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In the name of culture, but don’t forget the individual! On intercultural dialogue and human rights

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In the name of culture, but don’t forget the individual! On intercultural dialogue and human rights
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  IN THE NAME OF CULTURE, BUT DON'T FORGET THE INDIVIDUAL! ON INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE AND HUMAN RIGHTS 1 In the name of culture, but don’t forget the individual!  On intercultural dialogue and human rights Nina Vodopivec Institute of Contemporary History, Humanitas    –  Society for Human Rights and Supportive  Actions (Slovenia)  IN THE NAME OF CULTURE, BUT DON'T FORGET THE INDIVIDUAL! ON INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE AND HUMAN RIGHTS 2  Abstract  As a social anthropologist and an activist in an NGO for human rights in Slovenia, I will in my paper deal with ideas, notions and understanding of intercultural, human rights, diversity, development and democracy addressed by social anthropology, and simultaneously present the program of intercultural and development education at Humanitas    –  Society for Human Rights and Supportive Actions. Intercultural communication/dialogue is about diversity. It aims to acknowledge differences and recognize similarities, identify and deconstruct stereotypes and question boundaries between 'us' and 'them', i.e. majorities and minorities. Self-reflection upon our own attitudes to the people we perceive as different is an important part of the process. Intercultural dialogue promotes the fight for human rights and against various forms of social exclusion, thus it is very important to reconsider who takes part in it and who is left out. The paper addresses discrimination and xenophobia encountered in our everyday lives, and questions the ways of presentations in the media, school classes and textbooks (especially in relation to issues of nations, identity, migrations, human rights). Intercultural communication points toward various perspectives while deconstructing one dominant, mainstream story. It argues for topics not represented in schools and textbooks, or hidden and marginalized in the media, the public and in people’s lives (migrants, trafficking of women, child labor, global economy, the so called ‘ other  ’  people, etc). However, the idea is not only to include new topics, but also highlight the problems behind dominant views and perspectives. Further to what we should present, the major issue is how we present it. The second topic emphasized in the paper is about diversity: talking only in terms of differences makes other people even more distinct and it can lead to discrimination and exoticism. It is important to pay attention to similarities and emphasize connections between societies. The article will address theories and methodologies in cultural and social anthropology, and it is based on experiences in organizing intercultural communication workshops for pupils as well as for teachers. Two-level workshops are aimed to prevent and reduce discrimination, xenophobic behavior and conflicts in the classroom, while introducing an additional educational dimension. Intercultural communication is used as a tool for resolving potential conflict situations, broadening mental horizons and promoting critical thinking. Key words : Intercultural dialogue, diversity, similarities, global education  IN THE NAME OF CULTURE, BUT DON'T FORGET THE INDIVIDUAL! ON INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE AND HUMAN RIGHTS 3 In the name of culture, but don’t forget the individual!  On intercultural dialogue and human rights Introduction  As an anthropologist and an NGO activist for human rights in Slovenia, I would like to address the issue of the understanding of ‘ intercultural dialogue ’  and ‘ diversity ’  addressed by social and cultural anthropology, and the program of ‘ intercultural dialogue ’  within global education at Humanitas    –  Society for Human Rights and Supportive Actions  As an anthropologist, I argue for differences between people, cultures and societies, diverse experiences, interpretations and perceptions. I try to implement such ideas in practice by holding intercultural communication workshops that I have co-designed at Humanitas  since 2004. Two-level workshops, primarily aimed at youth from grammar and high schools - and also recently for teachers - were designed to prevent and reduce discrimination, xenophobic behavior and conflicts due to differences in the school classroom, and at the same time introduce an additional educational dimension. Intercultural communication is thus used as a tool for preventing (not treating!) potential conflict situations, broadening mental horizons and promoting critical thinking. The idea of the workshops is not only to introduce new topics and learn about various ways of life, but also rethink or scrutinize our views and attitudes towards differences. At Humanitas , we present intercultural communication within global education, thus intercultural dialogue is addressed globally and not limited to EU borders. I will explain here how we define and understand ‘ intercultural ’  within global education, and in particular point out what I consider important and why. Defining “ intercultural ”   ‘ Intercultural ’  is to acknowledge differences and recognize similarities between people, to identify and deconstruct stereotypes and question boundaries between 'us' and 'them', i.e. majorities and minorities. A very important part of the process is self-reflection, reflection on our own views and attitudes towards individuals whom we perceive as different. Due to the fact that intercultural dialogue promotes the fight for human rights as well as against various forms of social exclusion, it is very important to reconsider who takes part in it and who is left out. First, we have mentioned diversity and how important it is to acknowledge and enable individuals their rights to express (their) differences. As we grow up in different socio-political  IN THE NAME OF CULTURE, BUT DON'T FORGET THE INDIVIDUAL! ON INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE AND HUMAN RIGHTS 4 environments, different symbolic systems and worlds of valuations, our understandings cannot be universal. Not every thing works the way we believe here and now. There are several topics to consider when speaking about cultural differences in the field of dance, music, culinary, jokes, riddles, literature, norms, values, ways of communication (verbal and non verbal) etc. Yet, there are also other differences, not so obvious, not so apparent, at least not at first sight. Whether being aware of it or not, in everyday life we may quickly end up imposing our own interpretations, values and attitudes on others. This in particular happens with things we perceive as “ natural ”. While growing up we internalize social ideas about what is ‘ natural ’, ‘ normal ’  and ‘ correct ’ . What seems self-evident and natural to me is not natural to a Breton from France or a person from a mountain village in Guatemala, or even to someone born in 1920 living in another part of Slovenia. Namely, we have to consider generational and regional differences too. Intercultural dialogue is not only about establishing communication between individuals from different countries, nations or religions, but it is also about different generations, gender or social positions, etc. Rethinking ‘ the obvious ’ , ‘ normal ’ , ‘ correct ’  manners and attitudes is of particular significance when we try to understand differences and make sense of who we are. I consider self-reflection one of the most important aspects of intercultural dialogue as well as a key factor that prevents confusing ‘ intercultural ’  and ‘ multicultural ’  which is often the case. The difference between both terms is not only an issue of cosmetic makeover. There is a very relevant difference between the two : whilst ‘multicultural’ emphasizes the coexistence of different cultures but does not include connections between them (meaning people living together but not interacting) , ‘intercultural dialogue’  pays particular attention to these relations. The very words ‘ inter and ‘ dialogue ’  denote mutual relations. Multinational cooperation is definitely not an example of intercultural dialogue despite there being people from different countries working together: for example from Germany, China, the Philippines or Slovenia. The main interest of multinational cooperation is profit. Numerous NGOs, activists and researchers revealed inhuman working conditions and relations in some of these co-operations, highlighting exploitation of workers, as well as natural resources and the local population. The idea of intercultural dialogue should focus our attention right on these very problems, open up another perspective, reveal power relations, exploitation, individuals’  positions, and people’s  stories hidden behind fancy logos and brands. By referring to ideas of intercultural dialogue we should, in our workshops or classes, reveal these multiple voices, this polyphony, which usually remains hidden behind the one, most powerful and dominant voice. The mere presence of individuals from different countries does not create intercultural dialogue. Such dialogue still has to be established.  IN THE NAME OF CULTURE, BUT DON'T FORGET THE INDIVIDUAL! ON INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE AND HUMAN RIGHTS 5 By addressing ‘ inter  ’  or ‘ multicultural ’ , we refer to different understandings of culture. In the case of a multinational company  –  including Chinese, Slovene, Ukrainian, etc.  –  we think of cultures as enclosed homogenous entities. But focusing on interrelations, intercultural presents a different understanding of culture and enables us to see how our cultures are shaped in interaction; not in isolation but in contacts with each other. Namely, in contacts and relations with others we not only learn about ‘ who the others are ’  but also ‘ who we are ’ . The knowledge of who we are is not inscribed in our genes, but constructed through contacts with each other. Once a teacher asked me whether I find it important for a child first to learn about their own culture (local and national) and then about others. Even though I agree with a learning principle based on what is familiar and already well known to a child, I stand for the idea that learning about ‘us’  is not (or it should not be) excluded but intertwined with learning about ‘ others ’ . Culture Culture is often treated as something obvious. Yet, it is not so simple. Generations of anthropologists tried to explain and define culture as a way of life, modes of thinking, etc., and the concept constantly changed. The popular belief is that a group is defined by a distinctive culture and that cultures are discrete, clearly defined and internally homogenous entities featuring fixed meanings and values. This view  –  which for some time has also been echoed in anthropology  –  is called essentialist. Here I don’t try  to state my own definition, however, I point out the importance of not treating culture as homogenous, static and fixed. We are all too much involved in thinking of cultures (geographically) in term of borders on maps. Within such contexts, s logans such as ‘ bridging cultures ’  are issued to promote intercultural dialogue. These slogans have a clear mission: a bridge is supposed to connect two worlds as if they were separated: “ you are French and I am Slovene ” , as the world was a mosaic of separate and distinct billiard balls  (Wolf, 1982, p. 6), cultural units, which are in our minds most often represented by nation states. In addition, the notion of ‘ bridging cultures ’  makes us think that dialogue is supposed to emerge between cultures. We should reconsider whether cultures really communicate with each other just by themselves. Dialogue or communication does not emerge between cultures but between people. Culture is not a thing with an objective material existence , warned anthropologist Unni Wikan. It's an idea that can be filled with various kinds of content (Wikan, 1999, p. 57). It does not exist per se.  Anthropologists have revealed that apparent coherence of a culture is something made up rather than found   (Gupta & Ferguson, 1997, p. 2). Such critiques have implied that
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