Possibilities and Challenges for Intercultural Research in Global Urbanism

Possibilities and Challenges for Intercultural Research in Global Urbanism

Gerardo del Cerro Santamaría (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0214-3.ch005


Globalization has brought about an increased exposure to intercultural contexts and practices. Researchers see how their professional practices include an increasing degree of exposure to researchers and practices from other cultural contexts and disciplines. In the field of urbanism, this happens via two processes that the author will analyze in this chapter: (1) processes of participatory learning and research in networks formed by alliances of researchers, or researchers and citizens, in the intercultural city; (2) transnational circuits of research ideas (a process of intercultural symbiosis). The author analyze processes of intercultural research as alliances and circuits and assemblages (participatory, transnational urbanism) as means to highlight the complex nature of intercultural practices and their implications.
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Intercultural research refers to research across cultures. As Dahl argues, “the idea of a shared, yet distinctive, set of values held by one society with resulting behaviour and artifacts is fundamental to the basic idea of ‘culture’ within the realm of intercultural research” (Dahl, 2004, p. 12). Hofstede defines culture as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the member of one group or category of people from another” (Hofstede, 1994, p. 5).

Hofstede expands the concept of ‘collective programming’ by suggesting that culture could therefore “be situated between human nature, which is not programmed, nor programmable on the one side – and the individual’s personality on the other side” (Hofstede, 1994, p. 8). On the other hand, Spencer-Oatley defines culture as “a fuzzy set of attitudes, beliefs, behavioral norms, and basic assumptions and values that are shared by a group of people, and that influence each member’s behaviour and his/her interpretation of the ´meaning´ of other peoples´ behavior” (Spencer-Oatley, 2000, p. 37).

Thus, both Hofstede and Spencer-Oatley highlight the collective dimension of culture. We adopt this approach and, in this paper, we use a pragmatic working definition of culture within the field of urbanism as a set of research practices that identify the field´s practitioners from outsiders.

Intercultural research here is close to the notion of “epistemic culture” (Knorr Cetina, 1999). We contend that intercultural research in urbanism would be represented by a sustained traffic of ideas and practices that further redefine research cultures as rhizomes or assemblages.

We thus adopt a dynamic conception of culture and research, and we see intercultural research as necessarily transcending conventional disciplinary boundaries. Rather than exploring the most appropriate methodologies for intercultural research and cross-cultural comparisons, this paper presents examples of intercultural research in urbanism, their possibilities and drawbacks, and suggests possible ways to advance intercultural research in urbanism by proposing assemblages as an ontology for urbanism and transdisciplinarity as an epistemic or research strategy. This paper then asks: how is intercultural research made possible in the field of urbanism? We will see that some of the existing examples of intercultural research in urbanism resemble participatory action research, an approach that relies on community member participation to examine social reality and the creation of local skill capacity for the purpose of creating community autonomy through the process of praxis (Sommer, 1999).

The paper identifies alliances and circuits as forms of collective research, learning and knowledge, and as the conditions of possibility for intercultural research in urbanism. We discuss the city as an intercultural milieu, where participatory urbanism and alliance formation, between researchers and citizens, take place. Then we discuss urban policy travel, a form of transnational urbanism (where intercultural means international) that is based on circuits, flows and networks between creators of knowledge, ideas and policy and receptors and adopters. In the section devoted to issues, controversies and problems we deal with (1) borders and citadels, and (2) global structural problems. These two elements constrain, sometimes in significant ways, the processes of alliance and circuit formation that were identified as the pre-conditions for intercultural research in urbanism. In the section on solutions and recommendations we suggest (1) practicing places as a strategy to overcome borders and boundaries and (2) assemblages as hybridization, where intercultural ties happen through translation, in the trade zones across research cultures and disciplines. Disciplines are understood as conceptual hubs based on history and path-dependence, not as self-contained, closed systems of knowledge and research. As possible research directions in the near future we identify (1) holistic intercultural research, and (2) complexity and transdisciplinarity.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Learning: The process of learning through our interactions and communications with others (Vygotsky); culture therefore becomes the single most significant factor for learning, research and knowledge creation.

Hybridization: The transcendence of binary antagonisms; a “third space” where the social articulation of difference takes place.

Complexity: Complexus means that which is woven together; the bond between unity and multiplicity. Complex thought, education and knowledge, in Edgar Morin´s understanding, take into account contextual, global and multidimensional factors to devise strategy conducive to more fruitful action.

Transdisciplinarity: A way of thinking that proposes crossing traditional disciplines and modifying the classical notion of science, including binary logic and underlying values.

Dubaization: The process of urbanizing a city with futuristic, pioneering architecture, as in Dubai (United Arab Emirates), and many other cities around the world.

Assemblages: A bottom-up framework for analyzing social complexity by emphasizing fluidity, exchangeability, and multiple functionalities through entities and their connectivity, as in rhizomatic research cultures.

Participatory Urbanism: Collaborations among city planners, architects, social scientists, urban activists and citizens to analyze and try to solve city problems.

Holism: The theory that parts of a whole are in intimate interconnection, such that they cannot exist independently of the whole, or cannot be understood without reference to the whole, which is thus regarded as greater than the sum of its parts.

Epistemic Cultures: Knorr Cetina defines the term as a diversity of scientific activities according to different scientific fields, not only in methods and tools, but also in reasoning, establishing evidence, and relationships between theory and empiry.

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