Interculturality as an Object of Research and Education: Observing, Reflecting and Critiquing 9789819915019, 9789819915026

This book proposes a new method for working on the complex and polysemic notion of interculturality, aimed at scholars,

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Interculturality as an Object of Research and Education: Observing, Reflecting and Critiquing
 9789819915019, 9789819915026

Table of contents :
List of Figures
1.1 Prelude: We are All the Observerd
1.2 On the Need to Observe INTERCULTURALITY
1.3 About the Book
[Suggested Reading]
2 INTERCULTURALITY as a Deafening and Blinding Ideological Notion
2.1 The ‘Hidden King’
2.2 Chinese Students’ Ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY
2.3 What INTERCULTURALITY Then? Or How to Deal with the Diversity of INTERCULTURALITY?
[Suggested Reading]
3 Interculturality-As-Altering
3.1 Alter, Change, Transform
[Suggested Reading]
4 The Power of Mirroring: Towards a Catoptric of INTERCULTURALITY
4.1 Basic Principle: Turning Inward
4.2 Etymologies and Beliefs
[Suggested Reading]
5 Observality for ‘Silent’ Reflexivity and Criticality
5.1 On Liberating Ourselves
5.2 Working Principles for Observality
5.3 Imagined Q & A
[Suggested Reading]
6 Observing Our Observality
6.1 Time to be Observerds
6.2 Observing ‘Doing’ Identity While Reflecting on How One Constructs Self
6.2.1 Fluid Dates
6.2.2 Self-talk
6.3 Reflecting on Self Through Observing Encounters
6.3.1 Co-constructing Others
6.3.2 Inconsequential Encounters
6.3.3 ‘Tiger Mums’
6.4 Observing as a Way of Reflecting on One’s Discomfort
6.4.1 McDonaldization
6.4.2 The Use of English
6.4.3 Bling-bling
6.4.4 Reminders
6.4.5 Omnipresent (Toy) Guns
6.4.6 Graduation Day
6.4.7 Time
6.5 Observing Perceived ‘Contradictions’ as a Way of Confronting Self to Self
6.6 Observing Things to Shake the Senses
6.6.1 Bread
6.6.2 Coca Cola
6.6.3 Cultural Shirts
6.6.4 Hometown
6.6.5 Luxurious but also Fake
[Suggested Reading]
7 Accepting to Be Naïve like a Fool
7.1 Beyond ‘Noisy’ Ideologies
7.2 Mirroring Change
7.3 The Power of Writing for and With Self—Through the Other!
[Suggested Reading]

Citation preview

SpringerBriefs in Education Fred Dervin · Ning Chen

Interculturality as an Object of Research and Education Observing, Reflecting and Critiquing

SpringerBriefs in Education

We are delighted to announce SpringerBriefs in Education, an innovative product type that combines elements of both journals and books. Briefs present concise summaries of cutting-edge research and practical applications in education. Featuring compact volumes of 50 to 125 pages, the SpringerBriefs in Education allow authors to present their ideas and readers to absorb them with a minimal time investment. Briefs are published as part of Springer’s eBook Collection. In addition, Briefs are available for individual print and electronic purchase. SpringerBriefs in Education cover a broad range of educational fields such as: Science Education, Higher Education, Educational Psychology, Assessment & Evaluation, Language Education, Mathematics Education, Educational Technology, Medical Education and Educational Policy. SpringerBriefs typically offer an outlet for: • An introduction to a (sub)field in education summarizing and giving an overview of theories, issues, core concepts and/or key literature in a particular field • A timely report of state-of-the art analytical techniques and instruments in the field of educational research • A presentation of core educational concepts • An overview of a testing and evaluation method • A snapshot of a hot or emerging topic or policy change • An in-depth case study • A literature review • A report/review study of a survey • An elaborated thesis Both solicited and unsolicited manuscripts are considered for publication in the SpringerBriefs in Education series. Potential authors are warmly invited to complete and submit the Briefs Author Proposal form. All projects will be submitted to editorial review by editorial advisors. SpringerBriefs are characterized by expedited production schedules with the aim for publication 8 to 12 weeks after acceptance and fast, global electronic dissemination through our online platform SpringerLink. The standard concise author contracts guarantee that: • an individual ISBN is assigned to each manuscript • each manuscript is copyrighted in the name of the author • the author retains the right to post the pre-publication version on his/her website or that of his/her institution

Fred Dervin · Ning Chen

Interculturality as an Object of Research and Education Observing, Reflecting and Critiquing

Fred Dervin Faculty of Educational Sciences University of Helsinki Helsinki, Finland

Ning Chen Faculty of Educational Sciences University of Helsinki Helsinki, Finland Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts Tianjin, China

ISSN 2211-1921 ISSN 2211-193X (electronic) SpringerBriefs in Education ISBN 978-981-99-1501-9 ISBN 978-981-99-1502-6 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2023 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors, and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. This Springer imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. The registered company address is: 152 Beach Road, #21-01/04 Gateway East, Singapore 189721, Singapore


1 On the Bridge of INTERCULTURALITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.1 Prelude: We are All the Observerd . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.2 On the Need to Observe INTERCULTURALITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.3 About the Book . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . [Suggested Reading] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

1 1 3 5 8 9

INTERCULTURALITY as a Deafening and Blinding Ideological Notion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.1 The ‘Hidden King’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.2 Chinese Students’ Ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY . . . . . . . . . . 2.3 What INTERCULTURALITY Then? Or How to Deal with the Diversity of INTERCULTURALITY? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . [Suggested Reading] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

21 24 25

3 Interculturality-As-Altering . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.1 Alter, Change, Transform . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . [Suggested Reading] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

27 27 33 34

4 The Power of Mirroring: Towards a Catoptric of INTERCULTURALITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.1 Basic Principle: Turning Inward . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.2 Etymologies and Beliefs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . [Suggested Reading] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

35 35 36 43 44

5 Observality for ‘Silent’ Reflexivity and Criticality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.1 On Liberating Ourselves . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.2 Working Principles for Observality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.3 Imagined Q & A . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

47 47 49 53

11 11 13




[Suggested Reading] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 6 Observing Our Observality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.1 Time to be Observerds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.2 Observing ‘Doing’ Identity While Reflecting on How One Constructs Self . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.2.1 Fluid Dates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.2.2 Self-talk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.3 Reflecting on Self Through Observing Encounters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.3.1 Co-constructing Others . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.3.2 Inconsequential Encounters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.3.3 ‘Tiger Mums’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.4 Observing as a Way of Reflecting on One’s Discomfort . . . . . . . . . . . 6.4.1 McDonaldization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.4.2 The Use of English . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.4.3 Bling-bling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.4.4 Reminders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.4.5 Omnipresent (Toy) Guns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.4.6 Graduation Day . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.4.7 Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.5 Observing Perceived ‘Contradictions’ as a Way of Confronting Self to Self . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.6 Observing Things to Shake the Senses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.6.1 Bread . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.6.2 Coca Cola . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.6.3 Cultural Shirts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.6.4 Hometown . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.6.5 Luxurious but also Fake . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . [Suggested Reading] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

59 59

75 75 76 77 77 79 80 82 83

7 Accepting to Be Naïve like a Fool . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.1 Beyond ‘Noisy’ Ideologies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.2 Mirroring Change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.3 The Power of Writing for and With Self—Through the Other! . . . . . . [Suggested Reading] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

85 85 87 88 90 91

60 60 61 63 63 64 65 67 67 68 69 70 71 72 73

List of Figures

Fig. 1.1 Fig. 3.1 Fig. 3.2 Fig. 4.1 Fig. 6.1 Fig. 6.2 Fig. 6.3 Fig. 6.4 Fig. 6.5 Fig. 6.6 Fig. 6.7 Fig. 6.8

The multifaceted position of the observerd . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The tautology of interculturality-as-altering . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Principles for Interculturality-as-altering . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Images of a Chinese mirror . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ‘Aphorism’ in English and Chinese found in a store in China . . . . . Calendar with the words Happy Everyday in English . . . . . . . . . . . Toy guns on display in a store . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Heads of Buddhist figures with a bronze bust of Chairman Mao . . . European bread in a Chinese store . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Coca-Cola poster for Chinese New Year celebrations . . . . . . . . . . . ‘Keep it simple, stupid’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Birthday cake showing the logo of a famous luxury house . . . . . . .

2 28 31 38 62 69 72 76 77 78 79 81


Chapter 1


Abstract This chapter introduces the topic and content of the book. The authors start by presenting and problematising the figure of the observerd—representing the different facets of the observer-observed. They then justify the need for a book dedicated to observing INTERCULTURALITY, a complex scientific and educational phenomenon that has not been discussed in depth in the different fields related to the notion. Based on a literature review of the few references available on the topic, the authors identify gaps in knowledge that urge them to adopt a very special method consisting of observality (observation as a multifaceted process), interculturality-asaltering and mirroring (looking at self in the other, self in self, etc.). The end of the chapter presents the following chapters and discusses the ways the book could be used. Keywords Observation · Complexity · Method · Ethnography · Reflexivity

1.1 Prelude: We are All the Observerd Some years ago, Fred was sitting on a bench in a park in China, reading Elias Canetti’s (1967) ‘record of a visit’ to Morocco. In the book, the author observes people, voices, things, atmospheres, feelings around him in different parts of Marrakesh. On several occasions, Canetti describes how, while he was looking at these elements, he noticed himself being observed by others. As Fred was reading about Canetti realizing that he was being looked at by a crowd of people while scrutinizing a marabout, Fred looked up from his book and noticed that a man was standing a few meters away from him with a camera pointed at him, about to take a picture. Surprised and somewhat troubled by the correspondence of his experience and what he was reading, Fred asked the Chinese man not to oblige and remained shaken for a few minutes by this strange experience. The man walked away with his camera and Fred followed him with his eyes, observing in turn what he was going to do and how he stopped in front of a young child with his mum and started to photograph them. After a while, Fred went back to his book, following Canetti’s steps through Marrakesh.

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2023 F. Dervin and N. Chen, Interculturality as an Object of Research and Education, SpringerBriefs in Education,




The observer observed being observed observing Who is the observed? Who is the observer? Where does observing and being observed begin and end? Maybe there is a need for a word that expresses the fact that both figures are part of a continuum. We are all the observed; we are all the observer—at the same time. We are all part of a chain of eyes, ears, smells, movements, discourses, emotions… that compose what it means to be a social being. A new word: The observerd. Interculturality, understood a minima here as endless processes of encounters during which one (re-)negotiates identities, ‘cultures’, viewpoints, ideologies, discourses, is always the territory of the observerd. We can never escape this shifting position between observing and being observed. Figure 1.1 is an attempt at representing some of the complexities experienced by the observerd.

Fig. 1.1 The multifaceted position of the observerd

1.2 On the Need to Observe INTERCULTURALITY


1.2 On the Need to Observe INTERCULTURALITY You see, but you do not observe. (Conan Doyle, 1900: 171)

The title of this introduction, On the Bridge of INTERCULTURALITY is inspired by a Chinese saying, 你站在桥上看风景, 看风景人在楼上看你 [word-for-word translation: You stand on the bridge and look at the scenery, and people watching the scenery look at you upstairs], which refers to the multifacetedness of observation. We propose a new method for working on the complex and polysemic notion of interculturality, aimed at scholars, students and educators who have an interest in enriching and challenging their own take on this somewhat controversial scientific notion. We start by claiming that observation is constant in encounters with the other and yet it has not been systematically problematized in intercultural scholarship. Using the idea of observality (the complex continuum of the observer and the observed, as indicated in the Chinese idiom), we suggest confronting (others’ and our) ideologies, positions, feelings, biases of interculturality, not to indoctrinate or judge e.g. students for what they do but to try to understand why they ‘do’ interculturality in certain ways, how they explain ‘doing’ it, and clarify the potential resulting clashes of ideologies between them and others. At the same time, the book problematises the need and responsibility to look at ourselves in ‘the’ mirror of what others say and ‘do’ (or to look at them from the stage) to reflect on and be critical of our own take and criticality of interculturality. In the book, interculturality-as-altering is proposed as a working principle to sharpen interculturalists’ eyes, ears and other senses. Since change is omnipresent in encounters—their influence can be short- and long-term change-wise—it becomes an important indicator of the inconsistencies, contradictions, and fluidity of interculturality as an object of research and education. All in all, observality is not about generalizing about the other and/or self, although this process is unavoidable. Henri Bergson (1859–1941), whose philosophy rests on the idea that change is the cornerstone of reality, reminds us that the world is far too complex for us to ‘grab’ and ‘grasp’ it, and thus imagination always intervenes to ‘protect’ us: “We go back from cause to cause; and if we stop somewhere along the way, it is not because our intelligence seeks nothing beyond that, it is because our imagination finally shuts its eyes, as though over the abyss, to avoid dizziness” (Bergson, 2012: 47). In the book, we argue that observality can help us to look at oneself as ‘producers’, ‘consumers’ and ‘promoters’ of selected (imagined) knowledge of interculturality, not to ‘destroy’ stereotypes, representations, essentialism or culturalism [these limited forms of takes on the world] since this would be impossible but to further our awareness of these issues and to expand our own imagination of interculturality. Multiple examples of observality in the Chinese context are provided to illustrate the method at the end of the book. We chose Mainland China as our main focus since this is a context that is often misunderstood, stereotyped and politicised in research and education. It is also a context that we have been involved with in research and education for a very long time (Ning was born, studied and worked



in Mainland China; Fred has visited China regularly since the mid-1990s and done extensive research on e.g. Chinese education). The book represents an original contribution to the field by introducing the importance of observation in building up varied epistemic engagements with the notion of interculturality. It follows up from and builds upon our own previous publications on intercultural encounters in education as well as Fred’s work on interculturality from the past 20 years (e.g. Chen & Dervin, 2023; Dervin, 2016, 2022; Dervin & Jacobsson, 2022; Dervin & R’boul, 2022). We focus on observation in interculturality and problematize it under the neologism of observality for ‘silent’ reflexivity and criticality within interculturality. Observality refers to the aforementioned complex chain of observations that goes hand in hand with interculturality (see Fig. 1.1). In the book, we use the notion of INTERCULTURALITY in capitals to refer to interculturality as an object of research and education (a notion that we study and research). When interculturality is used with a normal font, we use it to hint at the daily, interactional phenomenon of meeting someone interculturally. The difference between these two ‘forms’ of interculturality is essential in making sense of the notion: While we feel that interculturality is too big of a challenge to grasp and research, through observing and analyzing e.g. the ideologies, discourses and specific positions of INTERCULTURALITY, one can deconstruct this form as scholars and educators. We realise that orally INTERCULTURALITY and interculturality cannot be distinguished so it is important to specify them when we talk about the notion. Our discussion of observality for INTERCULTURALITY is aimed at scholars and students in higher education who wish to complement and enrich their take from a more personal perspective, urging them to let their “eyes laugh” (as the Chinese idiom has it: 眉开眼笑 méi k¯ai yˇan xiào, brows raised in delight, meaning: beaming with joy), to take pleasure in the polysemy and complexities of INTERCULTURALITY. Surprisingly today’s literature is somehow ‘quiet’ about the importance of observation in relation to INTERCULTURALITY. There have been exceptions in the past, especially in relation to the use of ethnography for (language and) interculturality in education (e.g. Byram & Fleming, 1998; Roberts et al., 2000; Dervin & Fracchiolla, 2012; see Hua, 2015). However, observing was problematised in somewhat crude ways and it seemed to serve the purpose of confirming certain (dominating) ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY, e.g. around the problematic concept of ‘culture’, rather than leading learners to reflect deeply on the real complexities of the notion. The work of Adrian Holliday (e.g. 2021), where narrative and observation take center stage, could be an exception here, although his take on interculturality is clearly positioned within Western non-essentialism (beyond ‘crystallising’ cultural identities), pushing for discourses of INTERCULTURALITY to ‘perform perfection’ beyond e.g. stereotypes or representations1 —thus orienting observing towards 1

We note that the word representation in English and some other languages indicates well that our discourses about self and other re-present them, i.e. they present and construct them again. A representation is always re-embedded within another context, situation and discursive environment, ‘coloured’ by our own thoughts, tastes, biases, and the ideological orders and screens that have been imposed onto us. A re-presentation can never be e.g. an objective depiction of other and self but a new performance of how we see (or have been made to see) them.

1.3 About the Book


specific ideologemes (pieces of ideology), training the eyes of the observer to ‘see’ in pre-fabricated ways of illusionary perfection. In a rare paper on the topic of observation published back in 1979, Observing intercultural communication: A proposal of theory and method, Fitchen (1979) proposes to focus on awareness and behavioural changes brought about by communication— a topic which is also central in the approach proposed in our book. However, our perspective differs immensely. Fitchen’s main interest was in using observation to support and improve communication interculturally, turning people into some sort of an observing mediator, facilitator and, as Fitchen puts it, a ‘manager’ (referring to the literature on organizational management) who can deal with ‘relational problems’ (Fitchen, 1979: 171). Although the author makes some important points about e.g. the danger of ‘interference’ (Fitchen, 1979: 165), whereby one might believe that one’s observation and consequent actions are systematically credible if they are ‘stamped’ as ‘scientific’, his way of conceptualizing observation is problematic on many counts: – It is mostly problem-based (as if INTERCULTURALITY was just about ‘problems of communication’); – It appears to be ‘obsessed’ with objectivity (Fitchen represses subjectivity, talking about ‘subjective intrusion’, see Fitchen, 1979: 165); – It still gives a lot of importance to what appears to be ‘solid skills’ such as knowledge of languages, non-verbal patterns, and beliefs. All in all, Fitchen’s (1979) paper represents a limited take on observation for INTERCULTURALITY, ignoring but one aspect of the notion of observality discussed here: the complex position of the observerd.

1.3 About the Book That which has always been accepted by everyone, everywhere, is almost certain to be false (Valéry, 1943: 45).

The book is based on the argument that we all face, experience and practice the different facets of observality on a daily basis—we repeat: all of us! We observe the other, ourselves, and other (non-)living things; we observe being an observerd. We argue that the ways we have been made to consider, think about, and believe in INTERCULTURALITY, do influence our take on observing INTERCULTURALITY, and sometimes prevent us from seeing beyond this ‘veil’. In the book we thus discuss the power of practising observality for ‘silent’ reflexivity and criticality for INTERCULTURALITY. We argue that observation allows us to slow down and to take a break from the ‘known’, the ‘taken-for-granted’; to test things for ourselves; to think, unthink, rethink, do, undo and redo; to look at ourselves, those around us, our worlds and the ideologies that we have been fed with, from a distance, while always being at proximity—all these in a never-ending process. In a



world of over-communication where we are forced/force ourselves to produce words and pictures, consume them, moments of pause are important to reflect and be critical of both the results of our reflections and of our criticality. It is important to note here that we are not proposing a practical guide for observing INTERCULTURALITY. Neither do we intend to ‘lecture’ our readers about what INTERCULTURALITY is (not). We simply suggest taking time regularly for ourselves, based on observality to do what Canetti (1989: 61) suggests: “Think a lot. Read a lot. Write a lot. Speak your mind about everything, but silently”. Silently here refers to ‘silencing’ the noise about INTERCULTURALITY around us, to reconsider what we hear, see and experience about it, the multiple and yet singular ideologies, the sense of stability and logic that we have created around it—soaking in new sounds, colours, flavours… and as we shall see, mostly importantly, considering the notion through the multifacetedness of change. The book is composed of seven chapters including this introduction and a chapter that serves as a conclusion. Chapters 2 and 3 are dedicated to the notion of INTERCULTURALITY; Chapters 4 and 5 to observing, criticality and reflexivity. Chapter 6 illustrates the points made in the previous chapters by presenting short narratives based on observations that we made in China. Chapter 7 summarizes the book and opens up new vistas about INTERCULTURALITY as takeaways for the reader. Chapter 2 is entitled ‘INTERCULTURALITY as a deafening and blinding ideological notion’. As a conceptual chapter, it clarifies for and with the reader what we make of this stimulating and yet complex notion. To start with, we maintain that dealing with INTERCULTURALITY always leads to the ideologization of the notion. And in order to illustrate INTERCULTURALITY as a deafening and blinding ideological notion we then examine statements about culture and interculturality made by groups of Chinese students on an intercultural course that we taught online. The students navigate between different ideological positions on nterculturality, suggesting that there is a real need to be curious of the multifaceteness of the notion. Chapter 3 adds to the previous one by focusing on one specific characteristic of INTERCULTURALITY: change. We use the term interculturality-as-altering to refer to this important aspect and explore with the readers different inspiring takes on change found in the Chinese language: gradual and subtle change, manifest and obvious change and silent change. Principles for interculturality-as-altering are put forward at the core of (personal) observality for INTERCULTURALITY. ‘The power of Mirroring: Towards a catoptric of INTERCULTURALITY’ (Chap. 4) leads us to problematising observality. The focus of this chapter is on the metaphor of the mirror. In the chapter we observe how the mirror has been used and viewed in English and Chinese, opening up many stimulating ideas to e.g. reflexivity and identity. At the end of the chapter ‘mirroring exercises’ are proposed for the reader to train to observe the hyphen between self and other, as well as self-self. Chapter 5 tackles the very issue of observation under the more fluid concept of observality (observation as a multifaceted process). The highly problematic dichotomy of objectivity and subjectivity is first discussed and working principles for observality derived from Chinese thought (amongst others) are then proposed. The chapter ends with an imagined Question and Answer session, whereby we make (practical) suggestions

1.3 About the Book


and recommendations about observality to support the reader in their future ‘solitary’ use of the method. Chapter 6 puts into practice all the elements presented hitherto in the book. We share our own notes and narratives to allow the reader to make use of the concepts and methodological reflections from previous chapters. Our observality derives from our long-term engagement with China, a context which is often ‘othered’ in many parts of the world. Through our narratives, we propose the following acts of observality: Observing ‘doing’ identity while reflecting on how one constructs self; reflecting on self through observing encounters; observing as a way of reflecting on one’s discomfort; observing perceived ‘contradictions’ as a way of confronting self to self; observing things to shake the senses. Many readers, be they students or academics, have found themselves in similar situations of intercultural encounters and will benefit from reflecting further on their own observality, inspired by our examples. Chapter 7 has an intriguing title, ‘Accepting to be naïve like a fool’, which is borrowed from a poem that one of us wrote about their feelings towards observality. Naïve like a fool reminds us that as observereds, we need to accept that both our observations and writings about them are not meant to be necessarily ‘witty’, ‘intellectually stimulating’ or ‘objectivising’. Observality leads us to explore self, other and the world and especially how we (un-/re-)position ourselves ideologically in relation to INTERCULTURALITY. This last chapter serves as the conclusion to the book and summarizes the main takeaways. The key elements of observality, interculturalityas-altering and mirroring are problematised together for one last time, urging the reader to continue exploring them. Chapter 7 ends with reflections on the power to write for and with self while engaging in-/directly with the other in the process of observing. Each chapter contains a section entitled [Discoursing Together] where we provide questions for the reader to reflect on the content of the chapters. A list of four essential documents related to each chapter to consult concludes each chapter [Suggested Reading]. The road to interculturality is endless and no method will ever help us be invisible in front of this intricate notion. This book aims to stimulate new ‘silent’ multifaceted reflections on interculturality, supporting us in interculturalizing interculturality, i.e. tackling it in even more complex ways and approaching the other through more conceptual, ideological, methodological, and analytical lenses. [Discoursing Together] – What do you make of the neologism of the observerd? How useful is it to rethink the power of observation for INTERCULTURALITY? – Are there extra positions of the observerd that you would want to add to Fig. 1.1? – How many sayings or idioms do you know in your language(s) that refer to the multifacetedness of observation? – Is the proposed difference between interculturality and INTERCULTURALITY clear to you? How do you yourself understand the notion? We have proposed the following basic (and imperfect) definition in the chapter: endless processes


– –

– –


of encounters during which one (re-)negotiates identities, ‘cultures’, viewpoints, ideologies, discourses. Try to explain it for yourself. How come observation is rarely discussed and problematized in research on INTERCULTURALITY? How do you explain this gap? About one of the rare papers on observation for INTERCULTURALITY dating back to 1979 (Fitchen), we argue that the author represses subjectivity, talking about the problem of ‘subjective intrusion’. What are your views on what we consider as the problematic dichotomy of objectivity/subjectivity? How does it relate to observation? Are you ready to focus on INTERCULTURALITY ‘silently’ (by yourself) with this book? How comfortable are you with this idea? What benefits and drawbacks? What are your expectations in choosing to read this book? What would you want to learn/explore in relation to INTERCULTURALITY?

[Suggested Reading] Canetti, E. (1967). The Voices of Marrakesh: A Record of a Visit. Penguin. Canetti is a Nobel Prize-winning author famous for his autobiographies. In this fascinating book, Canetti shares his observations of Marrakesh (Morocco, North Africa), looking at and listening to the people and the sounds of the city (amongst others). Each chapter of the book represents small narratives of observality that are very inspiring as a complement to our book. Fitchen, R. (1979). Observing intercultural communication: A proposal of theory and method. International Journal of Intercultural Relations 3, 163–173. To our knowledge, this paper is one of the first ones to be published specifically on observation and intercultural communication. It is also one of the rare ones to tackle the issue unambiguously. Although it might appear to be a bit outdated, the paper reflects well some ideologies that are still very much in vogue today (e.g., the need for objectivity). The paper also focuses on change and we do encourage readers to explore how Richard Fitchen views change in relation to INTERCULTURALITY. Stanley, F. (2016). A Critical Auto/Ethnography of Learning Spanish: Intercultural competence on the gringo trail? Routledge. This reference focuses on intercultural competence development through the author’s auto/ethnography of learning another language. Critical of models of intercultural competence that could be applied to any individual located anywhere in the world, Stanley uses elements of autoethnographic reflection to problematize the scaffolding of intercultural reflections and the complex intersection of identities. The book is based on a somewhat different ideological take on observation



and issues of INTERCULTURALITY and yet it is in dialogue with standing on the bridge of INTERCULTURALITY. Holliday, A. (2021). Contesting Grand Narratives of the Intercultural. Routledge. This autoethnography was written by interculturalist Adrian Holliday, whose critical perspectives on INTERCULTURALITY have been very influential worldwide. In this book, the author recalls his experience of living in Iran in the 1970s as an illustration of his (own struggles for) non-essentialism. Although Contesting Grand Narratives of the Intercultural is not entirely in line with the method proposed here, it does share many overlapping features, which makes it an interesting companion to consult.

References Bergson, H. (2012). The creative mind: An introduction to metaphysics. Dover Publications, Inc. Byram, M. & Fleming, M. (1998). Language learning in intercultural perspective: Approaches through drama and ethnography. Cambridge University Press. Canetti, E. (1967). The voices of Marrakesh. Penguin. Canetti, E. (1989). The secret heart of the clock. Farrar. Chen, N. & Dervin, F. (2023). The more we know, the more we feel what we know is limited— Finnish student teachers engaging with Chinese students’ ideas about culture, language and interculturality. In: V. Tavares, & T.-A. Skrefsrud, (Eds.). Challenges and opportunities facing diversity in Nordic education. Lexington Books. Conan Doyle, A. (1900). The sign of the four. A. L. Burt Company. Dervin, F. (2016). Interculturality in education: A theoretical and methodological toolbox. Palgrave. Dervin, F. (2022). Interculturality in fragments. A reflexive approach. Springer. Dervin, F., & Fracchiolla, B. (2012). Anthropology, interculturality and language learning-teaching: Are they compatible? Peter Lang. Dervin, F., & Jacobsson, A. (2022). Intercultural communication education: Broken realities and rebellious dreams. Springer. Dervin, F., & Rboul, H. (2022). Through the looking-glass of interculturality: Autocritiques. Springer. Fitchen, R. (1979). Observing intercultural communication: A proposal of theory and method. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 3, 163–173. Holliday, A. (2021). Contesting grand narratives of the intercultural. Routledge. Hua, Z. (2015). Research Methods in intercultural communication: A practical guide. Wiley. Roberts, C., Byram, M., Barro, A., Jordan, S., & Street, B. (2000). Language learners as ethnographers. Multilingual Matters. Stanley, F. (2016). A critical auto/ethnography of learning Spanish: Intercultural competence on the gringo trail? Routledge. Valéry, P. (1943). Tel quel. Gallimard.

Chapter 2

INTERCULTURALITY as a Deafening and Blinding Ideological Notion

Abstract This first conceptual chapter focuses exclusively on INTERCULTURALITY to clarify for and with the reader what the authors make of this complex notion. They start by recalling that dealing with INTERCULTURALITY in any ‘corner’ of the world always embeds its discussions in economic-political spheres, which the authors argue leads systematically to the ideologization of the notion. Becoming aware of this phenomenon should be part and parcel of engaging with INTERCULTURALITY. In order to illustrate INTERCULTURALITY as a deafening and blinding ideological notion statements about culture and interculturality made by groups of Chinese students on an intercultural course are analysed. The authors show that the students demonstrate navigating between different ideological positions on the notion, thus urging us to be curious of the multifacetedness of INTERCULTURALITY. At the end of the chapter, the authors introduce the method of observality as one interesting option to expand our takes on the notion. Keywords Ideology · Critical · Chinese students · Culture · INTERCULTURALITY

2.1 The ‘Hidden King’ Georg Simmel (1983) uses the metaphor of the ‘hidden king’ to refer to prominent ideas of a given age. INTERCULTURALITY—which some scholars, educators and/or decision-makers, amongst others, might refer to as multiculturality, transculturality, globality…—is one of the ‘hidden kings’ of our times, which has led to developing certain narratives about who we are and about our world. We should remember, however, that interculturality as a phenomenon is not new and that it has been with us since the beginning of times. [“To think is to run after insecurity, to be demoralized for grandiose trifles, to immure oneself in abstractions with a martyr’s avidity, to hunt up complications the way others pursue collapse or gain. The thinker is by definition keen for torment” (Cioran, 1983: 103)].

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2023 F. Dervin and N. Chen, Interculturality as an Object of Research and Education, SpringerBriefs in Education,



2 INTERCULTURALITY as a Deafening and Blinding Ideological Notion

We should start by reminding our readers that INTERCULTURALITY is a sort of Humpty-Dumpty word that means whatever the speaker or writer wishes it to mean— a ‘normal’ issue of which many of us may not be aware. But we are not interested in defining INTERCULTURALITY in this chapter. Oscar Wilde (1891/2005: 336) puts it nicely in The Picture of Dorian Gray: “to define is to limit”. This could not be more fitting for INTERCULTURALITY. We refuse to present INTERCULTURALITY as if it were “a pool of dead water” (a Chinese idiom referring to a lifeless state of uniformity). As Dervin (2022a, 2022b) has argued repeatedly INTERCULTURALITY is not one but multiple. The ways we speak of it, negotiate how we feel it should occur and what it should lead to, can vary immensely across linguistic, national, paradigmatic, educational borders. All these elements are located behind the power of ideologies, these ‘orders’ that are passed onto us (and that we pass onto others) about INTERCULTURALITY, i.e. who we are vs. the other, how we should treat each other and how we should talk about how we are/should be with others. For Barker and Galasi´nski (2001: 65), “[…] ideology can be understood as the attempt to fix meaning for specific purposes”. Any statement, be they scientific, political and/or educational about the notion, cannot but be ideological and, from a Marxist perspective, indicates power imbalance between those imposing these ideologies and other people (Dervin & Simpson, 2021). Louis Althusser (1918–1990), who explored Marx’s belief that the individual is a product of society and the importance of structure in understanding the fixed practices of societies, defines ideology as “the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” (2001: 109). Althusser argues that our choices, preferences and judgements are the products of social practices, i.e. they are produced by and through (mostly) official, formal and economic-political structures in our societies. We note for research on INTERCULTURALITY that dominating ‘paradigms’, ‘concepts’, ‘discourses’, ‘practices’, ‘ready-to-speak’, are derived in most cases from the ‘West’, from scholars established in top-ranking universities located in the UK and the US (Australia and Finland, marginally, amongst others), who tend to rehearse ideologies derived from broader economic-political agendas. Finally, let us remind ourselves that ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY are influenced by business(-like) and political forces globally (in random order): the UNESCO, The European Union, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), but also marginally the One Belt One Road and the Communist Party of China with the ideology of e.g., A community with a shared future for mankind (see Yuan et al., 2022). The global broadcast of these dominating voices can lead to ‘short-circuits of communication’ (Barthes, 1994: 175), meaning that when we discuss INTERCULTURALITY we may not understand each other. Lesser known ways of engaging with INTERCULTURALITY in certain parts of the world are also kept in the dark whenever such dominating perspectives are preferred. [As an illustration of a short-circuit of communication around INTERCULTURALITY one could mention a recent message on a mailing list in which a colleague from the Global South requested help from the list members about quantitative methods to assess international students’ intercultural communication competence, indicating that they were using British scholar Michael Byram’s (1997) model. This

2.2 Chinese Students’ Ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY


seemed to be occurring all naturally as if 1. The ‘Western’ concept of intercultural communicative competence was the only available concept globally and 2. Byram was the only ‘accepted’ and ‘obvious’ way of understanding and conceptualising INTERCULTURALITY. This recurrent problem needs paying attention to]. When one reads research on INTERCULTURALITY, deemed ‘critical’ or not, one is able to identify ideologies ‘ordering’ the reader to ‘swallow’ in definitions, specific words, modes of interpreting, objectives and political stances. Some readers will disregard some of these aspects, others might adopt them un/critically. The danger of adopting one-sided takes on INTERCULTURALITY that do not give space to disruption or disagreement is that it can lead to treating INTERCULTURALITY as a fixed object that is imposed onto others in limited ways. To us, INTERCULTURALITY as an ideological notion then becomes deafening and blinding. This can have in-/direct consequences on the people whom we research or educate. As such ideological manipulations can easily occur. Think for example of the abuse of the political constructs of democracy and citizenship in intercultural research today, which engulf ‘users’ in a ‘Western-centric dungeon’. Baggini (2019: 107) provides the following example: When an American politician speaks in praise of freedom, it is because the culture demands that the value of freedom is upheld, just as in China it is harmony which must be defended.

Although this is about ‘an American politician’, one could easily understand that the same applies to dominating scholars and educators from the ‘West’. Defining INTERCULTURALITY does not seem to make much sense anymore today for people studying the notion. A given definition will only provide a miniscule snapshot of what it could be and entail, and, paraphrasing Nabokov (2019: 55), fall into the trap of ‘the demon of generalizations’—as in MY INTERCULTURALITY is THE only INTERCULTURALITY. The path we follow here, in accordance with Xunzi (2022), is that of ‘dispell[ing] obsessions’ (解蔽, jiebi): “The affliction most people have is that they are obsessed with one corner and cannot see the big picture.” Our own ‘corner of INTERCULTURALITY’ needs unpacking while we open up to other corners from around the world ad infinitum. In the book, we argue that observality represents strong support to do so to see the bigger picture, be more inclusive, less arrogant and less judgmental about other ways of engaging with INTERCULTURALITY. Observality can also help us change both in the way we conceptualise INTERCULTURALITY and the way we do interculturality.

2.2 Chinese Students’ Ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY In our work on INTERCULTURALITY we do believe in the necessity to listen to as many voices as possible, well beyond the ‘strong ideologies’ imposed on us from just one source—usually ‘Western’ researchers and decision-makers, both being interrelated in many ways. Listening to students is an important part of our endeavour—and


2 INTERCULTURALITY as a Deafening and Blinding Ideological Notion

we MUST listen to them, as well as to other individuals involved in intercultural encounters. As mediators of multifarious (and potentially different) knowledges and ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY, from research to social media, via young people’s life experiences, students can help us open up to other ways of engaging with the notion. We are well aware of the resulting contradictions that their takes on the notion might contain, which must be observed and taken into account (see Dervin & Tan, 2023). In this section, instead of providing a preferred definition of INTERCULTURALITY or a limited range of dominating takes on the notion, we wish to explore ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY for the readers in order to illustrate the points made hitherto. We must share a few warnings before we do so. This will be based on what groups of Chinese students from top Chinese universities (undergraduate level, multidisciplinary students) have written in English in response to questions we asked them at the beginning of a seminar on critical INTERCULTURALITY. Therefore, this is not meant to generalize about ALL Chinese students—although many would most likely share similar ideologies… as would many young people from around the world in comparable circumstances. The questions we asked them were: • • • •

What is culture? How do people use the word culture? What is interculturality? What have you learnt through engaging with others interculturally?

There are already ideological biases in these questions as indicated in the choice of words (focus on culture, although INTERCULTURALITY could be about something else or a combination of different aspects such as race, gender and/or social class) and indirect assumptions about what happens during intercultural encounters (‘what have you learnt?’—giving very little room for non-learning). [Research on INTERCULTURALITY is ideological]. [“For an ideology differs from a simple opinion in that it claims to possess either the key to history, or the solution for all the ‘riddles of the universe’, or the intimate knowledge of the hidden universal laws which are supposed to rule nature and man.” (Arendt, 1968: 159)]. Therefore, what the students answered to be presented here will definitely be influenced by different ideologemes. Our goal here is not to judge what and how they speak about INTERCULTURALITY but to get an idea of the kinds of ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY in their ‘prompted’ discourses. In their work, Dervin and Tan (2023) have showed how some Chinese students tend to be torn apart between Western-centric research ideologies, ‘Chinese’ ideologies of togetherness, culture and civilization while holding their very own personal beliefs about INTERCULTURALITY based on their life experiences and in-/direct encounters with others. [What follows is meant to make us reflect on and (re-)imagine INTERCULTURALITY, rather than give the readers ‘orders’ about how they should envisage the notion. What the students ‘do’ below is what we all do willy-nilly when dealing with INTERCULTURALITY, i.e. navigate between multifarious ideologies, recycle bits and pieces of information about the notion, ask questions about it and provide

2.2 Chinese Students’ Ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY


(often) unsatisfactory answers. INTERCULTURALITY is a good example of the impossibilities of expressing the complexities of our social/human conditions]. Let us start with how the students look into ‘culture’. Inter- cultur- -ality. The concept is ‘sandwiched’ between inter- and -ality, thus usually visible to the eye first. What culture means or does to people, things, environments, discourses is polysemous and multifaceted in English as a global language, other languages and contexts… Thus, asking the question what is culture? is somewhat useless to find out some kind of ‘truth’. However, when accompanied with the question of how do people use the word culture? it can allow us to decipher the ideologies that influence people (Piller, 2010). This is how the students position culture: – “Culture seems to have the function of distinguishing different groups1 ”. – “Culture also refers to the spiritual heritage created by mankind, including faith, religion, science, art, thoughts and theories, which varies from country to country”. In these first two statements, which differ in the way they are formulated (see ‘seems to’ versus ‘refers to’), culture relates to either groups or countries. While the first statement has to do with a ‘function’ (distinguishing), the second corresponds to what the student calls ‘spiritual heritage’ and refers to as ‘variations’. – “The word “culture” may refer to living habits (e.g. celebrating New Year Festival), unique skills (e.g. calligraphy) or an ideology (e.g. Confucianism)”. The third statement complements the second one while being formulated by means of the modal ‘may’—which seems to indicate that the student leaves more space for other interpretations. Interestingly the student includes what they call ‘an ideology’ in the list, giving Confucianism, based on the ideas of philosophers such as Confucius (551–479 B.C.E.) and Mencius (372–289 B.C.E.) as an example. It is important to note here that the Chinese word for ideology, 思想 (s¯ı xiˇang), translates better as thoughts or ideas and does not seem to have the negative connotation that the English word might contain. In the next input from the students about culture, we find references to values, behaviours, habits, lifestyle and relationships: – “China scores very high in collectivism. The meaning of ‘culture’ here is people’s values”. – “The meaning of ‘culture’ here is more about a behaviour or a habit influenced by social ideas”. – “Culture is our lifestyle”. – “Culture is how we do our things”. – “Culture is the most important to maintain relationship”.


All the following excerpts are reproduced verbatim. We wish the reader to ‘taste’ the specific flavours of the students’ answers in English as a way of triggering curiosity in their take on culture and interculturality.


2 INTERCULTURALITY as a Deafening and Blinding Ideological Notion

Interestingly, while some of the students take a somewhat neutral position towards their assertions (using ‘objectivising discourses’, see the comment on collectivism, which is obviously influenced by ‘Westerncentric’ ideological positions from research), others formulate their ideas by using the first plural pronoun (‘we do our things’, ’our lifestyle’). The last statement of ‘maintaining relationship(s)’ appears to be somehow the first active perspective on culture that goes beyond elements ‘imposed’ on social beings—although maintain could hint at a form of status quo in the way people act with each other. Finally, some students position culture by comparing it to other concepts—which tend to be as fuzzy: – – – –

“Culture means literature”. “Sometimes, its meaning is similar to ‘civilization’”. “Culture and knowledge are sometimes synonyms”. “The first and the most common meaning is always synonymous with ‘wellspoken’ or ‘well-educated’”.

These show the complexities of attempting a definition of culture in Chinese since all these elements (literature, civilization, knowledge and education) can serve as synonyms in the language today. In other contexts and languages, the word culture might have very similar meanings and connotations (e.g., in English: cultured). In what follows, we let the readers listen to what some of the Chinese students have had to say about the concept, showing criticality and reflexivity about it. We refrain from commenting on what they assert here, letting the reader ponder over these assertions for themselves (what might these mean to you? Do you dis-agree? Are you surprised by these statements? Why might the students make these statements? What words do they use to formulate their opinions? Are you aware of some of the ideologies that assertions seem to contain?). In all honesty, as scholars and educators, we do share many of the following perspectives in our own work but refrain from pushing them forward here to let the reader decide for themselves where they stand as individuals engaging globally with culture. Listen: – “I think the meaning of culture depends on how a person’s surroundings like to use it. European students (mainly my French friends) always use the word culture to describe a place or a country’s art, music, literature and something like that. For example, they will use “rich culture” to describe countries like Russia and France for they produced many masterpieces. Asian students seem to consider “culture” as customs. They like to say “culture difference” when they find different habits among students from different countries. Let’s say, my Vietnamese roommates will say “Oh, it’s cultural difference” when I can’t bear the smell of her favourite Vietnamese food. As for me, and maybe many other Chinese people, the word culture refers to something stable but keep changing along a country’s history. We like to closely combine traditional culture with Chinese society. In a word, I think the meaning of culture depends on how a person’s surroundings like to use it. It’s just like a custom”. – “Culture in the cyber context: as far as I am concerned, refers to smaller-scale concepts popular among specific groups of netizens. Their similar use of buzz

2.2 Chinese Students’ Ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY


words and formation of virtual groups with high self-identification contribute to create their culture, such as E-girls”. – “The concept of culture should be owed by each user of the word, for it carries various interpretations from different peoples”. – “We should stay open to diverse conceptualizations of culture, provided they are clearly explained by their proponents and make sense to others”. – “From my perspective, we don’t have to make the concept of culture extremely clear. Because it consists of so many things, whether abstract ones or specific ones, whether beliefs or poems”. All these statements from some Chinese students remind us rightly to remain vigilant when we hear and/or use the concept ourselves, especially when dealing with INTERCULTURALITY. Asking questions about culture, rejecting certain assertions about it and trying to enrich our take on it should be priorities in intercultural communication education (see Abdallah-Pretceille, 2006; Holliday, 2010). Before we observe how the students deal with the very notion of INTERCULTURALITY, we would like to note that many of the students do refer to ideological takes on culture that may be unknown to many readers since they derive specifically from the Chinese context (Mainland China, many of these ideologies are in fact derived from official discourses from e.g. the Communist Party of China and Confucianism, see Yuan et al., 2022). – Cultural confidence. – Cultural revitalization/renaissance. – “Socialist culture with Chinese characteristics consisting of socialist core value system and socialist core values”. – “The cultural powerful nation strategy”. – “I saw a public advertisement describing China as ‘a country rich in cultural deposits’—I think that ‘cultural’ here means mostly the long Chinese history and its heritage: ancient architecture and our ideological system”. – “Cultural deserts usually refer to areas with relatively poor cultural deposits”. – “Culture can be divided into excellent culture and cultural dross. We should carry forward excellent culture, abandon cultural dross and correctly use the concept of culture”. – “Besides, we must consciously resist the influence of bad culture”. Although the reader might be confused by the potential meanings of some of these elements and assertions (‘cultural confidence’; ‘cultural dross’), one can easily see here how ideologies do ‘force’ us to makes statements on a concept like culture, without necessarily be convinced or even aware of what they contain (see Dervin & Tournebise, 2012). Some of us might think stereotypically that the Chinese context is prone to such phenomena, however, we challenge you to consider how you speak about culture yourselves—you will quickly note that many of your assertions might also be based on ideological orders that have been passed onto you often ‘underground’. Specific glocal (local + global) discourses about culture, which are not necessarily shared by the rest of the world, are available in every single


2 INTERCULTURALITY as a Deafening and Blinding Ideological Notion

economic-political community. As noted earlier, some of these might be found in other contexts too (see earlier comments by the students on culture which the reader might themselves put forward too). We now observe how the same students engage with the notion of INTERCULTURALITY. Three types of discourses are noted: ‘canonical’ INTERCULTURALITY; INTERCULTURALITY as fluid and INTERCULTURALITY as a strategy. This is how the majority of students formulate their understanding of INTERCULTURALITY, which corresponds to what we call ‘canonical INTERCULTURALITY’, i.e. predominantly ‘Western’ ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY: – Communication between people from different cultures. – A condition when people from different nations and with different customs interact with each other. – Interaction among entities with different cultural backgrounds. – Process of people coming from different backgrounds getting in touch with each other. – Interaction between people with differences in language and cultural background. – Existence and equitable interaction of diverse cultures. – This term is often used to denote the interactions between cultures and the resulting cultural outcomes. – Any aspect of interaction of different cultures and a universally spoken, common language of diverse culture that people may generate during the interaction. – A dynamic and continuous interaction happened between people from different cultures. – Political, cultural, humanistic, diplomatic interaction between different cultures. – The existence and equitable interaction of different cultures (UNESCO). A few remarks about these definitions. First, we note that only one direct voice is used (the UNESCO) to support one definition. In the others, we can hear the voices of other institutions and scholars—meaning that students are influenced by external voices in the way they construct the notion—but they are not stated directly. Second, the following terms are used to position INTERCULTURALITY: a condition; a connection; a process; existence and interaction between; dynamic and continuous interaction; political, cultural, humanistic, diplomatic interaction. Interaction seems to be the most popular word to determine INTERCULTURALITY (with only one making a reference to e.g. politics) as well as ‘active’ and ‘passive’ words such as process and condition. Verbs used in the definitions include communicate, interact, get in touch and generate—i.e., from encountering/communicating to creating. Finally, those concerned by INTERCULTURALITY for the students are: people from different cultures; people from different nations; people with different customs; people from different backgrounds; people with differences in languages and cultural backgrounds; entities with different backgrounds; (diverse) cultures. We observe some sort of gradation in the use of more or less general (and ‘canonical’) terms to define INTERCULTURALITY: People, cultures, nations, customs, backgrounds, entities. The definition from the UNESCO (which is repeated indirectly by

2.2 Chinese Students’ Ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY


another student: “Existence and equitable interaction of diverse cultures”) is the only one mentioning the idea of equity, which is not problematized in the excerpts. Another group of students construct INTERCULTURALITY as a fluid element in what follows: – Fluidity among different cultures, which involves egalitarian exchange and integration, but sometimes conflict, discrimination, and even segregation come as well. – A never-ending communicating process. – A dynamic process where cultures meet and merge, mix, create. – The aim of interculturality is to break the blocks and grow together. Fluid, never-ending, dynamic, grow together, all indicate that, for these students, the focus is on the suffix of -ality in the very notion of INTERCULTURALITY. Finally, for a minority of students, INTERCULTURALITY is presented as a strategy. They provide details as to what they expect from ‘doing’ it: • Helps go beyond cultures closing down on themselves and thus opening up to others. • Improves mutual understanding. • Helps know more about diverse groups and better understand yourself. • Generates and creates new cultural forms by confronting and integrating differences. Although some of the formulations might be somewhat overly positive about what INTERCULTURALITY can do, three sets of ideas are covered here: INTERCULTURALITY leads to working with others towards joint goals; INTERCULTURALITY can serve as a mirror to ourselves; INTERCULTURALITY reshuffles cultural elements and identities between interactants. We note that these ideas and arguments are very much in line with e.g., critical INTERCULTURALITY (e.g., Ferri, 2018; Dervin, 2016). Before we move to what the students present as the kind of learning that they received from their own intercultural encounters, we wish to comment on the students’ use of certain terms and phrases in English. As we have asserted since the beginning of this book, discussing INTERCULTURALITY in different ‘corners’ of the world and in different languages might be somehow very localized and thus difficult for people from other spheres to understand what one might assert (Dervin & Jacobsson, 2022). In what the students wrote, we have identified many such elements, which are either direct translations from Chinese ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY or uncommon terms in English. These include words and phrases such as cultural arrogance, culture convergence, self-segregation tendencies, and collision and integration of ideas based on different cultural backgrounds. For some readers (who might know Chinese) these might be easy to grasp but we assume that most readers will struggle with some of these assertions. We thus remind ourselves here that such terms and formulations need to be ‘retranslated’ into the English language by both the utterers and listeners to make sure that we can talk to each other about INTERCULTURALITY in a way that makes dialogue possible.


2 INTERCULTURALITY as a Deafening and Blinding Ideological Notion

In the final exploration of what groups of Chinese students have to say about INTERCULTURALITY, we focus on both what we call conscious transformations and what is referred to as silent transformations in Chinese (潜移默化— Qiányímòhuà) in relation to intercultural encounters. The students were asked to write about the kind of learning that they had experienced, through e.g. films, direct discussions, following foreign experts’ lectures, stays abroad. Let us listen to what the students have to say about this topic. We have selected excerpts that show direct influences, leading to different types of ‘claimed’ transformations. The first excerpt is the only one that does not relate to direct encounters with someone from another country: [Relearning to Express Feelings] I think the most significant change that watching films and series from the U.S. bring to me is how I express my love to the people dearest to myself. We are shy to say love, we are so reserved and implicit in the context of intimate relations. However, expressing love directly and freely is a necessity to stick the bond in a U.S. family. Nowadays, I tell my mom I love her much more often than before, but in English instead. I find that using another language will reduce discomfort and embarrassing feelings rooted in the mother language.

[Considering Another Lifestyle/Becoming A Vegetarian] My cousin comes from Australia. He is a vegetarian while I like to cook and eat meat. When we talk about food and health, he told me the concept of Vegetarian and Vegan and he also shared me with his daily recipe. At first, I was not interested in vegetarianism at all and I was shocked to know it is embraced by lots of people in Australia. But when I have a deeper understanding of the advantages of vegetarianism such as less obesity-related diseases and environmental protection, I began to try to eat less meat and more organic food. As a result, I did feel better by taking in vegetables and fruits. Although I still love eating different kinds of meat, I would like to eat organic food to make a change of my recipe sometimes. I think that I would pay no attention to vegetarianism if I didn’t talk with my cousin about it because it seems not so popular among the people around me. My cousin’s view really has an impact on my way of eating.

[Reflecting on the Use of Time] Once in a conversation I had with my foreign friend, we talked about how long can we wait if a friend is late for the date. I told her I can wait for another 20 minutes and she was so surprised that she said: “Wow you are so tolerant then!” This experience does remind me that the notion of being on time is different from one to another and sometimes we may offend others in a way we aren’t even aware of.

[Becoming More Outgoing] I have been to UK and studied with British students for about 10 days when I was in junior high school. In school, I found that British students are all relax and active in class, they will ask a lot of questions and will discuss with teachers and other students during the class. By

2.3 What INTERCULTURALITY Then? Or How to Deal with the Diversity …


comparison, the Chinese students are more silent. We do not like to interact with teachers, and we just follow what teachers said and finish our tasks. From this experience, first I was shocked that the UK students can communicate so well with each other, especially teachers. Then I learnt that sometimes we can choose to be active, and do not be afraid to talk to the teacher. When coming back to China, I became a more outgoing person and started to be more active in class.

[Pondering Over the Meaning of ‘Success’] Later I met a Korean friend in the Buddy Program at school. I was under a lot of pressure that semester and often told him my troubles and uncertainty about the future. He comforted me: “You are afraid of becoming uncommon. But being uncommon isn’t bad. There is no definite answer, all results are good.” His ideas have shocked me until now. Although I understand that this difference may come from his rich family environment, I am still deeply affected.

[Noticing Commonalities] And, there were three international students from Belarus in our class before. Since I was the monitor, I communicated with them a lot. But to be honest, I don’t think there’s something like a barrier between us. After talking with them I realized that they’re going through the same struggle that we were, and they also have a similar view of what’s going on at school.

[Reflecting on Oneself (Mirror)] I had many conversations with Paul [pseudonym] who joked that he could never be a competent oral English-speaking examiner, that he could never manage to ask questions calmly and that he was always eager to join in the discussion. Although he does not speak Chinese, his more than thirty years of teaching experience has given him considerable insight into China and its people. Talking to him allowed me to see China from a foreign perspective and allowed me to reflect on myself. This is very interesting and necessary because I often feel that people, no matter what country they come from, can be very self-centred in their thinking. Thinking outside the box is a big bonus.

All these excerpts have one thing in common: They all show a good level of reflexivity, going back to self after considering things differently in the in-/direct mirror of the other. This is what interculturality as a phenomenon seems to lead to for these students.

2.3 What INTERCULTURALITY Then? Or How to Deal with the Diversity of INTERCULTURALITY? What the Chinese students utter about INTERCULTURALITY in the previous section points to several elements: 1. Often, they seem to share the same language to speak about the notion in English, using specific terms from different kinds of sources; 2. It is easy to see that their takes on the notion in what they have written


2 INTERCULTURALITY as a Deafening and Blinding Ideological Notion

also differs, which does not give an image of INTERCULTURALITY as some kind of a monolith; 3. In-/direct intercultural encounters and observations of self, other, situations and ‘things’, seem to have had some influence on the students, especially in triggering some form of reflexivity. To sum up this chapter, let us reiterate that INTERCULTURALITY is an ideological notion, which reflects different (and, at times, similar) socio-economic-political perspectives on who we are and on who they are. It is thus important to be aware of the background of any approach to INTERCULTURALITY: whose ideas are there? What concepts do people use? From which part of the world? What can I find out about the author and/or institution behind this perspective? Are they compatible with my own beliefs or those that I am supposed to transmit in education? How could we make them fit better (or discard) in our own context? Or what should they be substituted with? For example, Michael Byram’s ideologies (e.g., Byram, 1997), which have been used extensively in China and around the world, can be problematic because they tend to translate a Eurocentric way of thinking about INTERCULTURALITY (for ex. his idea of ‘intercultural citizenship’). His work was mostly done for the Council of Europe, an institution which has a very clear political agenda, which, again, may clash with the way e.g., Chinese teachers think about their own realities. The same goes with any so-called model of intercultural competence. They were designed in specific contexts, with specific ideologies, of which we must be aware, pay attention to and sometimes revise or take our distance from. For instance, they might include concepts that are not in use in our context (e.g., race) and thus they cannot function. So, we must think carefully before blindly adopting such ideas, and wear new ‘glasses’ to read the complex realities of INTERCULTURALITY and expand our horizon. For Althusser (2001: 108): “ideology never says, ‘I am ideological’”. This also means that we need to identify, observe, accept and work with contradictions of INTERCULTURALITY. In The Crack-Up, F. Scott Fitzgerald (2018: 45) asserts: “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function”. Contradictions and inconsistencies cannot but be the core of discourses of INTERCULTURALITY for all of us, since we are often influenced by different ‘forces’ (academic ‘tribes’, political figures, artists, acquaintances, the media…) which may not always be compatible. We need to accept this fact and to find ways to interrogate the ideologies that we cross on our paths to getting into INTERCULTURALITY. This requires asking questions to self and other constantly, digging into appearances. Following Adichie (in HazeBrady, 2022: 172): “If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway”. For scholars and educators, Dervin (2022a, 2022b) put forward the following pieces of advice when engaging with INTERCULTURALITY: – Listen and respect the power to be listened to; – Pay attention to indoctrination and the hidden power of the economic-political;

2.3 What INTERCULTURALITY Then? Or How to Deal with the Diversity …


– Be unfaithful to concepts, theories, ideas, ideologies and people [unplug and re-plug]; – Admit your own mistakes; – Never be satisfied with what you think and what other people say, think and project; – Find inspiration and connection for your work from anything (an encounter on the subway, a book on medieval beliefs, an object); – Take notes all the time and think to and fro. Navigate between thoughts, unthoughts and re-thoughts ad infinitum; – Care about language use and interrogate systematically the words in what you read, see, write; – Ask questions but do not necessarily answer them. Dervin (2022a, 2022b) also notes the importance of ‘bearing in mind that one’s research on INTERCULTURALITY is also part of one’s autobiography’. Our perspective in this book follows the principles and, in the next chapter, we focus on the idea of interculturality-as-altering, which we propose as a main entry for observality. [Discoursing Together] – What other ‘hidden kings’ of our times related to INTERCULTURALITY can you think of and why? – Do you find Cioran’s idea (1983: 103), “To think is to run after insecurity”, suitable for engaging with INTERCULTURALITY in research and education? Why (not)? – If you have your ‘own’ definition of INTERCULTURALITY, can you think of why you engage with the notion this specific way? – Have you ever considered that the very word intercultural is highly polysemous in e.g. education, politics and research? How many different takes on the notion are you aware of? – The word ‘ideology’ (which we understand as ‘orders to think, define and to act in specific ways’ as well as screens hiding certain realities and agendas, see Roucek, 1944) might frighten some of you when it comes to INTERCULTURALITY. Often, the word—like many others used in this book—can have different connotations. How is it ‘flavoured’ in the language(s) that you know? – In this chapter we have discussed what we call deafening and blinding ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY. What do you make of the two adjectives after reading the chapter? – Was there any special and/or surprising in what the Chinese students wrote around the notion of INTERCULTURALITY? Were you able to identify specific ideologies which ‘sounded’ different from the ones you are aware of? – What do their answers about the definition of culture indicate in terms of how they might have been made to see the world? How much does your own definition of the concept could tell the Chinese how you have been influenced by e.g. certain economic-political views?


2 INTERCULTURALITY as a Deafening and Blinding Ideological Notion

– Consult the list of Chinese terms and phrases used in English by the students (e.g. cultural confidence, renaissance) in the chapter. Try to guess what they might mean and do an online search to find out more about them. – Amongst the Chinese students’ definitions or arguments, have you found ideas that you agree with and would want to explore? – These are the categories of learning based on in-/direct intercultural encounters shared by the Chinese students: Relearning to express feelings, considering another lifestyle, reflecting on the use of time, becoming more outgoing, pondering over the meaning of ‘success’, noticing commonalities, reflecting on oneself. Review each of these categories based on your own intercultural experiences. – The chapter refrains from defining INTERCULTURALITY but makes suggestions as to how to approach the notion with an open mind. Having read the chapter, what do you make of our discussions? Do you feel that you would still need a clear definition ‘set in stone’?

[Suggested Reading] Ferri, G. (2018). Intercultural Communication: Critical Approaches and Future Challenges. Palgrave. Giuliana Ferri critically evaluates here theories of INTERCULTURALITY in the pre-COVID 19 era and urges us to move away from instrumentalist perspectives on the notion. She also offers a paradigm based on the ethics of French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, projecting more fluid interpretations of self and other. The book represents a good introduction to some of today’s debates in the ‘West’ about INTERCULTURALITY.

Atay, A. & Toyosaki, S. (eds.) (2017). Critical Intercultural Communication Pedagogy. Lexington Books. This collected volume offers new and fresh insights into critiques of INTERCULTURALITY in order to enrich the notion for pedagogy. The chapter authors build bridges between INTERCULTURALITY and e.g. critical race theory and critical ethnography. Reading this book expands our knowledge of further current critical discussions of INTERCULTURALITY.

Yuan, M., Dervin, F., Sude & Chen, N. (2022). Change and Exchange in Global Education: Learning with Chinese Stories of Interculturality. Palgrave. This book expands our awareness of the complexities of INTERCULTURALITY by introducing Chinese discourse instruments related to the notion. These instruments from the past and today, show how specific words, formulations, constructions and ideologies have also shaped the ways how people in Mainland China might speak of and engage with INTERCULTURALITY. The book calls for scholars and educators to be curious of other intercultural ideologies from other ‘corners’ of the world.

Dervin, F. & R’boul, H. (2022). Through the Looking-glass of Interculturality: Autocritiques. Springer.



Dervin and R’boul open up many stimulating vistas for INTERCULTURALITY in research and education. In the book they tackle (amongst other things) the injustices that the fields that place the notion at their centre of interest, create by spreading exclusively ‘Western’ ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY and by gatekeeping e.g. publishing and international funding, closing the door to thousands of researchers from the Global South. The authors make suggestions as to how the politics of INTERCULTURALITY could be ‘revised’ that will be of interest to our readers.

References Abdallah-Pretceille, M. (2006). Interculturalism as a paradigm for thinking about diversity. Intercultural Education, 17(5), 475–483. Althusser, L. (2001). Lenin and philosophy, and other essays. Monthly Review Press. Arendt, H. (1968). The origins of totalitarianism. Meridian Books. Atay, A. & Toyosaki, S. (Eds.) (2017). Critical intercultural communication pedagogy. Lexington Books. Baggini, J. (2019). How the World thinks. A global history of philosophy. Granta. Barker, C., & Galasi´nski, D. (2001). Cultural studies and discourse analysis: A dialogue on language and identity. Sage. Barthes, R. (1994). Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. Berkeley University Press. Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Multilingual Matters. Cioran, E. (1983). Drawn and quartered. Arcade Publishing. Dervin, F. (2016). Intercultural education: A theoretical and methodological toolbox. Palgrave Macmillan. Dervin, F. & R’boul, H. (2022b). Through the looking-glass of interculturality: Autocritiques. Springer. Dervin, F. (2022a). Interculturality in fragments. Springer. Dervin, F., & Jacobsson, A. (2022). Intercultural communication education. Springer. Dervin, F., & Simpson, A. (2021). Interculturality and the political within education. Routledge. Dervin, F., & Tan, H. (2023). Supercriticality and intercultural dialogue. Springer. Dervin, F., & Tournebise, C. (2012). Turbulence in intercultural communication education: Does it affect Finnish higher education? Intercultural Education, 24(6), 532–543. Ferri, G. (2018). Intercultural communication: Critical approaches and future challenges. Palgrave. Fitzgerald, F. S. (2018). The crack-up. Alma Classics. Hayes-Brady, C. (2022). Teaching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah in Ireland: “If you don’t understand, ask questions”. In L. W. Mazzeno, & S. Norton (Eds.) Contemporary American fiction in the European classroom. Teaching and texts (pp. 169–184). Palgrave. Holliday, A. (2010). Intercultural communication and ideology. Sage. Nabokov, V. (2019). Think, write, speak. Alfred A. Knoff. Piller, I. (2010). Intercultural communication: A critical introduction. Edinburgh University Press. Simmel, G. (1983). The view of life: Four metaphysical essays with journal aphorisms. The University of Chicago Press. Wilde, O. (2005). The complete works of Oscar Wilde. Volume III. Oxford University Press. Xunzi. (2022). 解蔽. Yuan, M., Dervin, F., Sude & Chen, N. (2022). Change and exchange in global education: Learning with Chinese stories of interculturality. Palgrave.

Chapter 3


Abstract This chapter complements the previous one by focusing on one specific characteristic of INTERCULTURALITY: change. For the authors the processes of alter, change and transform need to be problematized to make sense of the complexities of INTERCULTURALITY. They use the term interculturality-as-altering to refer to them. In the chapter, the authors note that change appears to be central in core Chinese thought and explore with the readers different takes on change found in the Chinese language: gradual and subtle change, manifest and obvious change and silent change. Following these discussions, principles for interculturality-as-altering are put forward at the core of observality for INTERCULTURALITY. Keywords Change · China · Tautology · Language · Judgment

3.1 Alter, Change, Transform But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever. (Austen, 2018: 37).

This chapter continues exploring the notion of INTERCULTURALITY, focusing on the keywords of altering, change and transformations. Examining these elements will be at the centre of observality in the book. Let us start with etymologies. To alter comes from Latin for the other (of the two), based on *al-, a Proto-Indo-European root for beyond found also in the English words alien, alternate, parallel, and the comparative suffix -ter (see other in English). The verb took on its current meaning in English (to become otherwise) in the sixteenth century. We note that its etymology makes a reference to a central character in interculturality/ INTERCULTURALITY: the other. As far as change is concerned, as a verb it used to refer to substituting one for another before it came to mean becoming different, being altered. It finds its origins in Latin cambiare for to barter, to exchange (of which it is said to be an abbreviation). Finally, transform is from Latin for change in shape, metamorphose, based on trans for across and beyond and formare, to form. © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2023 F. Dervin and N. Chen, Interculturality as an Object of Research and Education, SpringerBriefs in Education,



3 Interculturality-As-Altering

Fig. 3.1 The tautology of interculturality-as-altering






In what follows we wish to explore the idea of interculturality-as-altering as a proposal to deal with INTERCULTURALITY as a fluid object that can be the focus of observality. Note that we don’t use capitals on interculturality-as-altering here to avoid ‘overloading’ the book, since the term refers to both interculturality and INTERCULTURALITY, to the act of interacting with (non-)livings and to ways of engaging scientifically and educationally with the notion. The idea of interculturality-as-altering is a multiple tautology, i.e. it repeats the same idea several times, and this idea is that of change. This tautology is deemed necessary here to both indicate the centrality of change and the specific position that we take here on INTERCULTURALITY. In the very word INTERCULTURALITY change is contained in each component of the word (see Fig. 3.1): – Inter- (co-constructing in-between people, experiencing clashes, fusions, (polite) rebuttals…), – culture (understood here through its Chinese equivalent as change happening between us when we interact, see Fang, 2019) – and -ality (a never-ending process of change). INTERCULTURALITY is alive and rich. Although we might speak about it as if it was a mere object, it is clear that we will never be able to grab, grasp and capture it. We might have the illusion that we have been able to tame it by using certain ideological constructs or educational objectives (e.g. intercultural competence, tolerance), however, as soon as we observe what is happening in interaction with others, INTERCULTURALITY escapes from us. Change is multifaceted in the thousands of ways of understanding and engaging with interculturality/INTERCULTURALITY around the world and this is why we argue against solidifying the notion, closing it down in one single definition. Let us review several aspects of the centrality of change. When we experience, consider and analyse interculturality/INTERCULTURALITY, what we have been

3.1 Alter, Change, Transform


taught, made to believe in, our views and beliefs backstage (which we may not voice in front of others); what we experience and co-construct with others, all the inconsistencies, discontinuities, intersections and contradictions that this can all trigger, necessarily lead to alter the way we see and talk about the notion again and again—even when we resist change. One of the main ways of engaging with INTERCULTURALITY is to speak/write about the notion. Jumping from one language to another (including within one’s language, with different interlocutors and in different contexts) urges us to (re-)negotiate interculturality/INTERCULTURALITY, to do, undo and redo it constantly, im- and ex-plicitly. Through the use of language, which always involves the in-/direct presence of others, we can never set INTERCULTURALITY in stone like a museum piece—we try but it escapes us as soon as we try to voice it. Two writers can help us deepen our understanding of this central aspect of interculturality-as-altering: I spent many hours listening to people speaking in Wales. All I understood was a name now and then. While with them, I was happy (I often feel confined with people whom I understand). The enormous latitude for conjecture in the field of a completely foreign language. False interpretations, errors, nonsense thoughts. But also expectations, overestimations, promise. Foreign languages as oracles. (Canetti, 2021: 110–111) What difference in usage would you point out in these three languages, these three instruments? Nuances. If you take framboise in French, for example, it’s a scarlet color, a very red color. In English, the word raspberry is rather dull, with perhaps a little brown or violet. A rather cold color. In Russian, it’s a burst of light, malinovoe; the word has associations of brilliance, of gaiety, of ringing bells. How can you translate that? (Nabokov, 2019: 284)

Languaging around interculturality/INTERCULTURALITY itself requires systematic renegotiations of what we say and how we connote what we say with others so we can get closer to each other. If we avoid engaging around discourses of interculturality/INTERCULTURALITY (and thus ideologies of), we run the risk of suffering from misunderstandings, hegemonies and being unwilling to change. We argue that submitting to change is essential. Using three Chinese words/phrases related to change, we might find clues as to how change occurs for INTERCULTURALITY: – 化 can translate as turn, melt, transform, expend and change into. It indicates gradual and subtle change; – 变 means change, become, transform and vary, pointing at manifest and obvious change; – 潜移默化 can be translated as silent transformations, unknowingly changing. This idiom from a Confucian scholar reminds us that we go through quiet and unconscious transformations when we experience new things (see Dervin, 2022).


3 Interculturality-As-Altering

We might also add that change can be underground/silenced; faked, as a way of protecting our face; misused and abused. As an element that relies on the enmeshment of action, discourse, dialogues with others, internal dialogues with self, short- and long-term effects and consequences, change is difficult—see impossible—to fully pinpoint. We argue that only self (in more or less open discussions with others, if possible) can observe change. In an effort to decentre our thinking,1 let us explore other aspects of Chinese thought to problematise the idea of interculturality-as-altering. Change has always been central in the way e.g., Ancient Chinese engaged with the world and others and, we argue, can be inspiring for reflecting on INTERCULTURALITY (Fang, 2019). Flicking through the authoritative (2022)2 , we have identified five sets of ideas that can help us problematise change for observality further: – 1. 生生 (sh¯engsh¯eng): change is perpetual and part of every (non-)living. – 2. 游 (yóu): one should be relaxed, neither too attached or too detached from other (non-)living, leaving the door open for change, thus letting change happen ‘independently’. – 3. 相反相成 (xi¯angfˇan-xi¯angchéng): being both opposite and complementary at the same time. This principle is often reflected in Chinese thought as in e.g. the continuum of 动静 (dòngjìng), movement and stillness. In a similar vein, 过犹不 及 (luòyóubùjí) suggests that going too far is as bad as falling short and refers to the idea of the Golden Mean. – 4. 齐物 (qíwù), translated as seeing things as equal, reminds us that elements that might appear different, also indicate interconnectedness. – 5. Finally 言不尽意 (yánbújìnyì) refers to the fact that words cannot fully express thought and thus requires from us constantly to both look for change and experience change. We note that change is accepted as an essential part of humanity and the living world. Change relates to the hyphen between us and the other and requires some degree of openness, accepting difference and similarity, interconnectedness with the other. Finally, related to the argument we were making about language, since it cannot fully express our thoughts, creating tensions and instabilities in what we say (and between what we say and do), openness to change must be our priority in ‘doing’ interculturality/INTERCULTURALITY. Interestingly, we also note that in Chinese the word chemistry translates as 化学 (hua xue)—word-for-word: the study of change/transformation. This word expresses well what observing interculturality/INTERCULTURALITY as suggested in this book is about.


Decentre here does not mean to identify necessarily different ideas but to shift one’s mind in other directions to look at oneself from a distance, to pause our thinking and to rethink. 2 Described as: “The purposes of the Project are to select the concepts in Chinese culture and thought that reflect the characteristics of the country’s traditional culture and the Chinese people’s way of thinking, and that embody the core values of China” (

3.1 Alter, Change, Transform


Figure 3.2 summarizes what to take away for observality from what was discussed concerning interculturality-as-altering in this chapter. As a reminder, these elements apply to INTERCULTURALITY (not interculturality as an ‘interpersonal’ phenomenon) and they are meant to help us observe both how self and other engage with the notion in-/directly. Interculturality-as-altering is a central component of observality to feed in silent reflections and critical stances towards INTERCULTURALITY. INTERCULTURALITY shouts at us that we are changing with others, that we must observe change (in its different forms) and, more importantly, accept that it occurs. We don’t always notice that change is occurring and training our eyes to look into its gradual and subtle, manifest and obvious and silent forms, we can reap the benefits of interculturality-as-altering in our lives, relationships and professional engagements. Some readers might be wondering how we position ourselves in relation to how to ‘evaluate’ change in interculturality/INTERCULTURALITY. To us, although we may have our (maybe badly informed) opinion about what is happening in intercultural situations or in research/education, we believe that only those involved in in-/direct interactions can decide. We find the literature on e.g., intercultural competence to be overly confident as to what change should count as ‘valuable’, ‘positive’, etc. (see e.g., Deardorff, 2013) and, at the same time, they often appear

•Change is in everything Core principle

Three main types of change

•gradual and subtle change •manifest and obvious change •silent change

•focus on opposites and complementarities, in-/consistencies, dis-/continuities, intersections in what people say and do •focus on jumps within and between languages as indications of change since How to identify words cannot fully express thought change?

Approaching change

•neither too attached nor too detached •bearing in mind the principle of the Golden Mean •seeing things as equals (interconnectedness)

Fig. 3.2 Principles for Interculturality-as-altering


3 Interculturality-As-Altering

to be far too judgemental (are we as educators and researchers superhumans who know how to ‘evaluate’ change, especially when we are not personally involved in what people do together?). The following questions about change and interculturality/INTERCULTURALITY are for self (and other) to consider—again: we must refrain from judging them. – If change is noted, is it good, bad or something else? By whom and for what reason(s)? – Is change acceptable, condemnable or something else? – Is change accompanied by fair negotiations? Is it imposed? – What are the consequences of change for those involved in-/directly? – Who benefits from change? Can the benefits be rectified and shared? – Who can judge the ‘quality’ of change happening between us? Whose perspective(s)? – Is change changed as we get to know each other? Is it part of a continuum of change? Like many world philosophers, past and present, philosopher of change par excellence, Henri Bergson (2002: 171) reminds us: “I pass from state to state. I am warm or cold, I am merry or sad, I work or I do nothing, I look at what is around me or I think of something else. Sensations, feelings, volitions, ideas—such are the changes into which my existence is divided and which color it in turns. I change, then, without ceasing”. For us, the ‘colours’ of change and its ceaselessness compose the essence of INTERCULTURALITY. [Discoursing Together] – If you have come across the verb to alter in English, have you ever thought about its connection to the idea of ‘the other’? – How do the three words altering, change and transformations connote to you in English and other languages? What are their similarities and differences? – Try to explain to yourself why we claim that interculturality-as-altering is a multiple tautology. – What is the role of language in experiencing and discoursing change? – Go back to the Chinese thoughts on change that we present in the chapter. For each of them, try to find examples based on your own life experience and interactions with others. – What do you know about the idea of the ‘Golden Mean’? How could this help us unthink and rethink INTERCULTURALITY? – Can you think of words, phrases, idioms and metaphors in the language(s) that you know which could enrich our thinking about interculturality-as-altering? – Finally, why do we keep insisting on inconsistencies, discontinuities and intersections in the chapter? How do they relate to change in INTERCULTURALITY?

[Suggested Reading]


[Suggested Reading] Balkin, J. (2013). The Laws of Change: I Ching and the Philosophy of Life. Sybil Creek Press. The I Ching (often referred to in English as the Book of Changes) is central to Chinese ethical and philosophical teachings. Considered as a book of wisdom, Balkin tells us how it can be used to prepare for and face a changing and confusing/confused world. This book represents a fascinating introduction to change that could disrupt the way we engage with it. Lipari, L. (2015). Listening, Thinking, Being: Toward an Ethics of Attunement. Penn State University Press. This book is dedicated to listening which is central to being with others and the world. Lipari argues that, unfortunately, listening is often neglected and that speaking and being heard are considered as more important today. Interdisciplinary in nature, the book reviews and stimulates new insights into the important issues of language, communication and listening. Lipari even uses the idea of interlistening to urge us to take this very human act more seriously. This is an important aspect of what our work also recommends. Tacchi, J. & Tufte, T. (eds.) (2020). Communicating for Change: Concepts to Think With. Palgrave. This edited volume intersects communication and change: what is the role of communication in processes of change? The editors and authors (from different parts of the world) use a certain number of concepts to answer this question, revolving around three key topics: citizenship and justice, critiques of development and renewing thought. Observation relies on communication and this book can provide us with more food-for-thought for interculturality-as-change. Moloney, R. (2022). Teaching interculturality. Changes in perspective (A story of change). In Dervin, F. et al. (eds.). Teaching Interculturality ‘Otherwise’ (pp. 101– 110). Routledge. In this chapter, Australian scholar and teacher educator Robyn Moloney ‘digs’ into the changes that she has experienced in both teaching about and researching INTERCULTURALITY. Examining INTERCULTURALITY through the lens of personal change in educators and scholars is considered as essential by Moloney. We argue that her work can support us here in building up more reflexivity and criticality in ourselves.


3 Interculturality-As-Altering

References Austen, J. (2018). Pride and prejudice. Penguin. Balkin, J. (2013). The laws of change: I Ching and the philosophy of life. Sybil Creek Press. Bergson, H. (2002). Key writings. Continuum. Canetti, E. (2021). Notes from hampstead. Macmillan. (2022). Deardorff, D. (ed.) (2013). The SAGE handbook of intercultural competence. Sage. Dervin, F. (2022). Interculturality in fragments. Springer. Fang, W. (2019). Modern notions of culture and civilisation in China. Palgrave Macmillan. Lipari, L. (2015). Listening toward an ethics of attunement. Penn State University Press. Moloney, R. (2022). Teaching interculturality. Changes in perspective (A story of change). In F. Dervin et al. (Ed.) Teaching interculturality ‘otherwise’ (pp. 101–110). Routledge. Nabokov, V. (2019). Think, write, speak. Alfred A. Knoff. Tacchi, J. & Tufte, T. (Eds.) (2020). Communicating for change: Concepts to think with. Palgrave.

Chapter 4

The Power of Mirroring: Towards a Catoptric of INTERCULTURALITY

Abstract This chapter represents a transition in the book from conceptualising and problematising INTERCULTURALITY to observality. The focus of the chapter is on the theme of the mirror. Mirrors are to be found in most civilizations and their complex history reveals specific beliefs and attitudes towards self, other, the world and beyond worth exploring in this book. In the chapter the authors observe how the mirror has been used and viewed in English and Chinese, opening up many interesting doors to the issues of e.g., reflexivity and identity. At the end of the chapter ‘mirroring exercises’ are proposed as a way of training self to observe the hyphen between self and other, as well as self-self. Keywords Mirror · Self · Other · Reflexivity · Inclusion

4.1 Basic Principle: Turning Inward [“If you asked me what interculturality is about Today I would say that interculturality is life, simply, social life It is about you, me, us, them, he/she and it It is also about reciprocity It is about how we see ourselves, others and the hyphen between them and us My more scientific definition of interculturality would be: “encounters between persons who are from different national, regional, and social spheres, who are interested in questioning their views and opinions of the ‘other’ and the ‘self’ in order to construct a space of diversities, justice and more transparent encounters. The main point is that they see themselves in the mirror of the other.” (Fred)]

Our mythologies and histories contain many references to mirroring. In Ancient Greece, the stories of Narcissus (who fell in love with his own image) and Perseus (who forced the Gorgon Medusa to look into his shield to be able to decapitate her) are direct references to it. The Greek geographer Pausanias (flourished AD 143–176) who wrote Periegesis Hellados, some kind of guidebook to Greece, tells us that a © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2023 F. Dervin and N. Chen, Interculturality as an Object of Research and Education, SpringerBriefs in Education,



4 The Power of Mirroring: Towards a Catoptric of INTERCULTURALITY

mirror was installed at the entry of a temple so that people could see themselves in a different light and be ‘reborn’ as a different being upon entering the sanctuary. Later in European history, Melchoir-Bonnet (2014: 14) recounts the following story from the time of the French Revolution in the eighteenth century: (…) a great noblewoman, arrested in her home, thought to take only two objects with her to prison: “I took for myself, without even thinking, a small mirror in a cardboard frame and a pair of new slippers.” Her own image was all she possessed; even while destitute in prison, this supreme concern with appearance for her signalled a mastery over the self.

We live in the age of reflexivity and identity (Hertlein et al., 2014). Everyone is urged to be reflexive and critical. But in many cases, either do not seem to function since reflexivity and criticality can be unstable constructs. interculturality should help us look into the mirror: whenever we see something in the other (a characteristic, a flaw, an attitude, an opinion, change…), which we might like or dislike, we must look at ourselves and observe that same element, bearing in mind that individuals can be very contradictory, doing one thing one day, another the other day; thinking and acting this way and then that way, depending on contexts and interlocutors. In his diary written in China, Roland Barthes (2012: 8) expresses well the role of this mirror: I feel that I won’t be able to shed light on them in the least—just shed light on us by means of them. So, what needs to be written isn’t So what about China? but So, what about France?

This is very much reminiscent of an excerpt from the Analects of Confucius (551–479 BCE), a philosopher and politician of the Spring and Autumn period, who emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, kindness, and sincerity: 子曰: 见贤思齐焉; 见不贤而内自省也. The Master said, “On seeing the worthy, think of how to equal them; on seeing the unworthy, turn inward and examine yourself.” (Ni, 2017: 143)

This chapter reflects on the idea of the mirror, which serves as a metaphor for what this book is about. The mirror of observality has to do with identity, with who and others become together by confronting each other. The Chinese notion of 换位 思考 also inspired us to propose the path of mirroring. 换位 思考 can be translated in different ways: e.g., put yourself in the other person’s shoes, mutual empathy and understanding. 换 means to change, 位 (the) place and 思考 to think. Following Fei (2015: 46): “To study others is a matter of whether you can go in, and to study yourself is whether you can come out.” Viewed as an eerie object in many parts of the world, the mirror has tempted our imagination for centuries.

4.2 Etymologies and Beliefs For Olshin (2012: 122), mirrors made of ‘polished metal’, ‘metal’ or ‘glass’, “have been used for everything from magic rituals to scientific investigations”. Discussed

4.2 Etymologies and Beliefs


in many civilizations from the Greeks to the Indians, the word mirror has had many different connotations over the centuries and for different kinds of people: admiring, hiding, unmasking and revealing. The use of catoptromancy, or divination by mirrors, was often mentioned in ancient documents. Greek katoptron means mirror and is based on kata (against) and optos (seen, visible). With this chapter we propose a catoptric of INTERCULTURALITY. The very word mirror has many synonyms in the English language, including the looking glass. In the same language, many phrases and idioms make direct references to a mirror, hinting at deception, distortion but also honesty: (all) done by mirrors or (all) done by smoke and mirrors (something is done using deception); a friend’s eye is a good mirror (a friend can be honest); able to fog a mirror (barely alive); funhouse mirror, house of mirrors and hall of mirrors (all referring to a distorted vision of reality). Etymologically, mirror appeared in English in the mid-thirteenth century, from Old French mirer, to look at, admire, observe, contemplate [the Latin word speculum for mirror gave its names to many Indo-European languages such as Swedish spegel]. We note that a mirador, a turret a window or a balcony designed to commend an extensive outlook, shares the same root (Merriam Webster, 2022). The figurative meaning of a mirror in English as a model is from the fourteenth century and to reflect from the end of the sixteenth century. The idea of looking in the mirror to examine oneself dates back to the sixteenth century too. Many beliefs, superstitions and myths about mirrors were developed in Europe and around the world throughout the centuries. Let us list some of them as an introduction to the power of mirrors: – In reference to Mary Tudor, the first Queen of England, lighting a candle and saying Bloody Mary three times while looking into a mirror, one will see the reflection of the threatening Queen (in Ancient Greece, the idea that a mirror can capture the soul and thus invite death was widespread); – Individuals or beings without a soul will not be reflected in a mirror (e.g. vampires); – Cover a mirror with a cloth to prevent devils from escaping from it; – Breaking a mirror brings back luck (7 years of misery—a myth from Ancient Rome); – When a mirror breaks, and in order to get rid of evil spirits, turn the shards black by burning them and then bury them. In Chinese and Asian cultures, certain beliefs, myths and superstitions are also associated with mirrors. These include: avoiding to place a mirror facing one’s bed, to use vintage or second-hand mirrors which are said to contain previous owners’ spirit and to give a mirror as a gift to newlyweds. [By reflecting ourselves, the world around us but also other entities from within, mirrors can appear to create anxiety, irrationality and fears]. Melchoir-Bonnet (2014: 270) asserts: “The technical advances in glassmaking in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the greater understanding of the mechanics of vision in the seventeenth century are what led to the “metaphysical decline” of the mirror. By shedding its mystery, the mirror (by then perfectly flawless but


4 The Power of Mirroring: Towards a Catoptric of INTERCULTURALITY

ordinary) became an instrument of social conformity and offered man the freedom of a solitary face-to-face encounter”. Although there was a shift in the way the mirror was perceived and used, some ‘metaphysical’ beliefs about it still remain across the world. In China, mirrors have a long history, especially through the figure of the bronze mirror (铜镜, tóng jìng), with the earliest one dating back to the late Neolithic period (2200–1700 BCE) (see Fig. 4.1). Bronze mirrors reflected advanced casting technology, aesthetics and special beliefs. Bronze mirrors were also often exchanged interculturally in the past, as far back as the Warring States Period (475–221 BCE). The idea of the mirror was registered on oracle bones and bronzes in Ancient China. In Chinese, the ideograph for the mirror consists of a human figure bending over a container filled with water hinting at both reflection and the act of looking into, both seeing and observing. The word for mirror is 镜 (jìng) in Chinese, with the pictophonetic of 竟 indicating the sound (meaning finally, after all, unexpected) and钅 (character for metal, gold and money) conveying the meaning. The very word 镜 (jìng) is also found in 镜片 (jìng piàn), lenses; 眼镜 (yˇan jìng), glasses; 望远镜 (wàng yuˇan jìng), telescope; 哈哈 镜 (h¯a h¯a jìng) distorting mirror. The word is also included in the word referring to a puppet master, 藏镜人 (cáng jìng rén), and in the metaphor for something beautiful, bright and flat (e.g., a lake) 明镜 (míng jìng). Many Chinese idioms include the mirror and hint at the following topics: imagination vs. reality, stereotyping, honesty, justice, break-up/reunite, comparing oneself to others, reflexivity, death, and failure. Let us review them in what follows: Justice and government – A book entitled 資治通鑒 (Z¯ı zhì t¯ong jià) translated as A Mirror for the Wise Ruler (or Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government). The book is a vast Fig. 4.1 Images of a Chinese mirror

4.2 Etymologies and Beliefs


chronological general history, written during the Northern Song in 1084, covering the period 403 BC-959 AD. – 明镜高悬 (míng jìng g¯ao xuán), translated as the mirror hangs high—a metaphor for officials who are good at investigating cases and prisons, and judge cases fairly and strictly. – 虚堂悬镜 (x¯u táng xuán jìng): The hanging mirror of the empty hall, another metaphor for integrity and justice of local officials. – 照妖镜 (zhào y¯ao jìng) refers to a magic mirror for revealing goblins, i.e. a way of seeing through a conspiracy. Failure-success – 盲者得镜 (máng zhˇe dé jìng), literally a blind person gets a mirror. This is used to describe something that does not function properly, is faulty. – 人镜芙蓉 (rén jìng fú róng) translates word-for-word as human mirror hibiscus. The hibiscus is usually associated with wealth, fame and glory. This idiom is a hint at one’s future success at an exam, like an omen, a prediction. – 照镜自怜 (zhào jìng zì lián): to look in the mirror and think oneself pathetic. Imagination versus Reality – 镜里观花 (jìng lˇı gu¯an hu¯a) means to look at flowers in the mirror, which refers to something unreal, a product of imagination. – 镜花水月 (jìng hu¯a shuˇı yuè) has to do with flowers in a mirror too and the moon reflected in a lake. This is used to refer to an unrealistic rosy view; viewing things through rose-tinted spectacles. – Tinted glasses in Chinese are: 有色眼镜 (yˇou sè yˇan jìng). This expression is a metaphor for prejudice held by people. The other as a mirror, comparing oneself to other – A quote from Lu Xun (鲁迅, 1881–1936) expresses specifically this idea: 以人 为鉴, 明白非常, 是使人能够反省的妙法 鲁迅. Taking people as a mirror and understanding very well is a wonderful way to make people reflect. – 明镜不疲 (míng jìng bù pí) translates as the mirror is not tired. In the face of those who point out your mistakes, we should humbly accept and correct them. – 以人为镜 (yˇı rén wéi jìng): use people as mirrors. Consider the successes and failures of others for your own reference. – 借镜观形 (jiè jìng gu¯an xíng) hints at the idea of learning from the experiences of others. To rethink, reconsider – 昏镜重明 (h¯un jìng chóng míng) translates word-for-word as the dim mirror is bright. This means to see the light again, to reconsider. – 目光如镜 (mù gu¯ang rú jìng): eyes like a mirror. Someone who can see everything. – 胸有悬镜 (xi¯ong yˇou xuán jìng). One has a hanging mirror on the chest or to be able to see everything in the figurative way.


4 The Power of Mirroring: Towards a Catoptric of INTERCULTURALITY

Break-up/reunite – 破镜重圆 (pò jìng chóng yuan): Broken mirror and reunion. Used as a metaphor for a husband and wife who reunite after separation. – 镜分鸾凤 (jìng f¯en luán fèng) refers to the separation of partners. 鸾凤 translates as male and female phoenixes. Death – 孤鸾舞镜 (g¯u luán wˇu jìng). A grieving male screaming at a mirror. – 容销金镜 (róng xi¯ao j¯ın jìng). Translates as Golden mirror, referring to a beautiful face disappearing in the mirror. A metaphor for the passing of a beautiful woman. Throughout Chinese history, mirrors have also had a lot of importance, especially as moral tropes. Let us share three instances. During the Western Zhou dynasty (eleventh century-770 B.C.E.) the following announcement was made concerning drunkenness and morality: (…) the ancients have said, “Let not men look only into water; let them look into the mirror of other people. Now that Yin has lost its appointment, ought we not to look much to it as our mirror, and learn how to secure the repose of our time?” (Wang, 1994: 511).

In later times, the image of the mirror was used as a way of moralizing through reminders from history (history as mirroring). Confucian ethics also made use of the mirror as a metaphor as seen in a picture in a shrine which shows “a virtuous widow who, while holding a mirror, cuts off her nose to rebuff her suitors and to keep her commitment to her dead husband intact. The mirror she holds is a metaphorical ploy. As an exemplary Virtue from history, she is the mirror herself” (Wang, 1994: 512). The mirror also had to do with medicine in Ancient China. Some doctors were said to use mirrors to look inside the body of their patients: “Whenever a person had an illness, the mirror could be used to illuminate and see completely any obstructions in his internal organs” (Olshin, 2012: 124). Special ‘medical’ mirrors were used in e.g., the Six Dynasties period (220–589 B.C.E.) such as 找药精 (zhˇao yào j¯ıng), the mirror that reveals demons. Finally, several stories and myths include a mirror in China. The zhào y¯ao jìng is a monster-revealing mirror. Such mirrors were hung on doors of two opposite houses if their orientation was deemed bad. The Y¯ın Yáng Jìng is found in the novel Romance of the Gods by Xixing and Zhonglin (2018). Its different sides (Y¯ın Yáng) have different colours and functions. The Y¯ın side is white (the colour of death) and the Yáng is red (the colour of life). In our book, mirroring is a central component since, beyond merely staring at the other, observing forces us to come back to ourselves and to (potentially distorted) images of others and the environment we find ourselves in. Mirroring is also what we consider to be the main point of INTERCULTURALITY since the notion leads us to confront and (re-)consider realities and imaginaries (amongst others). In what follows we wish to continue exploring how e.g. Chinese sayings and idioms can help us deepen problematizing observality.

4.2 Etymologies and Beliefs


– Observing (oneself) should be a daily activity (from Xunzi, 2022): 君子广博地学 习并且每天检验反省自己, 那么他就会智慧明达而且行为没有过失了 (trans. If a gentleman learns widely and examines himself every day, he will be wise and act without fault). – Observing others’ appearance is a way of understanding who they are (from Guo Yu, 周语下, 2022): 观其容而知其心矣 (trans. Look at their face and know their heart). – Observing the other’s eyes as a window to their soul (from Mencius, 2022): 存 乎人者, 莫良于眸子 (trans. The eyes are considered the window to the soul and can reflect the inner world of people). – Observing people around an individual as an indication of who s/he is (from The Classic of Rites, 2022): 观其所爱亲, 可以知其人 (Trans. Looking at loved ones, you can know their people). – Only long-term observation can help us know and understand someone (from 争报恩 (Fight Gratitude), n.d.): 路遥知马力, 日久见人心 (trans. You know horsepower from a distance, and you can see people’s hearts over time). – Observing observed (from Bian Zhilin’s (1934) poem Broken Chapter, fragment found in the title to our book): 你站在桥上看风景, 看风景的人在楼上看你 (trans. You stand on the bridge and look at the scenery, and the people watching the scenery look at you upstairs; see title of this book). – Observing is subjective (from 宋代 苏轼的 《题西林壁》 Inscription on The Wall of Xilin Temple by Su Shi, 2019): 横看成岭侧成峰, 远近高低各不同。不识庐 山真面目, 只缘身在此山中 (trans. it is seen as a ridge and a peak on the side, with different heights and heights. I do not know the true face of Mount Lu, only because I am in this mountain). Encountering the Mirror for Observality The Italian renaissance humanist Francesco Filelfo (1398–1481) included a chapter on the mirror in his book on education, where he discussed the use of the mirror for observing oneself “lead[ing] to modesty and health of the eyes” (in Melchoir-Bonnet, 2014: 89). The metaphor of the mirror is very rich for reflecting on how we self-examine, introspect and learn to listen to ourselves, while attempting to ‘grab’ snapshots of objectivising self and/vs. others (which is always doomed to fail somehow). The mirror can allow linking up self-other in the past, the present and future. In the mirror we can look for (social, economic, aesthetic, personal, groupal) similarities and differences, the multiplicities of self and other, transformations, stabilities, inconsistencies, borders, etc. The mirror supports us in (re-)considering our (imagined/fantasized) identities and how we reshape and freeze them with and through others. Ideally the mirroring effect is reciprocal when considering interculturality. While we look into the mirror of the other while examining them, they look into our mirror while evaluating what we do and say. The double mirroring effect cannot


4 The Power of Mirroring: Towards a Catoptric of INTERCULTURALITY

but help us reconsider the ways we construct INTERCULTURALITY. For MelchoirBonnet (2014: 157): “To observe oneself, to measure oneself, to dream oneself and to transform oneself: these are the diverse functions brought into play by an encounter with the mirror (…)”. Before we move on to our next step, observality, we would like you to consider the following exercises in front of a mirror, to reflect further on the catoptric of INTERCULTURALITY proposed in the book: – Look at yourself in a mirror: speak, be silent, moan while closing your eyes and imagining what you see. Next, ask someone to hold a mirror in front of you and repeat the exercise. How different is it? – While looking at yourself in the mirror, focus on different parts of your head (hair, nose, ears, neck, mouth, eyes…). Speak to yourself in the process and reflect on how it feels. – Try different kinds of mirror (different shapes, colours, materials) and reflect on how e.g. the size of the mirror influences what you see. – Look at yourself in the mirror and summarize ideas on INTERCULTURALITY that you disagree with. Is it a difficult exercise? How does it feel? – Look at yourself in the mirror while speaking different languages. Note down your reactions going through your mind. – Look at yourself in the mirror and try to imagine how others see you in the same mirror and how much it corresponds or not to how you see yourself. – Look at yourself in the mirror with another person. Don’t speak, just look at them and let them look at yourself. Imagine what they might be thinking while looking at you and share with them what you see in the mirror. – Look at yourself in the mirror with another person. Try with the two of you in the frame; only one of you in the frame; remain silent, speak, moan. What differences can you notice? How much does it influence how you see yourself and the other person? – Stand opposite an acquaintance and imagine that they are a mirror. They may keep their eyes open or close them. Try to see yourself through this person. What do you (not) see? How much does the person serving as this imaginary mirror influence the way you see yourself? How different and similar would it be with another person, a stranger maybe? – Switch on your television set or your computer and put on any video randomly. Stand in front of the screen for as long as you can trying to look at the screen imagining that it is a mirror. What happens then? How does it feel? How much what is going on in the video influences your abilities to imagine that the screen is a mirror? How long can you ‘play’ this performance? – Finally, try to hold an entire conversation with an acquaintance with your bodies turned towards a mirror. How does it feel to see yourself speaking with the other? How often do you look at yourself? What extra dimensions does this add to your discussions and to the influence of the discussion on you?

[Suggested Reading]


[Discoursing Together] – How often do you look at yourself in the mirror? What functions do mirrors hold for you? – What kinds of beliefs and superstitions do people have about mirrors in your context(s)? Do you know where they come from? – These are some of the main ideas from idioms and sayings about observation/observality in Chinese that we discussed. Reflect on what they might mean to you in relation to interculturality-as-altering and mirroring processes. • • • • • • •

Observing (oneself) should be a daily activity. Observing others’ appearance is a way of understanding who they are. Observing the other’s eyes as a window to their soul. Observing people around an individual as an indication of who s/he is. Only long-term observation can help us know and understand someone. Observing observed. Observing is subjective.

– Art, music, fiction and the cinema (amongst others) can serve as mirrors to selfother. What was the last book that made you look at yourself from a distance? Why and what was it that made you do introspection? What were the outcomes? – What would life be without mirrors (and the technology of photography)? What could happen to our identities without them? – Once, one of us told one of their friends that she was looking at herself very often in mirrors—assuming that she was very proud of her ‘beauty’. The friend replied that she always wanted to make sure that she looked presentable to others (e.g. no food on the lips), as a mark of respect for them, rather than ‘loving herself’. For the duration of a day, observe how you yourself make use of mirrors and for what reasons. – How do you understand anthropologist Fei’s (2015: 46) quote: “To study others is a matter of whether you can go in, and to study yourself is whether you can come out”? What does it mean for interculturality? – Summarize for yourself what a catoptric of INTERCULTURALITY could mean. How do you see its connection to observality and interculturality-as-altering?

[Suggested Reading] Melchoir-Bonnet, S. (2014). The Mirror: A History. Routledge. This book is, to us, the reference on the mirror. The author proposes a cultural history of the object, taking us to different corners of the world throughout time. The book is a must-read as a complement to Chap. 4 in order to enrich our


4 The Power of Mirroring: Towards a Catoptric of INTERCULTURALITY

thinking about interculturality-as-altering and to prepare for the next chapter on observality. Koufouti, M. D., Malafouris, L. (2020). An Anthropological Guide to the Art and Philosophy of Mirror Gazing. Bloomsbury Academic. The authors provide answers to an important question related to mirrors: “What does it mean and what does it take to find oneself in the mirror?”. Grounded in anthropology, philosophy and psychopathology, this important book explores the ‘art’ of mirror gazing under different lenses, showing the diverse ways of engaging with mirrors. Consoli, S. & Ganassin, S. (eds.) (2022). Reflexivity in Applied Linguistics: Opportunities, Challenges, and Suggestions. Routledge. Although this collected volume is anchored within applied linguistics, we believe that its rich research-informed chapters can be beneficial for anyone wishing to know more about reflexivity (‘our’ mirroring process in this book). The book contains chapters related directly to INTERCULTURALITY. Holmes, J. (2018). A Practical Psychoanalytic Guide to Reflexive Research: The Reverie Research Method. Routledge. Holmes proposes a novel approach where scholars’ feelings and empathy (for e.g. the research participants) are placed frontstage to their research—the scholar is then allowed to look at themselves. Using a ‘reverie’ research method the book explains how to deal with unexpected and ‘uncontrollable’ moments of hypersubjectivity and how to learn from them. In the next chapter, we discuss the problematic dichotomy of subjectivity and objectivity in observing.

References Barthes, R. (2012). Travels in China. Polity. Classic of Rites. (2022). 礼记 – Liji. Consoli, S. & Ganassin, S. (Eds.) (2022). Reflexivity in applied linguistics: Opportunities, challenges, and suggestions. Routledge. Fei, X. (2015). Globalization and cultural self-awareness. Springer. Fight Gratitude (n.d.). 争报恩. n.p. Guo, Y. (2022). 周语下 (zh¯ou yˇu xià). Hertlein, S., Assa-Inbar, M., Finlay, R., Filiz, A. & Muniz, N. R. (2014). Producing Knowledge in the Age of Reflexivity. A Collaborative Research ‘Experiment’ on Migration. Presented at the Conference Migrations of Knowledge: Potentials and Limits of Knowledge Production and Critique in Europe and Africa (Carl von Ossietzky-University Oldenburg, Germany). Holmes, J. (2018). A practical psychoanalytic guide to reflexive research: The reverie research method. Routledge. Koufouti, M. D., Malafouris, L. (2020). An anthropological guide to the art and philosophy of mirror gazing. Bloomsbury Academic. Melchoir-Bonnet, S. (2014). The mirror: a history. Routledge.



Mencius (2022). 孟子—Mengzi. Merriam Webster. (2022). “Mirror.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https:// Accessed 25 Oct. 2022. Ni, P. (2017). Understanding the analects of Confucius: A new translation of Lunyu with annotations. SUNY Press. Olshin, B. B. (2012). A revealing reflection: The case of the Chinese Emperor’s mirror. Icon, 18, 122–141. Shi, S. (2019). Inscribing the wall of Xilin Temple. Wang, E. Y. (1994). Mirror, Death, and Rhetoric: Reading Later Han Chinese Bronze Artifacts. The Art Bulletin, 76(3), 511–534. Xixing, L. & Zhonglin, X. (2018). 封神演义 (Romance of the Gods). Sanqin Press. Xunzi (2022). 解蔽. Zhilin, B. (1934). Broken chapter. Available at:

Chapter 5

Observality for ‘Silent’ Reflexivity and Criticality

Abstract In this chapter the authors tackle the very issue of observation under the more fluid concept of observality (observation as a multifaceted process). They start by urging us to liberate ourselves from the ways we have been made to think about observation. The highly problematic dichotomy of objectivity and subjectivity is then discussed. The authors also propose working principles for observality derived from Chinese thought (amongst others). The chapter ends with an imagined Question and Answer session between the authors and the readers, whereby the authors make (practical) suggestions and recommendations about observality to support the reader in their future use of the method. Keywords Observing · Silence · Criticality · Liberation · Senses

5.1 On Liberating Ourselves [Recently, Fred made one of the most striking encounters of his life. He was in a forest in Finland, taking his daily walk. The forest was empty, not a single human soul around. Suddenly he came across a very big elk (moose), which stood probably 2 m and was about 600 kg. In Finland there are about 100,000 elks. The elk froze when it saw Fred, standing just 4–5 m away from him. Fred also froze. They stared at each other without moving. This lasted about 10 min. Fred was so impressed by the patience of this animal and started wondering what it was thinking about, staring at him, without any means of communicating with each other. The silence of the forest, with just a few birds tweeting, was also interesting. There he was, facing a huge animal, the two of them just staring at each other, nothing else was happening. The elk seemed to observe every inch of Fred’s face and body. Fred was doing the same. After a few minutes he started wondering: is this somewhat a bit like interculturality? Often, when we ‘chitchat’ with people from other countries, in fact, we just stare at each other without really communicating. Fred has often found himself in such situations where, after asking him ‘where are you from?’, his interlocutor throws at him the worst clichés and stereotypes about ‘his’ country (usually they think ‘Finland’ but that’s just one part of who Fred is, and the stereotypical ideas of what Finland is—e.g., a happy nation—do not correspond at all to the realities of the © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2023 F. Dervin and N. Chen, Interculturality as an Object of Research and Education, SpringerBriefs in Education,



5 Observality for ‘Silent’ Reflexivity and Criticality

Nordic country of 5 million inhabitants). He then just listens silently, not willing to disturb them or to respond. Fred is convinced that many times in his life he has done the same thing to the people he has met. The encounter with the elk was very similar to such ‘intercultural’ encounters, He thinks. Fred and the elk stared at each other for a while and then went their own ways]. Constantly observe everything coming into being by change and train yourself to realize that the nature of the whole loves nothing so much as to change the things that exist and create new things that are like them. (Marcus Aurelius, 2013: 26) Likeness does not make things ‘one’ as much as unlikeness makes them ‘other’. (Montaigne in Melchoir-Bonnet, 2014: 224)

We are natural-born observers. We spend most of our time observing un/consciously the world around us. Doing observation as part of e.g., our formal learning experience can be experienced as a daunting experience. We present observality here as a way of liberating ourselves from this fear of a very ‘natural’ phenomenon. As stated earlier, we are not aiming at preparing/training ‘ethnographers’ here but ‘simple’ observers working for themselves, in silent dialogues with themselves about what they observe in the other and through the mirror of the other in intercultural situations. Since our focus is interculturality-as-altering, we wish to remind readers here that the task is in itself idealistic in a sense. To attempt to catch change is like putting one’s hand under a tap and trying to catch water. [Interestingly, there is a saying in Chinese that seems to depict well this impossibility: 抽刀断水 水更流, transl. water still flows although we cut it off with our swords]. Observality is meant to help us ‘catch’ snapshots of snapshots of snapshots… of change with a view to build up our self-reflection and sense of criticality towards what we do and say, how we understand, explain and interpret things by being confronted with what we perceive in how interculturality/INTERCULTURALITY is being discussed and ‘done’. Noting change in self and others is central in the process. Observality is not to be considered as a miraculous recipe that will e.g. make us better at ‘doing’ interculturality and/or teach us the intricacies of INTERCULTURALITY. This chapter suggests a solitary approach to observation that is personal, for ourselves as individuals who engage with INTERCULTURALITY, so that we can work on our own reflections and critiques ‘silently’. There is no other reason than being with oneself here; it is just a gratuitous activity. This is based on the idea of interculturality-as-altering and is meant to both make us aware of and liberate us from some of the ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY that we have been fed with (e.g. intercultural competence, cultural discourses, respect, intercultural citizenship…) and that we have passed onto others, to open up our own eyes, and ears to the complex world of INTERCULTURALITY. Nietzsche’s (2017: 107) figure of the wanderer corresponds somehow to what we suggest here: “He who has attained the freedom of reason to any extent cannot, for a long time, regard himself otherwise than as a wanderer on the face of the earth—and not even as a traveller towards a final goal, for there is no such thing. But he certainly wants to observe and keep his eyes open to whatever actually happens in the world; therefore, he cannot attach his heart too firmly to anything individual; he must have in himself something wandering

5.2 Working Principles for Observality


that takes pleasure in change and transitoriness.” The philosopher uses important keywords that comfort the idea of interculturality-as-altering and the support that observality can provide: keeping one’s eyes open; avoiding attaching one’s heart too firmly to anything individual; taking pleasure in change and transitoriness. These require having doubts and asking questions as well as surveying/studying ourselves in the processes of observation. Since our senses are guided by previous experiences, habits and ideological orders that have been passed onto us, we need to observe these elements. We find in these direct links to what we identified as important components of change as a guiding principle in Fig. 3.2. All in all, we argue that observality can help us feel more at ease with multifaceted change in us and others in relation to INTERCULTURALITY. It is important to clarify again that observality refers to the multiple cases of observation that we face in everyday situations, which lead to observation always being embedded in participation. Behar (1997) maintains that the idea of participation observation is an oxymoron since observation cannot do away with participation. As a complex social phenomenon, which cannot be separated from other social aspects, observality can be represented by means of all the facets included in Fig. 1.1, which is a reminder of the complex position of the figure of the observerd discussed in the introduction to this book. When we observe, we all become part of this chain of positions. All in all, we suggest adopting both a poetic and an artistic attitude to observality. This is well summarized in what the poet Khalil Gibran (1833–1931) (2011: 43) proposes: “Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.” This is close to the idea of being neither too detached, nor too attached described before. Gibran’s silence is also an important aspect of our approach.

5.2 Working Principles for Observality A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others. (Faulkner, in Barlow, 2016: 28)

Let us now reflect on the very word to observe. Based on Latin observare (to watch over, note, heed, look to, attend to, guard but also comply with), the word is composed of ob for in front of and before and servare to watch, keep safe. To observe is then etymologically to watch and keep safe in front of something or someone. When one searches for synonyms for to observe one finds a wide range of words in English: behold, look, perceive, regard, see, view, gape, gaze, glare, look on, peer, stare, guard, study, monitor, spy, peek, peep (amongst others). The importance of the eye, to see is noted in most of these words. However, the way we problematize observation here goes beyond mere ‘seeing’ and includes as much as possible e.g. the five senses. As


5 Observality for ‘Silent’ Reflexivity and Criticality

much as to listen to someone is not just to hear them (see Dervin, 2022), to observe is not just to see. In Chinese many characters refer to the idea of observing too: – Like the English word, 睹 contains the sub-character 目 for eye, to look at, to see. – 观 (gu¯an) translates as to observe, to watch, to survey, to examine (amongst others) and has an ideographic of to see (见) again (又). This character is found in words referring to notion, thought, ideology (观念 gu¯an niàn); spectators, audience, visitors to an exhibition (观众 gu¯an zhòng) but also objective and impartial (客 观 kè gu¯an). – Finally, 察 (chá) translates as to examine, to inquire, to observe, to inspect (but also clearly evident) and is formed by means of 宀 for roof and house as well as 祭 for to sacrifice to, to worship. This character, unlike the two previous ones, does not indicate directly the use of eyes to observe and seems to hint at an origin related to (religious?) worship. Of interest here and as an important reminder for us, the last character is also contained in the idiom 明察秋毫 from Confucius, which means ‘hear what he says and observe what he does’. This underlines the importance to observe the potential differences between what one says and asserts and what one does—a core element in observality. This is not about trying to find some truth like a detective (words corresponding to actions and vice versa) but to explore inconsistencies, contradictions and change in what people say and do in order to enrich our take on INTERCULTURALITY. This leads us to the dichotomy of subjectivity and objectivity. Since what we propose is for solitary usage, we can push aside the controversial idea of objectivity. Often discussions of observation and ethnography are embedded in discussions of keeping distance from what one observes and of silencing the self. We suggest that you let (inter-)subjectivities emerge and to confront and even relish in them, while accepting your own vulnerability: you can’t/don’t know everything about INTERCULTURALITY (since you have been ‘formatted’ to think about it in limited ways), you cannot be in control of everything. Chalmers (2013) reminds us rightly that one cannot separate our knowledge, experiences, beliefs and expectations from our observations and interpretation of these observations. Observality in interculturality/ INTERCULTURALITY requires for us to confront naïve empiricism (reality is not there to be ‘caught’). As such we can only observe what others let us see and hear, and what we let them see and hear. LeGuin (2009: 329–330) puts it this way about the ‘scientist’: “A scientist can pretend that his work isn’t himself, it’s merely the impersonal truth. An artist can’t hide behind the truth. He can’t hide anywhere.” Feel free to observe what you like, how you like and for the reasons you like, as long as these observations (which you might want to write down, see below), allow you to confront yourself with yourself about INTERCULTURALITY first and foremost. Observality here is not about finding and/or describing a truth but to observe how in the complex forms of observality that we experience and trigger we (co-)construct realities of INTERCULTURALITY. This means, obviously, that autobiographical considerations have to be taken into account. We observe, we are observed, we

5.2 Working Principles for Observality


observe how we are being observed, we are observerds and thus our complex selves are always there, being (re-)shaped. In fact, one could say that observation is the basis of change and that it is change by itself. When we observe, reflect on our observations, changes take place in us as far as INTERCULTURALITY is concerned. We note how the way we see INTERCULTURALITY influences us in observing how it is ‘done’ and we change. Our goal is to explore these changes while surveying ourselves. This also requires observing silences in what we and the other say and do, together and/or separately. To finish on the issue of subjectivity, one thing that we might have certitudes about is what we feel, think, experience, in unstable changing ways. As such we can never be sure that what we are observing in the other is ‘right’ and that it corresponds to what is happening ‘inside’ of them. Michaux (2016) talks of ‘fantomisme’ (‘ghostism’) to point to this potential chasm between what we see in the other/what they let us see and what is really going on in them. Another writer, Canetti (1989: 14), explains: A whole book could be written about a single person as he really is. Even that would not exhaust him, and one would never come to the end of him. But if you examine what you think of a person, how you conjure him up, how you keep him in your memory, you arrive at a much simpler picture: there are just a few qualities that make him noticeable and distinguish him from others. One tends to exaggerate these qualities at the expense of the others, and as soon as one has named them, they play a decisive part in one’s memory of that person. They are what has impressed itself most deeply; they are the character.

Observing interculturally is not about confirming our ‘knowledge’ of the other, of their ‘culture’, ‘identity’, ‘community’, ‘language’ of our own ideological takes but about questioning how we perceive these elements, how much influence we might have on them, what ideologies they might reveal of ourselves and (maybe) of the other. It is first and foremost about reflecting on ourselves. The mirror of the observerd. Our next point concerns the very ‘essence’ of observality. Although the etymologies of the verb to observe in Chinese and English reveal an emphasis on seeing, we insist here on exploring other senses such as listening to (versus hearing), smelling and possibly tasting and touching. Today’s focus on seeing disregards these other senses in observing. We also need to bear in mind that the ways that we have been guided to listen, smell, see, taste in disapproving or appreciative ways also have to do with ideological orders. A colour, a simple word, vibrations and a smell can trigger certain perceptions, feelings and reactions in us because of specific economicpolitical positions that have had a big influence on us. In a course that we gave on intercultural communication education one of our students wrote the following entry in their diary, which summarizes in a somewhat direct, controversial but telling way, the issue that we are discussing here: Regarding the sense of smell, I thought of a classmate of mine in high school who did well academically. In the summer, his body always smelled of sweat. However, few people laughed at her for that. Because the smell of sweat meant she was busy. Busy with the problems she was struggling with, she forgot to take a shower, and sometimes she forgot to eat, so she was also very thin. Of course, part of this is what my eyes tell me. Based purely on smell, I would hate her because the smell of sweat on her body was very unbearable to


5 Observality for ‘Silent’ Reflexivity and Criticality me. But if you add hearing and sight, I understand why she doesn’t take a bath. I had a lot admiration for her.

We need to observe our senses too, to explore them beyond the usual and to hold off the usual for a while—not to censor it but to reflect on why it is that we see this and not that, feel this and not that, we are sensitive to a particular smell or not, and on specific positions that we attach to them. In Chinese Traditional Medicine, it is interesting to note that the character wén (聞 or 闻) can be used for both ‘smelling’ and ‘listening’. Based on the senses, observing interculturality focuses on changes (see Fig. 3.2) in people (ourselves included, and our reactions to others’ behaviours, thoughts, feelings, word and non-word languages…) as well as things-with-people and places-with-people (who cannot be separated): How, who and what, when and why change is taking place? How, who and what, when and why change is resisted, silenced and/or apparently faked? How, who and what, when and why change is changed? What does multifaceted change in your observations tell you about your own change as an observerd? What is the role of the five senses in your observality and analyses of/derived from it?1 All of this should occur with modesty, uncertainty, reflexivity, criticality of our own criticality (amongst others). The last point to raise here about observality has to do with time. As aforementioned observation is an activity that we engage in all the time, sub-/consciously. It can be short-term and/or long-term, once/on many occasions. For example, when one looks at a work of art (let’s say a painting), the observation period is usually much shorter than when we e.g., listen to music, which requires listening to the entire piece to be able to make sense of it and to appreciate it. Observation navigates somehow between these two ‘models’ of engagement with the arts. It is important to note that any moment of observation is always an unfinished ‘interaction’, a piece of a jigsaw that has no end and to whose entirety we may not always have access. This has an influence on how we might analyse the observation and the conclusions we might draw with it. If we have access to long-term observation, we might be able to reflect deeper on (our own) change—but not necessarily. If we go back to the three types of change from the Chinese language that we discussed earlier, short-term observation can trigger enough interesting ‘silent’ and ‘solitary’ reflexivity and criticality in us. As said earlier, the main issue we face with focusing on change is that we have to satisfy ourselves with snapshots of snapshots of snapshots of change since we cannot have access to change as a full-length phenomenon. This means that we always need to ‘freeze’ it in time (and space) through words that do not necessarily allow us to describe and engage with its complexity. Considering time, we need to adopt an open-closed perspective on observality of and for INTERCULTURALITY. In any case, we need to avoid what Genette (1980: 40) calls prolepsis: representing a future act or development as if it were already accomplished or existing—a trend in INTERCULTURALITY whereby one decides beforehand what is occurring in interactions through specific ideological positions such as essentialism, non-essentialism, decolonialism—deciding on the outcome become observing. We need to let our observality 1

Bearing in mind gradual and subtle change, manifest and obvious change, and silent change.

5.3 Imagined Q & A


talk for itself through ourselves. We need to let regularities, variations, instabilities, uncertainties guide our senses short- and/or long-term.

5.3 Imagined Q & A In this section, we provide more input into the use of (silent) observality for INTERCULTURALITY through an imagined Question and Answer dialogue. Q: “I cannot understand a given language, can I still observe?” A: “Knowing a language is not always beneficial to observation although it might help in some situations to make sense fully of what is happening. However here our interest is neither in discovering a reality (but ‘realities’) nor in crystallizing what we observe. Not knowing a given language, not being able to understand what people are saying, represent precious opportunities to learn to rely on more senses than just hearing and/or combining what we see and what we hear; not knowing a language forces us to be more curious, more inventive and to push reflexivity and criticality further because all that we can rely on is our impressions. Although situations of non-understanding a given language seem to be disliked by many, they often occur and they urge us to find other ways of reflecting on what people do and say, observing oneself doing observation and to learn to trust ourselves more. One could compare observing without having access to a language to a child learning to ride a bike by ditching the training wheels. As observerds, not having access to language can limit interaction but, here again, we need to force ourselves to try to find other ways to deal with INTERCULTURALITY”. Q: “Should I tell people that I am observing them and should I take notes on what I observe?” A: “The activity that we propose is for personal ‘use’, which means that we do not recommend using your observations for e.g. any form of writing to be shared with others or lectures/presentations. You must be clear about this: the ‘method’ of observality that we propose has to do with yourself only, it is meant to confront you with your own takes on INTERCULTURALITY, with how you have been ‘prepared’ and ‘fed’ with certain ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY. This is meant to be done in ‘silence’ with yourself and although your observations will nearly always include others, by the end of the day, this is about you. It is recommended of course that you take notes either during observation or after but remember to keep these notes in a safe place and to destroy them after you have consulted them a few times to confront yourself with yourself . It is not necessary to tell people that you are observing them but if you feel that this would make you feel more comfortable, feel free to do so”. Q: “Do I need to determine what to observe beforehand?” A: “You can, of course, make a list of focus points before observing but since we promote an artistic form of observality, we do recommend that you just let it come as it is. After all, this is about reflecting and critiquing (others’ and


5 Observality for ‘Silent’ Reflexivity and Criticality

our) ideologies, fantasies, desires of INTERCULTURALITY through observing interculturality-as-altering. We especially suggest that you do not worry about what, who, and how to observe. Observation in natural settings can bring very surprising outcomes when it is not planned. Just have an open mind, listen to and observe what is happening. Again, time is not an issue here, you might observe for a couple of minutes to several hours in one place and/or several places.” Q: “What are meaningful/meaningless observations?” A: “Don’t be too obsessed about finding something meaningful. For INTERCULTURALITY everything is meaningful, even the most mundane thing. With time, an observation that you did three years ago can be meaningful suddenly for another situation. Remember the principles that we saw earlier: be curious while detached and attached; wait for the unexpected to appear; you may judge what you observe while you observe or after but remember to look at your own judgments, your own criticality. All in all, it is not so much about what to observe that would be meaningful/meaningless but about how to observe as an observerd to benefit from reflexive and critical perspectives about interculturality. Finding echoes of our observations within ourselves is a meaningful aspect of observation.” Q: “Can I observe with others?” A: “One easy answer to this question is that, by their own presence, others are part of your observality—and they might be observing you without you knowing! If the question means observing consciously with others, as stated earlier, our proposal is meant to be just for yourself, as a solitary activity. Our motivation to suggest this approach was that our engagement with INTERCULTURALITY is always embedded in others’ voices, who influence us in the way we understand, define and position ourselves towards INTERCULTURALITY—fair enough! We are always within this sphere of influence as social beings. However, when we discuss INTERCULTURALITY with others, we have so much influence on each other that we might not be able to develop our own take on the notion, the pressure might be too intense to follow certain ideologies. When we are with ourselves, we can allow ourselves to be contradictory, to consider and confront thoughts that we would never admit to others, we can explore new ideological positions. Reserving these precious moments of observation to ourselves and analyses of these observation might be, we believe, beneficial to confront ourselves with ourselves (and the others in the self) silently…”. Q: “What should I do with my observations?” A: “Your observations are for yourself to explore, analyse, question and… discard. You may want to write about them (e.g., fragments, see Dervin, 2022, 2023a), record sound snippets for yourself to listen again. You might want to create some art around your observations to illustrate aspects of them beyond words. You might want to make mind maps, biographical portraits of the people you have observed, diaries, write down observed conversations, replay them through self-videoing, etc. Keep all these for yourself to consult and to use as a basis for reflecting again and again on interculturality-as-altering. While you are keeping track of your observations, you might use these questions about e.g. language as guidelines:

5.3 Imagined Q & A


• Why are they using this or that word when they speak? Why this or that concept? Why this or that formulation? How about me in my e.g. writing about these observations? • Who has influenced us/me in using specific words and their voices? • What are the multiple connotations, flavours of the words used by them and myself? • What alternative terms could they/I have used in English and other languages? • Can I translate my observations in other languages? What difficulties do I face? • …” Q: “Could you summarize observality in a few words?” A: “Observality is about accepting that observation is a multifaceted phenomenon, embedded in different positions—the observer, the observed, the observerd. Observality promises to consider what we see, hear (listen to), smell, touch, through change, instability and beyond objectivity. Placing self and the mirror of the other at the centre of observality—and silently!—makes INTERCULTURALITY more ‘liquid’, less judgemental and inward looking, helping us reflect further on the notion as a fluid object of research and education. Constantly observing one’s observality is central to this process, allowing us to become awareness of (our and others’) changing positions in relation to INTERCULTURALITY.” [Discoursing Together] – Go back to Fred’s encounter with an elk in Finland. Have you ever found yourself in front of an animal, an insect or even an object, reflecting on your interaction with them. Can you recall what your thoughts were at the time? Thinking back, would you consider these to be intercultural encounters? Why (not)? – Do you consider yourself to be a ‘natural-born observer’? For the duration of a day, check how much time you devote to observation un-/consciously? What do you do with your observations? How much do they guide you in your daily life? – Have you observed concrete changes in you and/or the people around you when interacting with people from other countries? How would you qualify these changes? – Define the notion of observality for yourself. How different and/or similar is it to the very idea of observation? What could the -ality in observality hint at? – What words and phrases can you think of in the language(s) that you know for translating the ideas of observation and observality? Can they ‘teach’ us anything new about the process of observing interculturally? – How do you position yourself in relation to the dichotomy of subjectivity and objectivity? Do you see a clear boundary between them? If you do, try to imagine why some other people might think otherwise and why they might also be ‘right’. – Would you tend to agree with LeGuin (2009: 329–330) that “A scientist can pretend that his work isn’t himself, it’s merely the impersonal truth. An artist


5 Observality for ‘Silent’ Reflexivity and Criticality

can’t hide behind the truth. He can’t hide anywhere”? What differences and similarities do you seen between e.g., an interculturalist (researcher, educator) and an artist (a writer, a sculptor)? Again, what new perspectives on observality and INTERCULTURALITY could we gain from such reflections? – In the chapter, we argue that the way we conceptualise INTERCULTURALITY will guide our own take on observality. At this point in the book, we recommend that you take some time to reflect on how you see INTERCULTURALITY as an object of research and education and speculate on how it will influence your observality. – What importance would you give to the different senses in guiding observality? Try to consider each sense in turn and reflect on how they could support us in opening up our sense of observation for INTERCULTURALITY. – Finally, after having read through the imagined Q&A at the end of the chapter, would you want to ask further questions about observality for INTERCULTURALITY?

[Suggested Reading] Auger, N. (2022). Teaching interculturality. The ecology of self-reflection as a priority. In Dervin, F. et al. (eds.). Teaching Interculturality ‘Otherwise’ (pp. 187– 199). Routledge. In this chapter, Nathalie Auger summarizes her take on how she introduces INTERCULTURALITY in French teacher education. She reveals how she makes use of interdisciplinarity in training future teachers, urging them to look at interculturality under different lenses and guises. One important aspect of her work is the systematic inclusion of self-reflection in preparing the teachers, with observation being a central aspect of her method. Behar, R. (2014). The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart. Beacon Press. Anthropologist Ruth Behar interweaves ethnography and memoir in this fascinating book, having written it in a very personal voice. Based on ethnographic observations the author demonstrates that emotion and experience do influence research and writing and that they should not be repressed. As an observer, she shows how she also becomes observed in the process. Sharma, B. K. & Gao, S. (eds.) (2021). Language and Intercultural Communication in Tourism. Routledge. This edited volume focuses on tourism in different parts of the world as a site of intercultural communication, giving space to observation as an important method for problematizing e.g. the relations between tourism and societal structures of



power and ideologies. Language and Intercultural Communication in Tourism enriches many of the points made in our book and makes us look at observations in a specific context differently. Sontag, S. (2004). Regarding the Pain of Others. Penguin. In this last suggested reading, we focus on observing and responding to images. In our observations of INTERCULTURALITY we often make use of pictures. In Sontag’s book the author presents images of horror and suffering. She helps us reflect on how we use and give meanings to images but also on how we relate to what we see.

References Auger, N. (2022). Teaching interculturality. The ecology of self-reflection as a priority. In Dervin, F. et al. (Eds.). Teaching Interculturality ‘Otherwise’ (pp. 187–199). Routledge. Aurelius, M . (2013). Meditations. Books 1–6. Oxford University Press. Barlow, A. (2016). The depression era: A historical exploration of literature. Greenwood. Behar, R. (2014). The vulnerable observer: Anthropology that breaks your heart. Beacon Press. Canetti, E. (1989). The secret heart of the clock. Farrar. Chalmers, A. (2013). What is this thing called science? Open University Press. Dervin, F. (2023a). The paradoxes of interculturality: A toolbox of out-of-box ideas for intercultural communication education. Routledge. Dervin, F. (2022). Interculturality in fragments. Springer. Genette, G. (1980). Narrative discourse: An essay in method. Cornell University Press. Gibran, K. (2011). The treasured writings of Kahlil Gibran. Philosophical Library. LeGuin, U. (2009). The dispossessed. An ambiguous Utopia. Harper Collins. Melchoir-Bonnet, S. (2014). The mirror: A history. Routledge. Nietzsche, F. (2017). Writings of Nietzsche, Volume III. Devoted Publishing. Sharma, B. K. & Gao, S. (Eds.) (2021). Language and intercultural communication in tourism. Routledge. Sontag, S. (2004). Regarding the pain of others. Penguin.

Chapter 6

Observing Our Observality

Abstract This chapter puts into practice all the elements presented hitherto. The authors use their own notes and narratives to allow the reader to make use of the concepts and methodological reflections from previous chapters. The authors’ observality derives from their long-term engagement with China, a context which is often ‘othered’ in many parts of the world. The following acts of observality are proposed: Observing ‘doing’ identity while reflecting on how one constructs self; reflecting on self through observing encounters; observing as a way of reflecting on one’s discomfort; observing perceived ‘contradictions’ as a way of confronting self to self; observing things to shake the senses. Keywords Identity · Encounters · Discomfort · Contradictions · Objects

6.1 Time to be Observerds This chapter illustrate the points made in previous chapter concerning INTERCULTURALITY. We have discussed interculturality-as-altering, observality, mirroring and the need to take into account all the senses in these processes. In what follows, we both share observations that we made in China, based on notes that we have taken for many years. We do not analyse these observations in the chapter but provide questions for you to consider and to reflect on these observations—observing our own observality while observing yours! The choice of China is based on our own life experiences and the fact that Chinese is often perceived as the ‘other’ par excellence in different parts of the world (Cheng, 2007; Lee, 2018). Although these are personal notes that only us can use as such since we know how they were embedded in our lives, the specific contexts where they occurred, our own feelings and especially the multifaceted changes that they presented and triggered, we also want you to try to consider them from the perspective of interculturality-as-altering: – Why do you think that we included these observations in this chapter? – What might the observations have done to us according to the three categories that we have discussed earlier: gradual and subtle change; manifest and obvious change; silent change (see Fig. 3.2)? © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2023 F. Dervin and N. Chen, Interculturality as an Object of Research and Education, SpringerBriefs in Education,



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– What ideologies (orders and screens) seem to guide our observations (take a look at e.g., the concepts and words that we use)? What role does e.g. the economic and the political play in them? – What voices are used to construct our observality? Who are the un-/identifiable individuals, institutions, symbols behind them? – How did we use our five senses in rendering and examining our observations? How would you fare yourself in our position? – Have you experienced something similar and/or had similar thoughts about what is discussed in the observations? – How did you change?

6.2 Observing ‘Doing’ Identity While Reflecting on How One Constructs Self In this first set of observations, we centre around the concept of identity (e.g., Dervin & Risager, 2017) and especially what our observations reveal about what discovering how others construct who they are does to how we construct ourselves.

6.2.1 Fluid Dates Many Chinese live with two calendars in their minds: the ‘international’ (Gregorian) and the ‘Lunar’ calendars. While the international calendar is ‘standard’ (a date is a date), the Lunar calendar changes every year—which means that days never fall on the same date. Let’s take the example of a date of birth. Let’s imagine that ‘internationally’ the date is 11th May. According to the Chinese calendar it falls on a different day in April 2022 for instance. This can be confusing for those who believe that dates are static and unchangeable somehow. For example, Fred has asked Ning a few times “when is your ‘real’ birthday?” and Ning has often given the Lunar calendar date while Fred expected the ‘international’ date—which, for him, is (ethnocentrically) the ‘real’ date. Every year Ning’s birthday changes, although the date on his passport remains the same. Many people do follow the Chinese calendar in China and phones can indicate dates according to it. Dates are written as follows in China: year, month and day. All these require ‘mind exercises’ for an outsider who needs to juggle between these different ways of representing dates.

6.2 Observing ‘Doing’ Identity While Reflecting on How One Constructs Self


Questions – Were you aware of the changing characteristics of the Lunar calendar? What do you think about ‘changing’ dates? – What calendar do you follow yourself? How different is it from the ‘Western’ dominating calendar? What format do you follow when writing a date? – Fred’s question about Ning’s ‘real’ birthday is qualified as ‘ethnocentric’ here. What does it mean to you? – What influence on your identity might the use of the Lunar calendar have? How might it also impact INTERCULTURALITY? Observe your own flexibility: how open are you to things that are done differently? How easy is it for you to adapt and adopt other ways (and/or navigate between ways of doing and thinking)? How about holding off judgement about such differences, how ‘good’ are you at it? Try to think of instances from your own intercultural experiences. In a similar vein, observe how ethnocentric you might be in everyday life when you comment on e.g. other ways of dealing with everyday life. What does this say about you?

6.2.2 Self-talk Every day he1 consults his Chinese social media app Weixin/WeChat to see what his contacts post (which is a bit like Facebook in the ‘West’). He has often noticed how his contacts post very personal and yet cryptic messages about themselves and to themselves, accompanied by pictures. Here is a selection of messages (translated from Chinese) which he labels as self-talk. These include: declaring activities, addressing self directly, addressing someone (maybe self included?), ‘aphorisms’ and sharing enthusiasm. He has noted that many similar aphorisms are used in e.g. stores in Beijing to ‘attract’ customers (see Fig. 6.1). Activities “Get my hair done” (after hairdresser). “New microwave oven arrived, ready to throw out the broken one”. “It’s time to get together and have dinner together! The main thing is that faceto-face communication is much stronger than remote”. “Sleep 10 hours + now an average of 9 hours a day sleep is not too much but really sleep enough”. Addressing self directly “Happy birthday to me. From now on only joy, not sorrow”. 1

In the observations of this section ‘he’ refers to us the authors in order to create an extra layer of observality for you the reader (observing us observing not as ‘direct’ ‘Is’ or ‘wes’ but as ‘indirect’ ‘hes’).


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Fig. 6.1 ‘Aphorism’ in English and Chinese found in a store in China

“I don’t want to know me”. “I often forget that the world is so big”. “I am addicted to coffee”. “I want to be a PHONE”. “Bangs do not know which side to pour” (about new hairstyle). “Every time I see the state machine fail, the heart is still secretly happy”. “Recently I worry every day. I am preoccupied. I do not know why, I cannot tell what is going on with me”. “I think my professor is talking nonsense”. “I finally understand that to live is a kind of wisdom”. “Got rejected for a round, and it was hopeless” (application for studies abroad). Addressing someone (maybe self included?) “Why don’t you ask me what I think?”. “Do yourself well, why care about how others see you?”. ‘Aphorisms’ “Eating less can delay aging?”. “Success and failure are largely self-inflicted”. “You cannot get everything”. “No one speaks freely”. “Useless monsters”. “No trust”. “Everyone is a life actor”. “Today is so HARD, tomorrow will be worse”. Sharing enthusiasm “One of the most enjoyable things I find is speaking English with native speakers. When I was in middle school, I often dreamed that I communicated with native speakers. I woke up very happy and excited to describe my feelings to my mother. I did not expect that after 24 years, my enthusiasm for English would be so strong”.

6.3 Reflecting on Self Through Observing Encounters


Some people on his line, who work for companies, try to ‘attract’ customers in the followings: “May I ask which of my dear guests wants to see me today? I can serve now, please tell me, thank you” (sales assistant). “Rare skin bag Get it for your special and unique ‘you’” (sales assistant trying to sell a bag made of crocodile skin). “XX [Western brand name] has a new bag! This bag will make you relaxed and happy in the hot summer” (sales assistant). Questions – Examine carefully what these people say. Is there anything surprising in these excerpts? Do you often see similar statements on the social media that you consult? – Self-talk is a form of identity-making for self and others. Take examples from the addressing self-category and try to speculate as to why the people have posted these on their lines. Would people around you also post similar comments? – What could these posts tell us about these Chinese social media users’ (complex) realities and identity making? – Do you find some of these messages to be relevant for interculturality-as-altering? Explain why. – Finally, read through the arguments used by the three sales assistants to attract customers. Anything surprising? Observe yourself observing what people post on your social media. What kinds of reactions do you have to the different categories of posts and why? How much do you post about yourself online? How does it compare to the observations made by one of us here? In China, it is not uncommon for people to have different accounts on social media apps where they compartmentalize friends, parents, acquaintances and total strangers. Different identities are usually performed on these accounts. If you know someone who does the same—or if you have several such accounts, observe the different identities that are depicted in these accounts. What do they tell you about others and yourself?

6.3 Reflecting on Self Through Observing Encounters 6.3.1 Co-constructing Others He overheard the following conversations in English in China: A French person speaking to a Ukrainian on a bus. Ukrainian man: “President Xi is a great speaker! He is so moving”. Frenchman: “Yes, he is very Chinese”.


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Same people talking about languages. Frenchman: “How many people speak Russian in China?”. Ukrainian man: “I don’t know. I don’t think it is a very popular language here”. Frenchman: “Yes and this language is too complicated for the Chinese”. Questions – Why are these conversations included here? What purpose do they serve for observality and INTERCULTURALITY? – There seems to be a lot of unsaid in these short conversations. What do you think that these two individuals seem to be saying to each other? What could this reveal about their ideologies and especially about what they think of their own people and others? – We often use such implicit stereotyping when speaking with others. Try to recall the last time you interacted with someone from another country, how many stereotypes were ‘hiding’? Why were they uttered? And what does the use of these stereotypes tell us about ourselves? – Any language is ‘complicated’ to learn, depending on one’s own knowledge of other languages, one’s motivation to learn a new language and one’s availability (amongst others). What does labelling a language as ‘difficult’ or ‘complicated’ tell us about the one uttering such generalisations and about how they have been made to see the world? On many occasions in the book, we have reminded ourselves of the (unfortunate but unavoidable) centrality of ‘money’ and ‘politics’ in INTERCULTURALITY. Look around you and observe how much an economic and political lens can reveal aspects of the notion, of which you may not have been aware. For example, observe how this lens seems to guide (in-/directly) how intercultural encounters are represented in films and TV series or make a list of ‘intercultural’ acquaintances and reflect for each of them on how much money and politics matter in your relations.

6.3.2 Inconsequential Encounters In the COVID-19 era, China has hosted less people from other parts of the world, which means that a foreigner is a much ‘rarer sight’. A foreigner in China might attract more attention than a foreigner in many other countries. This might be the case in small towns and even in megacities such as Shanghai or Beijing and often includes staring, smiling and (hidden) photo-taking. He has seen a few foreigners being accosted by some Chinese asking them questions such as “Where are you from?”, “What do you do in China?”, “Do you like China?”. Usually, after exchanging a few words around these questions (in Chinese and/or in English), the Chinese disappears. He has also observed Chinese people with their phones or cameras taking pictures of foreigners furtively, without asking for their permissions. A friend of his

6.3 Reflecting on Self Through Observing Encounters


told him that once she forced a passer-by to delete a picture he had taken of her eating. Although people don’t mean harm, difference, exoticism and essentialism could seem to guide their behaviours. But are these intercultural encounters? Questions – Staring at others is not uncommon on ‘our’ streets. There are different reasons why we stare and get stared at. Can you think of different case scenarios? How do you react to stares and how have people reacted to you staring at them and vice versa? – Reflect on the ethics of taking pictures of other people without them knowing. How often do you do it? Why? And what do you do with the pictures? Have you ever caught (or been caught) doing it? What happened and how did those involved (you included) react and feel? – What does the narrative tell us about the author’s potential views and beliefs about privacy, individuality, rights, and conceptions of INTERCULTURALITY? – The narrative ends with a question about intercultural encounters. What are your views on the question asked in relation to what the narrative says about ‘inconsequential encounters’? How would you define them? How do we decide on the ‘quality’ of such encounters? And, more importantly, should we care about the ‘quality’ of encounters? – When a complete stranger asks you questions such as where are you from? or how long have you been here? (if you are e.g. abroad), how do you respond? Do you usually play the ‘game’? Do you tell the ‘truth’ or lie in return? What to expect from such short encounters? Do you feel that we have to answer such questions? What happens if one refuses? Would this mean that one is ‘interculturally incompetent’? Together, we feel that this all comes down to the question of what an encounter is. Observe how you behave when you meet people for the first time. What questions do you ask and why? What questions do you refuse to ask and why? When was the last time you avoided a question during initial encounters? Why? How much might all these questions and answers influence short-term and long-term engagement with others?

6.3.3 ‘Tiger Mums’ [This is a narrative about one of us playing the ‘mediator’ between students, their parents and the institution (represented by an authority—leaders) at a Chinese university. As such, the narrative differs from the previous narratives of encounters, since it involves Chinese people only. And yet, as hinted at before, what the boundary between ‘intercultural’ and ‘non-intercultural’ is deserves to be deconstructed]. At night, or maybe since afternoon or morning, he does not remember in all honesty, he was stuck on the phone. At 6 pm, he received a message telling him that


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they would have an online meeting at school at 8.00 pm (AGAIN). But before the meeting he had to deal with two of his students’ parents. Parent 1 he refers to as ‘Tiger Mum A’, a somewhat stereotypical term used to refer to ‘Asian’ parents who are quite strict and focused on academic achievement and performance. She asked him about or, to be more precise, questioned him about her 21-year-old daughter. The student had complained about the food at the university canteen being tasteless and about the fact that she was not allowed to order food from outside the campus (which was untrue). He then asked the student why she had lied to her mother and the daughter said that she did not like her mother ordering food for her so, by telling her lies, she would not ‘shower’ her with food orders. He called Tiger Mum A back and asked her if she felt that she was too strict with her daughter, to which she replied that she was and had a tendency to plan nearly everything for her daughter, even when the latter refused. He ended the conversation with the mum, asking her to try to respect her child and to learn how to communicate with her (as a much younger person than the mother, without children, he felt uneasy having to give advice on parenting to Tiger Mum A). Tiger Mun B. He does not even want to write about her because he feels so frustrated about their ‘encounter’. This is about a student who wanted to return to the campus but because of COVID restrictions they had agreed together that he would stay at home, in a far-away province. But at night, Tiger Mum B called him and told him that her son must come back to university—arguing that he had tried to ‘fool’ the student by making him believe that he could not return to the campus. Instead of arguing with her, he contacted his three leaders and, after some discussions (she had been calling them too), they agreed that the student could return ‘officially’. The mother had threatened to send him back in any case, which meant that they would have had no choice but to accept him on campus. He finished ‘solving’ these cases at 10 pm, having in the meantime attended the 8 pm meeting. Questions – Was there anything astonishing in this narrative about two university students and their parents? How similar or different would the narrative be in the context(s) that you know? – What are each of the individuals involved in this narrative reported to do and say? (pay attention to every word used to introduce them as well as their voices). What could this tell us about the beliefs and biases of the author who wrote this narrative? – What would you have done, had you been playing the role of the mediator-teacher with the two mothers? – The term Tiger Mum might appear to be negative. Holding back our judgment, why might it be that the two mothers here act and speak [or are reported to speak] as they do? What might what they say and do tell us about broader circumstances, e.g. Chinese society, conceptualizations of family, education and rights/responsibilities? In a country like Finland for instance, parents would not

6.4 Observing as a Way of Reflecting on One’s Discomfort


usually get involved in the tertiary education of their children. What could be the reasons? Observe how your own surroundings, environment, the people around you and the broader structure (e.g., an institution) [things we tend to take for granted] influence your everyday encounters with others. What restrictions do they place on what you can do and say? At the same time, how do they facilitate encounters? How different might it be if the economic-political context(s) you live in placed different duties and responsibilities on yourself?

6.4 Observing as a Way of Reflecting on One’s Discomfort 6.4.1 McDonaldization The idea that change is inevitable and part of life seems to be accepted widely in China. The idea of change is in fact contained in many Chinese words such as culture. Adopting new ways, new artefacts and discarding others in the process is not something that the Chinese seem to shy away from. When he has discussed, for example, the idea of McDonaldization with students, they find it hard to understand: “Is Macdonald’s or Starbucks a bad thing? Is owning an Apple phone killing Chinese culture? We don’t think so,” many would assert. Change and flexibility seem to be at the basis of daily life and attitudes in China. If something is useful and practical, never mind who invented it or if it might have a symbolic economic-political value, most people will just adopt it and use it to make it theirs. Questions – Examine the statements made about China in the observations until now. How careful are those who wrote them in not providing too general an idea of China? Do you think that the way they formulate things is successful in that sense? – What do you make of McDonaldization and/or Starbucksification? Is this something that you worry and care about? What do these reveal about specific ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY? – Would you consider McDonaldization and/or Starbucksification as examples of change? – In the paragraph, discourses of ‘money’ are ‘underground’. What might they tell us about the one who wrote the paragraph? Observe how people/you talk about money in your context(s). How often such issues are referred to in-/directly? Do you know how much people around you make and how much they spend? How about ‘naming’ and money? For example, if one talks of inequality in the media, what is it made to englobe? What about social class, status, and even accents in a given language? How are these addressed? How comfortable


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are you with them? Why (not)? Have you been in situations where people dealt with these issues differently? How did you react? How much did you go with the ‘flow’?

6.4.2 The Use of English Chinese is obviously omnipresent in all parts of China and in some Minzu ‘ethnic’ areas one can also hear and see other languages such as Mongolian, Tibetan or Uighur. Besides Chinese one can also see English in many places, and e.g., on book covers the translation of the Chinese title appears in English or in the original language. A book published in Chinese and untranslated from another language will also have a title in English. English is also used on university campuses for ‘cool’ slogans during e.g., graduations (happy graduation!) and to declare one’s love for one’s institution (I heart xxx university). One might also see posters with words such as ‘happy’—the Chinese’s favourite English word (see Fig. 6.2.). At weddings and birthday parties organized at hotels, the signs are usually in English—not in Chinese. In department stores English is omnipresent and he has only seen a campaign in a language other than English for Father’s Day. Around the department store it said Bonne fête, papa for Father’s Day. This was in Beijing’s most exclusive and expensive store. Usually stores include English for e.g. Christmas or Halloween. But this time it was only in French. He wondered why. Why use this language for Father’s Day? He believes that few people might understand what this means. Maybe because it looks chic? Obviously, the use of foreign languages like English has to do with showing an international and modern image of oneself. On his Weixin line many people either post entirely in English (sometimes to avoid getting into trouble), or code-mix with Chinese (to present a ‘cool’ self?). The omnipresence of English does not necessarily disturb people or even get noticed. When he stayed at a campus during graduation a couple of years ago, he had noticed that many signs for picture-taking and for motivating the students—making them proud of their graduation!—were in English. When he shared his surprise with the Dean, she was somewhat shocked that she had never noticed. She explained that young people love English and that it makes them look ‘cool’ when they post a picture on their line with words in English. Questions – This paragraph has to do with the presence of English and a few other languages in the Chinese context. Summarize for yourself what arguments and examples the one who wrote this observation makes. Were you surprised by any of these elements? – What ideologies—i.e. specific ways of thinking, orders—might the one who wrote these lines have been fed with in relation to the inclusion of English? – Try to imagine what different kinds of Chinese people think when they see such signs in English. Do you think that some of them would be surprised, angry or could not care less?

6.4 Observing as a Way of Reflecting on One’s Discomfort


Fig. 6.2 Calendar with the words Happy Everyday in English

– What counter-arguments and advice would you give to the one who wrote this paragraph to make them change their mind about the omnipresence of English, which he seems to find problematic? – Do you think that ‘Chinese people’ might be surprised by the authors’ surprise? Observe the place of different languages in your context(s). Which one(s) do you get to see and hear on a daily basis? Why these languages? How do you react to them? How tolerant people seem to be of different languages in your context(s)? What does the presence of specific languages reveal about local economic-political engagement with otherness? Observe your observality of different languages.

6.4.3 Bling-bling Sometimes the way a word ‘sounds’ in a language can be the opposite of how the same word sounds in another. He has come across the word bling-bling and its Chinese equivalent (闪闪, with people using the English word in writing, sometimes spelt as ‘buling buling’) many times, especially in fashion ads and messages posted by sale assistants for luxurious brands on their social media. Bling-bling in English is defined as e.g., flashy and expensive-looking jewellery, usually made of (fake) gold [President Sarkozy who wore gold bracelets was referred to as ‘Bling-bling President’]. In general, he feels that the English word, also used in many other languages, is not necessarily connoted positively since it describes something extravagant, shiny and often vulgar. However, in Chinese, the word does not seem to have such negative connotations and flavours as in e.g., European languages. Gold is very much liked in China and ‘buling buling’ seems to serve as a good (maybe funny-sounding) word


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to promote luxury items. When he heard a sales person use the English word in the middle of a Chinese sentence to promote a 3000-dollar necklace, he was somewhat surprised. Questions – What seems to be the core issue here for the author? What could this narrative tell us about how comfortable he is with e.g. money issues, taste and use of language? – Words in our own language(s) and other languages might connote differently. Often, social class, gender, generational identities might also determine the flavours of words. Have you come across many words like bling-bling that might sound differently in different contexts, situations and countries? – Accepting that bling-bling might just refer to something that is expensive-looking and e.g. gold-looking, without any passing judgment on e.g. taste and class, can be a challenge since we have been made to think about such words in certain ‘frozen’ ways. Think of ways of training ourselves to hold off such judgments when engaging around these words. Try yourself, if you have the opportunity, to use certain words that you connote in positive/negative ways, adopting opposite ‘flavours’. How difficult is it? How long does it take before you can think ‘otherwise’? Observe how words from other languages get borrowed in your context(s). Reflect on why they might have been borrowed and what it might tell us about prestige, influence but also hierarchies and globalization.

6.4.4 Reminders The words civilization and civilized are omnipresent in Chinese cities. For instance, very few signs do not include a Chinese word related to the idea of civilization. The word shares the same root as culture in Chinese. Civilized is polysemic in the language and it is often used on posters and signs as a synonym for being polite, wellbehaved, respectful of others. Often, he feels that the word is used as a substitute for something that would be too blunt for the one seeing or listening to it: do not smoke, do not drink and drive, do not pollute but instead: be civilized or a civilized person is…! Interestingly the oft available English translations do include the word civilized on a Chinese poster. He thinks that in the West the word is avoided except maybe in museums and in the phrase the clash of civilizations. As a final note, someone wrote a puzzling sentence in English on Chinese social media one day: “Culture is freer than civilization”. He wonders if this was a direct translation from the Chinese. He finds it hard to understand the content of the quote.

6.4 Observing as a Way of Reflecting on One’s Discomfort


Questions – Why would the word civilization make someone from outside China feel uncomfortable? How would you determine the kind of ‘clash’ that might be happening here? – What could the evaluation of the use of the word civilization in this observation reveal about the one who wrote this paragraph? – What does “Culture is freer than civilization” mean to you and what could it reveal about the person who posted it on Chinese social media? Why might it be that the one who wrote the paragraph does not understand this sentence? – When you try to make sense of the sentence “Culture is freer than civilization”, what ideologies (i.e. ‘orders’) cross your mind? What do they tell you about the way you have been made to think about this idea? Observe how orders, recommendations and legal matters are formulated in your own context(s) and compare similar situations in other languages and in other countries (if you have access to other ‘intercultural’ contexts). What do you notice? What could such elements tell us about ourselves and others?

6.4.5 Omnipresent (Toy) Guns Guns are illegal in China and cannot be bought anywhere. This makes the country one of the safest in the world. Yet, and interestingly, guns appear to be omnipresent as toys almost everywhere. He has seen kids playing with them, parents and grandparents carrying their kids’ toy guns on the streets, toy guns being included in film posters, toy guns displayed on shop counters, etc. (see Fig. 6.3). In some Chinese films, all kinds of guns and bazookas are used. He has also seen children drawing guns with their parents. He is personally afraid of guns and has been scared in the US and/or Israel when he has seen people carry personal weapons. Seeing someone with fake toy guns that look realistic on the streets make him jump—even if he knows that they are fake in China. But they don’t seem to scare other people. He often wonders how the Chinese are able to differentiate between ‘real’ and ‘fake’. Maybe, in the case of guns, it has to do with the fact that they know that they cannot but be fake weapons. He seems to be unable to remove that division from his head. He would prefer that toy guns are also banned. Questions – What is happening here? How would you qualify what the one who wrote this paragraph describes and analyses? – What do you make of the use of the dichotomy of ‘real’ and ‘fake’ to refer to (toy) guns? – What ideologies seem to dictate what is written in this paragraph? – What does this toy gun observation might tell you about the one writing?


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Fig. 6.3 Toy guns on display in a store

– How would you suggest to reconsider and alter some of the views expressed in this paragraph? (or would you rather not?). The issue of ‘real’ and ‘fake’ is very stimulating for observality. Different contexts might position themselves in relation to e.g., expecting and appreciating ‘real’ or ‘fake’. Observe things in different places and pay attention to representations of ‘real’ and ‘fake’. What do you notice? How ‘tolerant’ are you of e.g., fake brands or fake exhibits at museums? How often is the topic discussed in your context(s)? What do such discussions tell us about people’s beliefs and attitudes?

6.4.6 Graduation Day University graduation ceremonies usually take place in China in May–June. Most master’s students have finished their studies months in advance and just wait while taking many official and informal pictures of themselves wearing a gown, with others and teachers, in all parts of the campus. They usually post these pictures on their WeChat line. For graduation, the students borrow or buy a gown and a hat (the same as on American campuses, with different colours and sometimes patterns symbolizing different faculties). [In recent years, the authors have noticed that some students wear more ‘traditional’ Chinese costumes instead of the ‘Americanised’ graduation robe].

6.4 Observing as a Way of Reflecting on One’s Discomfort


‘Graduation’ teddy bears are usually carried around by many students too. A lot of flowers are bought, given and used for photographing. During the first graduation week that he attended he noted that many students threw away the flowers in the bins when they left the graduation ceremony—with thousands of flowers wasted. Before the ceremony for the school graduation (people use the word School in English in China like in US while in some countries one might say Faculty) a group picture is taken, everyone wearing their gowns and hats, professional photographers taking group pictures. He is always amazed at how well-organized group picture taking is. With over 100 people, quickly they get together and the photographer guides them to stand (and smile) properly. A couple of hours after the ceremony, the picture is ready and given to VIPs. He notes that, often, the picture is ‘beautified’ so that everyone looks their best. The ceremony starts with all the professors and VIPs sitting at the front and the graduating students behind. There are speeches by both staff and students, a VIP (e.g., an alumni) gives a keynote, and one by one the students come on stage and receive a certificate and a rose. More pictures are taken. This all takes about 45 min. More pictures are taken again outside with supervisors and classmates. No drinks. No cake. Maybe dinner with friends and supervisors. On top of the school graduation there is also an entire university graduation which is usually even more emotional, with small ‘plays’, videos and songs. This ceremony takes place in a stadium or a big sports hall so that many people can be accommodated. Questions – After reading the narrative, what potential biases and stereotypes are contained in what the author wrote? What do they say about him? – How do institutions and individuals celebrate graduation in the context(s) that you know? What do people wear? Who attends such ceremonies? Who speaks? – Would you qualify graduation ceremonies as ‘intercultural’? Explain why. – If you have heard graduation speeches from e.g. VIPs, do you feel that this is a specific genre with somewhat compulsory components (jokes, anecdotes, specific ways of addressing the audience…)? Here you could look around your educational institution and observe influences from other places in the way things are done (e.g. graduation ceremonies, teaching, vivas, etc.). Listen to how people describe these ‘traditions’ and how much they mention (or not) influence from the ‘outside world’. Look into one academic tradition that you like at your institution and try to trace how and why it came to life.

6.4.7 Time He has attended a lot of courses and conferences abroad and spent time in a couple of European countries. It seems to him that time is always fixed in these contexts. No secretary would send an email telling people to join an improvised meeting ten


6 Observing Our Observality

or fifteen minutes later. In China this is common in professional contexts. “Meeting at 8”, people are told at 7.45. “COVID-test at 5 am”—order given at 11.30 pm. If one had other plans, they are cancelled… He is always in a hurry, feeling anxious, even panicky at times. He rushes to do things quickly—like everybody else. And often, he makes mistakes, which are then corrected by others who also rush to complete multiple tasks within a given short period of time, instead of (really) thinking and focusing. Time constraints, the combination of multitasking not only increase pressure on everyone, but they also seem to have an impact on human development. In the past people were critical of what they call 996 in Chinese—i.e. six days a week from 9 am to 9 pm. However, for a couple of years, the 007 (24/7) work system has been dominating: people are not allowed to ‘shut down’, and have to keep an eye open on their WeChat [the most popular Chinese social media application] for fear of missing important information. WeChat is a great tool for communicating and doing all kinds of practical things, however, by its omnipresence, it has become invasive. Himself, he reads information about university every couple of minutes on his social media so as to eliminate his tension and anxiety. He feels that his time is not his but the system’s. Questions – Have you heard similar narratives around time use in professional contexts (here, a university) in your context(s)? – In general, do you feel that time is ‘yours’ or someone else’s? – Are you able to separate your private and professional lives? How often do you do ‘extra’ work from home? – How flexible are you time-wise? For example, how ready are you to change the time of an appointment one day before or to start an activity earlier or later? – You have probably heard of ‘quiet quitting’ in the media, whereby employees do their job a minima, not eager to invest more time than needed for their employer. In China, the phrase ‘laying flat’ (躺平 in Chinese)—a trend amongst many young people and professionals—has more or less the same connotations and hints at moving away from competition and ‘cadence’. What the narrative describes about time in an institution could have to do with ‘quiet quitting’ and ‘laying flat’. What are your views on these trends? – Finally, reflect on the kinds of stereotypes and biases that might have crossed your mind while you were reading this narrative. Where do they come from and what do they tell you about yourself? Spend time observing how and if people around you divide private, professional, family, friend times. What forces or prevents them from doing so? How do they manage the boundaries between them? How much does e.g., their employer allow them to ‘unplug’? Finally, observe and compare what people do together in these ‘divided’ times.

6.6 Observing Things to Shake the Senses


6.5 Observing Perceived ‘Contradictions’ as a Way of Confronting Self to Self This section contains observations that seem to indicate contradictions and inconsistencies observed in different contexts. For each of the short observations, try to explain to yourself why we found these to be contradictions, from whose perspective(s) and why. More importantly, what does identifying these elements as ‘contradictions’ tell you about us, in relation to e.g., money, beliefs, language, beauty, social media? Pay particular attention to word use (e.g., superstition). Finally, would you consider the juxtaposition of the following elements to be contradictory? Why (not)? “A shop window in Beijing has a mannequin wearing a T-shirt with Jesus and a shirt over it of a dragon”. “Bookstore: On a shelf, he sees books about Chinese philosophers, Zhuangzhi, Confucius, Lao Tzi, Mencius, positioned neck to neck with books about famous and successful Chinese businessmen, Ma Yun, Li Shufu, Ren Zhenghei”. “In Qufu, the place of birth of Confucius, souvenirs lined up on a table include Confucius, Mao, the Minions, President Xi and Obama”. “He asks a group of Chinese students if they all speak Chinese the same way. They all say that they do. Then he asks each of them to tell him in Chinese where they come from. After three of them have spoken, they all laugh… the three sounded very different”. ““I am not superstitious,” a colleague has often told him. On February 5th 2022, she posts on her WeChat line a picture of the God of Wealth. A day when people celebrate this God to ask for a good financial year”. “A friend of his is very much aware of the types of contradictions that some Chinese can exhibit. About posting her pictures online she tells him: “No Meitu-filter, no post”—i.e. if I don’t beautify my pictures, I don’t post them”. In the same Chinese newspaper on the same day. IKEA CEO declares that “it is fair to say that the Chinese have no creativity”. The president of Senegal in a different section of the newspaper praises the Chinese for their hard work and inventiveness.

Figure 6.4 shows heads of Buddhist figures with a bronze bust of Chairman Mao at the back on a store shelf in Shanghai.

6.6 Observing Things to Shake the Senses This section is based on objects (non-living things), which, as a reminder, are constitutive of INTERCULTURALITY (Dervin & Yuan, 2023). Some of these objects have to do with labelling things interculturally. While reading these observations, pay special attention to: – How we talk about the objects and the values that we attach to them.


6 Observing Our Observality

Fig. 6.4 Heads of Buddhist figures with a bronze bust of Chairman Mao

– How we construct the different ways they are labelled in Chinese-English and other languages. – Any sign of change/altering in the way the objects are discussed and perceived either for ourselves or others. – Ideological constructs that reveal what these objects mean to us and how we imagine them to be for others (here mostly: the Chinese as a broad category). – What might these things tell us about ideologies shared by the Chinese. – What senses seem to be put into use to observe the things. The observations of the things are presented in alphabetical order according to the names of the ‘things’ in English:

6.6.1 Bread What is referred to as ‘bread’ by many Chinese when they speak English might not always fit into the preconceived ideas that others might have of bread. Bread in Chinese seems to include pastries, toast bread and even some sweet ‘cakes’. All these categories seem to be ‘blown apart’ in China. For him bread would refer to toast and baguette instead. Pastries (sweet or salty) would not be classified as bread. (see Fig. 6.5).

6.6 Observing Things to Shake the Senses


Fig. 6.5 European bread in a Chinese store

6.6.2 Coca Cola Coca Cola is omnipresent in China. The red label helps—red being such a powerful colour for the Chinese. Often the word Coca Cola is written in Chinese on the labels and if one does not understand Chinese, one does not always notice that it is a Coca Cola bottle (Fig. 6.6). Coca Cola is referred to as the ‘happy drink’ in China and it is used in celebrations such as weddings, graduations, birthdays. He has seen newlyweds at ‘traditional’ Chinese weddings drinking Coca Cola—bottles of Coca Cola everywhere on the tables, accompanied by piles of banknotes (the red 100 RMB ones with Chairman Mao on them). Coca Cola releases a special traditional Chinese New Year gift box every year. In some parts of the world, Coca Cola is disliked and even rejected because it symbolizes ‘bad’ globalization and the Americanization of the world. Most Chinese do not seem disturbed by this.

6.6.3 Cultural Shirts Around China, people wear clothes with messages in English. Although this is very common around the world, he feels that there is more to it in the Beijing context. Nearly every day he takes a picture of someone’s back where a message is printed in the English language—he has seen very few messages in Chinese or in other languages. Sometimes the messages mean nothing since the language is just a combination of random letters. Over the years he has collected over 500 such pictures. He is sharing some of the most interesting here. Note that these are not meant to generalize about such ‘cultural shirts’ (as they are called in Chinese). They are presented in alphabetical order and were pictured on the streets, university campuses, and at train stations and malls:


6 Observing Our Observality

Fig. 6.6 Coca-Cola poster for Chinese New Year celebrations

‘BE INDIVIDUAL’ ‘Culture is an attitude for all’ ‘DANCE WITH ME HONEY’ ‘DANGEROUS PEOPLE’ ‘DO IT FOR YOURSELF’ ‘Don’t believe everything you think’ ‘Don’t trust the government’ ‘DREAM THE WORLD’ ‘FASHION IS WHAT MAKES YOU LIFE’ ‘Feminist’ ‘GOD’ ‘HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE’

6.6 Observing Things to Shake the Senses


Fig. 6.7 ‘Keep it simple, stupid’

‘I AM THAT I AM’ ‘I WISH COMMON SENSE’ ‘Keep it simple, stupid’ (see Figure. 6.7) ‘Reading enriches the mind’ ‘Rebel Without A Pause’ ‘Silence is better than lies’ ‘UNDER SURVEILLANCE’ ‘YOU ARE THE WORLD’

Some of these cultural shirts appear to be very critical. He often wonders if and how the wearer had chosen them and, most importantly, if they understand what the messages mean (see Fig. 6.7).

6.6.4 Hometown The word hometown is often used by the Chinese to refer to the place where they were born or where their family comes from. When used in English the word sounds interesting. One day someone referred to his hometown as being ‘Paris’ or Finland on another occasion, which was interesting because the word did not seem to correspond


6 Observing Our Observality

to his representation of what a hometown is—for him a hometown refers to the place where he lives and to which he might have moved. But in Chinese, hometown has to do with family roots not where one lives. At least three generations having lived in the same place can call it hometown.

6.6.5 Luxurious but also Fake ‘Big’ Western luxury brands are extremely popular in China: Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Balenciaga and Gucci, amongst others. He is not sure how much of the population can afford real items but the price of luxuries has skyrocketed over the past years in the Middle Kingdom. + 10% here and there, approximately every six months. Bags, t-shirts, shoes, phone covers, headphone covers, etc. Everything can have a luxurious ‘écrin’ (i.e., jewellery box, see Fig. 6.8). Interestingly many of these brands are counterfeited and sold through e.g., online outlets. They often look the same, with some appearing to be of good quality. At times, however, the brand logos/names are different, with several letters modified (by mistake or on purpose?). Seen on the streets: Chapek, Blencioga, Govenchy, Cuggi. The most fascinating one was Christian Dior spelt Chinaman Trior seen on someone’s jacket. Usually the typical patterns of a given brand name are intact but the names look different. He often wonders: why do people buy ‘fake’ ones, when they are obviously fake? Do they care or even notice that the names are incorrect—maybe some don’t? Is it just to give the impression that they own these brands or because they like the design or something else…? Once one of his colleagues was wearing a fake Adidas T-shirt. He noticed that the spelling was different (Aidadas). He told her but the colleague responded that she had not noticed. She thought it was a real Adidas T-shirt that her sister gave her. He hasn’t seen any ‘fake’ Chinese brands being worn by people in China, but they must be available on the market too (e.g., Li-Ning, Anta). In Europe some people carry ‘fake’ luxurious bags that they have bought in e.g., Thailand or in Turkey but he is not aware of so widespread and obvious use of fake items. Questions – What could the observations made by the author tell us about his beliefs about brands, distinction and the idea of fake? – Reflect on the dichotomy of fake-real. How much are discussions around these two terms taking place around you? – Have you ever worn a copy of a luxurious item? How do you feel about this? Did people around you notice? Did they say anything? – How important do brand names seem to be in the context(s) that you know? What might they indicate about those who wear them and, especially, those who notice them? – How do you explain the fact that some people buy fake items even when the brand name is misspelt?

6.6 Observing Things to Shake the Senses


Fig. 6.8 Birthday cake showing the logo of a famous luxury house

[Discoursing Together] The following categories of observality for INTERCULTURALITY were discussed in this chapter based on short narratives taken from our personal notes: – – – – –

Observing ‘doing’ identity while reflecting on how one constructs self Reflecting on self through observing encounters Observing as a way of reflecting on one’s discomfort Observing perceived ‘contradictions’ as a way of confronting self to self Observing things to shake the senses.

To summarize the chapter for yourself and your take-aways, review each of these categories and think of examples of observations that you have made yourself in any context (‘intercultural’ or not), pay special attention to the mirror effect, i.e. what is it that the process of observing these moments reveals about yourself. Observality is a multifaceted entry point into INTERCULTURALITY that always goes back to ‘self’: which of these categories do you find easy/difficult to support criticality and reflexivity? Observality will lead to judging others (and self) about what they do and say. It is impossible to escape from these ‘problems’. However, since observality is for self only (not to be shared with others, especially not educators), one can confront self with such issues freely, reflecting and discussing (‘honestly’) with self about why it


6 Observing Our Observality

is that we might think in such or such way. Considering things from multiple angles, looking into e.g., differilitudes (the enmeshment of difference and similarity, Dervin, 2022), might help to find solutions and to reposition oneself in the ‘world out there’ outside of our own personal sphere. We suggest that you pick one of the narratives of observality from this chapter and try to unthink and rethink it in other ways so as to present it from a different (maybe more constructive) perspective, reflecting interculturality-as-altering.

[Suggested Reading] Dervin, F. & Yuan, M. (2023). Reflecting on and with the ‘More-Than-Human’ in Education: Things for Interculturality. Springer. This book focusses entirely on the (often neglected) need to take the more-thanhuman into account when reflecting on INTERCULTURALITY. The authors explain why e.g. objects have been ignored in most scholarship on intercultural communication education. On the basis of five ‘Chinese’ objects, they make us understand how beneficial the inclusion of ‘things’ is for observing interculturality-as-change. Louis, E. (2018). The End of Eddy. Vintage. In this ‘sociological’ novel inspired by his own life experience, the author describes the kind of social inequality that can be experienced growing up in a French village where many inhabitants live below the poverty line. His fine observations about social injustice, sexual difference and bullying can support us in enriching our own observality. Guo, X. (2018). Once Upon A Time in the East: A Story of Growing up. Vintage. Similar to the previous novel, Once Upon A Time in the East takes us first to the East China Sea where the author lived with her illiterate grandparents and then to Beijing and to the ‘West’ (Britain). In her sharp descriptions and observations of these different contexts and of the different people she has met, Guo provides us with extra lenses to sharpen our observality skills. Biao, X. & Qi, W. (2022). Self As Method: Thinking Through China and the World. Palgrave. This last book (translated from Chinese by David Ownby) is a compilation of interviews between the two authors (an anthropologist and a journalist) who are both from China. The book represents some sort of manifesto asking us to think by and for ourselves and to be open to change, using the Chinese context as an illustration to discuss topics such as family, education and the world. The book opens up our eyes further to some of the elements noted in the narratives shared in this chapter.



References Biao, X. & Qi, W. (2022). Self as method: Thinking through China and the World. Palgrave. Cheng, A. (2007). Can China think? Seuil. Dervin, F. & Yuan, M. (2023). Reflecting on and with the ‘More-Than-Human’ in Education: Things for interculturality. Springer. Dervin, F. (2022). Interculturality in fragments. Springer. Dervin, F., & Risager, K. (2017). Researching identity and interculturality. Routledge. Guo, X. (2018). Once upon a time in the East: A story of growing up. Vintage. Lee, G. (2018). China imagined: From European fantasy to spectacular power. Hurst. Louis, E. (2018). The end of eddy. Vintage.

Chapter 7

Accepting to Be Naïve like a Fool

Abstract This last chapter serves as the conclusion to the book and summarizes the main takeaways. The key elements of observality, interculturality-as-altering and mirroring are problematised together for one last time, urging the reader to continue exploring them. The benefits of observality are also discussed against what the authors refer to as ‘noisy’ ideologies of INTERCULTURALITY such as Westerncentric positions of non-essentialism and democratic culture. The chapter ends with reflections on the power to write for and with self, accepting to be naïve like a fool, while engaging in-/directly with the other in the process of observing. With the book, the reader should be equipped with basic skills to stand on the ‘bridge of INTERCULTURALITY’. Keywords Noisy ideologies · Mirroring · Autoethnography · Change · Reflexivity

7.1 Beyond ‘Noisy’ Ideologies One reviewer wrote that I have thought (maybe) too much about interculturality and that I am ‘suffering from this notion and its complexities’. I could not be more flattered. Yes, it is true. The world situation today shows that something has to be done to give the notion its due complexities—beyond a limited range of ‘Western’ options that do not necessarily support (future) teachers in grasping its complexity. There is still a lot to do for the notion in teacher education and training beyond ‘practical’ and somewhat ‘simplistic’ (pedagogical) approaches that tend to give the illusion that we can ‘solve’ easily intercultural problems. (Fred)

As we were completing this book project, Fred finalized another book on interculturality, criticality and reflexivity in teacher education (Dervin, 2023b). One of the reviewers had commented on the book content suggesting that Fred was somehow ‘suffering’ from the notion. In his response, Fred made it clear that one should be obsessed by the notion since there were so many signs that the world was in deep trouble interculturally at the time of writing. We share the same concerns in this book. We do hope that the book contributes to reminding us of the urgency to think further about INTERCULTURALITY. The book has introduced several elements and arguments for working on the complex notion of INTERCULTURALITY today. Aimed at scholars, students and © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2023 F. Dervin and N. Chen, Interculturality as an Object of Research and Education, SpringerBriefs in Education,



7 Accepting to Be Naïve like a Fool

educators with an interest in enriching and challenging their own take on this somewhat controversial notion. The proposed observality is to be ‘done’ silently, above and beyond the current noise of interculturality in research and education, which is limiting the way we are made to conceptualise and problematise the notion. We need to meditate for and with ourselves (and indirectly with others) beyond the current very ‘noisy’ ideologies of democratic culture and non-essentialism, which tend to drown other perspectives on INTERCULTURALITY. In the book we have problematized the idea of observality through the figure of the observerd—this continuum of a figure between the observer and the observed (see Fig. 1.1). The observed becoming an observer, the observer becoming observed, the observed self-observing, the observer self-observing, the observer/the observed observing observing, the observer/the observed observing becoming observed… The metaphor of the bridge in the title of the book introduction is also a reminder of the multifacetedness of the observerd. Our focus was on how to revise and enrich our take on INTERCULTURALITY by benefiting from observality that confronts (others’ and our) ideologies, positions, feelings, biases, etc. For those of us involved in problematising INTERCULTURALITY in research and education, this is more vital than trying to ‘analyse’, ‘interpret’, but also ‘prepare’ and, eventually ‘judge’, those involved in ‘doing’ interculturality in everyday life—providing them with illusionary miraculous recipes for ‘meeting the other’. What observality can do is to make us aware of our status as ‘producers’, ‘consumers’ and ‘promoters’ of selected (imagined) knowledge of INTERCULTURALITY. Since so many of us have very different ideological positions on what INTERCULTURALITY is and should entail (e.g., democratic culture, non-essentialism, intercultural competence…), it is increasingly problematic to promote these ideologies without falling into some sort of indoctrination. The Chinese argument 风声雨声读书声声声入耳, 家事国事天下事事事关心 (translated word-for-word as The sound of wind and rain, the sound of reading, the sound of reading, the family, the state and the world are concerned about everything) reminds us that a ‘scholar’ should take the world as their responsibility. For us this means that, as scholars and educators of INTERCULTURALITY, we have a responsibility to move away from indoctrination or judgements of people for what they do based on our own ideologies, economic-political views and positions (often hidden under the ‘scientific’). We should thus try to understand why they ‘do’ INTERCULTURALITY in certain ways, how they explain ‘doing’ it, and try to make sense of the potential resulting clashes of ideologies between others and them. At the same time, we have a responsibility to look at oneself in ‘the’ mirror of what they say and ‘do’ to reflect on and be critical of our own criticality. This modest position is central in the observality method that we propose and consists in placing observing our own observality at the centre of our engagement with INTERCULTURALITY.

7.2 Mirroring Change


7.2 Mirroring Change “Things change. Stay alive, down-to-earth, safe and peaceful.” (anonymous online, translated from Chinese)

In the book we suggest focusing on interculturality-as-altering in order to sharpen our eyes, ears and other senses. Change is omnipresent in INTERCULTURALITY, and it becomes an important indicator of inconsistencies, contradictions, fluidity—or, in one word, complexities—which are fundamental characteristics of interculturality. The presence of others always turns INTERCULTURALITY into constant changing fields of practice and theory. Observality is thus not about generalizing about the other and/or self—although it will but that is something we must try to address and resist temporarily through ‘silent’ reflexivity and criticality. Observality can help us to look at oneself as ‘producers’, ‘consumers’ and ’promoters’ of selected knowledge of INTERCULTURALITY. As discussed in Chap. 4, China invented so-called magic mirrors which are made of bronze. We would like to suggest that these mirrors are a great metaphor to explain what observality for ‘silent’ reflexivity and criticality can do for INTERCULTURALITY. On the back of the mirror there is a design in relief (e.g., Chinese Signs of the Zodiac). The front of the mirror is smooth and polished, and works as a mirror. If one shines a light onto the front surface of the mirror, and project the reflected light onto a blank surface, one will see the image of the design on the back of the mirror. Observality is about using this mirror with the light onto the front surface so we can see ourselves and what lies behind (e.g., other takes on INTERCULTURALITY) and critically and reflexively them simultaneously. Although this has been suggested as personal and ‘silent’ work for self as scholars and educators, we believe that it could be adapted to broader contexts of intercultural communication education to train e.g., students to reflect and engage critically (but ‘silently’) with the knowledge that is passed onto them. The combination of observality, mirroring and interculturality-as-altering can be summarized by means of the phrase a catoptric of INTERCULTURALITY—a mirror perspective on the notion.


7 Accepting to Be Naïve like a Fool

7.3 The Power of Writing for and With Self—Through the Other! “愤怒: 愤怒是我写作的灵感 或者牢骚的喷涌 大部分的人生感悟 都是愤怒的牢骚 彷佛这个时候才更加通透 其他时候 天真的像个傻子” (Trans. “Wrath: Anger is the inspiration for my writing Or a guru of grumbling Most of my life observations It’s all angry whining It seems that this time is more translucent Other times Naïve like a fool”) (Ning)

This is how Ning reacted to what he had been writing in his observality notes in 2021—in the form of a poem in Chinese. Such ‘meta’ moments of observality (doubt, shame, ‘feeling like a fool’) are central to the proposed method in this book. What this book also demonstrates is the importance of writing as a central component of observality for interculturality-as-altering—writing for and with self without worrying about other’ eyes’ reading us! Writing is usually an individual endeavour, done in silence. When we write, we always speak to someone who might be un/identifiable. That someone is often our own self. Writing about one’s observations, one’s complex positions as an observerd, how one feels, how one perceives others’ actions and emotions, re-reading what one has written several times at different periods of times, re-living one’s observality in different-similar ways, one can look into this mirror to unthink and rethink INTERCULTURALITY and to take potential actions to re-act in other ways (change). Conversations with self, other, self about

7.3 The Power of Writing for and With Self—Through the Other!


self and other; meditating about one’s (past, present and future) thoughts and reactions; having moments of pause and silence—these are all the ‘privileged’ benefits of writing about observality. Our hypothesis is that the more comfortable we are with observing and interrogating our emotions, re-actions, questions and answers, instabilities, inconsistencies, the more comfortable and curious we could be about others’ fluidity in the way they see and ‘do’ INTERCULTURALITY too. We do insist that we are not suggesting an ego-centric approach here. Although this is about self in silence, the other is always there! In parallel to this book, we were preparing an art exhibition in Beijing around Fred’s artwork. After discussing with the curator online, we all agreed that a good title for the exhibition in Chinese could be 我中有你. This translates as “I have you in me”. We had suggested a certain number of titles in English (amongst others): Stories of change, Changing faces, Changing the subject, Everybody’s changing, The changing flow, Altering eyes, Metamorphoses, Mirror encounters, Eyes like a mirror (Chinese: 目光如镜). However, at the end of our discussions and based on the art pieces, the curator rightly thought that a title that would show the hyphen between self-other would translate better the message of the exhibition. While we are writing, we do have you in us! And observality, interculturality-as-altering and mirroring all have to do with this inseparability. In a final narrative based on observality in China, one of us demonstrates well how an (unfortunate?) encounter on the subway led to writing about his own discomfort with himself. The narrative was originally written in the Finnish language. Tänään joku otti hänestä useita kuvia metrolla. Henkilö huomasi huomanneensa. Hän oli tarkkaillut häntä kymmenen minuuttia. Hän käveli hänen luokseen. Hän pyysi häntä poistamaan kuvat. Hän oli ottanut hänestä noin kymmenen kuvaa. Hän kertoi hänelle, että on laitonta ottaa kuvia ihmisistä ilman heidän suostumustaan. Hän näytti hyvin hämmentyneeltä. Kaikki katsoivat heitä. Hän pyysi anteeksi. Poistuessaan metroasemalta hän luuli ottaneensa itse kuvia ihmisistä julkisilla paikoilla Suomessa—näyttämättä heidän kasvojaan. Miksi nainen otti kuvat? Miksi hän itse otti kuvia? Miksi se saa hänet tuntemaan olonsa niin epämukavaksi Kiinassa? Tämä ei ollut ensimmäinen kerta, kun joku otti kuvia hänestä julkisella paikalla. Miksi sillä on merkitystä? Onko hän kaksinaamainen? Tunteeko hän olevansa ylivoimainen ‘valkoisten’ kasvojensa vuoksi tässä yhteydessä? Mitä hän tekisi, jos hän jäisi kiinni ihmisten kuvaamisesta? Miten hän reagoisi ja miltä hänestä tuntuisi? Mikä vaikutus tällä kohtaamisella metrossa on häneen (ja ehkä naiseen)? (Trans. Today, someone took several photos of him on the subway. The person noticed that he noticed. He had been observing her for ten minutes. He walked up to her. He asked her to delete the pictures. She had taken about ten pictures of him. He told her that it is illegal to take pictures of people without their consent. She looked very embarrassed. Everyone looked at them. She apologized. When he left the metro station, he thought he had also taken pictures of people in public places in Finland—without showing their faces. Why did the woman take the pictures? Why did he himself take pictures? Why does it make him feel so uncomfortable in China? This wasn’t the first time that someone took pictures of him in a public place. Why did it matter? Is he double-faced? Does he feel superior because of his ‘white’ face in this context? What would he do if he was caught taking pictures of people? How would he react and how would he feel? What impact will this encounter on the subway have on him (and, maybe, on the woman)?)


7 Accepting to Be Naïve like a Fool

Now it is your turn to stand on the bridge of INTERCULTURALITY and make it a habit to observe your own observality… silently! And more importantly: Accept being naïve like a fool… [Discoursing Together] – Write down three sentences summarizing the most important take-aways from this book. – Go back to Fig. 1.1 that shows the different facets of the observerd. Review each component and try to picture how they relate to your own experiences as an observed. At this stage in the book, would you add other components to the Figure? – We make a reference to a Chinese idiom about the responsibility of the ‘scholar’ for the world. How do you position yourself in relation to this assertion? (the word scholar here can also refer to e.g., educators). – Do you think that observality could ‘quiet down’ what we refer to as ‘noisy ideologies’ of INTERCULTURALITY? – What are your views on your own writing? Is this an activity (a process) that you fear? Why? Do you feel that writing for yourself about your observality, critiquing and reflecting silently, could be ‘relaxing’ and enriching? Explain why. – Go back to the subway narrative, try to imagine why the lady on the subway took pictures of one of us. What were her motivations? How did she feel about being ‘observed’ by the ‘observed’ and ‘told off’ for photographing him? – What can we learn about mirroring while reading the subway narrative and the hyphen between self-other? What lesson(s) for INTERCULTURALITY? – Finally, clarify for yourself how you position yourself in relation to INTERCULTURALITY as you are closing down this book.

[Suggested Reading] Abani, C. (2016). The Face: Cartography of the Void. Restless Books. In this short book Nigerian-born writer Chris Abani meditates on identity by reflecting on the face—his own face—and what it reveals in terms of complexity, language, culture but also racism, pain and confusion. The face (ours, yours, theirs) is one of the first elements to be considered in observality. This book can help us deepen our awareness of this central aspect of INTERCULTURALITY. Barthes, R. (1994). Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. Vintage Classics. This is a special kind of autobiography written by an important philosopher, literary theorist and semiotician, whose relation to writing is somewhat unique. In the book he alternates between the position of the commentator and the subject



of his ‘writing about writing’. The book is very inspiring for reflecting further on original ways to write about self and other based on observality. Ernaux, A. (2022). A Man’s Place. Fitzcarraldo Editions. Ernaux received the Nobel Prize for literature in 2022. A social observer, Ernaux wrote this book about her father who was barely educated and from a workingclass background. In A Man’s Place, the author reveals the social shame that her father experienced throughout his life in France and observes how he ‘coldly’ tried to ‘correct himself’. The novel corresponds to some form of autoethnography whereby the author scrutinizes herself while observing her father’s ‘place’ in the world. Biguenet, J. (2015). Silence. Bloomsbury. This is the very last suggested reading of our book and we thought that a book on silence would conclude the book the right way. John Biguenet reflects on the multiple attributes of silence for social beings, making references to historical, religious, and philosophical figures and events. Silence is not always treated as ‘gold’ in the book—which also helps us explore silence under different lenses.

References Abani, C. (2016). The face: Cartography of the void. Restless Books. Barthes, R. (1994). Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. Vintage Classics. Biguenet, J. (2015). Silence. Bloomsbury. Dervin, F. (2023b). Interculturality, criticality and reflexivity in teacher education. Cambridge University Press. Ernaux, A. (2022). A man’s place. Fitzcarraldo Editions.