Hospitality is the Foundation of Interculturalism

There is a long debate between advocates of intercultural, multicultural and transcultural. Are those just void academic terms or of any real substance? Or can interculturalism be a policy solution to that which in Europe is perceived as the failure of multiculturalism?

Charles Taylor is one of the finest critics we have of multiculturalism. In response to this recent kind of debate on inter- and multiculturalism, he said something very helpful. He said that, in actuality, these two terms are not saying significantly different things. But the stories told around them are significantly different. That’s beautifully put. That’s really good theory, in my view, because he is telling you something that is both flexible and concrete. He is saying that, yes, if you want to see what interculturalism stands for and what multiculturalism stands for, both sides will use more or less the same argument, if not the same vocabulary. For example, both constituencies would seem to valorize “interaction”. So the two terms are not really that different, it is just splitting hairs. […]
Instead of getting bogged down in this semantic confusion, it seems to me that the real problem has to do with the assumption that minorities and migrants have to learn how to live in “our” society. My rejoinder would be that the “natives” of any cultural context also have an obligation to question their assumptions of what constitutes citizenship. Interculturalism or multiculturalism cannot be a one-way street. And that is where the potentiality of resistance lies. Because people who have been based in a particular region for many generations could say, “Why should we change? This is my land. This is my territory. My grandparents lived here.” I am not insensitive to these sentiments but I don’t think that they should be allowed to monopolize the debate.
I feel that when we are talking about the inter-, we have no other option but to take on the connotations and actual implications of the in-between. Interculturalism does connote relationality in very specific kinds of ways as opposed to transculturalism which works across boundaries and borders in a much wider sweep and spectrum of references. While transculturalism is gaining ground theoretically, I find it somewhat too diffused. It also has the problem of eliding conflict whereas in dealing with the intercultural, the conflictual dynamics are almost inherent. I somehow prefer this position. I don’t think we should pretend there is no conflict when there is conflict. […]

And what about the artists? Should they have a role in social and intercultural development?

I would say that in the present climate artists do have a role to play in the larger search for intercultural policy. You know, I get irritated when artists adopt an isolationist position and say, “Well, we’re artists, we can’t handle political and economic policies”. And then, they go on bitching about the fact they don’t have funds. That’s the only time that many of them get politically aroused – because they haven’t got funding for their “pet project”. I think artists really have to see the larger picture of things. It is one thing to continue doing what you believe in and I certainly value that. But if you want to intervene in the public domain – yes, you can – you have to educate yourself as well about how policy is made. Maybe there are different strategies of performance involved here. Perhaps, policy making in itself can be seen as one kind of performance. Needless to say, it is not simple to engage with the performativity of policymaking at a performative level. It is not simply a matter of adapting your creative and technical skills in communicating intercultural policy. It is also a matter of educating yourself about what goes into the process of policy making. There is also the task of trying to find a way of making the language of policy dialogic through performance. How does one talk back to it? How does one deconstruct its assumptions of power? How does one subvert its illusions? There are different dramaturgical strategies that could be used to this end.

What kinds of theater would be useful for the development of intercultural practices?

It could draw on the vast spectrum of applied arts practices, which is a recognized field today, even though we know there can be a lot of problems in the applied arts. I remain a bit resistant to the overt didacticism and instrumentalization of such interventions. But I will not deny the creative possibility of applied arts, let’s say, in prisons, where one finds some very powerful interventions not just at a social level, but in terms of aesthetics as well. Within the confines of prisons, one is compelled to create new forms. The topography demands it; the surveillance stimulates new modes of subversion. […]

Do you think theater is useful as a communication tool for accessing marginalized groups and issues? Imagine if it was not a theater workshop that was being held in the prison but rather you gave a lecture.

Yes, theater can reach a large section of inmates in prisons. Perhaps, not everyone. Sometimes, unfortunately, it can reach so powerfully that there can be a backlash. Right after a workshop in the Westville Correctional Center in Durban, South Africa, in which I had participated, there was a riot in the prison. It could be related to the fact that the prison gangs resented the fact that there was this other “Non-Gang” gang, as the prison theater group was described, presenting another point of view that was potentially appealing to a larger number of prisoners. So, when it comes to catalyzing change through performance, we have to be realistic – none of this change can happen just through a workshop or a performance but, rather, through a whole series of interventions which need to happen at the same time. Education has to happen. Better conditions of life. Social and economic opportunities. Rehabilitation.
Let’s be clear: Theater cannot be regarded as the solution. Theater can only provide another language and a pedagogical start for a long-term process of a re-education of the senses and social responsibility, but it can’t be seen independently of other interventions. What one needs is collaboration across different constituencies. Earlier, when we talked about theater work, we were mirroring society in some ways and we were in touch with members of civil society but the process stopped there. We didn’t have an obligation to do anything more. But now there is an entire spate of activities around the most marginalized sections of society, including prisoners and abandoned children and refugees. To adequately address their conditions, one needs a lot more than the enactment of a play or workshop. One needs the active and dialogic support of lawyers, community workers, and I would add, agencies of the government as well. […]

You are here in Zagreb to discuss and envision the future intercultural social center. If you imagine this intercultural center as a character in a theater play, what would be its motivation for existence and how would it look?

That is a very nice way that you put it: to see the center, which does not yet exist, as a character in the making. What I am seeing here, at least within the framework of this conference, is an incredible diversity of activists coming from many different histories of struggle. I find this stirring and impressive. But I don’t think that bringing together activists from different constituencies is necessarily going to produce an intercultural social center. I would be curious to know who posited this idea of an intercultural center in the first place. What struck me before I came here is that it is called not just an “intercultural center” but an “intercultural social center”. So, I am curious about what was the thinking that went into highlighting that kind of category?  At one level, I support it. But from listening to the activists in Zagreb, I am not very sure whether the “intercultural” is what defines them or what brings them together. There is a lot of work to be done in arriving at some kind of critical consensus as to what this term means. I found that the activists I spoke to were far too concerned with their own burning issues. But what is it about these issues that facilitates intercultural dialogue? Not just dialogue but, in this case, the creation of an institutional structure so that you can work together under the same roof, sharing responsibilities and decision-making in the articulation and practice of interculturalism. I would say that a lot of work remains to be done.

The interview was led by Ivan Hromatko for Kulturpunkt.
The full-length interview can be read here.
We thank Kulturpunkt for their kind cooperation.