EFIL promotes a broad understanding of culture, intercultural competence and learning, in line with updated academic discourse and current political processes.
Definitions of concepts linked to intercultural competence
The concept of culture assumed by EFIL
The non-essentialist view of culture (see Adrian Holliday, 2011) stresses the complexity and multiplicity of individual identities, going way beyond geographical or family backgrounds. People participate in different groups or cultures, which may be defined according to nationality, ethnicity, language, age, social class, gender, religion, political or sexual orientation, etc. Their sense of belonging is not only multiple, but it also shifts – increasing or diminishing in intensity – according to the context and purpose of their interactions, as well as their interlocutors. The cultural identity may be inconsistent, negotiated and coconstructed in different situations, and may depend on power and voice in a given relationship.
(see Competences for democratic culture, CoE, p. 20)
Every interpersonal situation is potentially an intercultural situation. Often, when we encounter other people, we respond to them as individuals who have a range of attributes distinguishing them from other people. However, sometimes we respond to them instead in terms of their cultural affiliations, and when this occurs we group them together with other people who share these affiliations with them. There are several factors which prompt us to shift our frame of reference from the individual and interpersonal to the intercultural.
These include, among others:
- the presence of salient cultural emblems or practices that invoke the cultural category in the mind of the perceiver,
- the frequent use of cultural categories to think about other people so that these categories are readily accessed when interacting with others,
- usefulness of a cultural category in helping to understand why another person is behaving in the way that they are, etc.
Thus, intercultural situations arise when an individual perceives another person (or group of people) as being culturally different from themselves. Every human being is regularly exposed to intercultural situations, with or without direct interactions with others.
Intercultural competence – ability to mobilise and deploy relevant attitudes, skills and knowledge in order to interact effectively and appropriately in different intercultural situations.
(D.K. Deardorff, The SAGE book of intercultural competence; CoE, Competences for democratic culture)
Intercultural competence include recognition and appreciation of one’s own and others’ multiplicities and how they come into play in different situations. It should not resume to prescriptive solutions for ‘specific cultures’ and instead focus on preparing for the unexpected, careful perception and dealing with uncertainty. It implies readiness to deal with difference in an ethno-relative manner (viewing values and behaviours of others from broader perspectives, and not seeing one’s own as normal/superior). However it also needs to avoid the mechanism of othering – seeing the world in categories us vs. them, where “them” are those who are different from me/us. Identifying and labeling “the other” tends to ascribe a fixed identity to them, where it may be difficult or impossible to contest the ascription (hence intercultural competence includes also issues of power and voice of interlocutors).
Intercultural competence is tightly linked to empathy, listening and observing, critical thinking, flexibility, conflict resolution skills and tolerance of ambiguity. They also go hand in hand with civic-mindedness, valuing democracy and human rights.
Acquisition of intercultural competence (intercultural learning)
is a lifelong learning process, which brings best results through conscious, planned and facilitated experiential learning (D.Kolb, Experiential Learning, 1984). It is important to note that exposure and interaction with people of different cultural affiliations does not imply, let alone guarantee, intercultural learning (Y.Amir, Contact Hypothesis in Ethnic Relations, 1969). It is also worth noting that the non-formal education sector has so far the strongest experience in facilitating these educational processes.
Assessment of intercultural competence is a complex task, which cannot be responded by standard quantitative testing procedures. Since intercultural learning is a life-long learning process, intercultural competence can never be fully achieved. Assessment should be qualitative and formative, voluntary, participatory, tailored and learner centred.
Abdallah-Pretceille, M. (2012). POSTSCRIPT Towards a humanism of the diverse. IJE4D Journal, 1, 133-136.
Amir, Y. “Contact Hypothesis in Ethnic Relations,” (1969) in The Handbook of Interethnic Coexistence, ed. Eugene Weiner, New York: Continuum Publishing (1998)
Barrett, M. et al (2016), Competences for Democratic Culture: Living together as equals in culturally diverse democratic societies. Council of Europe Publishing
Byram, M., Barrett, M. D., Ipgrave, J., Jackson, R., & Mendez-Garcia, M. C. (2009). Autobiography of Intercultural Encounters: Context, Concepts and Theories. Strasbourg: Language Policy Division, Council of Europe Publishing
Deardorff, D.K. (Ed.) (2009), The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence, Duke University
Deardorff, D.K. (2011), Assessing Intercultural Competence, New Directions for Institutional Research, 149, pp. 65-79
Holliday, A. (1999). Small cultures. Applied Linguistics, 20(2), 237-264.
Holliday, A. (2011). A Grammar of culture. In: Intercultural communication and ideology. London: Sage.
Kolb, D.A. (1984), Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall
van Dijk, T. A. (2000). New(s) racism: A discourse analytical approach. In S. Cottle (Ed.), Ethnic minorities & the media: Changing cultural boundaries (pp. 33-49). Maidenhead: Open University Press.