Academic journal article Contemporary Pragmatism

How Can the Pragmatic Philosophy of John Dewey Make a Contribution to the Theory and Practice of Intercultural Communication?

Academic journal article Contemporary Pragmatism

How Can the Pragmatic Philosophy of John Dewey Make a Contribution to the Theory and Practice of Intercultural Communication?

Article excerpt

The original Pragmatism as a philosophical "movement" can be placed historically from about the 1870s to the middle of the 20th Century. It is normally associated with four thinkers: Charles Peirce, William James, John Dewey and George Herbert Mead. In this paper I will mainly focus on my understanding of Dewey's ideas and how they could be implemented to improve training as practice. Admittedly I have been influenced strongly by the interpretation of Dewey by Thomas Alexander (1987).

Why am I trying to connect up Dewey's ideas with intercultural communication and training? The answer is that his ideas have helped me to acquire more of a practical understanding of areas of intercultural communication which have thus far not made much sense in my training and teaching experience. In order to answer this question in more depth, I shall introduce the reader to four areas of Dewey's ideas which I have experienced as very relevant to common everyday training and theorizing about intercultural communication. Two of them can be formulated in the form of dualisms: difference/ similarity and potentiality/interaction (in IC, competence/performance). The third is Dewey's discussions of the term "habit". This will be coupled with a very similar term "pattern". The final one will be the attempt to play with the idea of rhythm as an epistemological alternative to the traditional, deeply embedded dualism of subject and object.

Notice I am not saying that our training has not been successful. What I am saying is that even the master trainers could improve on their theory in terms of a better understanding of why they are successful. They may have developed excellent experiential activities, often drawing on the arts and the body, but the word "experience" does not appear in their theory. This paper is an attempt to fill in some perceived gaps in IC theory and practice. Every good workshop needs good inputs and inputs by definition are theoretical. The theoretical has to fit well with the activities which precede and follow the input and it also helps all the activities to form a coherent whole. For any experienced trainer this goes without saying.

Let's first take the two dualisms and then proceed to the terminology of pattern and habit, and, finally, rhythm.

1 Difference/Similarity

Much of intercultural communication training involves practising sensitivity to cultural differences. Trainers assume that recognizing difference is more important than recognizing the aspects we have in common. Milton Bennett (1998a, 2-3) is an example. In his sensitivity index he assumes that recognizing difference is superior to recognizing things we have in common. "Monocultural communication is similarity-based," while "intercultural communication is difference-basedľ'1 From an epistemological and organismic point of view this is simply not quite accurate. Perception as discrimination (senses, differencebased) and action (motoric) are always together (sensomotoric) in the experiencing organism; in fact, perception can be considered a form of action. Furthermore, there are two aspects to perception, the discrimination of difference and the recognition of the commonalities. This means that discrimination, recognition of commonalities and apprehending the environment are all forms or phases of action.

Where Bennett may be correct is that many Americans probably impose an expectation on other cultures that people are all the same and they do tend to put the members of these other cultures in preconceived categories. This is an empirical question. What is more important for my argument is that the opposite can be true as well: for example, South African whites in the 1970s I remember from my activist days started to use cultural arguments against the dismantling of the Apartheid system. As an alternative to the traditional biological arguments for racial differences, white apologists argued that the blacks were just different in a cultural sense; they were allegedly not hardworking like the whites were. …

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