Revisiting Intercultural Competence: Small Culture Formation on the Go through Threads of Experience

Revisiting Intercultural Competence: Small Culture Formation on the Go through Threads of Experience

Adrian Holliday (Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/IJBIDE.2016070101
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This paper argues that intercultural competence is not something that needs to be acquired anew but that needs to be recovered from our past experience of small culture formation developed during the process of socialization from birth. This small culture formation is on the go because it is a constant activity in response to everyday engagement with other people. It is activated by drawing threads of experience that can connect with the experiences of others. During cultural travel such threads can be pulled both from home to abroad and back again. This is however not a straightforward process because operating in the other directions are blocks that are created by Self and Other politics and essentialist discourses of culture that can enter into the process at any point, also fueled by our everyday understanding of the world and the global position and politics inherited from national structures. Any process of intercultural competence training needs to help intercultural travelers to recover existing threads and avoid blocks by means of ethnographic disciplines.
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Small Culture Formation On The Go

Small culture formation can be defined as “the everyday business of engaging with and creating culture” (Holliday, 2013, p. 56); and it relates to the underlying universal processes that we all take part in on an everyday basis forming and re-forming culture as we go. We encounter and learn to position ourselves with small cultures such as family, school, other families, all the groups and institutions that we join or interact with. We carry this intercultural competence with us to apply to new cultural locations.

I can see this in action when watching my grandchildren from a very early age visibly learning how to negotiate the Self and Other of who they and other people are in very complex cultural events such as mealtimes, meeting strangers and encountering the unfamiliar. This is exemplified by a recent event concerning my four-year old granddaughter:

We were in a department store together looking for the elevator. We discussed who to ask for directions and decided on a shop assistant who wasn’t serving somebody. He came to the elevator with us and did an exaggerated walk to entertain my granddaughter. The next day, when I was recounting what happened to her father, she said that she didn’t like the way the shop assistant walked. I agreed with her that he was rather odd and that I was pleased to get away from him.

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