How has your cultural awareness developed



Most of us understand "intercultural learning" to be learning activities in which competencies are (should) be developed which enable or improve the interaction with people who do not belong to our own culture (community). As a rule, such competencies are acquired or required when dealing with residents abroad or with foreigners in Germany. These skills - referred to as "intercultural competences" for short - are generally assigned a complex characteristic. There is broad consensus that, in addition to command of foreign languages ​​and knowledge of the country, they include a number of other characteristics, in particular skills of non-verbal communication, empathy with other people's thoughts and feelings (empathy), acceptance of what is different, and discovery and development of similarities. Intercultural skills are considered important for the coexistence of people in multicultural contexts in general and for the design of cooperative projects and institutions in particular, the number of which is constantly increasing in an increasingly globalizing world. Finally, there is also a consensus that intercultural competencies do not only come about naturally through encounters with strangers, but that they can be prepared through didactic measures - mostly referred to as "intercultural training".

However, while the importance of intercultural learning within and outside of the educational sciences as well as in the public is commonly recognized, this is not equally true of its complement, "cultural learning". Obviously, the prevailing view is that learning of one's own culture essentially happens at an early age, through processes commonly referred to as "enculturation" or "socialization". On the other hand, cultural learning should be seen as a lifelong process that acquires a new quality in the encounter with other cultures. This was already discussed in detail in the cultural studies movement at the beginning of this century. In most theories of intercultural learning, too, there are indications that intercultural learning always goes hand in hand with cultural learning and that experiences of cultural contrasts always work in two directions: they simultaneously develop a better understanding of what is foreign and a better understanding of what is one's own; and at the same time they impart skills for dealing with other cultures and skills for dealing with one's own culture.

Cultural contrast experiences as a starting point for intercultural and cultural learning processes

As a rule, it is - by chance, natural or methodically brought about - cultural contrasts experiences that draw our attention to the fact that not all people in the world live as they do "at home". Only from the experience of such a difference does the distinction between what is self and what is foreign emerge. The awareness develops that the properties that have been attributed to all people up to that point, the lifeworld experienced as self-evident and the behaviors regarded as "normal" are special and "own". At the same time, previously unknown human characteristics, lifeworlds and behaviors are experienced as now known, just as special, but "foreign". Experiences of cultural contrasts always include experiences of cultural difference and cultural commonality, of cultural foreign experiences and cultural self-experiences. In this respect, they are the starting point and basis not only for intercultural, but also for cultural learning. To the extent that they go hand in hand with communication and cooperation processes between partners with different cultural backgrounds, they demand and promote not only the ability to understand others, but also the ability to "understand oneself", not only the ability to imitate the other, but also those of the cultural Self-presentation.

This process is mostly associated with strong emotional experiences. What is foreign is perceived as arousing curiosity, interesting, exotic and expanding horizons, but also as frightening, threatening and triggering shock, so that experiences of cultural contrasts are not infrequently associated with aggressive and defensive reactions.

Our present is characterized by the fact that more and more people around the world are experiencing cultural contrasts, as the opportunities increase - be it abroad or at home - to meet people whose cultural character is different from your own. However, this intercultural encounter does not automatically lead to intercultural learning and the development of intercultural skills. An essential condition for intercultural learning is obviously whether and to what extent cultural contrast experiences are made and processed.

Processes of intensive cultural contrast experience are usually not continuous and harmonious, but rather shock-like ("culture shock") and conflictual; and, like other development processes, they can be differentiated according to phases. While the first phase is often still carried by euphoria, the next phases are characterized by an emphasis on the advantages of one's own culture and the rejection of foreign cultures. Only the further development then brings a more realistic assessment and a better understanding of both foreign and one's own culture, until finally cultural reorientations emerge, which depending on the discovery of commonalities, as the adoption of elements of the previously foreign, as a further development of the Own or also as a new development of "transcultural" properties - spanning both cultural horizons - appear.

Cultural contrast experiences are therefore decisive for learning processes in which more is learned at the same time about what is "foreign" culture and what is "own" culture. But they are also decisive for learning processes in which one learns what is "common" culture and what culture in general is. These four aspects are briefly explained below.

Learn what culture is

What is meant here is not memorizing one or more of the approximately 150 known definitions of "culture", but dealing with our concept of culture, which is anchored in everyday thinking, as well as approximating it to the current state of scientific discussion.

Our everyday language and culture concept, which is anchored in everyday thinking, differs significantly in at least three points from the state of scientific discussions in the scientific disciplines involved, which is not to say that there are uniform views in these disciplines:

  • it preferably refers to "higher" culture, is often used as a synonym for "art", neglecting the other areas that belong to the whole of a culture: above all modes of production and consumption, social relationships and institutions, forms of communication and interaction ;
  • it preferably refers to "national culture", on the other hand neglects other levels on which cultures differentiate: the levels of world culture and (in our case occidental) culture on the one hand and the "sub-national levels" of regions and religions, generations and professions Organizations and institutions as well as milieus and lifestyles on the other hand;
  • it preferably refers to features of the "outer worlds" (works of art, theater performances, concerts, buildings, etc.) and neglects culture-specific features of the "inner worlds", in particular the culture-specific meanings, values ​​and norms as well as the patterns of perception and action like them exist in people's minds.
The change, further development and expansion of the concept of culture available in average everyday thinking is not primarily about a little more general education or scientific propaedeutics. More decisive is the clarification of the consequences that result from this narrow concept of culture and the clarification of its largely ideological character. Its historical and current consequences include social discrimination against groups whose activities are assessed as being close to or remote from culture. The consequences include stylizations of simple and stereotyping catalogs of properties for the quality of "national characters". And one of the consequences is the suppression of the "cultural personality" in one's own head.

Learn what "foreign" culture is

People experience ways of life and behavior, values ​​or products of other people as strange, which one perceives as conspicuous, but does not (yet) understand. "Foreign", like "siblings", denotes a relationship, not a characteristic of the other people. This relationship is determined in the same way by the abilities of perception and understanding on the one hand as it is on the other.

But how do you learn to distinguish whether a behavior that is perceived as "foreign" (e.g. greeting with a kiss on the hand) is a culture-specific, i.e. characteristic of a cultural community, or an individual behavior? Obviously, the possibility of deciding this depends on the existence of a special background knowledge, with the help of which one recognizes people as those who belong to one's own collective and those who do not. It can be assumed that external characteristics such as skin color, hairstyle and clothing play just as important a role as language, gestures and possibly also smell.

In order to be able to decide whether it is a question of collective and culturally specific characteristics of a stranger or an individual one, further background knowledge about characteristics of certain collectives has to be acquired. Background knowledge of this kind, which precedes encounters with members of other cultural communities, is usually conveyed in everyday practice in the form of simple schemes ("stereotypes") made up of a few characteristics, for example through jokes and anecdotes, literary or cinematic representations, and more recently about advertising. And because the number of cultural communities known by name usually has to remain limited, everyday practice likes to take up - often long - historical traditions of such schemes in which territoriality, nationality, religious affiliation, regional origin or minority status are accentuated as defining characteristics: "the French "," the Jews "," the Indians "," the East Frisians ", etc., (although these words are often used in the singular by naive minds).

As a rule, these schemes are not based on statistical surveys of the scheme-forming properties and have little to do with reality. However, even if they are "wrong", they are, so to speak, necessary entry and orientation aids for learning processes. Therefore, the mere existence of such simple schemes of orientation about other collectives should not be assigned the term "prejudice". Only when they do not stimulate and open learning processes, but rather prevent and conclude them, do they become prejudices.

More recently, such schemes or catalogs of characteristics are also referred to with the term "cultural standards" and made the basis for preparatory intercultural training. In this context, "cultural standards" are to be understood as values ​​and moral concepts as well as behavior that are or should be typical of a cultural community. In such approaches, the units that each count as a cultural community are usually referred to as "countries", i.e. determined according to their territorial boundaries. In view of the globalization of many societies around the world, this is not without problems.

Even if one must not ignore the preliminary phases of a previous schema formation outlined here, learning a foreign culture in the narrower sense only begins with encounters with living members of the cultural community concerned. Such encounters can be of medium-term or long-term duration. Only if they are intense, i.e. if they contain forms of living together and working together, do they offer opportunities to learn what a foreign culture is.

As some examples of failed practice show, these opportunities do not arise automatically through encounter, coexistence and cooperation. However, careful preparation, accompaniment and follow-up of such experiences can improve them significantly.

Learning what "own" culture is

It cannot be asserted for Europe that the frame of reference that provides the cultural orientations that are important for people is exclusively ethnic, territorial or national. Neither for the Christian-occidental culture, nor for the culture of the European nobility, the European Enlightenment nor for the culture of modern industrial society, were ethnic-national borders decisive. And the formation of states was mostly not based on ethnic criteria. Where nationalist myths asserted the unity of state, nation, religion, territory and culture against all reality, they often led to disaster.

In the course of the modernization process, however, the internal cultural differentiation of societies also increased in Europe: religious and regional peculiarities, the individual character of generations, professions, ideologies and institutions thus became factors influencing cultural orientation. And if you take the current studies on the differentiation of German society according to "milieus" and "lifestyles" seriously, the "microcultural" orientation of our fellow citizens is gaining increasing importance for lifestyle and community building. As a result, however, individuals usually belong to several cultural communities at the same time - albeit with different emphasis and more or less consciously.

The fact that there are additional aspects of cultural orientation for those fellow citizens who themselves or their parents grew up outside of Germany should only be mentioned in passing in this context, although this fact is particularly emphasized in the literature on foreigner education.

Furthermore, the fact that ideas of "world culture" have gained validity in the last few decades, in which the necessity is emphasized that humanity must learn to become a cultural community as a whole ("learning for one world" ) in order to draw the political and moral consequences from their ecological, economic, institutional and communicative networks.

In view of the diversity of the possibilities for cultural orientation that are only very briefly outlined here, cultural learning as "learning what my own culture is or could be" comes under difficult conditions. Because this "own" culture can neither be defined by identification with a single significant collective, nor by a purely subjective decision in favor of an individual mixture of elements from the overall inventory of cultural possibilities. Under the conditions of late modern existence, people must learn to belong to several cultural reference systems and communities at the same time, i.e. they must learn to be world citizens, Europeans, citizens, community members, representatives of an institution, etc. at the same time, a fact that sociology conveys to us with the concept of roles Has. And they have to learn how to create a personal balance between the requirements and specifications of these reference systems.

Two tendencies present particular difficulties in learning what my own culture is. On the one hand, this is the tendency that from the facts of cultural diversity and cultural relativity the consequence is drawn that cultural options - or even the renunciation of them - are subject to the principles of chance and arbitrariness. For cultures, however, just as it is for languages, the fact of linguistic diversity and linguistic relativity does not imply that autonomous subjects are free to associate any sounds with their subjective ideas and then to designate this as "language". It is also true of languages ​​that in a process of evolutionary dynamics they have achieved both an adaptation to lifeworlds and a self-referential quality. Individual people can then indeed learn several languages ​​and use individual variance within the framework of these languages, and they can even expand this frame of reference given by the system of a language creatively. However, if they were to put together their own language, be it from self-invented words and syntagms, be it from words and syntagms that they borrow from many languages, they would run the risk of unsuccessful communication with other people and thus lose an essential property of their human beings Existence.

If we follow this analogy, it implies that people in principle learn several cultures and can also be active in these cultures, but that they are always bound by the specifications of the respective cultural frame of reference.

The second tendency is closely related to the modernization process in Europe and is commonly referred to as "individualization" or "individual modernity". This tendency towards individualization and towards individualistic moral concepts while at the same time turning away from social ties (towards whatever cultural community) is itself a cultural phenomenon which in late modernity has reached a critical stage in which the high song of egocentrism is sung from many pulpits. It creates the error that people can or should exist as autonomous subjects "free of culture". However, personally understood personal identity is not an alternative to cultural identity, but is closely linked to the latter. Learning one's own culture is therefore also the prerequisite for individual personal development.

For those who support young as well as adults with cultural learning, this results in significantly changed tasks and challenges. It is no longer a matter of presenting and practicing the given frame of reference, which is accepted as a matter of course, of a worldview and view of man, however ideologically defined. Nor can it be just a matter of demonstrating the variety of cultural orientation possibilities and hoping that learners will somehow draw personal conclusions from it. Rather, it is about making the conditions and structures of cultural practice tangible and practicing.

Learn what "common" culture is

As already mentioned, intercultural encounters and experiences of cultural contrasts can not only be the starting point for experiences of cultural difference, but also for experiences of cultural commonality. In connection with intercultural training measures, the focus is usually on dealing with cultural differences, while dealing with cultural similarities has so far received less attention. Reasons for this are to be found on the one hand in the greater attention and interest effect of the deviant and exotic, on the other hand in the fact that intercultural encounters are mostly two-sided and initially accept the cultural status quo of both partners.

Even if history knows many examples of imperial conditions and supranational unions in which approaches to a common culture developed, it was only in this century that global unions became a determining element of world affairs. Examples range from the League of Nations to the UN and its organizations, through the alliances in the East-West conflict, to current efforts to create global and regional forms of intensive cooperation.

In these alliances, however, economic, military and legal aspects and their technical and organizational problems have largely come to the fore. The entirety of the cultures affected by these alliances, in particular their value orientations and moral concepts, their social and communicative bases remain largely ignored. It can be assumed that without efforts to develop and shape overarching cultural commonalities, the commonalities in sub-areas will not be very successful either. And what applies to international cooperation should also apply in a comparable way to the internal structures of modern societies, whose multicultural character is increasing. Here, too, it is important to learn what common culture is or can be.

In relation to international conditions, this includes, on the one hand, a reflection on historical similarities between regions and nations and on early mutual influences. On the other hand, it also includes learning and developing new cultural similarities with future perspectives. In relation to the internal relations of multicultural societies, this primarily implies that the conditions of their emergence are raised as well as the possibilities of their further development in the sense of a balance of particularity and commonality.

The recently developed term "transcultural learning" indicates the necessity and the possibilities of learning about cultural similarities. He does not expect people to give up their previous cultural orientations, but rather to supplement and expand them. In any case, there is a broad spectrum of further possibilities between the realization of this principle of "transcultural learning" with minimal concepts of the lowest common cultural denominator or with maximal concepts of a culture-revolutionary character.

Some implications for educational institutions

Since, as already mentioned, intercultural and cultural learning are understood as processes of lifelong learning, the conclusions to be briefly outlined here for educational institutions should relate to all levels and institutions of the educational system, especially to universities and further education institutions. In my opinion, four aspects deserve special attention if educational institutions want to intensify their efforts in intercultural and cultural learning:
  • they should convey cultural concepts and theories and make them part of general education;
  • By participating in the creation of their own "organizational culture" they should develop awareness and competencies for cultural issues;
  • they should convey experiences of cultural contrasts and experiences of intercultural practice on many levels;
  • and they should pay more attention to the cultural nature of the knowledge they convey.

Communicate cultural concepts and theories

It is undisputed that the development of intercultural competencies is closely linked to the imparting of practical skills, especially communication skills and country-specific, everyday practical knowledge. However, it is easy to overlook the fact that theoretical skills are also required in order to reflect on practical experience and thus to further develop it in qualitative terms. This deficit relates in particular to the use of cultural concepts and of implicitly used or naive cultural theories. As mentioned at the beginning, it's about learning what culture is. It's about
  • anthropological findings that refer to "culture as second nature" of the genus homo sapiens and that make it clear that individuals excluded from human society and thus from culture do not become noble savages, but poor creatures;
  • cultural-anthropological findings that relate to the systemic connection of cultures, on the fact that and how the individual elements of a cultural system are related to one another and how cultures, as self-regulating systems, strive for dynamic equilibria between them;
  • geographical and ethnological knowledge relating to the interactions between cultures and their natural environments;
  • historical knowledge relating to encounters and conflicts between cultures, to their mutual influences, to cultural change and cultural extinction;
  • sociological knowledge that relates to the origin and development of modern culture as well as to the differentiation in milieus and lifestyles;
  • Findings on ethics and morals that relate to the relationship between universal and culture-specific values ​​and morals as well as their implementation and implementation;
  • and it is about findings that relate to the classification and typification of cultures and convey categories for the description and comparison of cultures.
The foregoing considerations contain a number of reasons that suggest that such findings constitute an essential aspect of general education in our time, which deserves clear weight at all levels of the educational system. The question of whether it should be conveyed within the framework of a special "subject" or as a special focus in several subjects must be answered with "both and" based on comparable theoretical discussions on curricula.

Enable participation in the creation of "organizational culture"

Educational institutions, like other organizations, should endeavor to develop and convey "their own" culture. They should neither see themselves as subordinate authorities shaped by a bureaucratic culture nor allow their teaching staff to become an agglomeration of "cultural wrens", but rather see themselves as a "cultural community". Such a joint development of organizational culture includes moral, epistemological, didactic and aesthetic options as well as a specific design of spatial and temporal organization as well as communication and cooperation. Symbols and rituals should not be designed as superfluous frills, but as forms of cultural compression. The principle of openness is particularly important, because internal openness ensures further development and counteracts secret society aberrations; Openness to the outside world attracts new members and opens up a wide range of collaborations. In order to prevent organizational culture from being exhausted with programmatic utterances and puns, efforts to create an "organizational culture" should be carefully documented as well as implemented and evaluated.

It may seem strange that this recommendation from the management sector is mentioned in a prominent place in our context. Therefore, one important difference should be noted: While the aspect of improved economic efficiency is used as a justification for commercial enterprises, the design and improvement of learning culture is the motive for educational institutions. The best way to learn what culture is by practicing culture. That the "practice" of organizational culture has something to do with awareness and improvement ("refinement") should be obvious. Educational institutions should therefore increase their awareness that they are primarily set up to organize processes of human learning and human development and that their quality must be measured by how well they do this task. However, this "purposeful" side of culture needs to be supplemented by a "value-rational" one. Since a "culture" is a holistic, "systemic" context that is characterized by an emphasis on specific values, the cultural quality of an educational institution can also be recognized by how far these values ​​are shared by the members, how far they are penetrate the individual elements and measures of the practice and how far they are suitable for creating the cultural identity of their members.

Above all, if educational institutions are characterized by the fact that they have members from different cultures, they have additional occasions and opportunities to develop their "organizational cultural" identity: on the one hand, they can make cultural diversity tangible through concrete examples; On the other hand, however, they are challenged to discover and develop new ("transcultural") similarities. The participation of members with different cultural backgrounds in shaping organizational culture - just like that of all other members - contributes to the fact that they too develop their own cultural identity. Educational institutions are not dealing with culturally "ready" people, whose current cultural state is simply to be respected or tolerated, as well-meaning apologists of the multicultural sometimes suggest. According to the principle of lifelong learning, educational institutions must regard all their members as culturally viable persons.

Not through the fact that the individual educational institutions recruit their members from different cultures, but through the fact that they shape their own organizational culture, they can develop their own cultural identity and in this way they can contribute to the development of institutional and cultural diversity. A certain multiculturalism that emerges in the education system could take up multicultural tendencies at other levels of society, including the level of global society, and use the example of one's own institution to address and reflect them. An educational system designed in this way would, through its structure, provide an example of what cultural learning could look like if it did not have the character of a (bureaucratic) monoculture but that of a "biotope" of many organizational cultures.

Provide diverse intercultural experiences

There is no reason to fear that educational institutions that see themselves as a cultural community will develop their own cultural identity and that their members will participate in the shaping of organizational culture, thereby reducing or making their connections to the outside world more difficult. Rather, it is to be expected that this will facilitate such connections, because such facilities are more perceptible to the outside world and therefore more interesting. (When the term "outside world" is used in this context, it is by no means just referring to persons and organizations abroad, but also to those in Germany).

The ideal way to mediate intercultural encounters within the framework of educational institutions is usually the exchange of personnel (student exchange, teacher exchange, etc.). In addition, there are other ways in which members of educational institutions can organize intercultural encounters: school partnerships, exchange of products, materials, publications, media-mediated communication (e.g. via the Internet).

As already mentioned, such encounters only become experiences if they are reflected on and integrated into personal experience and educational contexts. Educational institutions must therefore provide preparatory, accompanying and follow-up measures that support the creation of experience. There are now enough professional options for setting up such a practice. It is therefore the responsibility of educational institutions to include them.

Thematization of the cultural dependency of knowledge

What needs to be conveyed in this context is the realization that knowledge does not arise in a cultural vacuum, but that it develops in cultural contexts and that it retains traces of this cultural embedding, even if it is adopted or transferred to other cultural contexts. This does not only apply to technology transfer that has recently taken place between industrialized countries and so-called developing countries. Ultimately, it applies to all knowledge that individual educational institutions are responsible for imparting.

Very often, however, educational institutions tend to present knowledge as generally valid and to exclude questions about its origin, its scope and its importance for often very specific theoretical or practical purposes. Sometimes this is justified with time-saving arguments: Since the presentation of a complex concept, model or process itself takes a lot of time, the question of who connected which meaning in which context remains unanswered. This increases the "amount of material to be covered", but at the same time gives away opportunities to impart background knowledge about the diversity of cultural contexts.

Occasionally, when questions about the cultural context of knowledge are excluded, there may be fears that knowledge is less valuable if it has a culturally limited sense of meaning. For scientific knowledge in particular, the claim to general validity is still recognized even if it can only be upheld with restrictive empty formulas ("ceteris paribus"). The methods developed in the hermeneutic disciplines, which ensure a better, i.e. always more context-conscious understanding, mostly remain unused. The insights into the connection between cultural development and scientific development, known under the keyword "paradigm shift", are still awaiting implementation. Finally, it should be pointed out that conflicts between representatives of interdisciplinarity and interdisciplinary teaching often reveal cultural differences.

Final remark

The considerations presented here could provide good reasons for educational institutions to get involved in connections between intercultural, advanced forms of cultural and transcultural learning. Reasons that refer to the associated possibilities of diverse individual broadening of horizons and to competitive advantages should meet with little contradiction, so that essentially questions of "how" remain open.

On the other hand, justifications that refer to aspects of cultural community building are unlikely to be very popular. And yet it is they who lead to the expectation of new orientations for the learning and teaching members of educational institutions as well as for their internal and external relationships, for the establishment of their practical references as well as for the determination of their theoretical and ideological foundations.