Dialogue in intercultural communities

Dialogue in intercultural communities: From an educational point of view. Ed. by Claudio Baraldi. (Dialogue studies 4.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009. Pp. viii, 277. ISBN 9789027210210. $149 (Hb).

Reviewed by Francesca Bargiela-Chiappini, University of Warwick, UK

The educational perspective of this book is quite original in its focus on intercultural communication in international villages and camps. These contexts are semi-institutional in regards to their structure, regulations, and routines, yet they are very different from, for example, international schools.

Taking stock of the failure of western cultural presuppositions (e.g. pluralism, individualism, and personalisation) to deliver a working framework for intercultural communication, Claudio Baraldi concedes that our society only admits to a particular version of cultural diversity while still speaking ‘in the name of humanity’ (11). It is against this ethical backdrop that Baraldi proposes a theoretical framework for intercultural communication in the detailed and engaging first chapter in the volume, ‘Empowering dialogue in intercultural settings’ (3–28). His approach pivots on the concept of empowering dialogue as a form of communication that encourages negotiated contributions and positive relational involvement. The application of this framework to adult-child interaction in multicultural educational settings addresses current concerns for the quality of children’s participation and self-expression. Empowering dialogue in turn is based on conditions of equity and empathy in communication and is enacted through dialogic actions that facilitate and promote participation (e.g. confirming and supporting, narrating personal histories, active listening, asking for feed-back, and constructing alternative stories).

From the methodological discussion of the project in Ch. 2, ‘The research project’ (29–46) by Claudio Baraldi, Gabriella Cortesi, and Vittorio Iervese, we learn that the theoretical framework has been deployed in the analysis of a large corpus of video-recorded interactions in eight villages and four summer camps in Italy, as well as questionnaires and group interviews with children, adolescents, and adults. The researchers were particularly interested in isolating cultural presuppositions, which are only enacted and observable in communication, hence the choice of linguistic analysis and the concentration of contextualization cues and the social constructions that they realize. The findings are discussed in eight chapters, some co-authored by Baraldi himself and his collaborators while the final chapter, ‘Conclusions’ (241–64), is by the editor. The careful distribution of the contents and the sustained editorial presence contribute greatly to the overall cohesive narrative and stylistic coherence of the volume.

While my intellectual appetite was sated by the critical and reflexive theoretical and conceptual discussions of Chs. 1 and 2, the findings of the research were a bit of a revelation. Against deeply thought-out and carefully crafted concepts and reflections on the virtues and desirability of empowering dialogue, the controversial, contradictory, and unpredictable, yet infinitely rich reality of multicultural interaction illustrated by the data analysis must have confounded even the more experienced observers. There is much to delve into and enjoy in this book, to the delight of all interculturalists, especially those with personal or professional interest in the promotion of peace and understanding in interpersonal and intercultural relations.