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Coming soon

Intercultural Communication with China

Beyond (Reverse) Essentialism and Culturalism?

Dervin, Fred, Machart, Regis (Eds.). 2017.

  • Helps readers to reflect critically on intercultural encounters between China and the ‘West’
  • Provides readers with interdisciplinary theoretical and methodological tools to work on interculturality
  • Solves coherently and systematically major issues related to essentialism and culturalism

Check HERE


Call for Chapters
Interculturality and the Political
Eds. Ashley Simpson & Fred Dervin, University of Helsinki, Finland
Deadline for abstracts: 1st March 2017

Purpose of the book
The notion of the ‘intercultural’ dates back to the 1950s – although many of the ideas that it discusses have, of course, a much longer history. In over 70 years and in the different fields that have used the notion, as one would expect, the ‘intercultural’ has witnessed changes in the way it is defined, constructed, researched, practiced. However, it has also retained some of its original flavours (e.g. culturalism, see Abdallah-Pretceille, 1986). Highly ideological, the ‘intercultural’ is being used in different ways across the globe, and sometimes interchangeably with other notions and concepts such as multicultural, transcultural and even global. In the 2010s ‘Western’ voices are still dominant in the ways the ‘intercultural’ is constructed, although voices from the ‘peripheries’ are being heard little by little. Institutions like the EU and the Council of Europe have used, abused and misused the notion over the past 30 years, passing onto practitioners and researchers a certain number of biases, stereotypes and uncritically reflexive positions, well beyond the geo-political space that they cover. For the Council of Europe, the ‘intercultural’ is misused today to support the idea of ‘our’ (European) democracy while for the EU it is used as a way of promoting, amongst others, some form of imagined (and implicitly superior) European identity and culture.

Building on critical work on intercultural education (Piller, 2010; Dervin & Liddicoat, 2013; Dervin, 2016; Dervin & Gross, 2016; Dasli & Diaz, 2017) and intercultural communication (Holliday, 2010, 2013; Clark & Dervin, 2014) from the past decade, this book aims to problematise the ‘intercultural’ from the perspective of the ‘hidden’, which is often represented by the ‘political’. The form of interculturality, suggested here, examines the ideologies behind discourses of cultural and societal differences, encounters but also the forms of bias and manipulation that go with them. The main goal is to dive under the surface of neutrality and objectivity that pollute research and practice (Dervin, 2016). Finally, the volume aims to contribute to drain the marsh of emptiness that the ‘intercultural’ often experiences.

Here it is important to delineate our take on the political. By the political we mean spaces of power, conflict and antagonism (Mouffe, 2005a). This reading is based on an ontology of ‘the political’ (Mouffe, 2005a; 2005b; 2013), moving beyond ‘rationalist’ understandings of the political such as Jürgen Habermas’ (2015) deliberative approach to democracy. At the heart of an ontology of the political is the belief that the political is constituted by a number of simultaneously contradictory, ambiguous and antagonistic forces (Mouffe, 2013) (e.g., the constitution and formation of identities, how intersectionalities-come-into-being, the relationship within and between the others-within-the-self). Mouffe argues that ‘liberal thought’ is ‘blind’ to ‘the political’ as it essentialises ‘being as presence’, thus, engendering politics as an exteriorisation of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ (Ibid.). A focus on ‘the political’ acknowledges the permanent coexistence and irreducibility of antagonistic forces inherent within societies (Ibid.).

This understanding of the political runs contra to Eurocentric and Anglophone notions of ‘democratic values’, which, historically, have focused on the universality and rationality of political concepts and values (including the ‘intercultural’). In Mouffe’s understanding of ‘the political’ one must distinguish between antagonism and agonism – agonism being the re-accentuation of the political towards the possibility of a ‘democracy’ which does not deny the radical negativity found within subjectivities (Mouffe, 2013). An agonistic approach to ‘democracy’ embraces the plurality of meanings and the possibility of multi and varied forms of ‘democracy’ depending upon how ‘democracy’ comes-into-being within a given context (Ibid.). Therefore, the political moves beyond the ‘Westernisation’ of political thought and encourages its accentuation and reaccentuation through spatial and geographical differentiations, linguistic differentiations, intersectional differentiations, amongst others.

In this book, we aim to problematise the political within the intercultural and the intercultural within the political. The book seeks to engage in a critical dialogue with current practices and discourses across differing spaces and places. The focus on ‘the political’ offers an alternative trajectory to explore interculturality. The volume will appeal to a number of interdisciplinary fields including educational theory and practice, political theory and practice, sociology, cultural studies, linguistics and language education and, communication studies.


Questions to be addressed:

* How is the relationship between interculturality and the political understood in research, practice, policy-making and daily interactions?
* In the wake of intercultural approaches how is the political constituted and constructed? How does it come-into-being?
* How are political struggles (Race/Gender/Sexuality etc.) constructed and negotiated in combination with interculturality? How are notions of struggle/resistance understood within interculturality? Can interculturality support these struggles?
* To what extent does e.g. education attempt to introduce and/or sanitise the political in interculturality by imposing ideas such as democracy, human rights but also tolerance and respect?
* What is the role of ‘democracy’/‘human rights’ in interculturality today? How can one develop critical intercultural methods/approaches/practices to ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’?
* Finally, can interculturality encourage people to develop political strategies of ‘resistance’?

Themes for contributors:
– The relevancies and significances of interculturality in relation to the political.
– Interculturality and confrontations/antagonisms/encounters with the political.
– Theoretical approaches to interculturality and the political.
– Hidden agendas in dealing with interculturality.
– ‘Values’, ‘the ethical’ and the Other (the moralisation, the ethicalisation, and, the humanitarianisation of the Other).
– ‘Democracy’/ ‘human rights’ education and interculturality.
– Racism, anti-racism, (Neo-/post-)colonialism and interculturality.
– Interculturality and power.
– Gender, sexuality and interculturality.
– Discourse tools/strategies for critical intercultural education.
– (Im)possible strategies of ‘resistance’ and interculturality (art as resistance, performance as resistance, non-violence strategies, occupying spaces and places, etc.).
– Reflexivity, the political and interculturality.
– Language, interculturality and the political.

Abstract of proposed chapter (300 words): 1st March 2017
Answer to authors: 15th March 2017
Full chapters to be submitted: 1st September 2017 (double blind peer review)

Potential authors are invited to submit a 300-word proposal (+ a few lines about the author(s) to the editors (<> +<> – please no pdf!
The proposed book will be submitted to Routledge.


Abdallah-Pretceille, M. (1986). Vers une pédagogie interculturelle. Paris: PUF.
Clark, J.S.B. and Dervin, F., 2014. Reflexivity in language and intercultural education: Rethinking multilingualism and interculturality. London: Routledge.
Dasli, M. and Díaz, A.R. eds., 2017. The Critical Turn in Language and Intercultural Communication Pedagogy: Theory, Research and Practice. New York/Oxon: Routledge.
Dervin, F., 2016. Interculturality in education: A theoretical and methodological toolbox. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dervin, F. and Gross, Z. eds., 2016. Intercultural Competence in Education: Alternative Approaches for Different Times. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dervin, F. and Liddicoat, A.J. eds., 2013. Linguistics for intercultural education. Amsterdam John Benjamins Publishing
Habermas, J., 2015. Between facts and norms: Contributions to a discourse theory of law and democracy. London: Polity Press.
Holliday, A., 2013. Understanding intercultural communication: Negotiating a grammar of culture. London: Routledge.
Holliday, A., 2010. Intercultural communication & ideology. London/New York: Sage.
Mouffe, C., 2013. Agonistics: thinking the world politically. London/New York: Verso.
Mouffe, C., 2005a. On the political. London/New York: Routledge.
Mouffe, C., 2005b. The return of the political. London: Verso.

New article

Haiqin Liu & Fred Dervin (2017): ‘Education is a life marathon rather than a hundred-meter race’: Chinese ‘folk’ comparative discourses on Finnish education, Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education
Free online copies available here



Over the past decade Finnish education has been praised worldwide for its students’ ‘amazing’ results in the OECD PISA studies. Thousands of pedagogical tourists – including policy-makers, researchers and educators – have visited the country to find out about the reasons behind the success and to borrow, often uncritically and un-reflexively, Finnish practices that can help them to become ‘good performers’ too. This has resulted in what we call ‘folk’ comparative discourses on Finland. China is no exception to the rule. In this article we examine a range of books about Finnish education published in the Middle Kingdom (China) for a general rather than narrowly specialist readership. We are interested in how these volumes construct certain images and myths about it and what these tell us about how the authors view Chinese education but also current societal discussions about it. Our approach is based on critical and reflexive interculturality.

Talk at Institut français Feb 2017 (Helsinki)



Transdisciplinary Approaches to Language Learning and Teaching in Transnational Times, in Volume 8 Issue 4 of the L2 Journal.

Edited by Julie Byrd Clark

A Transdisciplinary Approach to Examining and Confidence-Boosting the Experiences of Chinese Teachers of Chinese in Finland
Liu, Haiqin & Dervin, Fred


Review of Interculturality in education

Interculturality in education: a theoretical and methodological toolbox
Chengli Zuo & Liping Weng
Pages 1-3 | Published online: 20 Nov 2016

Language and Intercultural Communication

Students’ rapidly increasing intercultural contact in today’s globalized world calls for a careful re-examination of such contested concepts as interculturality in the context of education. Written from a critical perspective, Fred Dervin’s resource book Interculturality in education: A theoretical and methodological toolbox is a welcoming response to that pressing need. In this book, Dervin has made admirable attempts to clarify the related concepts of culture, identity, and collectivity and critically evaluate and reconstruct the notion of ‘interculturality’.

Situated in a postmodern context where meanings are questioned more than ever before, this book, consisting of seven chapters, sets out from the deconstruction of such concepts as culture, identity, collectivity, othering, and interculturality in order to reconstruct them. In Chapter 1, Dervin focuses on the conceptualization of ‘interculturality’ and argues that ‘interculturality is ideological in the classical Marxist sense as an evaluative rather than a neutral or descriptive notion’ (p. 4). He echoes Shi-xu (2001 Shi-xu. (2001). Critical pedagogy and intercultural communication: Creating discourses of diversity, equality, common goals and rational-moral motivation. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 22(3), 279–293. doi: 10.1080/07256860120094000
[Taylor & Francis Online]
, p. 284) that interculturality refers to power whereby some people are ‘dominated, excluded, and prejudiced against’, while others pretend that such a context of ‘domination, exclusion and prejudice’ is not there.

In Chapter 2, Dervin examines three concepts – culture, identity, and collectivity – in an attempt to achieve the most precise, explicit, and unbiased understanding of them in dealing with interculturality in education. He calls for an approach to culture that looks beyond ‘solid’ and illusory conceptions of national culture and discusses the ontological aspects of the concept (p. 9). He argues that an overemphasis on the differences between ‘our’ and ‘their’ cultures will not lead to interculturality. Dervin also emphasizes the usefulness of identity for examining interculturality especially when it is approached from the processual and co-constructivist perspectives.

Chapter 3 focuses on the five imaginaries or myths about interculturality in educational contexts: globalization/glocalization, diversity, origins, the ‘same’, and the ‘local’. Dervin argues that these imaginaries should be re-interpreted and new meanings built into them when intercultural encounters in education are addressed.

Chapter 4 departs from the question ‘who is the other?’ and discusses what ‘othering’ refers to in psychology, sociology, and educational discourses. In psychology, othering is about comparing self to other; in sociology, othering refers to differentiating discourses leading to power relations between other and self. In educational discourses, othering is something that ‘needs to be discussed openly, banished, or fought against, as it can lead to such things as racism, sexism, or even bigotry’ (p. 46). To analyze discourses of othering, Dervin integrates two social constructivist perspectives and examines the impact of power differentials.

Chapter 5 emphasizes the role of human rights in education and suggests the ‘counterhegemonic ways’ of dealing with human rights when interculturality is involved. Dervin considers unbalanced power relations, differential treatment, and different kinds of -isms the most ‘hidden’ violations of human rights (p. 59).

In Chapter 6, Dervin re-constructs the notion of interculturality in education and provides a comprehensive and critical review of the dominant models pertaining to intercultural competences (IC). He argues that these models represent an era of research and practice of ‘interculturality’ which does not match the central education objectives of fighting against othering, hegemony, hierarchies, and power differentials (p. 78). Therefore, he proposes a meta-analysis of ways of constructing IC in research and teaching: ‘solid’, Janusian, ‘liquid’ idealistic, and ‘liquid’ realistic (p. 78). The ‘solid’ approach to IC is limited in that individuals are given static identities based on national cultures or languages. The (liquid) idealistic approach, guided by the idea of ‘diverse diversities’, emphasizes ‘the dangers of non-essentialistic, non-culturalist ideas, as they can hide discourses of discrimination, power, and superiority, and can easily serve as excuses and alibis’ (Dervin, 2015 Dervin, F. (2015). Towards post-intercultural teacher education: Analysing ‘extreme’ intercultural dialogue to reconstruct interculturality. European Journal of Teacher Education, 38(1), 71–86. doi: 10.1080/02619768.2014.902441
[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®]
, p. 84). Due to the fact that the objectives of non-essentialism and non-culturalism cannot be attained in the end, the (liquid) realistic approach can be a better choice.

The concluding chapter, Chapter 7, explains how the amateur interculturalists differ from the professional interculturalists in that the latter know how to tap into the ‘normal’ things and bring out the underlying ideologies and attitudes by drawing on Said’s (1993 Said, E. (1993). Representations of the intellectual. New York: Vintage Books.
) representations of the intellectual. The 10 commandments of interculturality in education that Dervin puts forward in this chapter echo the most essential ideas presented in all the previous chapters.

In this book, a critical stance toward such concepts as culture, identity, collectivity, and interculturality seeks to reject reductive and hegemonic interpretations of these notions and to move toward more interpretive and critical approaches to intercultural communication research. Unlike social science scholars, Dervin suggests a (liquid) realistic approach toward IC, where IC involves dealing with contradictions, instabilities, and discontinuities. Being aware of instabilities enables people to reconsider the relationship between self and other and revise their power relations. Dervin further argues that the current ‘industry of Imagineering of IC’ often wishes to protect individuals from experiencing discomfort by creating ‘interculturally correct’ situations and/or educational content, which deprives them of or distracts them from real discussions on structural inequality, oppression, and new forms of segregation (p. 83). Therefore, the (liquid) realistic perspective moves beyond the simple programmed stages of IC development and creates situations where authentic intercultural encounters occur.

Dervin also argues that intersectional analyses are very helpful for developing IC. Intersectionality can help examine the impact of power differentials from a more multifaceted perspective and ‘individualize’ analyses of intercultural encounters rather than generalize them based only on cultural/ethnic identity (p. 83). According to Dervin, the extant IC models tend to be overly individualistic. IC is co-constructed by individuals in specific contexts, which means that dialogues need to be central to any approach to IC and discarding individualistic perspectives can allow people to examine the interdependence between I and others when interculturality takes place (p. 84).

To address the complexities of interculturality in education, Dervin also provides interesting examples of identity, othering, IC, and so forth. These actual instances, examined in great detail, aptly connect readers to real-world situations and challenges. The thought-provoking questions attached to each chapter allow readers to capture the slippery concepts, delve deep into the phenomena under examination, and develop their own ideas for practice and research.

This book, replete with innovative ideas, is not only a treasure box from which useful ideas and practices can be drawn but a source of inspiration for students, instructors, researchers, practitioners, and decision-makers in need of new ideas about interculturality and education. Given the limitations of social science or functionalist approaches to IC, critical perspectives show good prospects in creating new possibilities for intercultural research and practice in the context of education.

Pia-Maria Niemi’s defence on 10.12.2016

“Creating A Sense of Membership in Basic Education : The contributions of Schoolwide Events”

This study investigates the ways that schoolwide events can contribute to the creation of membership in a school community. An essential aspect of school life across grade levels and national contexts, the sense of membership refers to a situation in which a student is accepted as part of a group by others and feels connected with the other members of the community. The importance of membership has been highlighted in international studies that have shown the positive relation between students sense of school belonging and several academic and non-academic features of their lives, such as their motivation for learning and general future orientation. To increase the knowledge of how school practices can support students sense of membership, this study focuses on schoolwide events, including celebrations, theme days, and other organized activities for the entire school community’s participation…

More information HERE

Well done Pia-Maria!


Available in paperback!




Fred Dervin: “We must imagine Sisyphus happy”


watch here