Intercultural dialogue as a framing device for democracy

In 2009 and 2010, I worked with the Platform for Intercultural Europe on a series of meetings, exchanges and conversations around the concept of intercultural dialogue. This work built on my past thinking about these issues and in turn took it into new areas of reflection. One result of that is Bread and Salt, which is now approaching completion: it will be published in June.

Bread and Salt is  concerned with the experiences of artists who have  come to live in Europe from other parts of the world. It is an essay of and about individual stories, not a theoretical or sociological analysis. But it rests on past thinking and writing, including my work with the Platform. I will therefore add some of that past writing to this site as part of the wider context for the new project; (the talk, Three European Myths about Diversity is another of those elements.)

This paper was written for the Platform for Intercultural Europe’s Forum meeting in Brussels in June 2010. It considers the lack of consensus about what is meant by intercultural dialogue, arguing that this lack of consensus is both inevitable and unproblematic, since intercultural dialogue provides a framing device that those involved understand at the time and use to enable safer discussions about controversial issues. In this context, the association with culture—the systems people use to make sense of their experience—is helpful since the tensions evident in European society are not only produced by observable change but by perceptions and interpretations of change. People’s values, beliefs and feelings are central to their experiences and their conduct.

The paper concludes that real intercultural dialogue is much more than the everyday interaction between people or even the cultural exchanges now often promoted: it is a conscious, demanding and focused process that both requires and develops democratic capacities. It concludes by suggesting some principles that might guide future practice exchanges in intercultural dialogue.

Download: Framing Conversations: Intercultural dialogue as a democratic process (PDF)

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