Reflection 10: Cultural Studies

Reflection based on chapter 3 En Cultural Studies-tilgang til kulturmøder og interkulturalitet by Lone Krogsgaard Svarstad in Daryai-Hansen, P., Søndergaard Gregersen, A., Jacobsen, S.K., Von Holst Pedersen, J., Svarstad, L.K. & Watson, C. (2018), Fremmedsprogsdidaktik. Mellem fag og didaktik, Hans Reitzel Forlag.

Since 2013, English as a subject in the Danish schools has changed status to a global lingua franca and cultural communication language, thus intercultural competence has become central for foreign language teaching.  But the biggest recent change within foreign language teaching began in the 90s; an increased focus on the learner’s personal development and intercultural competencies, and an educational focus on internationalisation. Especially Michael Byram’s model of intercultural communicative competence (1997) put its mark on how we understand individual intercultural competence today. The dimensions of the model include knowledge, skills, attitude and critical cultural awareness, supports the teacher’s and the learner’s work with developing intercultural communicative competencies with the purpose of building bridges between cultures. The model has been criticised for having an essentialistic view on cultures in which comparison is central, yet Byram’s recent work on intercultural citizenship and Autobiography on Intercultural Encounters (2008 & 2009) has a more dynamic view on culture. Nonetheless, Byram’s work is still at the core of the Danish common objectives framework and globally within the cultural studies. Since the 2000s, Karen Risager (2003) has argued for a transnational view of culture and linguaculture (also languaculture) as general understandings of foreign language teaching. Additionally, Fred Dervin (2016) has, fighting essentialist views through changing discourses, introduced the term othering as a way of enabling students to act critically and ethically towards othering-tendencies such as racism and social injustice. Lone Svarstad (2016) concludes that it’s the teacher’s responsibility to obtain a metalanguage of cultural understandings, not only to teach students intercultural communicative competence but also to be able to choose objectives and material. Risager (2018) has looked at material for teaching interculturally within foreign language teaching and has found 5 different perspectives, that each offers different potential:

  • National studies
  • Citizenship studies
  • Cultural studies
  • Post-colonial studies
  • Transnational studies

Even though these perspectives might overlap, Svarstad argues the importance of the teacher’s ability to make conscious choices. She presents from one of her own studies, a cultural studies-approach. The knowledge foundation for such an approach can support the work of a complex and dynamic view of culture. Cases of pop culture can be used to analyse media representations (intersectionality) i.e., how themes or people are represented in the media. Linguistic analyses of discourses presented in different texts can enhance the students’ awareness of interculturality and othering-processes for example by using Liddicoat and Scarino’s (2013) 4-step model for interaction-processes; notice, compare, reflect and interact, and/or incorporating Svarstad’s (2016) metalinguistic term subtextuality in order to find hidden cultural perspectives or discourses.


References:

Byram, M. (1997): Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Byram, M. (2008): From Foreign Language Education to Education for Intercultural Citizenship: Essays and Reflections. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Byram, M. /w. Council of Europe. (2009): Autibiography of Intercultural Encounters. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, Education Department, Language Policy Unit.
Dervin, F. (2016): Interculturality in Education: A Theoretical and Methodological Toolbox. London: Palgrave Macmillian.
Liddicoat, A.J. & Scarino, A. (2013): Intercultural Language Teaching and Learning. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.
Risager, K. (2003): Det nationale dilemma i sprog- og kulturpædagogikken. Et studie i forholdet mellem sprog og kultur. København: Akademisk Forlag.
Svarstad, L.K. (2016): Teaching Interculturality: Developing and Engaging in Pluralistic Discourses in English Language Teaching. Ph.d.-afhandling, Aarhus Universitet.

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Discourses of Othering

Reflection based on Fred Dervin’s paper Discourses of Othering (2014) in International Encyclopedia of Language and Social Interaction (WILEY-BLACKWELL).

“It’s easier to split an atom than a prejudice” – Albert Einstein

Because of students’ increasing intercultural contact in this globalised world, Fred Dervin is leading within the postmodern need to question and re-evaluate everything, and examines the concepts of culture, identity and collectivity and how to deal with these subjects in education. Out current education which is full of examples of historical labels of othering. E.g. Colonisations, indigenous people in Australia, Human zoos, South Africa’s Apartheid, etc. Where the othering identity markers include nationality, race, language, religion, gender, ethnicity, etc. Naturally, our educational institutions are only a representation of the current society, norms, and values thereof, and in there, exists a large variation of othering, both national and cultural:

  • Essentialism
  • Racism
  • Neo-racism (for which culture serves as a proxy for race)
  • Culturalism (culture as an explanation for all)
  • Ethnocentrism sexism
  • Exoticism
  • Islamophobia
  • Occidentalism (Dervin & Gao, 2012)
  • Orientalism

The other is been at the core of Human and Social Sciences (Interdisciplinary concept par excellence; psychology, sociology, philosophy – especially ontology, anthropology, linguistics, theology, archeology, history and gender studies).

Othering (sometimes written as otherising) is an interdisciplinary notion/topic that refers, amongst other things, to differentiating discourses that lead to a moral and political judgment of superiority and inferiority between ‘us’ and ‘them, and within groups. Critical approaches to mothering examine its construction in social interaction and take into account both power relations and the intersectionality of different identity markers. Researchers increasingly pay attention to their own contribution to othering. Othering can lead to racism, sexism and/or bigotry, thus has to be discussed, banished and fought against in educational discourses. Othering discourses that have led to acts such as hatred, killing, terrorism, slavery, genocides, etc., but in daily life show themselves as prejudice, power imbalance, discrimination and patronising attitudes.

Social representation (concept by psychologist Moscovici, 1961) is a system of values, ideas and practices that are shared by people and that enable them to grasp their world but also to interact with others — which is exactly what bothering allows in social interactions.

Thus being aware of the discourses of othering is important and relevant when teaching today’s students any subject, not just history.

“I emphasize in it [my Orientalism] accortdingly that neither the term Orient nor the concept of the West has any ontological stability; each is made up of human effort, partly affirmation, partly identification of the Other.”
―Edward Said