In May 2008 the Council of Europe launched the “White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue” with the view of answering to the questions: “How shall we respond to diversity? What is our vision of the society of the future? [..]” (Council of Europe, 2008, pg.3).
Though it is a document that was produced in 2008, the “White Paper” is an interesting and well thought piece of work that tries to provide suitable answers to issues that are arising because of internal and international migrations very relevant today.
The document provides first a quite useful introduction to the approaches to cultural diversity such as assimilation and the multicultural theories, before providing argument to move into a inter-cultural dialogue approach.
Assimilation is presented in the context of the European nation-state of the mid 19th century, which in European tradition has been formed on the basis of rigid exclusive national identities and the principle of pride to belong to a certain fatherland. The assimilation theory applied to the European context proved to be quite ineffective after the World War II, where many immigrants coming from the old colonies did not have any chance to be integrated in a European country if not through an assimilation process intended mainly as homogenization with the dominant culture.
Assimilation has been than overtaken by the Multicultural approach, which was intended to protect and support the minority groups and the marginalized cultures. Multiculturalism was aiming at a society in which, different cultures, different habits and different religions could coexist peacefully. The most recent years and the global migration started in the 1980s challenged also this approach. The European Union member states proved not being able to effectively integrate the presence of a lot of different cultures, different minority groups, which don’t communicate among each other, which don’t share some common principles, which basically live in rigid, distant non communicating groups. The critics to the discreetness of cultures that was operated to the colonial powers (Amselle, 1999) could be replicated at home.
The White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue intends to respond to this issue introducing the intercultural dialogue as a necessary approach to cultural diversity. According to this approach cultures are requested to be able to enter into dialogue on the basis of a set of common values and principles shared by all the citizens that intend to live in the EU. The common principles that need o be shared by all the citizens are an agreement on the respect of Human rights, democracy, the rule of law, equal dignity and mutual respect, gender equality, attempt to remove barriers to intercultural dialogue such as poverty or exploitation and respect for other religions.
The Intercultural Dialogue though has also been challenged. According to Welsch (Welsch W. 1999, p. 196), Intercultural dialogue suffers of the same initial mistakes of considering cultures as “islands”, in this case they are islands that dialogue instead of simply cohabiting like in the case of multiculturalism, but still “islands”. As he puts it: “The concept does not get to the root of the problem. It remains cosmetic.”
Welsch identifies the solution in “Transculturality”, which he builds on the emphasis he puts on the network and the interconnections at the individual level. The histories of individuals are already a hybrid construction of different cultures, habits and practices, it is now required that Transculturality is accepted as an analytical as well as a normative theory.
Interestingly the concept of Transculturality has been used especially in Ethno-psychiatry or transcultural psychology, where the cultural components are investigated at individual level and it is considered a production of interpersonal relations in the first place. The concept could prove to be quite useful especially in the way it considers cultures. Not as containers of practices and people, not as a label for a group of people who share some degree of habits, rather a set of tools and instruments people use to entertain relations.
Applying the theories – Managing real issues
All these sound like very interesting theories and ideas, but how they can actually help us in solving real issues, such as Cultural Conflicts, Illegal trafficking or benefit sharing with hosting communities? I believe transculturality could provide a solid answer to all those questions.
A change in attitude in the way the people are perceived could have positive effects in the reduction of conflicts. Many of the so-called cultural conflicts are possible because people are seen not as individuals, but as representatives of a different group, a different culture that bring all together a different lifestyle and different religions that could threaten the culture and the habits of the residents in the receiving country. This kind of change would transform the way the other is perceived. Not a representative of another culture, but an individual with his or her own expectations, ambitions, desires and dreams. What could be considered a general threat if kept into the discrete category of culture, could be transformed into a fruitful relation if considered only an individual. The transcultural approach could provide the theoretical background for such change of attitude, much more than the multicultural and even the intercultural approach, which instead focuses on general dialogue between cultures instead of starting from the real individual and the relation it could be built exactly with him or her.
Migration related illegal activities:
The way the migration work at the moment leave the impression that immigrants are not functional to the society. Even worst, it is argued that states keep legal migration very strict to cheer their citizens, allowing illegal movements of immigrants that are needed for the production. In order to change this, we should recognize the role of immigrants not only in our factories, but also in our societies. The transcultural approach could support this inclusive attitude from which we would have clearer policies from receiving countries’ governments on their real needs and requirements and on the other side a greater participation of immigrants to a society they would feel to be part of.
Of course hosting communities should see some benefits too. This should be done with specific actions that provide incentives to communities that host migrants in the form of financial incentives or tax relief for joint businesses and start ups.
Conclusion – Culture as relations’ booster
A ‘paradigm shift” is more and more necessary on the way we think and use the term “culture” and its plural version “cultures”. The Transcultural Theory I tried to present is to me a solution that deserves to be taken in consideration for many of the issues related to migration.
The concept of culture we are used to, risks considering the cultures as containers. The paradigm shift needed would consider cultures not as containers (as per the classical definition of Taylor culture is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”, Taylor E., 1920), which can end up even including people, rather as a tool for the interaction. I would imagine cultures more like a “software or operating system” that could provide meaning to a relation (with other individuals, groups, but also to the nature, etc), instead of such a complex whole of different things. Insisting of this change in attitude could provide the best basis for a better management of migration in receiving countries.
Amselle J. L., 1999, “Logiche Meticce. Antropologia dell’Identita’ in Africa e altrove”, Bollati e Boringhieri, Torino
Council of Europe, 2008, “White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue – Living together as equals in dignity ”, CoE, Strasbourg
Epstein M., 1999, “Transculture in the Context of Contemporary Critical Theories” in Epstein M, 1999, “Transcultural Experiments: Russian and American Models of Creative Communication, New York: St. Martin’s Press (Scholarly and Reference Division), 1999, pp. 79-90 (Chapter 4)
Tylor, E., 1920 . Primitive Culture. New York: J.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Welsch W., 1999, “Transculturality – the Puzzling Form of Cultures Today”, in Featherston M. and Lash S. (edited by), 1999, “Spaces of Culture: City, Nation, World”, Sage, London