Newcastle U Job: Professional Intercultural Communicative Competence

Job adsResearch Assistant/Associate in Professional Intercultural Communicative Competence for Refugee Professionals – B89444R. The post will be based in the Applied Linguistics and Communication section of the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University. Closes: 30th October 2017

You will play a central role in the success of an Erasmus+ Higher Education project on developing professional intercultural communication competence among refugees. You will contribute to research design, data collection and analysis, and liaison with project partners and participants in the UK, Austria and the Netherlands, including refugees and language teachers working with them. You will also contribute to project administration and management, under the supervision of the project Principal Investigator, and to the writing of project materials and research reports and peer-reviewed publications, as well as to dissemination of the project at seminars and conferences.

For this role we are seeking an experienced and professional researcher who will be a subject specialist in the area of education and intercultural communication.  You will also have a good knowledge of mixed methods research approaches.

A good Master’s degree in a relevant discipline (education, applied linguistics, languages) is essential, as is good knowledge of the fields of intercultural communication and language pedagogy. A PhD or equivalent significant relevant experience (either completed or close to completion) in a relevant discipline (for example, education, applied linguistics, modern languages, technology) is desirable.

You will be expected to take significant initiative in their work and to work closely with the Principal Investigator over the details of the project. You will also contribute, where practical, to teaching and teacher training related to professional intercultural communication competence.

The post is fixed term to 31.8.2019, and will be part-time at 40% FTE.

Click here for further details.


Open City Fellowships (Belgium)

FellowshipsMigration in Europe has preoccupied policymakers and administrations, and prompted enormous policy reform, yet refugees and migrants are themselves often excluded from this policy debate and formulation, particularly those in more recent refugee and migrant populations. The Open City Fellowship responds to this need by supporting the leadership of refugees and migrants in policy development that directly affect urban integration.

The Open City Fellowship in this first year, will offer five fellowships. Four fellowships will involve collaborations with partner cities: Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, and Berlin. The fifth fellowship will be based in Brussels with a partner that specializes in refugee and migration policy within the European Union.

The aim is to improve integration through stronger participation of and consultation with refugee and migrant communities. Over time, our ambition is that Open City Fellows will become a cohort of experienced and recognized leaders who represent refugee and migrant communities, benefitting the individual fellows and the community more broadly.

The Open Society Foundations will pay Open City Fellows a stipend, will provide some funding for fellowship-related travel, and may cover other fellowship-related expenses during the course of the fellowship. The Open Society Foundations will additionally provide training and leadership development opportunities for the fellows. Fellowships will be 12 months, with the possibility of extending for an additional six months.

Eligibility Criteria

Eligible applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • have a background as a refugee or migrant
  • demonstrate a commitment to improving the lives of the refugee or migrant community and their integration through, for example, work, volunteering, organizing, or other activities
  • possess strong relationships with refugee or migrant communities in the city in which they are applying, as demonstrated through membership or other involvement in a group, organization, NGO, board of an NGO, council, association, initiative, or activities designed to serve refugee or migrant communities
  • currently be based in one of the fellowship cities (and applying for a fellowship in that same city): Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, or Brussels
  • be legally entitled to accept a fellowship in current city of residence and be permitted to travel within the European Union
  • demonstrate civil society leadership potential
  • bachelor’s degree is strongly preferred (preferably with accreditation in the city where the fellow is applying)
  • available to start the fellowship in January 2018
  • meet additional eligibility criteria that may be stipulated by the Open Society Foundations

Applicants must meet the following language proficiency requirements:

  • proficient in English at a minimum B2 level
  • proficiency in the language of the city where they are applying (German C1; Greek, Dutch, Spanish, or Catalan B2)
  • fluency in the language of a refugee or migrant community is strongly preferred
Ineligibility Criteria

The Open City Fellowship does not fund enrollment in an academic institution for degree or non-degree study. Full-time students will not be eligible.

Applications will be accepted until September 15, 2017. Shortlisted candidates will be contacted by early October, and will be interviewed later that month.

CFP Who Belongs? Immigrants, Refugees, Migrants

Publication OpportunitiesCall for Papers: Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis (Special Issue): Who Belongs? Immigrants, Refugees, Migrants, and Actions Towards Justice

Over the past year, both in the U.S. and Europe, far-right nationalist and white supremacist organizations have led a massive assault on the human rights of immigrants, refugees, and migrants, resulting in multiple acts of violence against individuals and communities and a general climate of fear. Notably, this assault has been supported by the most mainstream of political actors, ranging from elected officials in the U.S. who advocate for travel bans targeted at people who are Muslim and deportation raids targeted at the Latinx community to the racist and xenophobic political platforms of leading candidates for the highest of political offices in France and Austria. In this issue, we seek to engage this political landscape by asking the question: Who belongs? This question raises significant abstract issues, including: the legitimacy and construction of nationstates; theories of democratic governance and legal systems; notions of citizenship; intersections between racialized, gendered, and classed social identities; and, processes of imperialism and colonization. The question also raises significant issues that are more concrete, including: access to public resources (such as education, housing, and health care); policies and processes of “legal” documentation; activist and community mobilization; sanctuary cities; U.S. and European military intervention; the militarization of law enforcement in the U.S. and abroad; neoliberal economic policies; and, ongoing anti- and post- colonial struggles across the globe. We thus invite scholars and activists from a range of disciplinary and professional positions to submit work (research articles, conceptual essays, book reviews, and poems) that illuminates these and other issues that are central to political struggle for the rights of immigrants, refugees, and migrants.

Submission Timeline Deadline: Friday, September 1, 2017
Anticipated Publication: January 2018

 

Request for Information about Work with Refugees in EU

I received the following request for help in locating people who work with refugees in the EU. Please contact the author directly; his email is below.
I am Md Golam Nasibul Hoque, citizen of Bangladesh, pursuing my MA in Human Rights at the University of Padova, Italy. Right now, I am in a Erasmus Traineeship in the Law Faculty at Ghent University, Belgium for my thesis. Specifically, I am gathering information on initiatives taken to encourage intercultural dialogue with and for refugees in the EU. Thanks in advance for your time and consideration.
Md Golam Nasibul Hoque

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.

Most of the activists, me included, had a regular job, so we had to organize shifts to bring food (which was offered by some associations involved in the project), to take women and children to hospital, to the lawyers who were following their cases, or to the communal baths, as the place where the refugees stayed had no water facilities.

As one can imagine, conditions were really hard. People were crowded into a small space, with no heating or electricity, they were frustrated and angry, and these conditions sometimes fueled fights, which we volunteers had to deal with – trying not to involve the police as much as we could, as they would have immediately evacuated the building.

I felt frustrated and angry myself, as I could not conceive how so many people could be left to live in such conditions in a so-called civilized western country. There were many political issues at stake, and things were not always easy within the different groups of volunteers and activists, as well as between the associations involved.

With no formal, or even informal, training, I found myself confronted with an asymmetrical intercultural context of relations involving all the sensitive issues of potential intercultural misunderstanding and conflict:

Issues at Stake Volunteers Refugees
Role – issue of power active (the ‘givers’; the ‘helpers’) passive (the ‘receivers’; the ‘helped’)
Gender mostly female mostly male
Age mostly middle-aged women mostly young men
Religion mostly non-religious or atheist mostly religious
Language mostly monolingual mostly monolinguals (different languages than the volunteers)

To manage each of these issues, cultural and linguistic mediators were involved, but things were not always easy for them either, as sometimes they were not accepted by their own community – when, for example, they belonged to a different ethnic group than the majority of their group – and it sometimes happened that we volunteers had to mediate between the groups and their own mediators.

In a few words, situation was very complex, I was totally unprepared to deal with it, and I made all of the possible mistakes.

First of all, as there were so many people, I perceived them as groups rather than individuals – on one floor were the Sudanese, on the other the Somali women, on the next the Somali men, etc. It was only little by little, and when people were less, that I could see and appreciate differences between them, but sometimes it was too late as they were about to leave. Another mistake was that, as they all had very basic needs, I was mainly focused on doing things – bringing food, taking them to hospital, etc. – rather than trying to get some time to simply be there, stay with them, and get to know them. That attitude contributed to creating fixed roles on both sides, and sometimes I felt frustrated as I had the impression I was perceived only as a problem-solving machine. Fixed roles also meant that I saw the refugees as people in need, which of course they were, but the fact was that I could only see one side of the coin, and I was not able to notice and relish their resources and skills, which of course were many – and which, again, I was able to see only later on in our relationship. Given that several issues were at stake simultaneously, I found it difficult to cope with them: being totally untrained for this context, I swung from an almost omnipotent attitude to a sense of impotence, a fluctuation which caused frustration to me as well as to the refugees. The sense of guilt which derived from this fueled my sense of inadequacy, and only after a while was I able to replace it with a sense of responsibility able to trace good boundaries, which prevented both peaks and valleys and therefore offered greater stability to the refugees, and to myself too.

Though I made a lot mistakes, some of the refugees were able to see beyond them (a good example of their resources and skills, by the way), and that brought about several episodes where true communication occurred. For example, one day an old wise man from Sudan invited me to have a coffee in a nearby café. As soon as we got out of the building, our roles blurred: I was no longer the person who provided food, and he was no longer a person in need, but we were just two people going to have a coffee together. In the café, we talked in English about our families, and exchanged comments and opinions about children’s education. Another day, a woman invited me into her room – women rarely went out of the building, and when they did, it was to go to the doctor, or to the hospital for their kids. She offered to comb my hair; I sat down and she combed my hair in silence because I could not speak her language, nor she could speak mine. It was a precious moment of silent dialogue, as when another woman invited me to have tea in her room. We spent some time together drinking tea in silence, smiling to each other. And though there was actually not much to laugh about in general, it also happened that, with some of the refugees, we enjoyed a good laugh together – for example, we often laughed at my efforts to say some words in their language. Actually, we found out that trying to look at things, and ourselves, from a slightly different and, when possible, even humorous perspective was a good way to relieve tensions and stress, and to create connections.

We were painfully aware that this subversion of roles was only temporary, and that we would soon return to our highly asymmetrical conditions; yet, these moments created the opportunity for relationship and dialogue. I think these episodes occurred when (and because) we reciprocally put down our pre-established roles (in fact, when we decided, more or less consciously, to subvert them), and we were mutually open, curious, and generous. Then, are these attitudes – not taking people or people’s roles for granted, openness, curiosity, generosity and a little sense of humor  – the fundamental characteristics of good intercultural communication? I don’t think these were episodes where intercultural communication occurred: we did not communicate so much between cultures as between individuals. Therefore, I now wonder: haven’t we devoted too much attention to ‘culture’ in ‘intercultural communication’, and not enough to individuals as the primary protagonists, and on what can encourage (or hinder) communication between them – which does not necessarily have much to do with ‘culture’? So, I ask myself whether it would be useful to critically consider intercultural communication itself, focusing more on what happens between individuals rather than between cultures. In sum: what if we try to think beyond cultures, and consider post-cultural communication as an option?

CFP Uprooted – Refugees/Migrants/The Displaced (US)

Call for Papers
Uprooted—Refugees/Migrants/The Displaced: An International Multidisciplinary Conference—–9th International Conference on Transatlantic Studies
October 10-12, 2016
University of Central Missouri
Warrensburg, Missouri, USA

This multi-disciplinary international conference explores the diverse social justice issues involving refugees/ immigrants/ the displaced confronting both sides of the transatlantic world. Various conflicts throughout the world have led to multiple crises as refugee and displaced persons place demands on societies that are seen as vulnerable resulting in demands for greater security despite the critical humanitarian needs.  These crises continue to strain international and domestic politics.  The crises scattered throughout the world likely involve a symmetry of experiences and responses.  Many features might be held in common, many are likely unique.

This international multidisciplinary conference seeks to explore the diverse aspects of these intertwined issues, including definitions of terms, national and private level responses, social justice issues, impacted intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, and international relations concerns.  The event will serve as a forum to allow participants to learn by comparison and through international dialog about these crises in international social justice.

The University of Central Missouri (USA) Departments of Criminal Justice and Government, International Studies, & Languages, and Sociology, Gerontology, & Cross-Disciplinary Studies in partnership with the Instituto Franklin Universidad de Alcala (Spain) and the Consortium for Transatlantic Studies & Scholarship invite papers on issues related to any aspect of Refugees/Migrants/The Displaced.  Papers are anticipated to derive from a variety of disciplines including but not limited to: communications, criminal justice, disaster management, history, international relations, international studies, journalism & media studies, legal/justice studies, philosophy, political science, psychology, safety sciences, sociology …. Comparative or international perspectives on these issues are encouraged.

The Conference organizers see a variety of topic areas that underlie the broad themes of current social justice crises involving Refugees/Migrants/The Displaced:
–       Public health
–       Homeland security
–       Refugee resettlement
–       Immigration enforcement
–       Human trafficking
–       Juvenile migrants
–       Women’s issues (violence, family impacts, etc)
–       Terrorism
–       Challenges to law enforcement/corrections
–       International coordination/partnerships
–       Border communities (effects of, response to)
–       Drugs (smuggling, abuse, trafficking)
–       Political context (public opinion, media studies, electoral issues)
–       Migration to areas in central US (Migration to the Midwest and plains states, suburbanization of migration/immigration)
–       Historical responses to mass migration
–       Asylum
–       Conflicts that lead to these crises
–       Impact of Climate Change

To submit proposal/abstract of paper use the form provided on the website.  Proposals are due August 15, 2016.  Papers will be accepted on a rolling basis.

For further information, please email Professor Don Wallace, wallace[at]ucmo.edu

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.

Germany

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.

CFP Chapters on Immigration Rhetoric

Clarke Rountree (University of Alabama in Huntsville) and Jouni Tilli (University of Jyväskylä, Finland) are seeking American and International scholars to contribute to a book project on immigration rhetoric. The book will focus on the rhetoric of immigration (and anti-immigration) surrounding the refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the would-be ISIS Caliphate. We want to authors for chapters that analyze the rhetoric of immigration in Europe and the United States. In particular, we’d like scholars who could write chapters on the United States, Germany, Hungary, France, Great Britain, Turkey, the European Union, and other select countries. A final chapter will offer a comparative analysis that draws upon these individual chapters.

We want each chapter to provide basic background on the political system of the country and its immigration history and policy to frame an analysis of discourse from the government and significant political players on the current immigration crisis. We want to consider how immigrants are constructed (e.g., as victims, as security risks) and what issues are tied to immigration rhetoric, such as economic, cultural, social, political, religious, humanitarian, and security issues.

We hope to recruit authors who can complete 8,000-12,000-word draft essays by the end of summer 2016.

Interested scholars should contact Clarke Rountree.

Where are you from?

The Where Are You From? Project (WAYF) is a series of video interviews with immigrants, citizens, new and long-term residents, and refugees in North Carolina, USA. The WAYF Project puts a face on immigration and uses technology to understand the human tendency and the right to move. We collect and share stories about mobility using a free and public platform that exposes users to the human aspect of migration, while teaching about multiple places, countries, and cultures.

The premise that everyone has a history of movement and the personal stories of the WAYF Project are particularly salient as the United States and other nations debate immigration reforms and look for alternative policies for all immigrants, from high skilled workers who enter legally to those who cross the border without documents.

Visit our multimedia website, explore the interactive map, and share the WAYF interviews with anyone interested in citizenship, mobility, and immigration.