{Conceptualising} Intercultural Personhood

Introduction

(by Zhuo ‘Min’ Huang)

The concept Intercultural personhood was first coined by Kim (2008, 2015) in her work of the globalised way of being. I have adopted the concept and further expanded it in my doctoral study (Huang, 2019) and in my on-going work (e.g. Huang, 2020) about ‘intercultural personhood: an non-essentialist conception of individuals for intercultural research‘). My research explores students’ meaning-making about ‘who I am’ in their intercultural experience: a) in a culturally-diverse UK university setting, and b) when taking part in a world music performance ensemble (klezmer), i.e. a site of intercultural musicking. Below I introduce these conceptual explorations briefly.

Huang, Z. M. (2019). Mindfulness and intercultural personhood: Understanding students’ intercultural experience at a culturally-diverse UK university. (PhD Education).

Huang, Z. M. (2020). Intercultural personhood: A non-essentialist conception of individuals for intercultural research. Language and Intercultural Communication. DOI

Kim, Y. Y. (2008). Intercultural personhood: Globalization and a way of beingInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations32(4), pp.359368. DOI 

Kim, Y. Y. (2015). Finding a “home” beyond culture: The emergence of intercultural personhood in the globalizing worldInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations46, pp.312. DOI 


Kim’s Intercultural personhood (IcP)

(Image by KWANGHO SHIN from https://arthur.io/art/kwangho-shin/139-untitled)

Kim’s (20082015) uses intercultural personhood as an alternative model of cultural identity in order to challenge the common conception of individuals often being “locked in a provincial interest of one’s ascribed group membership” (2008: p.360). She embraces the complexities of being a human in the intercultural context, including the non-static, open-ended, integrative, transformative, and problematic natures of human beings. Thus, with intercultural personhood, Kim provides a humanised, “meta-theoretical” understanding of how individuals, with their plasticity and reflexive capacity, construct their “self” in relation to others as part of a larger whole (2008, pp.360, 367). This constructive sense, or what Ting-Toomey (2005) and Amadasi and Holliday (2018) call negotiation, is at the centre of intercultural personhood.

Kim’s model of intercultural personhood, following Erikson (1950), is developed in a way responding to the tension between individual identity and group identity. It sees identity development as a process of merging two identities (i.e. the individual/personal and the group/social) into one (2008, p. 360). To Kim, the development of intercultural personhood involves two interrelated processes: a) individuation which solidifies a differentiated, particularised sense of the self and other individuals; and b) universalisation which develops an awareness of the relative and universal aspect of human nature among different social groups (2015, pp. 6-7). This conception of individuals challenges the simplistic and conventional categorisation of people which usually uses national culture (or ethnicity) as an untested, defining vector of identity (Titley, 2012, p. 16). By using the term intercultural personhood, Kim seeks to move beyond the boundaries of ascribed or assigned categorisations (2015, p. 6), and to provide a more hybrid, liberal (Tebble, 2006), creative (Huang, 2020) and cosmopolitan (Delanty, 2006) space for understanding individuals.

Amadasi, S. , & Holliday, A. (2018). ‘I already have a culture’: Negotiating competing grand and personal narratives in interview conversations with new study abroad arrivalsLanguage and Intercultural Communication , 18 (2), 241256. DOI 

Delanty, G. (2006). The cosmopolitan imagination: Critical cosmopolitanism and social theoryThe British Journal of Sociology57(1), pp.2547. DOI 

Erikson, E. H. (1950). Identity: Youth and crisisW. W. Norton Company.

Huang, Z. M. (2020). Intercultural personhood: A non-essentialist conception of individuals for intercultural research. Language and Intercultural Communication. DOI

Kim, Y. Y. (2008). Intercultural personhood: Globalization and a way of beingInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations32(4), pp.359368. DOI 

Kim, Y. Y. (2015). Finding a “home” beyond culture: The emergence of intercultural personhood in the globalizing worldInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations46, pp.312. DOI 

Tebble, A. (2006). Exclusion for democracyPolitical Theory34(4), pp.463489. DOI 

Ting-Toomey, S. (2005). Identity negotiation theory: Crossing cultural boundaries. In W. B. Gudykunst (Ed.), Theorizing about intercultural communication (pp. 211233). Sage.

Titley, G. (2012). After the ‘failed experiment’: Intercultural learning in a multicultural crisis. In Y. Ohana, & H. Otten (Eds.), Where do you stand? (pp. 161180). Springer.


Huang’s Further Development of Intercultural Personhood

I adopt intercultural personhood to understand students’ first-person meaning-makings about ‘who I am’ in their intercultural experience. This first-person perspective (i.e. a constructive sense) cannot be replaced by a second/third-person perspective (i.e. ascribed/assigned identity) for understanding individuals as intercultural beings (Glas, 2006; Shahjahan, 2019; Splitter, 2015). My adoption of the concept seeks to liberate the conception of individuals from essentialist, prescribed labels and reductionist identifications (Huang, 2020). As many interculturalists (e.g. Amadasi & Holliday, 2018; Dervin, 2011; Holliday, 2000) also argue, the essentialist view, as similar to racism, attempts to fit people into preconceived categories which reduce the complexities of humanities, and ignore the liquid nature of intercultural learning and experience. Therefore, by adopting a non-essentialist stance, I recognise that students participating in the complexities of intercultural experience are persons who can learn and interact, negotiate and conflict, and who have emotions and various states – all of which constitutes who they are and their changes throughout their intercultural experience.

Nonetheless, Kim’s conceptual formulation of intercultural personhood emphasises a self-other orientation. This orientation could, however, reinforce the artificial boundary between the self and others, or the personal and the sociocultural worlds. I do not adopt this self-other orientation and instead, explore the intercultural personhood of individual students by holistically and fluidly connecting the personal outward and the social inward spectrum of being a person (Erikson, 19501982; Schwartz, 2001). Also, Kim’s use of intercultural personhood tends to be interchangeable with a similar term intercultural identity (2015, p. 6). However, the two terms, although interrelated and inseparable, emphasise slightly different aspects of ‘who I am’ in the intercultural context (Lieblich & Josselson, 2013; Splitter, 2015). I focus on intercultural personhood which foregrounds being a person in the intercultural context rather than the (cultural) characteristics which identify and distinguish a person from others (as is usually associated with identity). By focusing on this aspect of personhood, I explore the psychological development of ‘what it means to be an intercultural person’ (Kim, 2008, p. 365) and the common humanity (p. 364) (or what Holliday (2018) calls normal humanities) in an increasingly fluid world.

Amadasi, S. , & Holliday, A. (2018). ‘I already have a culture’: Negotiating competing grand and personal narratives in interview conversations with new study abroad arrivalsLanguage and Intercultural Communication , 18 (2), 241256. DOI 

Dervin, F. (2011). A plea for change in research on intercultural discourses: A ‘liquid’ approach to the study of the acculturation of Chinese studentsJournal of Multicultural Discourses6(1), pp. 3752. DOI 

Erikson, E. H. (1950). Identity: Youth and crisisW. W. Norton Company.

Erikson, E. H. (1982). Identity and the cycle of lifeNorton & Co.

Glas, G. (2006). Person, personality, self, and identity: A philosophically informed conceptual analysisJournal of Personality Disorders20(2), pp. 126138. DOI 

Holliday, A. (2000). Culture as constraint or resource: Essentialist versus non-essentialist viewsIATEFL Language and Cultural Studies SIG18, pp.3840.

Holliday, A. (2018, August). In search of interculturality: Personal histories, and thinking from Beijing 2015. Paper presented at the 18th IALIC conference: The ‘good’ interculturalist, Helsinki, Finland.

Kim, Y. Y. (2008). Intercultural personhood: Globalization and a way of beingInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations32(4), pp.359368. DOI 

Kim, Y. Y. (2015). Finding a “home” beyond culture: The emergence of intercultural personhood in the globalizing worldInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations46, pp.312. DOI 

Lieblich, A., & Josselson, R. (2013). Identity and narrative as root metaphors of personhood. In J. Martin, & M. Bickhard (Eds.), The psychology of personhood: Philosophical, historical, social-developmental, and narrative perspectives (pp. 203222). Cambridge University Press.

Schwartz, S. J. (2001). The evolution of Eriksonian and neo-Eriksonian identity theory and research: A review and integrationIdentity: An International Journal of Theory and Research1(1), pp.758. DOI

Shahjahan, R. A. (2019). From ‘geopolitics of being’ towards inter-being: Envisioning the ‘in/visibles’ in the globalization of higher educationYouth and Globalization1(2), pp. 282306. DOI 

Splitter, L. J. (2015). Identity and personhoodSpringer.


Defining Intercultural Personhood

In my 2020 article, I offered a conceptualisation of intercultural personhood:

a personalised hybrid construct of change and exchange that is negotiated through the multipolarised tensions of being‘.

My conceptualisation recognises individuals as first-person meaning-makers who negotiate their ‘self’ in, and co-evolve with their intercultural experience through, circles of eco-creation. My conceptual exploration of intercultural personhood distinguishes itself from Kim’s by avoiding a self-other orientation and foregrounding the aspect of ‘personhood’. It emphasises the reciprocal and holistic aspects of being a person in intercultural experience recognising that a person constructs the ‘self’ through the reciprocal relativity of exchange, and exists in the fluidity of living and negotiation. Their agentive living and negotiation stretches across the multipolarised tensions/dilemmas of normal humanities revolving around the fragile core of self-existence. My conceptualisation is based upon small-scale study in a particular UK higher education setting by using specific creative-arts methods with four selected participants. The resulting meaning-makings provide a step towards the conceptual and methodological operationalisation of non-essentialist thinking for intercultural studies. However, more research is needed in order to further understand the concept of intercultural personhood, especially with regard to its reciprocal nature, the negotiation of multipolarised tensions, and the roles of coherence and continuity, morality, and affect in constructing an intercultural person.

Huang, Z. M. (2020). Intercultural personhood: A non-essentialist conception of individuals for intercultural research. Language and Intercultural Communication. DOI


Intercultural Personhood and/through intercultural musicking

In an on-going interdisciplinary project we (i.e. Zhuo Min Huang and Richard Fay, in collaboration with our colleagues from the Music Department, Daniel J Mawson and Caroline Bithell) are exploring musicians’ negotiation of intercultural personhood through World Music Ensemble Performance (WMEP) or World Music Education (WME) – and in particular, through the klezmer module. This is the project area of intercultural musicking.

The project uses creative-arts methods to explore students’ intercultural development through klezmer performance as a particular type of World Music Education (WME). We are exploring their intercultural development through the lens of intercultural personhood. The study – in its 2020-21 COVID19 online modality – makes use of a particular creative arts method: ‘blind’ portrait (see Huang, 2019; 2020; Huang & Fay, 2020).

To date, we have worked with 14 alumni of the klezmer module and thereby generated 14 data sets comprising: a blind portrait of the musician as they see themselves in world music performance; and an ‘interview’ discussion of this portrait, leading to a focus on their klezmer experience.

We intend to write about our analysis of this data during 2021, with a twin focus (i.e. two separate articles) on the arts-based research methodology and the intercultural musicking aspects (see Fay, Mawson & Bithell, under review).

Fay, R., Mawson, D., & Bithell, C. (under review). Intercultural musicking: Learning through klezmer. {for a Languages & Intercultural Communication special issue}.

Huang, Z. M. (2019). Mindfulness and intercultural personhood: Understanding students’ intercultural experience at a culturally-diverse UK university. (PhD Education).

Huang, Z.M. (2020). Exploring imagination as a methodological source of knowledge: Painting students’ intercultural experience at a UK university. International Journal of Research and Method in Education. DOI

Huang, Z. M., & Fay, R. (2020). The role of arts-based research into world musical experience for lifelong learning: Using creative arts methods to understand intercultural personhood. Symposium paper presented at ACE 2020, Zagreb Croatia.

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