Word World (par Jacques Demorgon)


In the T kit 4 Intercultural learning the authors « Martinelli e. at. « Expose what they do not hesitate to call the » conception of culture « of Demorgon (2000, 2002, 2018) and Molz (2000). They do this alongside the positions of E. T. Hall and Milton Benett. This, accompanied by rather glowing remarks. Their interest is understandable. Indeed, they are against insisting on national cultures and support the freedom of human actors to be able to compose a wide variety of cultures. They appreciate in this regard the highlighting of the antagonistic oscillatory adaptation process of culture (Demorgon, Molz, 2000). This Process is both inseparably intra and interculturalIt concerns both the adaptations pursued within the cultures that have already been partially established and the new adaptations to cultures not yet encountered. This adaptation between polarized orientations common to the general human experience can thus give rise to very many differences according to places, times, actors and fields…./…

Between the synthesis that each person makes of their oscillations in the direction of their evolutionary but nevertheless oriented cultural polarization and the synthesis that “can” be carried out in an entire society or an entire majority of this society in the direction of an evolutionary cultural polarization but nevertheless also oriented, there is always necessarily a link. You have to show how it was formed. How have external and internal causes intermingled? How were determinants and inventive freedoms organized? Without repeating here the historical demonstrations presented by Demorgon Let’s see their solid points of support. It starts, for example, from the judicious empirical findings of a Hall, and undertakes extensive and in-depth rigorous historical analyzes of their actual cultural origins. This by discovering the complex set of ecological, economic and socio-political conditions of behavior of various groups in this society over a fairly long time. This is the case for the different historical origins of explicit or implicit communications (2017, 2016). Likewise for the genesis of mono-chronic or poly-chronic management of tasks and operations already linked to the attention modes implemented in a more focused or more dispersed manner (2016, 2015). Or for the genesis of more proximity or distance to another (2017, 2016, 2015). Demorgon did this only by combining several systemic works, such as those neglected by Norbert Élias (2008, 1985) and those more recent by Emmanuel Todd (2020, 2018), which were also neglected on this point. 

He conducted these analyzes in several writings well before (1999) the publication of T Kit 4, which unfortunately did not benefit from it. No doubt not knowing them more than challenging them. This has never been the case. But forgetfulness or silence is generally more damaging than open opposition.


  • Demorgon J. 2016L’homme antagoniste. Paris : Économica. XII. Redécouvrir l’adaptation antagoniste, p.124-131. 5e partie : L’avenir antagoniste. Trad. Victor Untilà. XII. Redescoperirea adaptarii antagoniste, 106-111. Partea a V-a. Viitorul Antagonist. In Demorgon J. 2017. Omul AntagonistEd. Fundatiei România de Mâine. 
  • – 2015 [2010, 2000, 1996] Complexité des cultures et de l’interculturelContre les pensées uniques 5e éd. revue et augmentée. Économica. X. Genèses antagonistes des cultures allemande et française, p. 261-283.
  • – 2012. « L’intelligibilité transdisciplinaire de l’histoire humaine », p.17-41 In Dietrich-Chénel K. Weisser M. L’interculurel dans tous ses états. Orizons. Cf. Demorgon : « L’intérité, figure transdiciplinaire de l’humainMéthode dialogique implicative »
  • – 2011. « L’interculturel franco-allemand et le monde. L’approche explicative-compréhensive des cultures » chapitre 1. p. 37-88 in O. Seul, B. Zielinski, U. Dupuy (éds) De la communication interculturelle dans les relations franco-allemandes : Institutions. Enseignements et formation professionnelle. Entreprises. Bern : Peter Lang. 
  • – 2002. L’histoire interculturelle des sociétés. Pour une information monde. 2e éd. Économica. Conclusion. VI. Profondeur antagoniste : les problématiques adaptatives, p.328-338.
  • – 2000. L’interculturation du monde. Économica. VII. L’interculturation et l’intérité déniée, p. 35-40
  • – 1999. « Erziehung und Globalisierung. Für eine Kultur der Kulturen ». In Bauer & Wulf. Globalisierung Jahrbuch für Bildungs-und Erziehungsphilosophie 2. Verlag: Schneider Hohengehren. 
  • Demorgon J., Carpentier N. 2010. « La recherche interculturelle. L’intérité déniée » Les faces cachées de l’interculturel. De la rencontre des porteurs de cultures, p. 33-55. 
  • Elias N. La société de cour 2008 [1985]. Paris : Flammarion.
  • Molz M. 1994. Di Multiperspektivische Theorie von Kultur von J. Demorgon. Univ. Regensburg.
  • Todd E. 2020 Les luttes de classes en France au XXIe siècle. Seuil. 
  • – 2018. Où en sommes-nous. Une esquisse de l’histoire humaine. Points Seuil. 
  • – 1999. La diversité du monde. Seuil. 


2. Concepts of intercultural learning .

2.4.4 Jacques Demorgon and Markus Molz’s discussion of culture

Sources : Intercultural Learning T-kit http://www.timetobewelcome.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/tkit4.pdf

Explicitly, Jacques Demorgon and Markus Molz (1996) deny any pretension of introdu- cing yet another model of culture. It is in the very nature of culture, they say, that any de- finition of culture is basically biased by the (cultural) background of the one defining: one cannot be un-cultured. Consequently, Demorgon and Molz understand their article as a contribution to look at the discussion about culture and what one can learn from it. 

  • –  How to deal with the tension between cultural stability and long-lasting cultural structures on the one hand, and processes of cultural change and innovation on the other hand? 
  • –  How to deal with the relationship between “culture” and “interculture”: was “culture” first, and then became “input” for intercultural encounters? Or does culture only exist in its constant interactions with other cultures? 
  • –  Should one emphasise the universal aspects of all humans (what everyone has in com- mon), and conceive of humans as individuals, where culture becomes just a trait of that individual, or where there is only one, global culture (the universalistic approach)? Or should one emphasize the role of culture, recognize the prevailing diversity in the world, and conceive of humans as belong- ing to a cultural group, where all cultures are in principal equally good (the relativistic approach)? 

These issues might appear to be rather academic and of no practical value. However, they have political consequences: is change perceived as threatening or not? (question 1) Is diversity in a country perceived as a pre-condition for culture, or is it a threat to what is thought of as the “original” culture? (question 2) Are inhabitants of a country perceived as individuals that have to be treated equally (the French model of individual rights), or as members of a group, that have rights as a group (the Dutch model of society as being composed of different groups that all have their own institutions)?

In their attempt to overcome these tensions, Demorgon and Molz introduce what I would call a model of culture. Culture can only be understood, they say, when one connects it with the concept of adaptation. Humans are constantly challenged to establish a lasting relationship between their inner world (needs, ideas, etc.) and the outer world (environment, other people, etc.). They do this in concrete situations that should form the basis for analysis. In all of these situations, individuals shape their environment (every person can influence what is happening around him/herself ), and are shaped by their environment (every person can change with what is happening around him/herself ). Both, shaping the environment, and being shaped by it, are the two sides of the coin “adaptation”. 

More scientifically, Demorgon and Molz define the one side of that coin as “assimilation”. By that they mean the process in which humans adapt the outer world to their reality. What we perceive outside is put into the already existing drawers and structures in the brain. An extreme example of assimilation could be children who play. Any big pile of sand (the outer world’s reality) could be seen by them as Mount Everest (an inner imagination). While they climb that pile, they have assimilated the reality to their own imagination; that interpretation of reality has become the framework of their action. They are not climbing a pile of sand, but the Mount Everest. But not only children assimilate: when we see somebody for the first time, we get an impression of how he/she looks. On the basis of that limited information, we interpret who he/she is – and we use the information existing in our brain, often stereotypes, to “know” more about that person, and to decide how we can most appropriately behave. 

The other side of the coin Demorgon and Molz call “accommodation”. By this they mean the process in which structures in the brain (what they call “cognitions” or “schemes”) are changed according to information from the outside world. We might meet somebody and in the beginning interpret his/her behaviour in terms of our stereotypes. But after a while we could learn that the reality is different, that our stereotypes, our schemes in the brain, do not correspond with reality. So we change them. 

Neither extreme accommodation nor extreme assimilation is helpful. In a modus of extreme accommodation, we would be overwhelmed by all the outside information that we need to deal with, that we have a “fresh” look at, and that we let change the way we think. In a modus of extreme assimilation, we would negate reality and, at the end of the day, be unable to survive. 

In comparison with animals, humans are genetically less pre-formed, fewer things are already biologically “arranged” for us. Therefore, there are many situations in which we do not have an instinctive or biologically pre-determined reaction. We have a need to develop a system that gives us orientation in all of these situations that helps us to adapt successfully. This system is what Demorgon and Molz call culture. The function of adaptation is then to maintain or enlarge the possibility to act appropriately in as many situations that could arise as possible. Culture then is the structure that gives orientation in these situations (it has to be understood as the structures in the brain that are the basis for processes of assimilation and accommodation), it is the continuation of biological nature. Culture exists because of the necessity to find orientation where this is not biologically pre-determined. 

If adaptation then is about finding orientation, it exists in a tension between assimilation and accommodation. On the one hand, we have a need to develop stable structures, sets of behaviour that we can generalise and use in all kinds of situations, since we cannot start from scratch (or with an empty brain) all the time. In this assimilation-mode, culture is the men- tal software, as Hofstede has put it, the soft- ware that is used to process all information available in the outside world. 

But, Demorgon and Molz point out, if culture was only a mental software, programmed into humans when they are young, we could not adjust to new circumstances, and change our orientation accordingly. Humans need the ability for accommodation, for changing their orientation and frames of reference, in order to survive. 

Behaviour in any given situation, then, is almost always a mixture between repeating a learned, successful, culturally orientated set of actions, and careful adjustment to the given situation. 

If we look at such a situation, from the outset we have a wide range of behaviour options between opposites: we can act quickly, but without thorough information; or be informed, but act at a slower pace. We can concentrate on one aspect of the situation, or diffuse our attention to everything that is happening around us. We can communicate explicitly (with very in-depth explanations), or implicitly (using a lot of symbols). If we understand a situation as offering us hundreds of these possibilities between two opposites, we con- stantly need to decide which one to take (see the examples fig. 3). 

Figures 3 Source: p.54, Thomas, Alexander (ed) (1996) Psychologie interkulturellen Handelns, Gottingen: Hogrefe. Chapter by J. Demorgen and M. Molz ‘Bedingungen und Auswirkungen der Analyse von Kultur(en) und Interkulturellen Interaktionen’. Adapted version 

Figure 4 : Source: p.55, Thomas, Alexander (ed) (1996) Psychologie interkulturellen Handelns, Gottingen: Hogrefe. Chapter by J. Demorgon and M. Molz ‘Bedingungen und Auswirkungen der Analyse von Kultur(en) und Interkulturellen Interaktionen’. 


One can picture these opposites as two poles on a line (see fig. 4). The whole line then represents the whole potential of behaviour. Cultural orientation, Demorgon and Molz state, is about limiting the potential on that line to a smaller range. Imagine the points on the line numbered between 0 and 10 (with 0 being one extreme, and 10 the other). Cultural orientation sets the appropriate behaviour on a certain point, e.g. 3. As cultural beings, we take that for a start and choose the most appropriate behaviour according to the situation around that point. In the example you could say that as a habit, we usually choose solutions between 2 and 4. 

Let’s take communication. You come from a place, for example, where people communicate very implicitly (that is, avoiding long explanations but referring a lot implicitly to the context, to what “everybody knows”). What is commonly perceived as appropriate communication, as “normal”, is rather implicit. You choose that as a starting point, and develop a habitual range around that starting point. 

That is, you may communicate a bit more implicitly, or a bit less implicitly, depending on the situation, but you never communicate very explicitly. Only by learning, by experiencing situations where your “range” of behaviour was not successful, you might enlarge your range and have the potential to communicate explicitly – although it may remain feeling strange to you. 

Culture is about defining appropriate decisions between two extremes in adaptation. A cultural orientation tells in an abstract way what for a group of people has been a successful behaviour in the past. A range around that orientation, around what is perceived appropriate, is tolerated as “normal” deviations, as normal adaptations to the situations. Behaviour that is outside of that range is perceived as disturbing, wrong, not normal. Cultures may change: When the range around a certain orientation is extended into one direction, when the behaviour of the people making up that culture constantly tends towards one side, the original orientation may gradually move towards that side.

Culture, in this concept, is not linked to nation. It is essentially about orientation of groups of people. Orientation is given by, e.g., family, friends, language, where you live, who you live or work together with, etc. On the basis of all of these, groups can be identified that share some orientations, some culture. Depending on the context, individuals may have varying set standards and varying ranges around these standards. For example, at work you may communicate more or less explicitly, whereas at home you may communicate more or less implicitly. Still, if there is a common ground between work and family, both ranges may be very close to each other and overlap to a large extent. 

In intercultural learning, people become aware of where their cultural orientation is through confrontation with a different standard. In having to live with both orientations, people enlarge the range of how they can behave, they enlarge their habits to encompass both cultural orientations. Depending on the situation, then, they will have more options to choose from. The wider the range, in principle, the more possibility for accommodation, for adapting one’s behaviour to the outside world. This wider range, however, goes hand in hand with more insecurity: More options create less stable situations. 

Intercultural mediators can be those persons, who have developed a range that encompasses the cultural standards of both sides, and that open up possibilities for a common “meeting point” between what is perceived as appropriate behaviour from the different sides. 

Demorgon and Molz’s ideas about culture have attracted many people since they bring together lots of different strands of theory and models on culture. On the other hand, the model is purely theoretical, and allows itself to only very limited empirical research. Is it possible to test if their model resembles reality? Still, the very best test might be the usefulness of the model to better understand and interpret intercultural encounters. 

Relevance for youth work 

Demorgon and Molz’s ideas about culture can help to get a deeper understanding of the neces- sity and function of culture. In addition, it relates culture as a concept to groups on all levels, and not to nations alone. In youth work, the model with its complexity might better meet the demands of complex questions raised, and open up a new depth of reflections. 

In practical terms, the model gives an under- standing of what intercultural learning is about: about getting to know oneself, and about stretching one’s own possibilities of action, one’s own range of dealing with various situations. It clearly relates this learning to experience and points out, on the other hand, that learning is challenging since it is connected to a very basic need of human existence: orientation


Taking a hard look at the « intercultural » from a sociological point of view

Intercultural exchanges target and source: codes, adaptation, history. A critical moment for the intercultural field. Keynote Speaker au Congrès Sietar-Europa.
Traduit de : “Critique de l’interculturel : Code, adaptation, histoire”. Communication au Congrès SIETAR Europa. La Colle sur Loup, 22-09-2005.

 Resources and methods in the intercultural field

1./ Reasoning  from the perspective of identity without regard to interity

Identity reasoning was initially found in the construction of myths, cosmogonies and religions by resorting to totems and gods. It then spread to history through the figures of civilizing heroes, military leaders, kings and emperors. Lastly, scientific thought developed and defined its role as the recognition and identification of things and beings. 

Identity reasoning is thus based on three levels: religious, political, informational. Identity reasoning takes otherness as its opposite. But this otherness is merely the other’s identity. It is astonishing that what opposes identity and otherness was never given a name. Hidden in the galaxy of terms that include the prefix inter “, interity (4) appears to be the forgotten or occulted concept. It is important to give a name to the fundamental situation in which human beings relate with each other or with nature. “Interity” precedes interaction and the intercultural academic field. Indeed, “interity” first defines all the conditions in which interactions take place, second all the means that strategies encompass and, finally, the ensemble of the results that constitute cultures. 

Interity is thus both interstrategic and intercultural. By denying ourselves the use of this word, we forego the need to highlight this overall complexity. To ignore or to reject the primacy of this interity, human kind remains divided in individual and collective entities, always both opposed to each other and united. The door remains open for the totally foreign, for the unrecognisable and for that which always comes back at us as inhumane monstrosity that we cannot deal with|.

2 / Reasoning from the two perspectives: identity and antagonism

Identity reasoning unceasingly leads to conflicts which it considers inevitable between opposing individuals or groups. It is not able to understand that, in “interity”, opposition and bond are associated. Only antagonistic reasoning can highlight the dynamic source from which oppositions will develop and become destructive or, conversely, bonds which will become constructive. Identity reasoning is based on stability and consistency. Insofar as it is not used to contradictions, when they arise, it lets them degenerate into extreme violence. They are likely then to become deeply and durably destructive, before a slow and laborious rebuilding of bonds can be initiated.

Thus, after the denial of “interity”, the refusal of antagonistic reasoning still deprives human thought of one of its fundamental supports.


 « The insufficiently cognitive and pragmatic man…»; « L’homme insuffisamment cognitif et pragmatique. Le fait et la valeur – le dire et le faire – le profane et le sacré » 

J. Demorgon in La Francopolyphonie 9/2014-1 – L’interculturalité et la pragmatique à travers la linguistique, la littérature, la traduction et la communication

Abstract from de Victor UNTILA
The terrestrial globalization and cosmic globality lead to history globalization. The simultaneous and successive diversity of cultures realizes a huge experience. On reflection, the diachronies turn into adaptive synchronies that lead to a new possible intercultural concept, more adaptive, inventive and creative. This is the case of adaptive synchrony which represents our central dualization of cognitive and pragmatic. Thus, there are three linked dualizations: the fact and value – the saying and doing – the profane and sacred. Acultural trend streng thens the opposition of poles in order to make them to ignore themselves, to overlook one of them. Another cultural trend mixes them taking the risk to confound them. The third orientation is essential, that of their articulated distinction. We will see it in connection with three great “fact-values”: that of “our” from the identity, thatof “their” from the alterity and that of “between” from exchanges and trade. “Identity, alterity and interity” founds the superior “fact-value” of the integrated interity. Only the interity allows the human to find answers to his neoteny. It allows the deployment of hismeans to infinite, towards infinite of the world and others. Even so, the neoteny is alsoexperienced as incompleteness. It leads the humans to satisfy and to complete their susceptible purposes. They divert their means for these purposes. Agamben shows that these means represent the only truly “facts-values” of humans : community, face, gesture, love, language, thought, policy. Agamben indicates as human origin – the language sacrament : according to which there are no religion, no law, no politics, no science. This allows us to resume the joint of profane and sacred. The four big forms of the successive societies – tribal, royal and imperial, national market and modern globalized informational economy – all of them have operated a singular capture of sacred in order to be initiated. How to diminishe, or even to reduce the non-human side of the sacred and to restore its contribution to the continuous humanization. A cognitive, pragmatic and infinite task! An on going hyper fragile possibility: a religious cultural creation initiated at the highest level of spirituality of every religion in order to fight the religious miseries where the violence murders always proliferates.

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