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Intercultural encounters as socially constructed experiences : which concepts? which pedagogies?

Holmes, P. (2015) 'Intercultural encounters as socially constructed experiences : which concepts? which pedagogies?', in Routledge companion to cross-cultural management. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 237-247. Routledge companions in business, management and accounting.


Intercultural encounters in the workplace are frequently plurilingual, intercultural, socially constructed interactions that are situated in time, place, space, and purpose. Competence in one encounter can very quickly manifest as incompetence in another supposedly similar context. This complexity puts into question formulaic, essentialist models of intercultural communication and competence that have characterised much cross-cultural business/management education. While these approaches provide some insights into behaviour and communication of people in “Culture X”, they often result in stereotyping, grounded in ethnocentric and prejudiced attitudes; and this stereotyping, in turn, may lead to “othering”. One response to these static models of how culture is understood has seen the rise in popularity of theories and models of intercultural competence, often subscribing to the idea that communication with (cultural) others should be both “appropriate” and “effective” to enable individuals to “achieve their goals”. This position is exemplified in the definition offered by Spitzberg and Changnon (2009)—which emerged from their in their seminal synthesis of multiple models of intercultural competence—as “the appropriate and effective management of interaction between people who, to some degree or another, represent different or divergent affective, cognitive, and behaviour orientations to the world” (p. 7). Thus, the term “intercultural competence” and the variety of models, frameworks, and theories in its name, have come to be seen by some in the cross-cultural communication literature as both a panacea and a solution when interacting with people from other cultures. 2 In this chapter I begin by outlining some reasons why traditional cross-cultural management education and training approaches are no longer appropriate in the second decade of the 21st century, and some shortcomings of the theoretical concept “intercultural competence”. I discuss how terms like “culture” and “identity”, when no longer treated as solid and static states, and multilingualism offer possibilities for new understandings of intercultural encounters. In my own teaching approach I encourage students to engage in practices and in research and assessment tasks that invite them to move beyond a preoccupation with aggregate and/or static models of culture and cultural differences. By drawing on social constructionism as a theoretical standpoint for understanding and experiencing intercultural encounters, I provide a possible pedagogy and possible assessment approach that invites learners to consider more deeply the nature of intercultural encounters, and simultaneously, monitor their own intercultural communication within them.

Item Type:Book chapter
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Publisher statement:This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in Routledge companion to cross-cultural management on 06/05/2015, available online:
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:19 February 2015
Date of first online publication:27 April 2015
Date first made open access:06 November 2016

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