Is it possible to learn from the Other? This simple yet fundamental question for education is at the centre in my new book Decolonising Intercultural Education: Colonial Difference, the Geopolitics of Knowledge, and Inter-Epistemic Dialogue, available from Routledge in August this year.
What first strikes any reader engaging with the ever-increasing body of literature on interculturality is a strong emphasis on engagement with the Other. Largely defined in terms of contact between people from different cultural backgrounds, Sage Handbook of Intercultural Competence (2009, xiii), for example, summarises the aim of interculturality as a means ‘to better understand others’ behaviours to interact effectively and appropriately with others and, ultimately, to become more interculturally competent.’ In contrast to multiculturalism that according to its critics functions as a descriptive term for the factual co-existence of people of diverse cultures in a given space with the aim to encourage hospitable attitudes towards new generations of immigrants, interculturality is said to characterise actual interaction between people once impediments to relations have been removed (Camilleri 1992; Gundara 2000; Meer & Modood 2012) – that is, to approach them, to speak with them, and even learn from them.
Nevertheless, the purpose of this book is not to uncover what necessarily constitutes such intercultural knowledge that allows us to, in Yvonne Leeman’s words (2003, 31), ‘learn to live in an ethnically and culturally diverse society.’ Instead the aim is to explore the risks of failure within Intercultural Education to recognise the different ways of knowing by which people across the globe run their lives and provide meaning to their existence. After all, even if interculturality acts as a code for a fluctuating and unbordered world brought about through a commitment to inclusiveness, it seems unlikely that it would have the same signification and equal appeal to all of us.
Essentially, this book asks whether it is possible to have respect for the many faces of humanity while concomitantly expecting everyone to become intercultural in a particular prescribed way. What I am pushing for is to open up the possibility of other ways of thinking about interculturality depending on where (the geopolitics of knowledge) and by whom (the bodypolitics of knowledge) (Mignolo, 1999) it is being articulated. The book analyses the definitions of intercultural knowledge given by EU policy discourse (Aman, 2012), academic textbooks on interculturality (Aman, 2015b), and students who have completed a university course on the subject (Aman, 2015a). As my examination indicates, there are reasons to be sceptical about all presumptions of flat substitutability between cultures in intercultural education; a kind of asymmetrical interrelation that allows everything to be translated into a universal idiom. As part of the analysis pursued, I point out the conditions that make the subjects who are able to acquire the knowledge necessary to become intercultural more likely to come from one part of the world than another. In this way, my interpretations expose another side of interculturality; a side that reveals the particularity of its universal language as the product of a certain place, at a certain time, by certain people – most often coinciding with a strictly European outlook on the world.
This book suggests an alternative definition of interculturality, which is not framed in terms of cultural differences but in terms of colonial difference. This argument is substantiated by an analysis of the Latin American concept of interculturalidad, which derives from the struggles for public and political recognition among indigenous social movements in the Andes (Aman, 2015c). Based on data gathered through interviews with teachers and students from a pan-Andean educational initiative on interculturality – or to be more precise: interculturalidad – run by indigenous movements the argument advanced is that interculturalidad as used in the Andes is not necessarily interculturality. While inseparable from each other, what I argue is that interculturalidad actualises a question of epistemological rights rather than cultural ones as the difference that straddles the geopolitical contexts from where the concepts are articulated goes beyond cultural differences as they are above all colonial; that is, they historically encounter one another on asymmetrical, unequal terms, terms of domination or subordination. By bringing interculturalidad into the picture, with its roots in the particular and with strong reverberations of the historical experience of colonialism, this study explores the possibility of decentring the discourse of interculturality and its Eurocentric outlook. In this way, Decolonising Intercultural Education argues that emancipation from colonial legacies requires that we start seeing interculturality as inter-epistemic rather than simply inter-cultural.
Aman, R. (2012) ‘The EU and the Recycling of Colonialism: Formation of
Europeans Through Intercultural Dialogue’, Educational Philosophy and
Theory, 44(9), pp. 1010-1023.
Aman, R. (2015a) ‘In the Name of Interculturality: On Colonial Legacies in
Intercultural Education’, British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 41, No. 3, pp. 520-534
Aman, R. (2015b) ‘The Double Bind of Interculturality, and the Implications for
Education’, Journal of Intercultural Studies, 36(2), pp. 149-165
Aman, R. (2015c) ‘Why Interculturalidad is not Interculturality: Colonial Remains
and Paradoxes in Translation between Supranational Bodies and Indigenous Social Movements’, Cultural Studies, 29(2), pp. 205-228
Camilleri, C. (1992) ‘From multicultural to intercultural: How to move from one to
the Other’, in: J. Lynch, C. Modgil, & S. Modgil (eds.) Cultural diversity and the schools (London: Falmer Press).
Gundara, J. (2000) Interculturalism, Education and Inclusion (London: Paul
Chapman Publishing Ltd).
Leeman, Y. (2003) ‘School Leadership for Intercultural Education’, Intercultural
Education, 14(1), pp. 31-45.
Meer, N., & Modood, T. (2012) ‘How does interculturalism contrast with
multiculturalism?’, Journal of Intercultural Studies, 33(2), pp. 175-196.
Mignolo, W. (1999) Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern
Knowledges, and Border Thinking (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).