Intercultural Communication Education: Broken realities and rebellious dreams

Fred Dervin, Andreas Jacobsson

Research output: Book/ReportBookScientificpeer-review


This book continues the authors’ exploration of the important notion of interculturality in education and is meant to support scholars, students of interculturality and educators in their discovery of the notion. There is an infinite amount to say about interculturality and publications on the notion and its derivatives (intercultural competence, intercultural awareness, intercultural citizenship, amongst others) are plethore. Often used as a deus ex machina, what the notion refers to, what it occasions and how to ‘do’ it are also questions for which a multitude of answers are provided in English and other languages around the world. At times, interculturality seems to mean everything and nothing at the same time. This book urges (communication) education researchers and educators to interculturalise interculturality. This tautology corresponds to the authors’ endeavour to complexify the way interculturality is discussed, expressed, (co-)constructed and advocated in different parts of the world and in different languages. To interculturalise interculturality is to expand exponentially the way we deal with the notion as an object of scientific and educational discourse, noting the dominating voices and allowing for (auto-hetero-)silenced voices that are rarely heard around interculturality to emerge.

This interdisciplinary and stimulating book is based on broken realities and (the authors’) calming dreams. As two researchers and educators with a long experience of examining discourses of interculturality, this book represents the authors’ programme for the future of intercultural communication education. The book is divided into three “tableaus” (living descriptions) depicting today’s ‘broken’ realities of interculturality and two ‘rebellious’ dreams of what it could be in research and education.

Tableau 1 is entitled The brushstroke of interculturality. Using the metaphor of the brushstroke the authors describe how the global field of interculturality functions, the problems it experiences and creates for those whose voices are marginalised. They also explain how dominating ‘ritornellos’ (refrains, tunes) of interculturality, with their prechewed macdonalized ‘lyrics’, influence the whole world in the way the notion is constructed and ‘done’ in education. Supported by e.g. powerful supranational institutions, the creators of these ritornellos reject indirectly alternatives to their ideologies and fake generosity while demonstrating neo-colonial engagement with e.g. the Global South. The Tableau ends with recommendations as to how one can prepare e.g. students to become aware of and act against the global ideological outlook of interculturality.

Tableau 2, Problematic realities: Interculturality from the past – but still with us?, complements Tableau 1 by reviewing three aspects of today’s research on interculturality that the authors argue deserve to be confronted: Otherisation/Culturalisation, Scientism, and Eurocentrism. Canonical concepts and ideas such as Edward T. Hall’s “high context and low context cultures”, Milton Bennett’s model of “cultural sensitivity”; and Michel Byram’s model of “intercultural competence”, are presented as good representatives of these problems. The Tableau also deals with the stubborn illusion of research as being a-political and objective and still ‘culturalising’ intercultural communication education. The Tableau ends on first hints at decolonizing interculturality.

In Tableau 3 so-called ‘critical’ perspectives on interculturality (e.g. non-essentialism) are reviewed against the idea of interculturalizing interculturality. The Tableau reveals many problems with such approaches: they are far too idealistic; their essence is still very much ‘Westerncentric’; and their criticality appears to be arrogant (without much reflexivity) at times. Having now become major ritornellos in their own right, these critical perspectives look increasingly like unfair and fruitless initiatives. A certain number of ritornellos are presented then as additions and companions to enrich knowledge of interculturality: Dōwa education, Minzu education and ‘Afrocentric’ approaches.

Two different dreams, one written by each author separately and without consulting each other, are then proposed. Dream 1 is entitled Polycentric alternatives: Thinking and analysing fiction and actuality. Dream 2 is based on the German word Verblendungen (Bedazzlement). In these dreams the two authors, in turn, present what they believe would make interculturality a more interesting place to be for both researchers and educators. In his dream Jacobsson first wishes for interculturalists to be creative and courageous by thinking beyond the established box. Begging for putting an end to the strong positivist objectivity that still lingers on in research and education around interculturality, his dream urges the reader to accept and promote dissensus in the way theory and methods are constructed in the field, to consider engagement with micropolitics and intersectionality as fluid analytical concepts and, more importantly, to aim for real equality in terms of epistemology, politics, the economy and ‘culture’. His personal and professional interests in (audio-visual) fiction lead him to suggest its introduction as a tool for what he calls developing polycentric perspectives. The end goal of this dream is for polycentrism to function as a default position for researchers and teachers in intercultural communication education.

In his dream of Bedazzlement, Dervin first tells the reader that the dream is momentary and that it will change as he himself evolves in his engagement with interculturality as an object of research and teaching-learning. After highlighting several major problems with interculturality, he proposes to find ways of reversing power relations between the multiple voices discoursing interculturality around the world; to create deliberately a multipolar order of interculturality, listening to as many voices constructing interculturality as possible; to accept, enjoy and request conflicts in encounters about interculturality as an object of research and education; and to dig into the complex meanings of words in different languages.

In the conclusion, the authors discover and compare each other’s dreams and discuss their similarities and differences. This is offered as ‘guidelines’ for the reader to unthink and rethink their own engagement with the notion of interculturality. Bearing in mind the current problems faced by interculturalists, noted in the book chapters, the authors’ dreams are made to come together. Although the dreams were formulated differently (author 1 called for a multipolar order vs. author 2 polycentrism) and contained minor differences the rebellious dreams proposed by the authors joined hands by suggesting to invest in dialogue as a meaningful signifier while allowing, requesting and practising conflict and dissensus in the way scholars, students and educators engage with the idea of interculturality. As they have tried to demonstrate in the book, authentic curiosity and interdisciplinarity also represent fundamental aspects of their dreams. The authors claim, to conclude, that the only viable dream is that of reversing power relations in the way interculturality is expressed, constructed and done glocally.

Finally, each chapter ends on a section called [Take time to reflect], where the authors list a certain number of questions for the readers to consider and to reflect together with them indirectly.

In brief the book offers new insights into a thorny notion which deserves unthinking and rethinking again, making it in the way more intercultural itself. Readers who are eager to deepen their critique of the way the notion of interculturality has been (mis-)used over the last decade will find new ideas to dis-/agree with and reflect further.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationSingapore
PublisherSpringer International Publishing AG
Number of pages92
ISBN (Print)978-981-19-1588-8
ISBN (Electronic)978-981-19-1589-5
Publication statusPublished - 2022
MoE publication typeC1 Scientific book

Publication series

NameSpringerBriefs in Education
ISSN (Print)2211-1921
ISSN (Electronic)2211-193X

Fields of Science

  • 516 Educational sciences

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