Word World (par Jacques Demorgon)

Sources :- 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. J. Demorgon : Keynote Speaker, Congrès Sietar-Europa. La Colle sur Loup, 22.09.2005.

A critical moment for the intercultural field

Intercultural studies as an independent field of research and as an applied discipline came into being during the second half of the 20th Century. It addresses several fields: international relations, business, immigration, European construction, as well as the arts and the media. Although this new field has continued to develop, it tends to lose sight of the fact that it is based on analysing de facto human interactions and creating functional responses to them, irrespective of whether these exchanges are seen as desirable or not, whether they are constructive or destructive, positive or negative, peaceful or violent. Globalization has been the key driver for the development of the field as well as the determinant of which intercultural exchanges or interactions should be studied. Globalisation has led us to discover just how diverse people, groups and societies really are.
We cannot lose sight of the fact that Intercultural Studies take place in a context of selectively chosen human intercultural exchanges that define it and on which it continues to be focused. If we ignore this, then how we deal with these exchanges runs the risk of being amateurish and simplistic. It suggests that it can solve problems that are, in fact, beyond its scope.

So, we are right to be suspicions and to raise questions about “intercultural studies.” This is especially true when “intercultural” is proposed as an instant analysis and a “quick fix.” “Intercultural” becomes an attractive label that gets plastered over the real ingredients of problems and gives the illusion of being a panacea. (1) A thorough critique is needed to define how these “selected” intercultural exchanges are linked to the very intercultural studies that give rise to them

I/ Problems of the intercultural field

First, let’s look at several problems raised by the critical observers of the field of intercultural studies 

1./ Knowledge of Cultures and limits to empirical surveys

Intercultural studies are based on limited and often imprecise knowledge of cultures. they do not clearly distinguish between truth and prejudice, nor give clear data about how long cultural phenomena have lasted and, even less, how long they will last in the future. empirical investigations cannot settle these points. attempts to do so with questionnaires and instruments are based on definitions which are believed to be obvious and yet remain debatable. unconscious understandings and expectations that are put into the questions come out in the results. in interviews, however thorough, the cultural characteristics addressed are clearly subjective. Given such processes, and in order to make sure that the cultural answers of yesterday are always topical, empirical investigations are continually repeated.

2 / Even References to acquired Cultures are inadequate

If the intercultural field has a limited conception of established cultures, it has even less understanding of emerging cultures. Very often, it is not even aware of these. Thus, in a major German chemical multinational, the head office and its French subsidiary are at odds. The latter is waiting for the planned delocalisation of a Belgian production unit to be carried out in its favour. Preliminary work has been carried out but the transfer is not happening. The French people in charge pose the issue in terms of a Franco-German intercultural problem, in terms of the “reliability of a German decision”. The reality is elsewhere! The German multinational is being threatened by a large South Korean firm to which it will end up selling one of its departments. The people in charge of the subsidiary company were still in the intercultural problem of acquired cultures, whereas the company was already struggling with the sustained emergence of globalisation. (2)

3./ Insufficient attention to the ability of cultures to adapt to nex circumstances

The “disciplined” intercultural approach treats cultures as more or less positive resources whose synergy it can manage. However, the quality of a cultural response does not exist in itself; it depends on its capacity to adapt to contexts which can change. The invented culture which can be of service in one context can do disservice in another. Thus, a policy of unification in a country can, on the one hand, strengthen it, and on the other can impoverish it by an excessive control of the diversity which sustains it.
If it has no concern for the adaptive problem which relates to any cultural response, the disciplined intercultural approach is part of a less than dynamic evolutionary conception of cultures.

4 / Culture: Code, Programme and Adaptive Freedom 

With the desire to be based on stable cultural characteristics, which it needs for its pragmatics, the intercultural field tends to treat cultures simply as codes. Admittedly, a culture is part of a shared code, so that it can be stated and transmitted. But it was initially the fruit of adaptive research. Forgetting this source results again in treating cultural characteristics like “programmes.” As a result, adaptive freedom disappears, where it is, at least potentially, always present. A cultural response, taken as a dimension of the identity of a group, leads the group to hold on to it even if the response is also partly “counter-adaptive”. Only an inventive new cultural adaptation can articulate this type of contradiction.

5 / Interactions between different cultural actors: obstacles or resources. Intercultural exchange as a target

We can now clearly identify the two different perspectives for intercultural studies. The first one, concerns implementing “adjustments” to communication, co-operation between people, groups, and organisations from different cultures. This is a very noble task which occupies many people in many sectors. Not only is this work not likely to die out, on the contrary, it should develop. However, it becomes distorted if it fails to clearly define its limits. It is a disciplined approach, but it is uncertain about the truthfulness or the timescale of the cultures to which it refers. It is limited to being “with hindsight” in relation to those cultures which it takes as read, even though these cultures are also involved in contradictory evolutions and unforeseen developments.

6 / Interactions between different cultural actors: building of another culture. Intercultural exchange as a source

It is the constantly interacting human strategies which produce an interculturation (intercultural exchange), which is real, whether we like it or not. It is as much the product of violent exchanges as of peaceful ones. (3) Day to day intercultural exchange remains the fundamental matrix of human history. The knowledge and management of this exchange exceed current human possibilities by a long way. The profound authenticity and the effectiveness of the disciplined intercultural approach depend on the modesty with which it can situate itself in relation to day to day intercultural exchanges.

II.  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 inter-strategic 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.

3 / From intercultural to inter-strategic (Devereux)

Taking interity and antagonisms into consideration helps greatly to show that at the origin of the field that we call “intercultural”, we must discover the “inter-strategic” field. In fact, the intercultural field and the inter-strategic field are profoundly linked.

Georges Devereux has clearly underlined this link, through the concept of “antagonistic acculturation”. (5) The one who is dominated is not only subjected to the culture of the dominant person but, has at his disposal strategic responses. 

Devereux highlights three of those strategic responses, in the ethnological field that are applicable to international relations. Thus Japan practised defensive isolation for two and a half centuries. Then, in the middle of the 19th century, Japan was threatened militarily by the recently industrialised West. Consequently, it used these very new means to carry out its own industrial revolution. That did not prevent it from reinforcing at the same time, a whole part of its traditional culture: operational and collective. (Chie Nakane 1973) (6) It was able, in turn, to increase military engagements: from the war against the Russians, as early as 1905 to World War II, started with the famous surprise attack on Pearl Harbour. 

After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese dynamism did not fade but was transposed to the economic sphere. Without this new Japanese challenge, the Western powers would not have been pulled into the exacerbated competition which was going to lead nations to globalisation and the USSR to implosion. (7)

4 / Looking at the particular, the general and the singular.

Intercultural research must position itself in relationship with reasoning as a whole. Thus it can, undoubtedly, testify to cultural characteristics. For example, in the West, to refer to oneself one puts one’s hand to one’s chest. The Japanese point to their face with their forefinger.

Admittedly, the ocean of cultural characteristics is totally real but it should not contribute to the distortion in the understanding of cultures. As we have seen, this understanding is impossible without resorting to their fundamentals that have initially developed in the great adaptive processes common to all human actors. 

Later, we will identify other general fundamentals of cultures. On the one hand, the main societal sectors- religious, political, economical, informational – in which human actors always get involved even if they do so in different ways, in different times and places. On the other hand, the main successive types of societies, tribal-communitarian, royal-imperial, national-trading and, today, based on a world informational economy, that we will come back to later on.

Only this double knowledge of the characteristics and of the generalities of cultures will make it possible to conceive each one as unique. Indeed, uniqueness is precisely the specific way in which a culture brings together generalities and characteristics. 

As a single whole, a culture is comparable with others from the angle of its characteristics and of the general information it shares. Thus, the comparative-descriptive method, constantly called upon, would remain finally very poor if it did not also seek to develop the understanding-explanatory method, the only one able to resort to these two matrices of understanding of cultures that are adaptation and history. 

While defining the main general types of societies, we will be able to better perceive the emergence of exceptional unique societies in the transitions from one to the other, as was the case with democratic ancient Greece, or modern parliamentary Britain.

5 / Different Humanities:  adaptation and geo-history (Diamond)

The incapacity to refer at the same time to human adaptation and to geo-history leads to erroneous interpretations when it comes  to understanding the uniqueness of man’s cultural  destinies. 

For example, we know that on the whole there were more cultural developments over many centuries, in Asia and Europe than on the African and American continents. The famous American physiologist Jared Diamond is irritated at the continuing attempt to seek genetic explanations. (8) In such a case, one starts from particular cultural differences and looks for a general theory to explain them. One thinks in terms of “characteristics” and of “general information” without going into “uniqueness”. “Uniqueness” comes from the fact that man’s interculturation only takes place in the context of human interactions with the whole of its geo-historic environment. What is then, the unique difference in fate between Eurasian, African and American humanities? Diamond tells us.In Eurasia, which is a one block continent, development happened on close and comparable latitudes, facilitating transfer, accumulation and improvement of cultural answers. On the African and American continents, human groups had to cross extremely different geophysical zones (relief, climate, fauna and flora). This geophysical and temporal division of space was a real obstacle to exchanges. These successive individual zones made it difficult to tap into acquired cultural answers; new answers had to be found. Human development could start from the same adaptive capacities but it faced profoundly disadvantageous or unfavourable conditions. Such are the true reasons for cultural shifts between the various human groups. 

6 / From factual adaptations to the comprehension of an adaptive system 

Human actors move from their completely factual adaptations to overall reflections on their adaptive system when they start to write and read their histories.  

At this point in time they discover that, to adapt, they must not so much choose one orientation in preference to another but rather compose opposing orientations and thus make them complementary, if they want to adjust as well as possible to the changing contexts which are theirs. A society totally “open” would undoubtedly be likely to fall prey to various aggressive societies– it was perhaps the case of the area of the forgotten Pyramids of Caral, in Peru –(9) An almost closed off society – as was the case with Japan for two and a half centuries – would be deprived of external stimuli, its evolution would slow down and it would also finally be attacked. 

As a permanent adaptive process, a culture must always be able to go back to its earlier choices and to adapt them to changes. This adaptation is always antagonistic. Openness but also closedness, unity but also diversity, stability but also change. It is from these main antagonisms that adaptation can be unceasingly repeated.

When the actors discover an opposition, they finally understand that these opposite orientations cannot suppress each other. Instead there will only be adaptation because of the possibility of composing them.

Only then do they become aware of the need of inventing better compositions, better articulations in order to found societies which are both more complex and better balanced. We will now highlight the three main elements structuring interculturation (intercultural exchanges):  antagonistic adaptations, areas of activity, and types of society.

III.  Founding components of intercultural exchanges.

III. Founding components of intercultural exchanges.
1/ An antagonistic adaptation which opposes or composes
2/ Hall: communication between adaptation and culture 
3/ Deconstructing Hall and Hosfstede 
4/ Complex antagonistic adaptation: ternary and quaternary 
5/ Antagonistic dynamics: destructive, constructive, regulatory 
6/ Religion, politics, economics and information 
7/ Tribes, kingdoms, trading nations and globalisations 

IV. Processes at work in the transformation and invention of cultures
1/ Transductions, articulations and crasis (Bateson)
2/ The transduction of the sacred: from the religious to the political and economic 
3/ Some examples of articulation: democracies