Ever noticed that when people talk about the intercultural, the word itself is often used as a noun, in spite of its appearance to be an adjective? Sure, there's intercultural training, intercultural education, and lest we not forget intercultural communication. But, generally speaking, most folks I know refer to all of these as simply intercultural, as a field of its own. Well, apparently that is not the case....
Last week, a very prominent interculturalist gave a speech at an important meeting of interculturalists here in Oregon. It was to be a state of the art in the field of intercultural. And he said, much to my surprise--indeed, my horror--that intercultural as a field is, and should be seen as, rooted solidly in communication. He called cultural studies, anthropology, and psychology (note that education is notably absent from the discussion at all) pretenders to the field.
Pretenders to the Field
Did I hear that right? Did I type that right? I pause to reflect again on my disbelief....
What happened to the interdisciplinary nature of the intercultural? As an educator, as a person who sees and acknowledges the power relations present in all cultures, across cultures, and between cultures, I take offense. I take offense to the notable absence of education in the discussion. I take offense to calling psychology a pretender because psychology has offered me, as an interculturalist, much to work with in terms of human development, cognitive function, understanding identity formation as a multicultural human being. I take offense to calling anthropology pretenders. Perhaps not all anthropologists embarked on cultural forays with the best ethical intentions, but the same could certainly be argued about some interculturalists. I take offense to calling cultural studies pretenders because once again, the inherent power relations so present among people have gone unacknowledged to say that they don't matter enough to be considered part of "the field." I take offense to the suggestion that communication is the only true home of the intercultural. Why create this artificial disciplinary boundary? What does it offer, when it has the potential to limit so much?
It's summer in Portland! And, is it ever! Let's get the superficial stuff out of the way first. It was nearly 100 degrees here yesterday, and an important distinction between Portland and other places that are hot more of the time is that few people in PDX have air conditioning in anything except their cars. So, it's hot and we're feeling it.
This year, I'm spending my summer in Portland at the Summer Insititute for Intercultural Communication. I actually wrote (and got) a grant to come out here, where I have been, and will be, taking some professional development workshops that are really helping me develop an action plan for the long-term work I want to be doing with language teacher preparation.
Last week, I attended a session called "Diversity Work: Where Do We Go From Here?" It was probably more designed for people who are the "Diversity Director" in their organizations, but I got a lot out of it, in terms of nurturing my soul (we talked about some great strategies for avoiding burnout, for example), increasing my own awareness to go even deeper ("When you woke up this morning, were you inhaling, or exhaling?"), and some downright useful information (statistics and such) to make the case for diversity, which is something I think the field of language education still hasn't totally understood.
I think one of the challenges with a field instead of an organization is that organizations are easier to change. Granted, organizational change is not easy, but I think changing a field is an even bigger challenge because I'm not much of a supporter of incremental change because I think that by the time any significant change is observed, the context has already moved on. The impact, under these conditions, is not enough.Thoughts?
Well, there'll be more to come from PDX, for sure. But now, I'm getting ready to go to the Carribean Festival. It's summer in Portland, indeed!