A Global Agenda for Intercultural Communication Research and Practice

Authored by: Malcolm N. MacDonald , John P. O’Regan

The Routledge Handbook of Language and Intercultural Communication

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415572545
eBook ISBN: 9780203805640
Adobe ISBN: 9781136649530




This chapter identifies key issues and topics in intercultural communication set out in the preceding chapters and places them in the wider context of globalization and transnational mobility. It goes on to outline contributions that have been made in recent intercultural communication research, to highlight trends in research methods and to propose areas where further work can be carried out. These are tied in with some suggestions for pedagogic practice and continuing professional development, and we conclude with some thoughts about the possible future of intercultural communication.

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A Global Agenda for Intercultural Communication Research and Practice

1.  Introduction

This chapter identifies key issues and topics in intercultural communication set out in the preceding chapters and places them in the wider context of globalization and transnational mobility. It goes on to outline contributions that have been made in recent intercultural communication research, to highlight trends in research methods and to propose areas where further work can be carried out. These are tied in with some suggestions for pedagogic practice and continuing professional development, and we conclude with some thoughts about the possible future of intercultural communication.

Paradoxically, two concepts that remain problematic in intercultural communication are the idea of culture itself, and the ways in which this relates to the identities of human actors. As we have seen in this volume, the nation-state is still often regarded as the default signifier of cultural identification, although its centrality to the conceptualization of culture and to intercultural communication is contested (Holliday 2011). First, there are ‘cultures’ with which individuals identify that both exceed and traverse the boundaries of the nation-state. These include pannational geographical and political groupings such as ‘Asia’, ‘Africa’ and ‘Latin America’, professional and academic associations such as those listed at the end of this chapter as well as the transnational networks described below. Second, it has been forcefully argued (e.g. McSweeney 2002) that members of any cultural grouping or network – be it national or transnational – do not actually subscribe in a monolithic fashion to sets of behaviours, values and attitudes that are a priori homogeneous and consistent over time, as suggested by the early survey research (Chapter 1).

Numerous qualitative studies in the field are now describing how more contingent facets of human agency and a person’s sense of self are realized through communication in particular social contexts. On the one hand, social identity is arguably constituted through a series of performative acts that are responsive to the context of communication (Pennycook 2004). Here, ‘culture’ is performed by social actors in real time and, in a recent radical analysis of internet chatroom talk, only becomes noteworthy when made relevant in the talk of its Chinese and Korean interlocutors (Brandt and Jenks 2011). On the other hand, subjectivity is manifested in a phenomenological sense of self that unfolds through time and is becoming increasingly fluid and unstable as members of modern social elites engage in ever more fragmented forms of activity (Bauman 2000). Narrative accounts of the ambivalent experience of Japanese students returning from overseas study (kikokushijo) provide evidence of the conflicts and contradictions that can arise from a protracted engagement with another culture (Ford 2009). The relationship between identity and culture has been discussed extensively within this volume (e.g. Chapters 2, 11 and 13) and remains a recurrent theme in what follows.

2.  Historical Perspectives and Emergent Themes

The issues in the study of intercultural communication described in earlier chapters are coterminous with the phenomenon of globalization. For Turner (2010),

globalization involves the compression of time and space, the increased interconnectivity of human groups, the increased values of the exchange of commodities, people and ideas, and finally the emergence of various forms of global consciousness which … we may call cosmopolitanism.

Turner (2010: 5)

A central feature of globalization is the movement of populations between nation-states, referred to as ‘transnational mobility’ (e.g. Faist 2004). Three features of transnational mobility simultaneously impact upon the conditions of intercultural communication and are constituted by it: the numbers of people migrating and the directions in which they move in a particular historical period; the social conditions under which migrants reside within the modern nation-state; and the sociopsychological relationship of migrants to their home country and their country of destination.

According to the International Organization for Migration (2010), ‘there are now about 192 million people living outside their place of birth, which is about three per cent of the world’s population’. Hoerder (2002) also estimated that there are also around 25 million refugees who live ‘in transition’. Many migrants move to gain more lucrative work in Europe and North America, while large numbers travel from Asia to the Gulf States. Further movements of populations also take place internally across distinct regional zones within nation-states, for example in the recent movement of labour from rural to urban areas of China. However, in the twenty-first century, we are seeing an unexpected change in the dynamic of population flows. We are also witnessing not a continuing exponential increase but rather increasing attempts to regulate and inhibit the flow of populations, particularly in the case of movements to the North from the South. We anticipate that this change in the dynamic of transnational migration will impact upon the patterns of intercultural communication that take place both ‘within borders’ – between members of migrant and majority groups within destination countries – and ‘across borders’ – between migrant groups, their families and other social networks that they wish to maintain with their countries of origin.

Within borders, communication between minority and majority ethnic groups is inextricably linked to the accessibility of citizens and non-citizens to equal rights under law, and the positioning of members of minority ethnic groups within the nation-states in which they find themselves. The relationship between migration and the granting of citizenship to long-term migrant workers is complex and varies from country to country and region to region. For example, Australia and Canada pursue a policy of selective immigration through which it is possible for migrants in favourable circumstances to obtain citizenship after a prolonged period of residence. However, for guest workers coming from outside the EU to those European countries that pursue more open immigration policies, citizenship is less readily available; and, in many cases, such as for those seeking temporary work in the Gulf States, it is simply unachievable (Hoerder 2002: 575–76). Recently, however, there has been an intensification of the barriers to be surmounted by migrant workers seeking citizenship. The most recent Migrant Integration Policy Index (2006–7) shows that eleven out of the then twenty-five countries in the European Union now set citizenship tests.

For immigrants who do achieve citizenship within a destination country, relations between majority and minority groups, as well as between different minority groups, remain problematic (Modood 2007). For some time, multiculturalism has been the policy of choice not only for states that have incorporated diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic groups from their inception (e.g. India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore) but also for those that are prepared to grant citizenship to new arrivals (e.g. Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand and the UK). However, the realization of the policy of multiculturalism in different countries varies, and different forms have been contested over the years (Kivisto 2002). Ideally, multiculturalism recognizes diversity between different groups within a society or nation-state and upholds the rights of members of different ethnic groups to practise distinctive cultural practices such as religion, language, dress, music and cuisine. However, given asymmetries of power between majority and minority ethnic groups, the complex differentiation of cultural practices between minority groups and the challenges of incorporating an array of languages and religions, festivals and public holidays into any national public life, it is virtually impossible to recognize the cultural practices of different groups equally. Somewhere, certain groups are going to lose out – and these are unlikely to include the most dominant one. Thus, critics argue that multiculturalism still leans overmuch towards the assimilation of minorities towards one dominant set of cultural practices, rather than a process of multilateral integration where the cultural practices of every ethnic group are accorded equal place (Modood 2007).

The outcome of increasing doubts about multiculturalism from both functional and ethical viewpoints has lead to a radical shift in policy taking place within the European Union. Now it is intercultural communication that is placed at the heart of the social cohesion of multiethnic European states. The Council of Europe’s (2008) White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue asserts that ‘… old approaches to the management of cultural diversity were no longer adequate to societies in which the degree of that diversity … was unprecedented and ever-growing’. Instead, the paper proposes that the pursuit of ‘intercultural dialogue’ both as policy and as social practice would uphold the values of diversity, human rights, freedom of expression and equality of opportunity more successfully than multiculturalism (ibid.: 25–27). For the Council of Europe, intercultural dialogue is understood as: ‘ … an open and respectful exchange of views between individuals, groups with different ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds and heritage on the basis of mutual understanding and respect’ (ibid.: 10). This dialogue requires three areas of competence: participation in democratic citizenship; learning languages – particularly those that predominate in the state; and knowledge of the history of different ethnic groups. However, as Byram emphasizes, intercultural citizenship is not just limited to mediation within the single nation-state. It ‘ … goes beyond this, involving both activity with other people in the world, and the competences required for dialogue with people of other languacultures’ (Chapter 5, this volume).

So far, we have been describing transnational mobility very much in terms of the ‘container model’ of nation-state, where individuals are conceived of as moving from one geographically and politically bounded space to another. However, more recent empirical research into the social and economic conditions of migration indicates that the migrant experience is less amenable to crude binaries of regional or national affiliation (Faist 2004), and it has been redescribed in ways that reflect the economic, social and communication conditions of globalization (Faist 2000; Hannerz 1996; Portes 1996; Pries 1999).

This has led to the reconceptualization of the idea of space, both as an analytical category and as the experience of individual actors. On this analysis, space is neither identical with state territories, nor indeed with particular physical or geographical locations. Instead, space stands for the ‘cultural, economic and political practices’ of territorially located actors, and constitutes the ‘links’ between different places (Faist 2004: 4). Where these practices are interactions that take place between individual actors who have bonds to two or more nation-states, they become part of ‘transnational space’. These practices represent an expansion of social space across territorial boundaries, which has led to ‘a transformation in the spatial organisation of social and symbolic relations’ (Faist 2004: 3). The social aspect of space consists of ‘ties’, which are ongoing transactions between three or more people. Transactions are the symbolic aspect of social space including ‘meanings, memories, expectations for the future and collective representations’.

Transnational spaces are classified by Faist into four ideal types: ‘areas of diffusion’, organizations and communities, issue networks and small groups (2004: 3–10). Many of the intercultural communication contexts set out in Section IV of this volume entail a diffusion of social ties and symbolic relations between participants in which information, goods, services and capital are exchanged. These include forms of pedagogic activity and exchange, both formal and informal (Chapters 23, 25, 26, 27, 28 and 29); contexts that require mediation across languages such as translation and interpreting (Chapter 31); health care settings (Chapter 32); legal contexts (Chapter 33); and tourist excursions (Chapter 34). According to Faist, although the social ties of areas of diffusion remain relatively stable across national boundaries, they entail low levels of formalization and a relatively low intensity of relations between participants.

In contrast, transnational organizations, such as multinational corporations, and transnational communities, such as religious movements, operate over prolonged periods of time at high levels of formalization. Transnational communities chiefly comprise religious movements, particularly the more populous worldwide religions of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. Religious diasporas also form distinctive transnational communities. These are distinguished by the ‘closeness’ of their symbolic ties (Faist 2004: 9), as these transnational communities achieve a certain emotional intensity and distinctive semiotic power from the symbolic content of their religious ceremonies, texts and practices.

Transnational issue networks involve the exchange of information and services between persons and organizations in order to attain some shared purpose (Faist 2004). Unlike transnational organizations and communities, they operate at relatively low levels of formalization. Issue networks include non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights organizations and networks focusing on particular scientific or technological issues.

Finally, ‘small groups’ that are dispersed across national boundaries include principally households or families. Although these kinship systems are scattered, they exhibit high degrees of formalization. Household or family members can become dispersed abroad to work within a multinational company, or travel to another country or region to seek employment as contract workers. Key to the communication between these networks is the remittance of income back to family members in their countries of origin.

3.  Critical Issues and Topics

Here, we revisit the core issues featured in Section II of this book: language and identity, communication and culture, intercultural transitions and communicative competence.

For Kramsch and Uryu (Chapter 13), ‘identity’ is a term that refers to the sets of social relations that a human being creates and maintains within a social group or culture, whereas ‘subjectivity’ refers to a human being’s sense of self. A parallel dualism is reflected in the way in which forms of relations are conceived of as being constituted between intercultural actors. From one perspective, intercultural communication is conceived as a form of dialogue that is able to render permeable the boundaries between individual actors derived from the hypostatized diversity of their cultures. However, we maintain that there are limits to dialogue. In our view, a fundamental condition of intercultural communication also arises from ‘difference’, whereby each individual social actor remains existentially separate. Difference is created and maintained not only through the types of linguistic and non-linguistic semiotic systems described in this book, but also through less contingent biological and social features such as corporeality, ethnicity and access to economic and cultural capital.

In the same vein, this volume has also considered the relationship between language and identity in order to consider the ways in which the ‘diverse diversities’ (Chapter 11) of participants are constituted through linguistic interactions and discursive practices executed in micro-contexts. For example, Shi and Langman (Chapter 10) analyse how the constitution of gendered identities is performed in the flow of communication in a hybrid context, where students negotiate the interstices between the performance of Chinese and American identities required of them in a US university management training seminar. The seminar thus becomes a site where relations of power are played out, not only as the participants interact in an adversarial role play but also as the communicative practices of the educational subject qua negotiator are constituted as a form of cultural capital. In contrast, Charalambous and Rampton (Chapter 12) address the ideological role that language choice plays in the creation and maintenance of the unified nation-state. Although the use of English and the assumption of ‘Americanized’ identities by Shi’s subjects (Chapter 10) was socially and politically uncontroversial within the context of a US management training seminar, the introduction of the Turkish language to Greek-Cypriots by Charalambous’s and Rampton’s teacher was perceived as highly contentious by members of the social groups that interfaced with the class. On this account, the assumption that an encounter with another language and culture will necessarily lead to a harmonious dialogue seems rather less secure.

Preceding chapters have also considered written, spoken and nonverbal forms of communication and the extent to which these function at a universal level, a national—cultural level or at the level of the individual subject. However, a major question remains concerning the different levels at which these operate and the relationships between them. In Chapter 6, Risager posits four interrelated dimensions for the global flow of communication: that of the language system (‘linguistic flows’); that of the relationship between meaning and L1 (‘linguacultural flows’); and that of meaning not necessarily related to particular languages (‘discursive flows’), as well as other cultural flows such as non-linguistic and behavioural meanings. The relationship between universal and context-specific behavioural meanings is also taken up by Matsumoto and Hwang in Chapter 8. Although earlier research has suggested that seven universal facial expressions of emotion can be identified, the authors present evidence of a battery of other behavioural displays of meaning – facial expression, gesture, gaze, voice, space, touch, posture and gait – which do suggest patterns specific to members of different cultural groupings. In a similar vein in Chapter 9, Cheng also challenges early conceptualizations of universal characteristics of ‘facework’ (e.g. Brown and Levinson 1978, 1987) and proposes that the negotiation of face might also reflect patterns specific to diverse national or ethnic groups. Here, it is suggested that the maintenance of politeness in verbal interactions displays patterns that are isomorphic with the cultural systems of different nation-states.

Evidence in this volume therefore supports the idea that, although some phenomena operate very much at a global level, some are contextualized much more narrowly within local contexts, relating to a national or regional culture or to ‘smaller’ cultures such as the language classroom or project team. Thus, it is possible to retain the proposition that there is some homogeneity of communicative behaviours that are shared by members of the same broadly defined cultural groupings but at the same time to acknowledge, first, that some features of human communication are more amenable than others to homogenized patterning within cultural groups and, second, that individual members of cultural groups might not share the personal sense of identification ascribed to them by their visible patterns of linguistic and non-linguistic behaviour.

A third critical issue in the study of intercultural communication is the conceptualization of intercultural competence. Chapter 18 has traced the emergence of the term ‘intercultural speaker’ and how the goal of intercultural competence came to challenge the idealized conceptualization of the native speaker as the goal of language education (Byram et al. 2001; Kramsch 1998). However, in our view, no modelling of intercultural competence is context free. This volume has described four types of social situations in which different modalities of intercultural competence are deployed: the teaching and learning of a foreign language as the goal of an educational programme (Chapters 5, 18, and 26); the use and acquisition of a second language as membership of an immigrant group (Chapter 15); the variation of a single language within a multidialectical speech situation (Chapter 19); and the use and acquisition of a foreign or second language in the workplace (Chapter 30). The challenge remains whether any one model of competence can be developed that can be applied reliably to every intercultural context, or whether multiple models of competence should be developed in particular contexts with high levels of specificity.

One of the most commonly held universal principles of intercultural communication is reflected by Wilkinson in Chapter 18 as ‘sensitivity towards other people and cultures coupled with self-reflexivity’, and it is this that leads to mediation as a form of intercultural praxis. Likewise, for Fantini, writing in Chapter 16, ‘awareness’ emerges as central to cross-cultural development. Whereas, for Fantini, different conceptualizations of culture are associated with different linguistic systems, for Sharifian in Chapter 19, these are also associated with different dialects within one language. Sharifian therefore suggests adding ‘metacultural competence’ under the knowledge category in Byram’s classic model (1997; Byram et al. 2001) to reflect ‘the understanding that one language may be used to encode several systems of cultural conceptualizations’. In Chapter 5, Byram himself expands these original precepts to combine competence in citizenship with communicative competence as a necessary goal so that subjects can participate in a broader political sphere than the singular nation state.

Byram and colleagues’ framework for intercultural citizenship communication is very much envisaged from the ‘inside looking out’ – for members of an identifiable cultural entity, often a nation-state, aspiring to engage with a broader global context in terms of attitudes, beliefs and values as well as linguistic performance. For Giles et al., intercultural communication is conceived from the ‘outside looking in’. In Chapter 15, they describe intercultural competence from a social psychological perspective as communication accommodation theory in order to explain the reasons for convergence or divergence on the part of intercultural speakers in second language contexts, particularly while communicating with dominant social groups. Yet, like Wilkinson, a key component in Giles et al.’s description of communication accommodation remains sensitivity. For them, it is required for speakers to achieve the necessary variability in communication practices that is necessary for particular social situations.

However, in our view, three things need to be considered in order to understand the aetiology of different modalities of intercultural competence. First, any particular set of parameters for intercultural competence is coterminous with the specific social context in which communicative praxis takes place. At a micro-level, this includes ‘small cultural’ contexts such as the language classroom (Chapters 26 and 27), sites of study abroad programmes (Chapter 28) and tourism (Chapter 34). At a macro-level, they also include contemporary social, economic and political conditions. Second, a variety of disciplines have informed the descriptions of intercultural competence in this volume: social psychology (Chapter 15), social cognition and sociolinguistics (Chapter 19), education (Chapter 5), anthropology and ethnography (Chapter 18). The different constituents of intercultural communicative competence inevitably reflect the epistemological concerns of any one discipline. The third condition for a framework for inter-cultural competence is its evidence base, i.e. the extent to which it is based on data and the ways in which that data are used. Thus, the principles for intercultural communicative competence can be established deductively, in anticipation of the performance of intercultural interactions, and thereby act as criteria for its relative success; alternatively, they can be derived inductively, emerging from the analysis of sets of empirically collected data.

Other accounts of research and practice in intercultural competence have gone beyond the educational contexts described above. For example, the present authors were recently engaged in the research and design of the UK National Occupational Standards for Intercultural Working, and proposed the introduction of more inductive approaches in order to ground standards criteria in ‘empirical data gleaned from workplace contexts’ (MacDonald et al. 2009: 389). Coming from a very different perspective, Spencer-Oatey has also analysed transcripts of naturally occurring speech in intercultural business settings in order to establish empirically grounded descriptions of the pragmatic features of successful intercultural interaction (Spencer-Oatey and Franklin 2009). Further intercultural communication research using inductive data is required to understand the ways in which intercultural competence is constructed in real-time language. This would then sit alongside the existing curricular principles and the extensive introspective, attitudinal and psychological data derived from the disciplines of education and social psychology.

4.  Current Contributions and Future Directions

The sociological conceptualizations of transnational space described above have implications for research in intercultural communication, both present and future. To date, this research has engaged extensively with Faist’s ‘areas of diffusion’ such as pedagogic contexts (e.g. Chapters 26 and 27) and tourism (Chapter 34), as well as transnational organizations such as multinational corporations (reflected in part in Chapters 29 and 30). However, intercultural communication within other types of transnational space remains underresearched, in particular within transnational communities, transnational issue networks and ‘small groups’. Although Witteborn (2007a, b, 2008) has carried out research into the discursive practices of diasporic Arab communities resident in the USA, many features of intercultural communication within and between religious faiths are yet to be described. Witteborn (2010) has recently described how the notion of global citizenship is constituted as a discursive practice through the webpages of a major international NGO. However, little or no research has described intercultural communication either in the range of ‘issue networks’ described above, or in Faist’s ‘small groups’ of transnational kinship systems and families.

Thus, there is scope for intercultural communication researchers to engage with the experiences of less privileged groups of sojourners such as migrant workers and those seeking asylum and refuge. For neither of these populations is travel a luxury, and accounts of their intercultural experience might be more challenging than those mainly recorded so far – of elite groups travelling for education, commerce or tourism. There is already an emerging engagement with these issues that often uses a case study approach. For example, Miles’s (2010) study describes ways in which the identity of a multilingual male French citizen of Senegalese descent adopts the role of a mediator between immigrant workers and the native English speakers within a multinational corporation situated in the USA. And Alison Phipps’s (2010) keynote conference speech to the International Association of Languages and Intercultural Communication gave a powerful account of a young Eritrean women struggling to gain political asylum in the UK.

Another context with which the academy has not traditionally engaged is the role of intercultural communication within warfare and security. The events of 9/11 and their aftermath have intensified the global visibility of the intercultural dimension to the conflict between different forms of fundamentalism – and particularly in relation to the wars currently being conducted by US and UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. There appears to be increasing awareness within the US and UK military of the potential for intercultural communication as a way of mediating conflict situations. However, the literature on this appears to be largely confined to periodicals that circulate within the military itself (e.g. Simpson 2007). There appear to be further possibilities here for both intercultural communication researchers and instructors.

Although the study of intercultural communication has persistently attempted to broaden the focus of language learning and teaching away from the dominance of hegemonic global languages, the range of languages addressed within intercultural communication research still remains limited. This volume has reflected a preoccupation with the teaching and use of predominantly European languages, inevitably English, but also the mainstream ‘modern and foreign languages’ such as French, German and Spanish. In particular, intercultural communication in other global languages such as Chinese and Arabic has yet to be extensively described, as well as Japanese, the language spoken by the third most powerful economy in the world. Thus, not only is there still a need to develop intercultural communication research in several of the historically and economically most important global languages, but also with regard to minority and aboriginal languages. This applies less perhaps to minority languages and aboriginal studies in multicultural societies in the North, such as Punjabi in the UK (e.g. Rampton 1999), Afro-American dialects in the USA (e.g. Alim and Perry 2011), Carbaugh’s description of intercultural communication among the Blackfeet Native Americans (2005) as well as Aboriginal English in Australia (Chapter 19, this volume), but it certainly applies to languages that are spoken in smaller and less economically developed countries and regions of the globe, for example in parts of Latin America and the islands of the Pacific.

In its research paradigms, intercultural communication often seems riven with dichotomies that reflect the epistemological and ontological assumptions of its diverse disciplinary origins (Holliday 2010). Again, this applies in particular to the articulation of ‘culture’ within different theoretical frameworks. Thus, ‘culture’ can be an explanatory concept that precedes the phenomena analysed by empirical research (a priori/deductive), or ‘culture’ can be performed by agents as an effect of communication (a fortiori/inductive). Approaches informed by social psychology largely subscribe to a priori conceptualizations of culture, often conceived as forms of social representation, whereas critical and poststructuralist approaches generally subscribe to the notion of culture as ‘performativity’ (e.g. Pennycook 2004). In fact, for Dervin (Chapter 11), the concept of culture has become so problematic that he advocates the study of ‘interculturality without culture’.

However, this volume reflects the longstanding trend in intercultural communication research towards the eschewal of more positivistic, social scientific approaches using quantitative research methods (e.g. experimental design, surveys, interaction and content analysis) towards more interpretive qualitative approaches that deploy methods such as ethnography, in-depth interviews and case studies. This approach is informed by an ontology and epistemology that is predominantly social constructionist (e.g. Chapter 10, this volume). Here, the world is inextricably bound up with the self and is, correspondingly, not amenable to objective verification. In this perspective, views of the world are socially constituted through semiotic systems or ‘scapes’: linguistic, ethnic, technological, financial, journalistic, ideological, etc. (Appadurai 1990; Fairclough 2010; Kress 2010; Shohamy and Gorter 2009). Given this and the close alliance of intercultural research with language learning, it is not surprising that many of the approaches described in this handbook have focused on the ‘linguascape’ of language and discourse. For example, Risager’s language—sociological approach embraces semiotic approaches to culture and cultural complexity at a discursive level of analysis (Chapter 6), while Warren reports on the language of international exchanges in an international call centre (Chapter 30).

A noticeable move in current intercultural communication research methods is the increasing and – in our view – welcome use of what we call ‘radical narrativity’. This is manifest in studies of extreme intensity and thick description, which can comprise accounts of just one subject such as the descriptions by Miles (2010) and Phipps (2010) mentioned above. These are often driven by a democratic, ethical imperative to empower the subject of the research and to disclose the phenomenological basis behind poststructuralist claims about the fluidity and hybridity of identities within postindustrial societies (Bauman 2000). Here, the researcher permits the subject to speak for him/herself, and astringently sets out his/her own position vis-à-vis the research subject. These studies are often informed by theories such as hermeneutics or phenomenology, and deploy methods such as narrative enquiry, life stories and life histories (Holstein and Gubrium 1999). By embracing the complexity and hybridity of intercultural subjects, these approaches have resisted the urge to quantify found in mixed methods approaches in favour of the radical subjectivism characteristic of much late modern culture.

In this conjuncture, we note an absence on the theoretical side, which is the need for a powerful theoretical and methodological paradigm from which to interrogate intercultural communication itself, from essentialist through to radical subjectivist accounts. Much has been written on the former; little, if anything, on the other hand, has been written about the latter. What is needed is a theory that can encompass both. The critique of the Hofstedean tradition is already well attended to in this volume and elsewhere, so we will not rehearse it here; however, on radical intercultural subjectivism, it is one thing to move to a position of poststructuralist performativity in the construction of (inter)cultural identities, but the move itself also calls for reciprocal engagement with counterrelativist and postpositivist theoretical paradigms. For this task, a reciprocal theory that ‘speaks back’ at essentialist, neo-essentialist and radical—constructivist positions simultaneously is potentially presented by critical realism and postpositivist immanent counter-critique (Bhaskar 1998, 2008). By rejecting both positivist essentialism and radical subjectivism, critical realism may offer a methodology that has the potential to interrogate the claims that are being made at both ends of the intercultural spectrum, from fixed nation-state views of cultural identity to the radical relativist narratives of intercultural ‘becoming’.

Finally, it seems to us that the relocation of the institutional sites for intercultural communication research and pedagogic renewal still remains overdue. As set out in Chapter 1, the most visible traditions of intercultural communication research remain, first, the heirs (dissenting and otherwise) to the assimilationist language programmes in the USA set up in the 1950s; and second, the later promotion of multilingualism in education and commerce within the EU through research projects and educational exchange programmes. Further initiatives are necessary to set up truly global, multidisciplinary centres for intercultural communication, particularly those that are accessible to ‘periphery’ scholars and practitioners. Arguably, an early player in this regard was the World Communication Association located at the University of Manoa, Hawaii, USA. More recently, regular intercultural communication conferences have been held in China, for example by the China Association for Intercultural Communication (CAFIC), and regional research centres are also opening up fresh intercultural perspectives. One example of these is the Institut Kajian Oksidental (IKON) at the Universiti Kebangsaan (UKM) in Malaysia, which runs an entire project devoted to Eastern perspectives of the West (Hussin 2006). If the study of intercultural communication is to become truly intercultural and interdisciplinary, we anticipate – as economic influence relocates Eastwards – an even more radical decentring of its current Euro-American discourse.

5.  Recommendations for Practice

In our view, the move towards more interpretive and critical approaches to intercultural communication research (as described in Chapter 1) reflects a move from predicating the study of intercultural communication on the model of a natural science, which is value free, towards predicating it on the model of a social science, which is value laden (Winch 1990). We believe that there has been a corresponding shift towards engaging with the political and ethical dimensions of intercultural pedagogy and intercultural competence. As has been noted elsewhere, the values embedded in citizenship have become a central focus for intercultural education – not only for migrants seeking economic or political sanctuary, but also for learners who are engaging with a foreign language as a means of enhancing their democratic participation in a political milieu larger than the single nation-state. Thus, Lu and Corbett (Chapter 20) have opposed ‘bounded’ approaches to citizenship that create barriers to national citizenship, such as language tests, to foreign language teaching for ‘global’ citizenship which seeks to transcend national borders. However, they concede that there is a complexity to the conceptualization of global citizenship, as educationalists attempt to meld together the engagement of the intercultural citizen in democratic agency at a local, national and global level while simultaneously acknowledging the ways in which ‘universal rights and responsibilities, such as freedom of speech, equal opportunities, and social justice’ are understood and realized in different cultures. The trouble with universalism, however, is that there remain asymmetries of power that exist between political and national blocs, between institutions and agents within the nation-state and between groups of actors and individuals. In this, it seems to us that Guilherme’s call for critical awareness as part of intercultural citizenship is particularly timely. But for us, this critical awareness would not only entail intercultural actors becoming aware of the role of their own ideology and standards of judgement in viewing the actions of other people (after Bryam in Guilherme, Chapter 22), but also enable them to become aware of the ways in which they are positioned through asymmetries of power created and maintained though the transmission of intercultural relations as ‘discursive practice’ (Foucault 1977).

This volume has referenced a range of textbooks for intercultural communication (e.g. Lu and Corbett, Chapter 20), some of which are produced not for global consumption, but for particular regions. Although these are doubtless well meaning, in our view, there is no substitute for language teachers and intercultural trainers developing a curriculum and set of materials specifically designed for a particular cultural context – be it a region, a town or just one’s own class. We signal this in the light of the recent turn to local ‘postmethod’ approaches to language education in global English language teaching (Kumaravadivelu 2003; Pennycook 2010). It is necessary for the intercultural communication educator to reconfigure ‘regionalized’ as well as ‘globalized’ intercultural materials for the local context if s/he is going to engage honestly and comprehensively with the political and ethical issues, as suggested above. Specially designed intercultural materials in both formal and non-formal classrooms can address the particular identities of intercultural learners, just as they reflect the teacher’s or instructor’s own identity. In these circumstances, the classroom more readily becomes the sort of ‘safe house’ envisaged by Lu and Corbett (Chapter 20) (after Pratt 1991: 40).

The techniques available for these activities have already been described extensively. These include cultural studies and area studies for an etic view of culture (Byram 1989) and ethnography for an emic view (Roberts et al. 2001). Study abroad programmes (e.g. Chapter 28) can provide learners with an immersion experience of another language and culture, although well-designed, well-implemented orientation and debriefing programmes are important to ensure that learners achieve a positive and beneficial outcome. Forms of telecollaboration (Chapter 21) can enable learners in foreign language learning contexts to engage with members of other cultures either in personal intercultural dialogue or through collaborative projects. Within professional contexts, the type of experiential learning cycle described by Holmes (Chapter 29, after Kolb and Fry 1975) can be used for participants to reflect upon their experience and enhance their intercultural awareness. However, although intercultural educators who design their own locally developed materials are able to engage more meaningfully with particular groups of learners, the materials also have to be firmly focused on transcending conceptualizations of culture bounded by the nation-state (Holliday et al. 2010).

The development of skills and knowledge in curriculum and materials design, the ability to marshal the necessary resources for in-house materials development as well as the commitment and inspiration to implement them effectively often requires specialized training, either at certificate, diploma and postgraduate level or in in-service workshops for continuing professional development (CPD). If there appears to be a general dearth of CPD for intercultural pedagogy (Chapters 25 and 27), it appears to us that the provision of resources and training for inter-cultural communication curriculum design and materials development remains even more scarce.

6.  New Paradigms, New Engagements

A paradigm shift appears to be taking place in intercultural communication, and it is a shift from the global to the local, from overarching templates to engagements with local knowledge and practice. To adapt a phrase from Pennycook (2010), we might call this interculturalism as a local practice. The move to localism in intercultural communication is exemplified by many of the contributions to this volume and is a welcome reminder that intercultural communication is an intimate, ‘intersubjective’ activity, in that it generally requires people and language for it to be enacted, either face to face – on the street, in classrooms, shopping malls, airports or holiday destinations – or at a distance in chat rooms, virtual worlds, through e-mail or online conferencing. It also occurs in much less amenable surroundings such as immigration detention centres, border crossings and war zones, and symbolically through acts of aggression and terror. Wherever the locale and whatever the symbols, issues of identity and ‘interculture’ (i.e. the economy of intercultural communication) are always at stake in these meetings. In personal exchanges, they are always potentially open to negotiation, although not necessarily freely or on the basis of equality. This is not simply because intercultural communication can occur in coercive circumstances, but because acts of communication are always bound up with power in some form, and with the historical and discursive forces in which the participants are embedded, whether they are hosts and study abroad students or border agency officials and asylum seekers, so that the locales are themselves complexly constituted from the linguistic and semiotic activities of the participants in them.

This is not a particularly new notion in discourse analysis or in language studies – it is a perspective that has run through systemic—functional, critical discourse and multimodal approaches to language for some time – but it is still relatively new to intercultural communication. We would suggest, then, that in addition to studying all the ways in which people can become, in Byram’s words, ‘intercultural speakers’, there is still a need to examine the locales, spaces and contexts of intercultural communication – in terms of how these spaces came into being historically and how they function and reproduce themselves as centres of intercultural communication. This does not imply stepping away from language necessarily, but it does presage a more emphatic move towards ‘discourse’, or better still, ‘semiosis’ (i.e. human meaning-making in all its forms) in understandings of intercultural communication and, crucially, of the locales that are constituted (as well as construed) by it. An international call centre, as Warren (Chapter 30) demonstrates, is fairly meaningless without the practices, linguistic and otherwise, of the operators and callers for whom and by which it comes into being. We therefore wish to make an appeal for research into semiosis in intercultural communication, and into the constitution of the ‘locales’ (i.e. the spatial contexts – virtual, physical and conceptual) in which it occurs, and the relations between the two, in order to shed light upon the production and reproduction of the structures and practices of which they are a part.

Inasmuch as locales are constituted by semiotic and other causal means, the increased emphasis on localism should not obscure the necessary relation between the local and the global in intercultural communication, because all locales – particularly intercultural communication locales – are in one way or another globally situated and, for the participants in them, are inevitably and ineluctably referenced to wider personal imaginaries about the nature of the world they live in and where they are in it. Locales are thus also linked to intercultural communication participants’ geocognitive conceptions of personal location, such as ‘institution’ (where the discourse is occurring), ‘country’ (Gabon, Haiti, Australia, etc.), ‘state’ (autocracy/democracy) and ‘region’ (East/West; North/South). In other words, intercultural communication locales may be ‘local’, but they cannot help but be bound up with the human desire for personal triangulation, both conceptually and physically, as a means of staving off feelings of intercultural insecurity and alienation (Jameson 1988; Lynch 1960). The interrogation and mapping of the relationship between the local and the global therefore remains an important aspect of the agenda for intercultural communication research and pedagogy, and following from this, of intercultural practice and action.

Clearly drawing on Williams’s (1977) configuration of culture as dominant, residual and emergent, Holliday’s Intercultural Communication and Ideology (2011) is a useful study of the local/global dialectic in intercultural communication. In contrast to Williams’s tripartite conceptualization of culture, Holliday presents a view of ‘competing worlds’: an ‘established’ actual world of centre discourses and normalized cultural descriptions; a ‘dominant’ ‘imagined’ world of essentialized selves and demonized others that impinges directly upon the established world; a ‘marginal’ world of counterdiscourses that are spoken from the periphery (i.e. where the prejudices of the dominant world are deconstructed); and an ‘emergent’ world of alternative reflexive possibilities in which the self-certainties of the established and dominant ‘centre’ worlds have been refuted and eschewed. Here, the purpose is to ‘open up the possibility of seeing something else’ (ibid.: 190) – i.e. that which is unseen and presently out of view. The emergent world therefore encapsulates a form of hope that some day things interculturally might be other than they are now. It has always been in the nature of intercultural communication research and teaching that we have looked for the unseen and, as this volume has shown, we have done so from a range of identities, cultures and disciplinary perspectives, and by employing a wide variety of techniques. As Marx once said, ‘Hic Rhodus, hic salta!’ (1961 [1887]: 166) – or, in a manner of speaking, ‘Here’s the problem, now get on with it!’ It was good advice.

Further Reading

Communication, Culture, and Critique (International Communication Association).
Cross-Cultural Management: An Intercultural Journal.
Cross-Cultural Research, Sage.
Cross-Cultural Psychology Bulletin.
Culture and Psychology, Sage.
Intercultural Communication Review.
Intercultural Education, Routledge.
Intercultural Pragmatics, De Gruyter.
International and Intercultural Communication Annual.
International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management, Sage.
International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Elsevier (International Academy for Intercultural Research).
Journal of Cross-Cultural Competence and Management.
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Sage.
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research (World Communication Association).
Journal of Intercultural Studies, Routledge.
Journal of International and Intercultural Communication.
Journal of International and Intercultural Communication (National Communication Association). Journal of Language, Identity and Education, Routledge.
Journal of Multicultural Discourses, Routledge.
Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, Routledge.
Journal of Studies in International Education, Sage.
Language and Intercultural Communication, Routledge (International Association of Language and Intercultural Communication).
Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies, Routledge.
The SIETAR International Journal (Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research).


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