Until the recent two decades or so, intercultural communication research has focused on constructions of ‘cultural difference’ that tend to fix communication behaviour to large-scale, monolithic collectivities, such as nation, class, and race. This essentialist tradition, which applies culture as an a priori explanatory framework, is now giving way to a research paradigm that construes culture as a complex, emergent phenomenon (Holliday, 2011) and highlights individuals’ interactions in multicultural settings.
However, much of current intercultural research, policy and practice following this trend tends to manifest a neo-essentialist position that oscillates between a stated emphasis on ‘cultural diversity’ and an underlying essentialist legacy that different ‘solid’ cultures (Dervin, 2016) exist, can co-exist peacefully, and may be fused into a ‘new culture’ through equally negotiated compromises, e.g. in the form of strategic conflict resolution or collaborative partnerships around common tasks (Kramsch and Uryu, 2014). This liberal relativist perspective (Rutherford, 1990) has been critiqued for its normative stance and oblivion to the power asymmetries and political struggle between dominant and marginalised groups, which were particularly stressed in Homi Bhabha’s (1994) seminal work on the ‘location’ of cultures.
In the current scholarship of intercultural communication, concepts developed for addressing the ‘location’ of cultures are increasingly cited, such as ‘thirdness’, ‘hybridity’, ‘liminality’, ‘in-betweenness’, and ‘interstices’. However, the ways in which these terms are used sometimes reflect very different philosophical stances. Furthermore, these terms are often mentioned to signpost the ontological and epistemological positions underpinning the main inquiry, yet the very phenomena denoted by the concepts themselves, i.e. the complexities of the locales of intercultural communication, are less commonly studied as the research focus (MacDonald and O’Regan, 2014).
This conference thus draws on Bhabha’s (1994) concept of ‘third space’ and foregrounds intercultural communication as a site of struggle, where established orders become unstable and ambivalent. It aims to explore how, in this site, ‘cultural difference’ is articulated, ‘culture’ and ‘cultures’ are performed, and the space for the creation of new meanings opens up (or is suppressed).
Bhabha, H. K. (1994). The location of culture. London: Routledge.
Dervin, F. (2016). Interculturality in Education: A theoretical and methodological toolbox. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Holliday, A. (2011). Intercultural communication and ideology. London: Sage.
Kramsch, C., & Uryu, M. (2014). Intercultural contact, hybridity, and third space. In J. Jackson (Ed.), The Routledge handbook of language and intercultural communication (pp. 211-225). Abingdon: Routledge.
MacDonald, M. N., & O’Regan, J. P. (2014). A global agenda for intercultural communication research and practice. In J. Jackson (Ed.), The Routledge handbook of language and intercultural communication (pp. 553-567). Abingdon: Routledge.
Rutherford, J. (1990). The third space. Interview with Homi Bhabha. In J. Rutherford (Ed.), Identity: Community, culture, difference (pp. 207-221). London: Lawrence and Wishart.