on Intercultural Dialogue in the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, 4(2), co-authored by Shiv Ganesh and Prue Holmes, consolidates emerging interest in intercultural dialogue. The special issue emerged from the “Intercultural Dialogue” NCA Summer Conference in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2009. The four selected articles build upon, expand, and critique current understandings of intercultural dialogue, in particular, the important definition established by the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue (2008). This definition locates intercultural dialogue beyond mere tolerance of the other and situates deep shared understandings, as well as new forms of creative and expressive communication, as dialogic outcomes.

The four articles elaborate the terrain on intercultural dialogue in five important ways: 1) by drawing on key theorists of dialogue and intercultural communication; 2) by understanding dialogic encounters as intercultural, embedded in national, political, economic, religious, and historical interests, in order to view social problems in new and creative ways; 3) by engaging reflexively in the dialogic processes occurring in intercultural settings and encounters; 4) by situating the study of intercultural dialogue as an applied and pragmatic endeavour, using theories as resources for good practice; and 6) by explicating ethics as central to dialogic processes, for example, in contexts of social justice and colonization.

Witteborn’s paper “Discursive Grouping in a Virtual Forum: Dialogue, Difference, and the Intercultural” investigates how participants, in this case, Uyghur diaspora, construct difference in a virtual forum where difference is an opportunity for dialogic transformation. Witteborn’s analysis reveals that interlocutors mostly confirmed group locations through identity terms, truth talk, and distrust, which prevented dialogue. In reflecting on the meaning of intercultural, she thus cautions not to overemphasize the cultural at the expense of other meanings of group location important to interlocutors.

LaFever’s article “Empowering Native Americans: Communication, Planning, and Dialogue for Eco-Tourism in Gallup, New Mexico” emphasizes the importance of finding ways to meet the participartory needs of a marginalised (Navajo) community to engage and support them in public dialogue. Her study highlights the need for continued development of dialogic practices, and for closer ties among communication and planning scholars.

Carbaugh, Nuciforo, Saito and Shin, in “’Dialogue’ in Cross-Cultural perspective: Japanese, Korean, and Russian Discourses,” explore terms and practices relating to dialogue in the three discourses identified in the title. Their analysis of the term “dialogue” reveals distinctive goals for communication, implicit moral rules for conduct, and the proper tone, mode, and interactional structure within each discourse. They conclude that cross-cultural knowledge of this kind can clarify and address vexing problems such as the cultural balancing of information and truth with relational concerns.

MacLennan’s essay “’To Build a Beautiful Dialogue’: Capoeira as Contradiction” examines the dynamic dance-fight-game of African-Brazilian origins as a metaphor for dialogue. Through text, literature and personal experience, MacLennan reveals how dialogue is constituted through contradiction and paradox. Drawing on co-cultural theory, she reveals the importance of five key contradictions occurring in capoeira that have relevance to intercultural dialogue among cocultural groups.

Together, the articles in this collection expand current understandings of dialogue as they seek to explore the potentially dialogic role of conflict as well as consensus and collaboration. As such they inaugurate a productive exchange between scholarship on dialogue and intercultural communication studies, thereby setting an agenda for studies of intercultural dialogue.

Prue Holmes