l. In Search of a definition

2. Intercultural pedagogy

3. The intercultural approach

4. Assimilation - insertion - integration

5. Building an identity and the role of the school

Thoughts for later...

 l. In Search of a definition

In the everyday world ...
An intercultural festival, an intercultural supper, intercultural music, an intercultural centre, an intercultural approach, intercultural action, intercultural pedagogy ...

The expression 'intercultural', which made its appearance a few years ago, has become common place and has supplanted other expressions - probably including the expression 'international'- in the case of recreational get-togethers. This indicates a change in the perception of 'the Other'. No longer is the Other so much a person who comes from another country, but rather one who in the first place expresses another culture. It is even becoming more common to say 'intercultural' instead of 'cultural' and this could mean any activity where cultural variables operate.

Culture as it is understood here puts the emphasis on eating habits, craft traditions, so called 'popular' music etc.

So it has more to do with the superficial aspects of life, in other words those which are least deeply rooted, therefore least resistant to change. Moreover, it is from the superficial aspects that the desire to seek the unknown, to discover new tastes or rhythms usually derives. It is an invaluable springboard for opening up hearts and minds beyond the idea of nationalities...

It is doubtless unfortunate that in school this approach to interculturality is often typified by the organisation of a celebration with a couscous supper for people used to eating chips. The opposite of this is everyday normality. Here we see the birth of one-way interculturality, essentially a host/minority society.

and an academic perspective
At the end of the list mentioned in the preamble one is aware that we are no longer talking about a recycling of the term 'international'.

The concept of culture here has a meaning which is specific to the human sciences in the broad sense, the one understood by educators, campaigners and politicians.

"What we are calling culture here is the set of features which typify a people, group, society, (...) which can be recognised by habits, feelings, and a material world of objects both utilitarian and aesthetic. And, even more specifically, a certain way of unifying these different elements."(1)

Anthropologists enlarge this concept even more and apply the word "culture" to "the set of ways of thinking, institutions and material objects which define some society or other. Culture thus implies language and way of life, organisation of kinship and techniques such as tools, food and clothing, ways of thinking and feeling, taboos and obligations, sexual practices, courtesies and amusements, and forrns taken by mental illness or marginality... etc(2)

Closer to our pedagogical concerns, another definition is also of interest:

"We can consider culture as the system of representations which, while giving it a context, gives meaning to the collective and individual experience. Cultures do not in fact differ in their contents, or not all that much, so much as in the way in which these contents are organised, associated and placed in hierarchies."(3)
Here the concept of culture relates to us at much deeper levels which are more difficult to change: levels to do with structures, values and beliefs, allegedly making up the "hard core" of our culture. We need however to stress its shifting nature, as much in the individual as in the collective sense and this is what can give meaning to a constructivist approach of cultural appropriation, terms which at first sight might seem contradictory.

Let us recall that this concept is a comparative concept and that

"cultural differences can be placed anywhere: between two individuals, between two professions, between two regions, between two continents, and so on in infinite degrees of variation".(4)

Different contours
Faced with this vast field, we shall not therefore be surprised to find different meanings of the term "interculturality", of varying degrees of precision, and with some of them tinged with moral connotations.

"- This qualifier (intercultural) is also used for analysing the obstacles to communication where there is coexistence. Here, indirectly at least, there emerges a concern to improve exchanges between the systems and partners involved, showing for the first time due consideration of the prefix "inter".

- Finally, given the overriding wish to promote communication, plans can be devised to carefully organise the relationship between disparate cultural groups or individuals so at least to eliminate problems arising from living side by side, while at best gaining the advantages one expects from well planned arrangements."(5)

" - For some, interculturality is seen as a cohesion, a reciprocal penetration, a resetting of the balance carried out harmoniously on the basis of culturally different elements and behaviours.

- A contrasting tendency views intercultura lity as a fashionable concept acting as a screen to promote the dominant intemational cultural influences which have never stifled cultural diversity as much as they do today."(6)

"In my view this concept above all expresses a way of being, a view of the world and other people, a kind of egalitarian relationship between human beings and peoples. It is the opposite of ethnocentrism."(7)

We can also detect the ambiguity of certain definitions which at first seem to offer an extremely broad framework but which, in the end, present a vision narrowly associating interculturality with immigration.

"What about a teacher faced with a pupil from another culture? What we have in this situation is interculturality defined as interaction between a professional with his/her own identity, a synthesis of numerous forms of group membership: national, regional, religious, social class, origin, profession, institutional mission, all of them coming together in a unique way according to the life-set and personality of the individual, interaction with another person, family, group with a very different identity because of social and cultural membership, added to the pupil's status as a migrant or political refugee and in the process of acculturation in the host country.''(8)
"Intercultural pedagogy will therefore set itself the task of allowing the child or adolescent to be him/herself, to discover his/her identity without totally fitting into standard French culture or the culture of origin of the immigrant parents.''(9)

Now there is not necessarily a fundamental difference of "milieu" or "culture" between two people of different nationalities, even though they have different ways of eating, dressing and amusing themselves. Conversely, two people who are keen on football can have points of reference that are so far apart that only by enjoying a football match can they find themselves a space for communication.

From now on, it is by reference to the deeper dimensions of culture (structures, values, beliefs) that we shall address interculturality.

 2. Intercultural pedagogy

The following extracts are suggested as interpretations of intercultural pedagogy:

Basic paradigms: cultural relativism or the principle of the autonomy of conscience

Cultural relativism:

"All cultures are equal, in spite of their differences; they are all geared to a given ecological, economic, technological and social context, and each presents a scenario of human life."(10)

This position excludes value judgements and it legitimises cultures.

The principle of the autonomy of conscience (reference to Kant):

"(...) if individuals are convinced ofthe soundness oftheir perceptions and values, even if we are convinced of the contrary, we have no right to impose ours upon them (principle at the basis ofthe Declaration ofthe Rights of Man)."(11)

Here a value judgement is allowed and cultures can be placed in hierarchies: it is those who have the cultures (not the cultures themselves) that are legitimised, provided their sincerity and inner conviction are seen as credible. The cultural contents are tolerated.

At the pedagogical level each of these positions will lead to different outcomes:

"It is a pedagogy which is thus geared essentially to a positive development of views and attitudes in relation to the Other, one who is different from oneself"(12)

"Can one not claim that developing the intercultural approach confirms the universal approach of teaching tolerance and coexistence between peoples and cultures?''(13)

Compare this with the outcomes of school as they are currently expressed. Marcel LEURIN gives an uncompromising assessment of our schools:

"If we believe the pamphlets defining educational aims, we are aiming in our schools to develop autonomy, responsibility, social awareness, curiosity and an experimental attitude. But the school usually restricts itself, through the routine manner in which it works, its rigid timetables and its fragmented curricula, to trying to bring everyone up to the standard cultural norm of the majority. This is the legacy of a system based on a simple alternative: assimilation or rejection "(15)


In the literature we find the following:

" - to prepare children for daily experience of diversity, that is to say to accept it as something natural and evident, but at the same time how to spot it and name it;
- to prepare them also to react positively to difference, that is, not to experience it as a threat, as a shock, but as a source of interest;
- in short to make them receptive to exchange of views, to comparison of frames of reference and habits.''(16)

" - to promote understanding of social and educational problems in connection with cultural diversity."(17)

" - to develop the ability to show critical thought, denying anyone the right to claim possession of a universal truth;
- to develop the ability to argue a case (listening to the interlocutor and presenting rational arguments to defend one's own position);
- to develop knowledge and ability to use works of reference;
- to develop skills in all kinds of problem-solving and, in particular, social problems;
- to develop the ability to cooperate in group enterprises."(18)

 3. The intercultural approach

Let Noelle de SMET set the tone:

"What happens that is new in interaction if we persist in regarding the other person as alien and distant ... and if we defensively take ourselves as the norrn ... or if we are content just to rub shoulders? Cultural encounters do not need to be avoided if they can take place within a relationship of equals, without patronising sentimentality, and questions can be asked, for instance about our own cultural references and "associations" ... If no-one feels threatened with losing their identity or having to fit in with the one being foisted on them, it will doubtless be possible to work our way through all the surprising complexities inherent in encounters, procedures and life education which do not ignore differences and which start to build interculturality."(19)

The intercultural approach is commonly marked by three stages: "de-centring", penetrating the Other's system, negotiation.

1. "De-centring"
Taking a more distant view of oneself, trying to define one's frames of reference as an individual with a culture and sub-cultures (national, ethnic, religious, professional, institutional,... ), blended together in one's personal development.

Through this reflection on oneself, realising what is relative about one's observations and making sense of one's reading references.
" The stages through which an individual has been socialised in his/her community are lost in the mists of time, to such an extent that they may well be unaware that what seems "obvious" is a construct of the world which is culture-determined."(20)

2. Penetrating the Other's system
Getting out of oneself to see things from the Other's perspective.

"It is an attitude of opening up, a personal effort of enquiry about the main themes which are shaped around basic systems of reference and fundamental signs that are interpreted and blended in a unique way by each individual."(21)

3. Negotiating
Finding the necessary minimum compromise and understanding to avoid confrontation where the stronger imposes his or her code of priorities on the weaker.

It is here that cultural relativism, which would like all the values of members of a group to be made to coexist, is seen to be inoperative. How in fact do you proceed when you have a conflict of values? Living together implies agreeing about a common minimum of values and ways of looking at things. The framework of the negotiation can be inferred from the principle of autonomy of conscience.

"(...) the conflict must be resolved by a solution that each person will accept in all conscience and, failing this ideal unanimity, (...) to get as near to it as possible by various behaviours compatible with the democratic model."(22)

Jean RELY, inviting us to develop a new kind of urbanity, seems to be saying something similar.

"To develop a cosmopolitan attitude in an urban situation where different ethnic groups coexist (. . . ) implies a conception of urban life which runs counter to the idea of placing people in a uniform mould. (...) Cosmopolitanism is not just a problem of cultural open-mindedness and preoccupation with the problems of the Other. It works insofar as we can see to what extent each person contributes to the dynamism of the whole."(23)

 4. Assimilation - insertion - integration

A reading reference
Several authors use these terms as markers to try to describe a social basis of political attitudes to foreigners.

Without falling into the error we indicated earlier (confusion between an intercultural approach and an immigration approach), we think it is useful to use this reference in order to examine how we teach.

"I accept the Other if he rejects what is different about himself."
He is accepted without reservation or discrimination, but on condition he renounces his own personality and adopts the values and behaviour of the host society in full and without hesitation.

"I tolerate the Other with his lasting cultural characteristics, but he is foreign, different and will remain so."
He has the right to work and take part in society, but he remains different.

"I wish to go on believing in my values but I do not make you give up yours."
It is an open process. Integration is dependent on the passage of time, in the fullness of time it yields a rich cross-fertilisation.

"Negotiation is the protective barrier against that pressure to assimilate which threatens all professional representatives of institutions laying claim to a universal educative or socialising function.''(24)

The relativity of policies

"A policy of individual integration imposes a kind of acculturation which is often brutal, depriving individuals of the references that define their identity; when the generation which has been born in the host country integrates, it causes particular xenophobic reactions bound up with the cultural proximity and the social rivality that exist with the local population. However it has the advantage of not creating a rigid long-term confrontation between established groups and of integrating the population of immigrant origin - or at least their children.

A policy of collective integration allows for an acculturation process lasting three or possibly four generations, protecting the migrants themselves from emotional trauma. But it reinforces ethnic self-awareness, contributing to the reinterpretation into ethnic and social divisions of the boundaries between groups and risking exacerbating group confrontation.

It helps to emphasise the existence of groups suffering from several ethnic and social handicaps to justif acts of discrimination in social life and then to encourage the authorities to adopt compensatory policies of"positive discrimination". But above all, it could easily open the way to "community-related" thinking in the workings of public life, so that each ethnic group demands and possibly gets representation proportional to its number in each area of authority within the body politic.''(25)

 5. Building an identity and the role of the school

"The young person of foreign origin is, like the young Belgian, internally divided and tormented, adopting different identities, especially during adolescence ..."(26)

He often finds himself caught between the desire and the fear of change, which can give rise to contradictions between what he says and what he does.

Quote from a young person:
"It's hard living together. Besides, we're told not to be racist but also that we have to stay among people who are similar, and not mix with people who are too different because it causes problems.''(27)

Nonetheless, like everyone else, he constructs his own world, his individual culture.

This is Leila HOUARI talking about the culture of the Beurs (North Africans bom in France):

"Beur culture, at the crossroads of several languages, histories and traditions, stems from a kind of cross-breeding, intermixing or makeshift process. It is mixed, plural. The children of migrants in fact have to relate to very different, sometimes incompatible worlds of reference. They are torn between home, school and outside world. This complex situation, which pulls them in different directions, leaves them without points of reference for their identities. They struggle to create new identities for themselves as best they can.

The cultural roots of the country of origin start to wither. The parents' traditional values are contaminated by those of modern western culture. Television in particular provides new models. Yet the roots are present in one way or another. The Beurs take on several cultures and, as a result, have a wealth of cultural diversity.''(28)

When at one and the same time we belong to very heterogeneous groups, our identity is constantly in flux, and we are subjected to processes of fragmentation and reconstruction which inevitably involve conflict.

Integration of the elements of a new culture into one's identity will depend, for an individual, on their ability to tolerate this conflict and distance themselves from the culture of origin.

What role can the school play in a young person's construction of his/her identity?

The school can doubtless help young people to find their own place and to adapt to take account of the cultures they encounter, but on certain conditions.


"What seems to us to be essential is to take into account the culture of adolescents from immigrant families, not only by allowing them to react to French or Belgian texts according to their own values, but also by bringing examples of their culture into the classroom, especially their literature (literature from the country of ongin and literature stemming from the immigration experience).''(29)

E. TARACENA(30) formulates some interesting hypotheses, which may inspire us as teachers, about the opening-up mechanisms an individual can operate when faced with a new culture. For example, she emphasises the capacity to dream, and to imagine, the capacity to symbolise and the capacity to fragment.

She emphasises the importance of negotiating an open-minded approach by the various partners, especially when the school, far from supporting the socialising process begun by the family, is actually at variance with it: open-mindedness of the teacher, who must be aware of his/her own attitude to the young person so as to be able to go beyond his/her initial reactions, open-mindedness of at least one of the youngster's parents who supports his/her wish to integrate, open-mindedness of the school so that it allows the youngster to acquire new attitudes, to control conflicts of identity and, should the case arise, to overcome feelings of betrayal and shame created by seeing his origins devalued.

However some writers, such as A. DOUTRELOUX, advise caution: "To introduce adolescents at secondary school level to the relativity of cultures when they have scarcely mastered either themselves or their own culture, carries the risk of creating more confusion than genuine development ."(31)

For M. LEURIN, identity and nationality are respectable values, but he warns against a stigmatisation of signs of "cultural" membership which can lead to segregation.

We may well ask ourselves how far the concept of culture, like that of race, is not a mental construct that separates rather than unites. Indeed, what basically is the relevance of a cultural classification? What criterion do we adopt to classify a musical or literary work? There is as much diversity to be found in the adjectives used to classify culture as in the classification of individuals, and the same incongruity: sometimes it is a geographical area: continent ("African" dance), country ("French" literature) or region (Provencal cuisine); sometimes a language (English song), sometimes a former empire ("Arab" architecture), sometimes a religion (Jewish music), ... This classification is bound to encourage the search for something "pure", it is an invitation to isolate some major source of influence. Can we really claim to be able to define this reality, in as much as we are now the product of a multitude of cultures which have not ceased to influence each other since mankind's first encounters and exchanges?


"The approach which "fluidifies" cultural structures, considering them as something endlessly mixed and transformed by the processes of interaction, has the advantage of making it easier for exchanges, negotiations and developments between partners to take place. But the sort of people one deals with in real life very often, if not usually, take the opposite view: they imagine and live out their culture like a transcendent reality which they readily regard as sacred."(32)

Behind these reflections lies the dialectic of conservation and change. Depending on whether one's personal experience of change is positive or negative, what one says will take on a different tinge. The more frequently expressed view is that which ascribes greater value to conservation. This represents a challenge to us as teachers.

What upsets do we have to live through because of contact with events and people who are different from us? What do we have to protect? What do we risk losing by changing?

ln the light of these questions, can we subscribe to the words of H. WEINRICH? "Indeed, it is incumbent on the host culture and particularly the school that represents it, to show young people who are imbued with another culture all the respect due to it, as to every other, in the first place by arousing great curiosity for its most interesting features. So this does not just mean an absence of discrimination, but also implies an imaginative highlighting of the culture of origin and, to quote the term used by anthropologists, a 'positive courtesy' ("politesse positive") towards those who represent it, however modestly.''(33)

Ouardia DERRICHE, for her part, invites us above all to
"see cultures as a dynamic space, a place of confrontations - and therefore of tensions - between what is and cannot be other than plural and in flux"(34), the populations concerned being occupants of a common space and moment in time.

 Thoughts for later...

We leave everyone to form their own opinion and to build their own identity throughout their educational journey.

For our part, we invite the reader to cast a critical eye over the procedures we suggest in the activity sheets in the booklets "Les

Jeunes et la ville". We shall be very interested and pleased to read the thoughts, suggestions and criticisms of observers from a more distant standpoint.

 To find out more...

BEGAG, A et CHAOUITE, A., Ecarts d'identité, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1990.

ABDALLAH-PRETCEILLE, M., Quelle ecole pour quelle integration?,CNDP et Hachette Education, Paris, 1992.

ABDALLAH-PRETCEILLE, M., and THOMAS, A., (Eds) Relations et apprentissages interculturels, Armand Colin, Paris, 1995.

The CBAI (Centre Bruxellois d'Action Interculturelle) organises training for organisers of multicultural groups, suggests various activities and has available a documentation centre on inmigration and interculturality. 24 Avenue de Stalingrad, 1000 Bruxelles) +32 2 513 96 02.

1. GUILLAUMIN C., 1994, Quelques considérations sur le terme "culture", in VERMES G ct FOURIER M, Ethnicisation des rapports sociaux, racismes, nationalismes, ethnicismes et culturalismes, volume III, coll. Espaces interculturels, L'Harmattan, Paris, pp. l60-161.

2. Ibidem, p.160.

3. DOUTRELOUX A, 1990, in Immigrations et nouveaux pluralismes - une confrontation de sociétés, Collective under the direction of A. BASTENIER and F. DASSETTO, Editions Universitaires et De Boeck Université, Bruxelles, pp.56-57.

4. CAMILLIERI C., 1993, Le relativisme, du culturel à l'interculturel, dans "L'individu et ses cultures", Collective, L'Harmattan, coll. Espaces interculturels, Paris, p.36.

5. CAMILLlERl C., 1995, in Relations et apprentissages interculturels, coll. under the direction of M. ABDALLAH PRETCEILLE and A. THOMAS, Armand Colin, Paris, pp 134-135.

6. DEMORGON J., 1995, in Relations et apprentissages interculturels, coll. under the direction of M. ABDALLAH PRETCEILLE and A. THOMAS, Armand Colin, Paris, pp.52.

7. GALAP J., 1995, in Relations et apprentissages interculturels, coll. under the direction of M. ABDALLAH PRETCEILLE and A. THOMAS, Armand Colin, Paris, pp.108.

8. COHEN-EMERIQUE M., 1993, "La formation des enseignants: pour une approche interculturelle" dans "La pluralité culturelle dans les systèmes éducatifs européens en 1993" - Proceedings from the Nancy symposium -January 1992.

9. COLLES L., 1994, Littcrature comparée et reconnaissance interculturelle, De Boeck, Duculot, Bruxelles, p.23.

10. COHEN-EMERIQUE M., op cit.

11. CAMILLIERI C., 1993, Le relativisme, du culturel à l'interculturel, dans L'individu et ses cultures,
Collectif, L'Harmattan, coll. Espaces interculturels, Paris, p.36.

12. FLYE SAINTE MARIE A., 1994, Pour une pratique pédagogique interculturelle en milieu scolaire centrée sur les images et les attitudes, dans VERMES G. et FOUKIER M., Ethnicisation des rapports sociaux. Racismes, nationalismes, ethnicismes et culturalismes. volume III, L'Hannattan, coll. Espaces interculturels, Paris, p. 104.

13. COHEN-EMERIQUE M., op cit.

14. Marcel LEURIN was an inspector responsible for cultural education from 1983 to 1994.

15. LEURIN M.. Education interculturelle en Communauté française, dans l'Agenda culturel, n° 132, Education interculturelle: en recherche d'écoles, Bruxelles, mars 1995, p.8.

16. FLYE SAINTE MARIE A., op cit, p.104.

17. ABDALLAH-PRETCEILLE M., Quelle école pour quelle intégration ?, CNDP et Hachette éducation. Paris, 1992, p.37.

18. LEURIN M., op cit, p.10.

19. DE SMET N., Quel interculturel ?, dans "Echec a l'échec", n° 81, Bruxelles, octobre 1991.

20. COLLES L., Littérature comparée et reconnaissance interculturelle, De Boeck, Duculot, Bruxelles, 1994, p.8.

21. COHEN-EMERIQUE M., op cit.

22. CAMILLIERI C., op cit, p.38.

23. REMY, J., dans "Immigration et nouveaux pluralismes - une confrontation de sociétés", coll. (sous la direction de BASTENlER A. et de DASSETTO F.), Editions Universitaires et De Boeck Université, Bruxelles, 1990, pp. 103-104.

24. COHEN-EMERIQUE M., op cit.

25. SCHNAPPER D., L'Europe des immigrés, Edition Françoise Bourin, Paris, 1992, pp.140-141.

26. REA A., dans Bruxelles multiculturelle, édité par Bruxelles Laïque, les Editions Labor et les Editions Espaces de Liberté, Bruxelles, 1996, p.51.
N.B. It is commonly claimed that building his or her dentity is a defining elenent for every adolescent. Without enlarging on the subject, it seems rather that an identity is built up right throughout each person's development. This means then that we give a much broader interpretation to the extracts where we refer to adolescents.

27. A year 7 pupil, having organised an intercultural function in the school. Quel interculturel ? par Noelle DE SMET, dans Echec à l'échec, n° 81, Bruxelles, octobre 1991.

28. HOUARI L., quoted by Anne Smeesters in her Romance philologie dissertation, Quand tu verras la mer, a didactic journey based on a work by Leila Houari, UCL, 1995.

29. COLLES L., op. cit, pp.l2-13.

30. TARACENA E., 1994, La construction psychique de l'enfant sous l'influence de modèles identitaires différents, dans Cultures ouvertes, sociétés culturelles: du contact à l`interaction, textes réunis par LABAT C., et VERMES G., L'Hannattan, coll. Espaces interculturels, Paris, pp. 171-172.

31. DOUTRELOUX A., op cit., 1990, p.49.

32. CAMILLIERI C., op cit., 1995, p. 143.

33. WEINRICH H., op cit., p. 7.

34. DERRICHE O., Integration et exclusion: figures jumelées d'une même réalité, dans Ville et Habitant, p. 10. 

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