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Intercultural Mirrors

Dynamic Reconstruction of Identity

Edited by Marie-Claire Patron and Julia Kraven

Intercultural Mirrors: Dynamic Reconstruction of Identity contains (auto)ethnographic chapters and research-based explorations that uncover the ways our intercultural experiences influence our process of self-discovery and self-construction. The idea of intercultural mirrors is applied throughout all chapters as an instrument of analysis, an heuristic tool, drawn from philosophy, to provide a focus for the analysis of real life experiences. Plato noted that one could see one’s own reflection in the pupil of another’s eye, and suggested that the mirror image provided in the eye of the other person was an essential contributor to self-knowledge. Taking this as a cue, the contributors of this book have structured their writings around the idea that the view of us held by other people provides an essential key to one’s own self-understanding.

Contributors are: James Arvanitakis, Damian Cox, Mark Dinnen, James Ferguson, Tom Frengos, Dennis Harmon, Donna Henson, Alexandra Hoyt, William Kelly, Lucyann Kerry, Julia Kraven, Taryn Mathis, Tony McHugh, Raoul Mortley, Kristin Newton, Marie-Claire Patron, Darren Swanson, and Peter Mbago Wakholi.

Damian Cox

Abstract

This chapter explores a process by which knowledge of one’s own emotions is facilitated through a mirroring relation: a process I call affect mirroring. I give special emphasis to affect mirrors in intercultural encounters. The first part of the chapter is a philosophical examination of the phenomenon of emotional self-knowledge, in which I describe the fundamental complicating factor in attempts to attain emotional lucidity. The second part of the chapter sets out my account of affect mirrors. They are ways in which we gain emotional self-knowledge by seeing the same emotion displayed by others. In an affect mirror, we come to understand our own emotions by seeing them mirrored by others. The final part of the chapter is an explication of this concept and what it comes to in intercultural contexts. I discuss affect mirrors in two works of cinema, contrasting the way they operate in a monocultural context (the film is Call Me by Your Name) and in an intercultural context (the film is La Promesse). I argue that the intercultural affect mirrors offer opportunities of profound moral transformation.

Barceloneta as Heterotopic Mirror

A Place of Different Spaces

Tony McHugh

Abstract

Barceloneta (Little Barcelona) is now my second home. Its marketplace has become my heterotopic mirror,1 a concept theorised by Michel Foucault that simultaneously reflects and contests this new place/space of mine. Through a series of selections and ‘fragmentations’ of my time in Barcelona I interrogate how oppositions and alliances, juxtapositions and separations, fundamentally identify a relational process which functions best because of its different combinations. Perhaps it is the uncertainty of the mirror where, ‘I discover myself absent at the place where I am’ (Foucault, 1998 [1967], p. 179) that lays bare the fragility and strength, the confusion and hope, of living ‘out of place’ in a culture that is not my own.

Becoming a Person through Intercultural Communication

A White American’s Experiences in Asia and Africa

William Kelly

Abstract

Martin Buber’s philosophy of dialogue provides the conceptual framework for understanding the influence of intercultural communication on my identity development. For Buber, the self is relational, and it is only through our encounters with others that we build a self. In line with Buber’s philosophy, I describe my experiences in Asia and Africa over a period of nearly 25 years that led to significant changes in my perception of self. Two major phases of identity development are traced. The first is one of taking advantage of my position as a white American and relating to nonwhite peoples on my terms and treating them as less developed. The second is the phase when I began to understand the historical predicament of non-Western cultures and how Western colonialism and other forms of domination formed the background of my intercultural interactions. At that point, intercultural communication became a vehicle for reaching out to those who are different and to move from an identity that relied on feelings of superiority toward cultural others to an identity based more on mutuality and giving. I ended up attempting to integrate what was valuable from my original cultural background with what I had learned from the cultures of Asia and Africa. This perspective enabled me to see myself as both a unique individual and as a member of larger communities that I could choose to enter, leave, and re-enter.

Kristin Newton

Abstract

I became aware at an early age how difficult it can be to adapt to another culture and lifestyle. We have an image of ourselves, but is that who we really are? What happens when that image disintegrates? Who are we then? How do others perceive us when we no longer fit the image they had of us? I have taught drawing workshops to hundreds of people from many countries for over 25 years. In a way, entering the world of drawing is like traveling in another country. Drawing changes one’s perceptions, and students experience a kind of culture shock.

When I started writing this chapter, I didn’t expect to focus on drawing as much as I did, but along the way, I realised how much I owe to drawing as a powerful tool of perception. Drawing has taught me many things about life, culture and, especially, the way we perceive and process information. Almost everyone hits a wall in the process of their drawing. I also hit many walls even while teaching people to draw. Still after all these years, living in Japan continuously pushes me and teaches me surprising things about myself.

The Decentred Delegate

Adapting Identity within a Model United Nations Learning Environment

Dennis Harmon II and Mark Dinnen

Abstract

This chapter provides an analysis of three subjects that participated within a cross-cultural simulation-based learning (SBL) exercise, the Model United Nations (MUN). The aim is to discuss the implications of the decentred self, to the concept of identity and self as a beneficial transformative process that aids in academic and social growth. In the educational setting, both authentic and simulated, the concept of self can be broken, altered, and reconstructed through educational and life-changing encounters. We propose that learners who participate in MUN simulations and conferences are required to represent the interests of nations that are alien to them, thereby acting as a catalyst that alters their worldviews and perspectives of self, and thus, becoming the decentred delegate. This chapter explores these concepts through a Hegelian lens. Individuals, through society, create their identity and concept of self as they develop and grow. These notions come from both actual and imagined interactions. The co-construction of identity within a given society or group provides an avenue for growth in confidence, independence, and the development of a higher empathy and moral standing in the global community. This ethical development emerges through mutual recognition and understanding of others.

Doni Doni Kononi Danala – Little by Little the Little Bird Builds Its Nest

Intercultural Reflections: Western Travel in Non-Western Culture

Alexandra Hoyt

Abstract

Told from the point of view of Ali Hoyt, an American undergrad college student, living and studying in the Republic of Guinea, West Africa, Doni Doni Kononi Danala – Little by Little the Little Bird Builds its Nest is an ethnographic reflection on intercultural exchanges and friendships across Western and non-Western cultural differences, and the deep and impactful effects of the intercultural mirror: the pupil of the eye of cultural others. Before she embarked on the study abroad trip, Hoyt shaved her head with the reasoning that she would attract less unwanted attention. No makeup or beauty products were purchased on preparatory shopping trips. The version of herself that her homestay families met and got to know was not the version of herself that she typically presented in the West. She was exposed. All of her exterior guards had been removed. Join Hoyt as she reflects on her cross-cultural experience living in Guinea, and the friends she met there who turned into family. The intercultural mirror is at play throughout each twist and turn for this Westerner experiencing non-Western travel for the first time.

Julia Kraven

Abstract

People from other cultures can be distinctly different from us in their appearance, dressing styles, skin colour, language, verbal and non-verbal behaviour, communication strategies, ways of thinking, knowledge of world history, beliefs and values. This explains why the way they see us is not the same as the way our ingroup members see us. The images of ourselves that we get back from the pupil of the eye of cultural others – what we call “intercultural mirrors” – can be unexpected and new, both in a favourable and unfavourable light. They can enhance or contradict our self-perception the way it was formed through our interactions with our ingroup members. This chapter suggests that developing an understanding of how culturally different people view us adds intricate layers to a person’s perceptual organisation and identity. It enhances the complexity of experiences that we knit together into a narrative we call self.

Hansel and Gretel Revisited

Quixotic Reflections of Online Dating

Marie-Claire Patron

Abstract

The unprecedented wave of immigrants relocating to western societies makes this a propitious time for interdisciplinary research to focus on identity negotiation. Studies in multicultural contexts offer fascinating insights into the complexities of human interaction, revealing that – irrespective of age – dynamic remodelling of identity still occurs (Blackledge & Pavlenko, 2001; Giguère, Lalonde, & Lou, 2010; Mahtani, 2002). The transitional processes of acculturation in Australia from the sixties onwards provide compelling evidence that our social interactions are in stark contrast with those within our cultural group. Placed in relief with the host national group, the perceptions of self, derived from these interactions thus give rise to the dynamic negotiation of our identity. The traumatised childhood of young migrants whose identity was transformed through ‘intercultural mirrors’ projecting racism and discrimination can leave residual effects on intimate adult relationships. This chapter explores the impacts of the quixotic images projected from online dating through the lens of a fifty-something, Franco-Australian professional, Coco. Her ethnographic chronicle and introspection place her identity reconstruction through intercultural contact with her suitors under the microscope,1 and documents simultaneously how those mirrors are effecting dynamic changes to sociocultural norms.

Taryn J. Mathis

Abstract

This chapter utilises an autoethnographic approach to reflect on personal life experiences, specifically intercultural experiences, of an American-born Australian author, or as many would be quick to alternatively identify, as an American author living permanently in Australia. Thus, these varying sentiments and their meanings are explored within the chapter through addressing the difference between cultural adjustment and assimilation. The highlighted experiences range from early-life, age five, through to present day, age 36. Each reflection recognises how the author saw herself in that moment and describes the reflection that she saw through an intercultural mirror, a reflection provided by her cultural others. Each experience is evidence of greater development taking place within the author, documenting the transition from ethnocentric tendencies and low cultural intelligence to arriving at a state of cultural relativism due to the passage of time, emotional maturity, life experience, and formal, higher education. Ultimately, the author offers a window into cultural experiences throughout her life and acknowledges that these are not the experiences had by all. The key message is that whilst individuals will have their own, unique intercultural experiences, when reflection is applied to these experiences, cultural awareness, intelligence, and relativism can transpire.