Intercultural describes what occurs when members of two or more different cultural groups (of whatever size, at whatever level) interact or influence one another in some fashion, whether in person or through various mediated forms. Included in a broad definition of the term would be international political or economic interactions, when members from two or more countries interact or influence one another in some fashion. However, since it is again a logistical impossibility for entire cultures to interact, even political entities such as nation-states must rely upon individuals to represent their interests in interactions with other individuals, representing in their turn other, comparable entities. A further complication: no human belongs to only a single culture – everyone has multiple identities, multiple cultural affiliations, whether or not everyone else is aware of all the shadow selves standing behind the self-relevant to, and thus made visible in, any specific interaction. While multiple selves each play significant roles in different contexts or at different stages of life, they may also exist simultaneously. An extended family, neighbors in the same apartment complex, work colleagues, people who play a particular sport, pursue a particular hobby, practice a particular religion, or those whose parents came from the same geographic location: all these clusters develop into subcultures or co-cultures – that is, they all have their own ways of being in the world, their own expectations, traditions, and goals. So even what appears to be intracultural communication (that is, communication between members of the same cultural group) frequently requires substantial intercultural competences of participants.
Cultural literacy – part of a broad toolkit of worldviews, attitudes and competences that young people acquire for their lifelong journey. This is a new kind of literacy, on a par with the importance of reading and writing skills or numeracy. It has become the lifeline for today’s world, a fundamental resource for harnessing the multiple venues education can take (from family and tradition to the media, both old and new, and to informal groups and activities) and an indispensable tool for transcending the clash of ignorances. (UNESCO World Report Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue, UNESCO, 2009)
Intercultural literacy, which might be glossed as all the knowledge and skills necessary to the practice of intercultural competences, has become an essential tool for modern life, parallel to the development of information literacy, or media literacy (Dragićević Šešić & Dragojević, 2011). The particular value of this phrasing is that, just as with these other forms of literacy, some active teaching or modeling must occur, though it need not occur as part of formal education. Shared experiences, conversations, and storytelling are among the ways in which members of a diverse group can come to understand one another. Following Luhmann (1990), it is important to acknowledge “the improbability of communication”, recognizing that the numerous differences between groups makes any understanding unlikely, and appreciating the times people can achieve understanding across cultural boundaries, rather than only noticing the occasions on which understanding fails. Some of the research on crossing disciplinary boundaries (Dillon, 2008; Gieryn, 1983; Postlethwaite, 2007), or the boundary objects used as tools when initiating boundary crossings (Star & Griesemer, 1989; Trompette & Vinck, 2009), should be relevant to facilitating intercultural competences. Boundary objects are those retaining enough meaning across contexts that participants can use them to discuss otherwise slippery (or differently defined) concepts.
Learning to live together
Learning to live together – one of four pillars identified as the foundations of education (learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be). Learning to live together in an increasingly globalizing world, and thus at risk both of cultural homogenization and cultural fragmentation, means that everyone should be able to understand the stakes behind cultural differences and the potential benefits of cultural change. (J. Delors,Learning: The Treasure Within, UNESCO, 1996)
Intercultural citizenship refers to a new type of citizen, the one required for the new global village. Traditionally, a citizen had certain responsibilities and rights in relationship to a political body, such as a city, state, or country. But today, in keeping with the shrinking world, and understanding of universality, a new form of intercultural citizenship becomes relevant. Just as competent citizens engage in activities that help and do not hinder their own cities, states, and countries, competent intercultural citizens must take into account, and show respect for, a continually expanding geopolitical and sociocultural context for their words, deeds, and beliefs. Taking into account the impact of one’s words, deeds, and beliefs on those who reside in other cities, states, and countries, has become an essential element of behaving responsibly in the modern world. Intercultural citizenship relies upon conciliating multiple identities and contexts simultaneously, assumes the ability to engage in intercultural dialogues respecting the rights of cultural others, and ideally becomes one step toward promoting peace.
Communication often said to be a message conveyed from one person to another, more adequately should be viewed as joint construction (or co-construction) of meaning (Galanes & Leeds-Hurwitz, 2009). Communication includes language as well as nonverbal behavior, which includes everything from use of sounds (paralanguage), movements (kinesics), space (proxemics), and time (chronemics), to many aspects of material culture (food, clothing, objects, visual design, architecture) and can be understood as the active aspect of culture. Culture may be understood as the more static, noun form – knowledge, behavior, language, values, beliefs, and attitudes learned by social actors through experience from the time they are children. Communication then would be the more active, verb form – the act of transferring cultural knowledge, behavior, language, values, beliefs, and attitudes from one generation of social actors to the next (Leeds-Hurwitz, 1989).
Communicative competence implies both understanding and producing appropriate words and other communication forms in ways that will make sense not only to the speaker/actor but also to others. Hymes (1967, 1972, 1984) pointed out that knowing how to put words into a sentence is only the start of communication; speakers must also gain familiarity with a wide variety of social and cultural contexts, so they will know when to produce utterances at appropriate times, taking into account a host of contextual factors. Learning to communicate appropriately with cultural others requires far more than learning the basic grammar rules for a language; one must learn the rules of use as well in order to achieve communicative competence. What can be said to whom, in what context and with what connotations is never a simple matter. But this complex understanding must be the goal.
Intercultural competences refer to having adequate relevant knowledge about particular cultures, as well as general knowledge about the sorts of issues arising when members of different cultures interact, holding receptive attitudes that encourage establishing and maintaining contact with diverse others, as well as having the skills required to draw upon both knowledge and attitudes when interacting with others from different cultures. One way to divide intercultural competences into separate skills is to distinguish between: savoirs (knowledge of the culture), savoir comprendre (skills of interpreting/relating), savoir apprendre (skills of discovery/interaction), savoir etre(attitudes of curiosity/openness), and savoir s’engager (critical cultural awareness), as Byram (1997, 2008) has done (see discussion in Holmes, 2009). Substantial research has already been devoted to sorting out these basic elements of intercultural competences by researchers across the disciplines (Byram, 1997; Chen & Starosta, 1996; Guilherme, 2000; Deardorff , 2009). The goal must be to build upon and ultimately move beyond existing work, providing a broader theoretical framework for understanding and expanding upon that initial set of ideas. To account for the complex interrelations of so many elements, the term is most often used in the plural form: either “competences” or “competencies” depending on the country where discussion originates. Sometimes, intercultural interactions go well: participants listen to and understand one another, at times even leading to agreement about ideas or actions. At other times intercultural interactions go badly, leading to misunderstanding, arguments, and conflict, even war. One necessary intercultural competence becomes the ability to discuss such difficult and critical topics as values, beliefs and attitudes among members of multiple cultural groups in a way that does not lead to conflict. At the heart of the multiple intercultural competences, then, lies intercultural communicative competence (Hymes assumed this, but Byram (1997) is best known for the phrase). Social actors need to be able to produce meaningful speech and behaviors and to do so in ways that will be understood as relevant in context by other participants in an interaction. Hymes’ notion of communicative competence has been widely applied to language teaching due to the obvious need for students to learn not only how to put grammatically correct sentences together, but also to learn when to say what to whom (Canale & Swain, 1980; Celce-Murcia, 2007). Context has crucial influence over how language and behavior are interpreted, but this is the most confusing aspect to learn as an outsider to a group. And since the same behavior may have different meanings within different cultural groups, thinking one’s words or actions will be interpreted in one way cannot prevent them from being understood quite differently. Pearce (1989) used the term cosmopolitan communication in describing interaction between individuals having substantial intercultural communicative competence, arguing that: “when performed well – with high levels of social eloquence – cosmopolitan communication enables coordination among groups with different, even incommensurate, social realities” (p. 169). Hannerz (1996) uses cosmopolitan with a similar connotation, but many others mean something quite different by it (Coulmas, 1995).
Competence refers to having sufficient skill, ability, knowledge, or training to permit appropriate behavior, whether words or actions, in a particular context. Competence includes cognitive (knowledge), functional (application of knowledge), personal (behavior) and ethical (principles guiding behavior) components, thus the capacity to know must be matched to the capacity to speak and act appropriately in context; ethics and consideration of human rights influence both speech and actions. Typically competence does not depend on any one single skill, attitude, or type of knowledge, instead engaging a complex set of skills, attitudes, and knowledge. Skills typically mentioned as most directly relevant to an understanding of intercultural competences include: observation, listening, evaluating, analyzing, interpreting, relating (including personal autonomy), adaptability (including emotional resilience), the ability to be non-judgmental, stress management, metacommunication (the ability to communicate about communication, moving outside an interaction to discuss what has occurred or will yet occur; Leeds-Hurwitz, 1989), and creative problem resolution. (UNESCO’s 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report entitled Youth and Skills: Putting education to work proposes three sets of skills: foundation skills, refering to the most elemental, including literacy and numeracy, are a prerequisite for acquiring the other two sets; transferable skills, which include the ability to solve problems, communicate ideas and information effectively, be creative, show leadership and conscientiousness and demonstrate entrepreneurial capabilities; and technical and vocational skills, referring to the specific technical knowhow required in different settings). A list of attitudes relevant to intercultural competences has been specified earlier (under values, beliefs, and attitudes). Types of relevant knowledge include: cultural self-awareness, cultural other awareness, culture-specific knowledge, culture-general knowledge, sociolinguistic awareness (of such topics as codeswitching or moving between languages or dialects), the cultural adaptation process, ethnocentrism, ethnorelativism, culture shock, and reverse culture shock.
Conviviality is the term Illich provided for “autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment… in any society, as conviviality is reduced below a certain level, no amount of industrial productivity can effectively satisfy the needs it creates among society’s members” (1973, p. 24). Conviviality does not just appear of its own volition: it must be established as a specific goal, and encouraged in a variety of ways. Conviviality is both made possible through, and contributes to, the sharing of social worlds, whether these be the organizations in which people work or the neighborhoods in which they live. Managing interactions in these various social worlds does not require shared values, beliefs, attitudes, but only shared curiosity, interest and tolerance. Conviviality ultimately changes our perception of the nature of social relationships between individuals and groups, coming close to an Asian-centric worldview valuing relationality, circularity and harmony, thus emphasizing interconnectedness and interdependence between people above individuality (Miike, 2003).
Creativity is the most evenly distributed resource in the world. It is, indeed, our ability to imagine that gives us the resilience to adapt to different ecosystems and to invent “ways of living together”, the term used by the World Commission on Culture and Development to describe culture. The resilience will help individuals and decisionmakers to form and reform institutions of democratic governance, sociability and global interaction. Having acknowledged the range of possibilities across cultures, as well as the continuous nature of change, how else to respond but with creativity? And interactions with cultural others sparks creativity. It is always easiest to understand those who are most similar, yet always most enlightening to interact with those who are different. Luckily, human nature encourages exploration of difference and learning for its own sake. In this regard, creativity becomes the wellspring of cultural diversity, which refers to the manifold ways in which the cultures of groups and societies find expression, thus opening up new forms of dialogue, transforming viewpoints and creating links between individuals, societies and generations all around the world. In other terms creativity implies a constant process, supporting, amplifying and regenerating cultural diversity across time and space, so that it may continue to instill expressions with new meanings for our time and for our future generations (UNESCO, 2001, Art.1).
Cultural diversity refers to the existence of a wide variety of cultures in the world today. Cultural diversity permits, and intercultural competences require, understanding one’s own culture but also recognizing that each culture provides only one option among many possibilities. Cultural diversity requires, and intercultural competences permit, the ability to convey information to others about one’s own culture through communication with them, as well as to interpret information about the other and his or her culture. Culture is the result of constant negotiation with members of one’s own group; communication is the vehicle through which that negotiation occurs. Intercultural interactions are the result of comparable negotiations with members of other groups; intercultural communication is the vehicle through which those negotiations occur. Cultural diversity is thus “a mechanism for organizing the most productive dialogue between meaningful pasts and doable futures” (UNESCO, 2002, p. 11).
Cultural Identity refers to those aspects of identity shared by members of a culture that, taken as a set, mark them as distinct from members of other cultures. Like most forms of identity, cultural identity is socially constructed – that is, people do something to create and then claim it, whether that be speaking a particular language, eating particular foods, or following particular religious practices. Individuals have multiple identities, and these change over time (Hecht, 1993) being constructed and reconstructed through communication in intercultural interactions. While others can be easily classified as having singular, monolithic identities, everyone understands their own identity to be a more complex matter, with multiple identities relevant to different contexts: gender, class, age, ethnicity, region, history, nationality, occupation, each becoming relevant at different times in the same person’s day. Identities change over time: the child grows up and becomes a parent; the citizen of one country moves, becoming a citizen of another; the student graduates and becomes a teacher. Recognition of the multiplicity and fluidity of identity complicates our understanding of cultural pluralism (implying that people cannot accurately be categorized as only members of one group). At the same time, these facts simplify intercultural dialogue: since everyone has had the experience of moving between contrasting identities, it makes sense to recognize others as members of multiple groups as well. Being constructed, identities must be communicated from one individual to the next, and passed down from one generation to the next, most explicitly from parents to children. Children of parents raised in different cultures provide an obvious example of individuals holding multiple cultural identities, since children frequently become competent in all (e.g., Akindes, 2005).
Cultural shifting refers to the cognitive and behavioral capacity of an interculturally competent person to shift or switch language, behavior, or gestures according to his/her interlocutors and the larger context or situation. Cultural shifting holds most direct relevance for those concepts conveying obvious meaning within one cultural context but requiring considerable explanation to those new to that context. Humor provides a particularly good example of content requiring skill in cultural shifting, given the extensive understanding of cultural context required by non-group members to interpret what group members intend to be funny. Contextualization cues, Gumperz’ (1992) closely related phrase, describes the ways participants convey information guiding the interpretation of their own words and actions by others. Essentially, both cultural shifters and contextualization cues help to explain how social actors manage to understand one another on those occasions when they do. Of course, because both are culture specific, they frequently serve as a source of ambiguity in social interaction: speakers may think they have been quite clear, but those whose experience has been in another culture may not have understood even the denotation (basic, literal meaning) of a word or utterance, let alone all of the connotations (more subtle implications). Thus intercultural competences include the ability to anticipate when ambiguity may result in confusion. One solution provides an explanation in advance to avoid confusion, rather than engaging in repair work afterwards.
Culture is that set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of a society or social group, encompassing all the ways of being in that society; at a minimum, including art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions, and beliefs. Each culture is the sum of assumptions and practices shared by members of a group distinguishing them from other groups, and so one culture comes into clearest focus when compared to another culture maintaining different practices. However, cultures are themselves multiple, so that to insiders, every group reveals itself not as homogeneous but rather a nested series of progressively smaller groups whose members are all too aware of distinctions between themselves. Cultures themselves are seldom the focus of attention in discussion of intercultural competences, for cultures have no existence apart from the people who construct and animate them. Thus members of cultural groups more adequately serve as the focus of attention. (UNESCO, 1982 and 2001)
Dialogue is a form of communication (most often linguistic, though not always) occurring when participants, having their own perspectives, yet recognize the existence of other, different perspectives, remaining open to learning about them. As such, dialogue stands in contrast to alternate forms such as “solilogue” (where one speaker presents to one or more others, and the communication is unidirectional), or debate (essentially, serial monologues, with the goal of presenting one’s viewpoint to others, not seriously listening to, considering and responding to, theirs). Dialogue requires both speaking (about one’s own ideas, interests, passions, concerns) and listening (to those of others), but even more, dialogue entails “remaining in the tension between standing your own ground and being profoundly open to the other” (Pearce & Pearce, 2004, p. 46). Dialogue requires comprehension but not necessarily agreement, although listening to diverse viewpoints most often takes as its eventual goal compromise between competing positions, collaborative planning, and problem solving. Dialogue may be only the beginning point for reaching agreement or compromise, but without it, participants have little possibility of either. The goals of sustainable development and social cohesion require that culturally diverse groups learn to engage in intercultural dialogue. Luckily, intercultural dialogue is both learnable and teachable, for “to engage in dialogue is to engage in a learning conversation” (Spano, 2001, p. 269). In Pearce and Littlejohn’s term, dialogue is “transformative conversation” (1997, p. 215). Penman suggests any dialogue requires “a commitment to mutual collaboration” (2000, p. 92). To recall, “dialogue” derives from the Greek term “dia-logos”, widely mistranslated and wrongly understood because of a confusion between “duo” and “dia”. It does not mean a conversation between two persons or two groups, but an acceptance, by two participants or more, that they will compare and contrast their respective arguments. The prefix “dia-” is equivalent to the Latin “trans-”, connoting a considerable shift in space, time, substance or thought. Dialogue is not designed to lead to a definitive conclusion. It is a constantly-renewed means of re-initiating the thinking process, of questioning certainties, and of progressing from discovery to discovery.
Intercultural dialogue specifically refers to dialogues occurring between members of different cultural groups. Intercultural dialogue assumes that participants agree to listen to and understand multiple perspectives, including even those held by groups or individuals with whom they disagree. As phrased by UNESCO, intercultural dialogue encourages readiness to question well-established value-based certainties by bringing reason, emotion and creativity into play in order to find new shared understandings. By doing so, it goes far beyond mere negotiation, where mainly political, economic and geo-political interests are at stake. It is a process that comprises an open and respectful exchange of views between individuals and groups with different ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds and heritage, on the basis of mutual understanding and respect. According to the Public Dialogue Consortium, dialogue is “inclusive rather than exclusive…the freedom to speak is joined to the right to be heard and the responsibility to listen…differences are treated as resources rather than barriers…conflict is handled collaboratively rather than adversarially…and decisions are made creatively rather than defensively.” These characteristics would serve as a good beginning for any intercultural dialogue. Although common usage refers to cultures interacting, or holding dialogues, it is actually individuals who interact and who hold intercultural dialogues, not the cultures themselves; similarly, it is individuals who manage their interactions more or less interculturally competently. The complication is that one person in an interaction cannot be interculturally competent alone – for interaction is a process co-constructed jointly by all participants. If together participants manage well, then together they have been interculturally competent; if not, then it is simply inaccurate to say one of them was competent and the other incompetent; rather, all must admit that together they were incompetent. This notion of co-construction, of jointly making our interactions with others, rests at the heart of any intercultural encounter. Each encounter is about making something, creating something, jointly with at least one other person, and so the process of interaction must serve as focus. In any case, intercultural dialogue is the first step to taking advantage of different cultural traditions and histories to expand the list of possible solutions to common problems. Intercultural dialogue is thus an essential tool in the effort to resolve intercultural conflicts peacefully, and a precondition for cultivating a culture of peace.
Semantic availability, proposed by Hempel (1965), describes the plasticity of ideas: when a concept is dimly understood, but not clear; pre-emergent, not yet fully formed; having a word at the tip of one’s tongue, except that the word has not yet been invented in that language. This notion is complemented by Bateson’s (1979) concept ofwarm ideas, referring to ideas still incomplete, in the process of being formed. Bateson’s insight was that ideas should be maintained in this condition until they could be distilled, rather than committing them to permanence too quickly. Such discussions are difficult because speakers are used to treating thoughts as finished, but he found the effort worthwhile. Blumer had a related idea: sensitizing concepts “suggest directions along which to look” rather than “providing prescriptions of what to see” as definitive concepts do (1954, p. 7). As with warm ideas, sensitizing concepts provide a point of departure, a beginning only (Bowen, 2006).
Disposition, refers to the mind set progressively acquired through primary (family) and secondary (school) socialization. So dispositions are both personal and socially shared. For sociologists, socially shared dispositions are related to social class. While Bourdieu (1977) preferred to revamp the Latin term habitus (defined asprincipium ad actum in the scholastic tradition) to refer to embodied categories of perception, appreciation and action, other contemporary social scientists developed formulas like “dispositions + context = practices” (Lahire, 2012, p. 24), to stress that action is never produced in vacuo on the single basis of a disposition. A disposition is not a causal trigger, always being mediated through a particular context. Thus there is no simple “intercultural disposition,” be it xenophobic or xenophilic. On the one hand, there is always a context to filter, diffract or amplify the disposition; on the other, there is always a possibility of a tertiary socialization (e.g., through media), which reshapes the disposition. As a result of this perspective, intercultural education should be encouraged, at all ages.
Intercultural responsibility builds on understandings of intercultural competence by considering the importance of related concepts such as intercultural dialogue, ethics, religion (including interfaith dialogue), and notions of citizenship. Guilherme introduced the concept, applied to professional and personal interactions in multicultural teams in organisational contexts (Guilherme, Keating & Hoppe, 2010). Holmes’ (2011) treatment of the term expands upon this concept to include the moral choices and values that inform how individuals engage with one another in intercultural encounters. Further, it accounts for and explores dimensions of religious identity and values as they guide communication and rules for intercultural interaction. The conceptualization also embodies the notion of the responsible citizen, the person who displays critical cultural awareness in intercultural communication.
Language is both the generic term for the human ability to turn sounds into speech as a form of communication, and a specific term for the way in which members of any one group speak to one another. As with other forms of cultural diversity, scholars recognize that language can serve as a vehicle to separate people, but at the same time, the mere existence of multiple languages provides a superb repertoire of different solutions to what are often the same problems, different vocabularies for similar (or different) experiences, different expressions of ideas and values and beliefs. There are two parts to any utterance: what is said, and what is left unsaid. The unsaid includes what is assumed, what is implicit for a group of speakers, what is taken for granted to the point that remains unquestioned. Bridging the gap between the said and the unsaid requires making implicit assumptions explicit, an essential component of intercultural competences. Language serves only not as a channel for communication, although of course it is that: language also must be recognized as shaping our experiences, ideas, and understandings. Any idea is sayable in any language, ultimately and with enough effort, but not all concepts may be described equally easily in all languages. What is important to members of one group most often can be said quickly, in few words of that language; what has not yet become relevant to a particular group of speakers frequently takes many words to explain, and may be cumbersome, or insufficiently precise. A concept found in one language and culture often comes to be understood in another by metaphor if not by extended description. For example, when first introduced to automobiles, the Achumawi, a Native American group in California, named the car battery hadatsi, a word previously used to describe the heart of a human being (de Angulo, 1950). Thus do people interpret the new in light of prior experiences. The words people use matter, and the effort to discover or invent words to bridge gaps in understanding plays a part in how people display intercultural competences.Multilingualism (communicative competence in multiple languages) and translation (conveying the same idea through different languages) are thus obvious requirements for intercultural dialogue, and indications of intercultural competences, enriching each group’s understanding of the other(s) as well of themselves. Equally, monolingualism is a barrier to acquiring intercultural competences since only one of the participants in an intercultural interaction undertakes the difficult work of understanding the other’s language. Merely learning to understand another language opens a window to another culture’s world, whether or not a full set of intercultural communicative competences is ever mastered.
Liquidity, the term proposed by Bauman (2000) to describe the fluid nature of modern life implies change as a central element of human experience. Liquidity proposes a state of near constant change, with consequences for the ability of individuals to cope with change. Many in the past assumed cultures to be static, although today scholars in many disciplines have demonstrated that all cultures change over time. Exposure to many groups and traditions provides evidence of change over time, demonstrating as well that change in itself should neither be valued nor feared. As applied to intercultural competences, liquidity alludes to the flexibility with which competent participants manage their interactions. Multiple identities, contexts, goals and assumptions must all be considered and managed by interculturally competent participants engaging with one another. Such multiplicities entail a level of complexity difficult to accommodate, yet there is no choice, and so people must learn to manage, often improvising their responses in search of what works best at a specific moment, in a specific context, and with specific others. One set of questions concerns whether and how participants learn to discuss with interactional partners what has occurred, reflecting jointly upon experience in order to add a second layer of understanding. Another set of questions concern whether people improvise well or badly, whether they learn from those times when interactions go well, and whether they share with others what has been learned.
Reflexivity refers to the ability to step outside one’s own experiences in order to reflect consciously upon them, considering what is happening, what it means, and how to respond (Steier, 1991). Cultural diversity provides members of any group the necessary insight that there is more than one way to do things; that their own assumptions are just that, their own, and
not universal. It is natural that each culture teaches members that it does things in the best possible way, for who would want to belong to a culture that acknowledged other ways as better? Yet given the extent to which modernity brings cultures together, the ability to be reflexive, to step back and recognize one’s own traditions as but one possible solution to commonly faced human problems, has become essential. A related term proposed by Frye,transvaluation, refers to “the ability to look at contemporary social values with the detachment of one who is able to compare them in some degree with the infinite vision of possibilities presented by culture” (1957, p. 348). Todorov first tightened the definition: “ce retour vers soi d’un regard informé par le contact avec l’autre” [a reflective look at oneself informed by contact with the other], and then went on to call for a “crossing of cultures” (1987, p. 17), arguing that transvaluation both demonstrates and brings about progress through the shift from the individual subject to a larger world. In other words, learning about others teaches not only about their cultures but prompts examination of one’s own.
Resilience is a key characteristic to consider when addressing cultures in their handling of tradition and modernity. In many debates, the idea that traditions should be preserved or respected is equated to an attempt at resisting the winds of change blown by modernity. But such a view is inaccurate in its neglect of the fact that cultures evolve constantly, able to combine tradition and innovation in unique ways when confronted with unprecedented situations. The important debate should not focus on the preservation of cultures construed as immutable monoliths, nor on change confused with an irremediable destruction of their past and memory, but on how cultures can preserve room for resilience, that is their endogenous capacity to organize a debate between tradition and change. Since change imposed from outside is cultural hegemony, not creativity, resilience should be explored as a culturally authentic path to modernity. Resilience has been discussed at the individual level (Cyrulnik, 2009) and linked to “‘hybridity,’ flexibility, and creativity” (Bird, 2009) and to “capacity development” (Sigsgaard, 2011) at the group level.
Universality, refers to those elements common to all cultures – such as having a language, or having values and beliefs. There is, of course, a tightrope to walk between assuming universality and respecting the inevitable cultural differences between groups. Appiah (2006) proposes the definition of cosmopolitanism as “universality plus difference” (p. 151), thus bringing together several seemingly contradictory concepts. Cultural rights refer to the rights of individuals to embrace a culture disposing unique elements, different from those of any other culture, and are an “enabling environment for cultural diversity” (UNESCO, 2002, p. 13). Cultural rights are an integral part of human rights; they have been a central part of the international agenda since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and were further reinforced by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966. More recently, the 2001 UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity recognized the right of all persons “to participate in the cultural life of their choice and conduct their own cultural practices, subject to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms” (Art. 5). In specific cases, and especially in relation to indigenous peoples, cultural rights refers to the group’s right to control their own heritage or knowledge, as with traditional ethnobotanical knowledge sometimes exploited by multinational companies without compensation to the bearers of that knowledge (Buck & Hamilton, 2011; Greene, 2004).
Values, beliefs, and attitudes
Values, beliefs, and attitudes key aspects of culture, underlie all communication with others, whether within a culture or between members of different cultures. One possible distinction suggests values are understood to be true or false; beliefs are assumed to be good or bad; and attitudes refer to individual characteristics such as curiosity and interest in others (Condon & Yousef, 1975). Values, beliefs and attitudes are most often taken for granted, not normally questioned, simply accepted by members of a cultural group as baseline assumptions rarely made explicit, learned during childhood and assumed to be obvious truths by adults. Substantial interactional difficulties occur when participants discover their assumptions differ, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts even during well-intentioned intercultural dialogues or interactions. Attitudes relevant to intercultural competences include: respect, empathy, open-mindedness, curiosity, risk-taking, flexibility, and tolerance of ambiguity. In the same vein, UNESCO lays stress on the common values, deep interactions and cross-cultural borrowings that have taken place among different cultural and spiritual traditions, whether during the past or continuing today, and the need to foster reciprocal knowledge among these various traditions in order to achieve respect for pluralism, respect for beliefs and convictions, and to serve as the basis for creating harmony in pluricultural and pluri-religious societies.