The course provides an introduction to the main topics and issues in intercultural communication. Students will become acquainted with perspectives from different disciplines (anthropology, philosophy, political studies, religious studies, sociology, social psychology) and concrete examples of intercultural exchange. In addition to classroom activity and an engagement with the literature, the course includes a hands-on, practical side. Students will be invited to reflect on their own experiences of intercultural communication.
The course is divided into two modules. The first module, dedicated to seminar discussions of weekly readings (twice a week), is articulated into three tightly interconnected parts. Initially, we will unpack the key elements of intercultural communication: ‘communication’ (what constitutes communication? (1, 2) What is unique about how humans communicate?) and ‘culture’ (what does this term refer to? What are some of the potential problems associated with its use?). We will zoom in on the broader social sciences’ theories about the encounter/clash of civilizations (3, 4, 5, 6). Subsequently, we shall explore a particularly important mode of intercultural encounter – the ethnographic method – and its cunnings, and explore its applicability to a variety of situations, from scholarly projects to everyday life (7, 8, 9, 10). By teasing out the most common difficulties associated with ethnography (intersubjective challenges, linguistic hurdles, power dynamics, etc.) and the methods used to overcome them, we will consider how to develop a posture of openness to intercultural encounters, which encompasses also resorting to humor as a time-honored tool to defuse conflict (11).
Then, part of the course will focus on how language intersects with national, ethnic, racial (12), religious (14), and gender identities (13), allowing to move beyond local identities and to analyze how dialogue and communication can connect different worlds yet being respectful of local, historical, geographical specificities. This part will rely more on fresh, contingent, contemporary ethnographies to discuss some particularly rich, if fraught, arenas of intercultural communication, i.e., interfaith and inter-ethnic dialogue. A close look at concrete case studies will invite constructive reflection on the practicalities of dialogue across divides. Then, we will focus on the contradictions of communicating within an unequal, globalized world. We will conclude with an attempt to decentralize our gaze, i.e. questioning the implications of the use of English as lingua franca and giving a short overview of decolonial theories (15).
The second module will be devoted to the presentation of individual projects (practical exercises + conceptual essays), invited guest lectures, and supplementary discussion on topics relevant to the course.
The goal of the course is to increase students’ understanding, awareness and critical thinking about intercultural communication (both discursive and non-verbal), the advantages and challenges of multicultural/multilinguistic/multireligious situations, as well as some practical strategies aimed at reducing and mediating bias and culturally influenced conflicts.
Syllabus (and bibliography in English)
1) (How) do cultures communicate?
Hall, Edward T. and William Whyte. 2007 (1960). “Intercultural Communication.” In C. Mortensen (ed.), Communication Theory. Second Edition. London/NY: Routledge (403-419). + Watzlawick, Paul, et al. 2007 (1967). “Some Tentative Axioms of Communications.” In C. Mortensen (ed.), Communication Theory. Second Edition. London/NY: Routledge (74-80).
2) The dilemmas of language
Farb, Peter. 2007 (1974). “Man at the Mercy of Language.” In C. Mortensen (ed.), Communication Theory. Second Edition. London/NY: Routledge (433-448). + Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 2014 (1953). “Communication as a language game.” In J. Angermuller, D. Maingueneau and R. Wodak (eds.), The Discourse Studies Reader. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publisher (49-53).
3) Does culture actually exist?
Lentz, Carola. 2017. “Culture: The making, unmaking, and remaking of a concept.” Zeitschrift für Ethnologie / Journal of Social and Cultural Anthropology 142 (2): 181-204.
4) When cultures collide
Huntington, Samuel. 1993. “The clash of civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72 (3): 22-49.
5) Do cultures collide?
Courbage, Youssef & Emmanuel Todd. 2011 (2007). “Introduction. Clash of Civilizations or Universal History?” In id. A Convergence of Civilizations. The transformation of Muslim societies around the world. Columbia University Press (XI-XV). + Huang, Chun-Chieh. 1997. “A Confucian Critique of Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations.” East Asia 16 (2): 147-156.
6) The world as an oyster
Hannerz, Uf. 1996. “Cosmopolitan and Locals.” In Id., Transnational Connections: Culture, People, Places. London/NY: Routledge (102-111).
7) Accessing other cultures
Geertz, Clifford. 2006 (1973). “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture.” In Id. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books (3-30).
8) The method and craft of ethnography
Malinowski, Bronislaw. 2002 (1922). “Introduction […]: The native’s vision of his world.” In Id., Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: Routledge (1-21). + Borges, Jorge Luis. 1969. “The Ethnographer.” (This short story will be read in class).
Fabian, Johannes. 1995. “Ethnographic Misunderstanding and the Perils of Context.” American Anthropologist 97 (1): 41-50.
10) Across worlds, (almost) without words
Wikan, Unni. 1992. “Beyond the Words: The Power of Resonance.” American Ethnologist 19 (3): 460-482.
11) Irony, fun, and intercultural communication
Sclavi, Marianella. 2008. “The Role of Play and Humor in Creative Conflict Management.” Negotiation Journal 24 (2): 157-180. + Beeman, William O. Humour (98-101).
12) Languaging race and identity
Bucholtz, Mary & Kira Hall. 2010. “Locating Identity in Language.” In Carmen Llamas, and Dominic Watt (eds.) Language and Identities. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (18-28). + Alim, H. Samy, and Geneva Smitherman. Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012 (1-30).
13) Subverting gendered dichotomies
Buchholtz, Mary. 2001. “Gender.” In A. Duranti (ed.), Key Terms in Language and Culture. Malden: Blackwell Publishers (75-78). + Hall, Kira & Veronica O’Donovan. 1996. “Shifting Gender Positions Among Hindi-speaking Hijras.” In Victoria Bergvall, Janet Bing, and Alice Freed (eds.) Rethinking Language and Gender Research: Theory and Practice. London: Longman (228-266).
14) The values of interfaith dialogue
Lindsay, Jenn. 2020. “Interfaith Dialogue and Humanization of the Religious Other: Discourse and Action.” International Journal of Interreligious and Intercultural Studies 3 (2): 1-24 + Lindsay, Jenn. 2020. “Creative Dialogue in Rome, Italy: Thinking Beyond Discourse-Based Interfaith Engagement.” Journal of Dialogue Studies 8: 173-189.
15) Decolonizing communication
Ngugi, wa Thiongo’o. 1938. “The Language of African Literature”, In id. Decolonizing the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature. London: Portsmouth (4-33).
1) Revision and questions
2) Mid-term essay (not evaluated).
3) Practical assignments (ethnographic experiments).
4) Guest lecture 1
5) Guest lecture 2
6) Guest lecture 3
7) Guest lecture 4
8) Presentation of essays 1
9) Presentation of essays 2
10) Presentation of essays 3.
1. Classroom participation during the First Module.
Includes: 1.A. oral presentation of at least one item selected from the list of readings (readings will be allocated at the start of the course), and 1.B. active participation in seminar discussions: students are expected to come to class having engaged with the readings, prepared a list of questions and/or observations, etc., so as to contribute to the conversation.
2. Practical assignment. Let’s get our hands dirty with intercultural communication! Students will carry out a practical experiment in ethnographic fieldwork and produce a report in written and oral form. It’s an enriching and fun experience. Specifics about the assignment will be given in class.
3. Essay. Students are asked to produce a text covering one or more of the topics discussed in class, engaging with the relevant literature. Specifics about this assignment, alongside a list of (nonmandatory) further readings and/or bespoke suggestions, will be given in class.
Teaching and Evaluation Methods
30% class participation
30% practical assignment (includes oral presentation)
40% conceptual essay (includes oral presentation)
Last updated: August 25, 2023