From Interculturalism to Transculturality: The Puzzling Form of cultures today

Often at trainings, courses or seminars, I see people having a hard time with the terminology. When working with cultures, it is not possible to stick to one term only. There are quite many variations of the terminology used. Multicultural, intercultural, cross-cultural and now transcultural! It is important to have a common understanding when working as cultural mediators, trainers or consultants otherwise contextually, we do get stuck . In this text, I will try to define some of the core terminology while introducing transcultural as the recent arising term in the field.

Let’s start with the definitions;

  • From a more general perspective in society, the condition of cultures being together is referred to as multiculturalism. Referring to a particular kind of situation, one in which there are two or more cultures represented, multiculturalism is used primarily in an educational context where concerns with multicultural classrooms and, to a lesser extent, multicultural identity, have been institutionalised with particular policies, procedures and curricula.[1]
  • Cross-cultural refers to a particular kind of contact among people, one in which the people are from two or more different cultures. For example; “on a multicultural campus or in a global corporation, cross-cultural contact is inevitable.”[2]
  • As we often use in AFS, intercultural(ism) refers to the interaction and engagement of multiple cultures. It is a particular kind of interaction or communication among discourses, one in which differences in cultures play a role in creation of meaning. Interculturalism is the process of delivery of meaning among cultures.[3]

Although “intercultural” is commonly used to describe the state of the 21st century in communication, education and business, Wolfgang Welsch criticizes interculturalism as approaching from “a conception of cultures as islands or spheres” creating a separatist character of cultures.[4] In “Transculturality: The Puzzling Form of Cultures Today”, he refers to the complexity of modern societies and how the traditional concept of culture cannot cope with this inner complexity. As Welsch explains, cultures today are extremely interconnected and entangled with each other. Lifestyles are no longer at the border of national cultures but go beyond these. The life for an economist, an academic or a journalist is no longer German or French but more or less European or global in tone. Local realities and cultural identities are linked globally. Ever increasing global communication technologies and tools make it more possible for all kinds of information to be available from all points in the globe. Passports are not the definition of cultural identities. Being Indian or American doesn’t necessarily show one’s cultural belonging.  Today in a culture’s internal relations – among its different ways of life – there exists as much foreignness as in its external relations with other cultures.[5] Therefore it is important to understand that cultural determinants today have become transcultural. Every concept of culture intended to pertain to today’s reality must face up to the transcultural constitution. Having a transcultural understanding of culture provides researchers multi-meshed and inclusive approach rather than an old, separatist and exclusive one. Transculturality offers interaction and exchange with the diversity of different cultures and life-forms each arising from transcultural permeations in a network mechanism;

“Transcultural webs are, in short, woven with different threads, and in different manner. Therefore, on the level of Transculturality, a high degree of cultural manifoldness results again-it is certainly no smaller than that which was found between traditional single cultures. It’s just that now differences no longer come about through a juxtaposition of clearly delineated cultures (like in a mosaic), but result between transcultural networks, which have some things in common while differing in others, showing overlaps and distinctions at the same time. The mechanics of differentiation has become more complex-but it has also become genuinely cultural for the very first time, no longer complying with geographical or national stipulations, but following pure cultural interchange processes.”[6]

Welsch prefers to offer a new term for describing the current situation and he criticizes the traditional perceptivity of intercultural and communication across cultures. Bearing his approach in mind, I state that nationalities are usually a barrier for more successful and efficient intercultural communication. Individuals with more developed intercultural sensitivity are the ones who take nationality as a weaker influencer during their communications with customers. Linking certain actions, tendencies and thought concepts directly to nationality limits the communication processes. Hence, recognition of inner diversity, inclusion of various cultural belongings and the influence of networks provides stronger and more developed intercultural sensitivity.

Welsch brings an interesting approach here; the important question is “Are we actually being separatist and exclusive to a certain level when we only speak of inter ‘cultures’ while our intention is completely the opposite?” Can transculturality foster our passion for daring to live together?

 

[1] Milton J. Bennett, Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication, USA Intercultural Press:2013, p. 10.

[2] Milton J. Bennett, Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication, USA Intercultural Press: 2013, p. 11.

[3]Asker Kartarı, Kültür, Farklılık ve İletişim: Kültürlerarası İletişimin Kavramsal Dayanakları, İletişim Yay., İstanbul, 2014. s.39

[4] Wolfgang Welsch, Transculturality-The Puzzling Form of Cultures Today, Spaces of Culture: City, Nation, World, ed. By Mike Feather stone and Scott Lash, London: Sage 1999, 194-213.

[5] Wolfgang Welsch, Transculturality-The Puzzling Form of Cultures Today, Spaces of Culture: City, Nation, World, ed. By Mike Featherstone and Scott Lash, London: Sage 1999, 194-213.

[6] Wolfgang Welsch, Transculturality-The Puzzling Form of Cultures Today, Spaces of Culture: City, Nation, World, ed. By Mike Featherstone and Scot tLash, London: Sage 1999, 194-213.

 

 

Ömer Ongun

Training Coordinator and Intercultural Learning Responsible – AFS Turkey