The Progressive Post

From superficial multiculturalism to a ‘pedagogy of productive diversity’

The fabrication of a new European citizenry comes about through the responsiveness to and inclusiveness of diversity.

17/12/2019

The fabrication of a new European citizenry comes about through the responsiveness to and inclusiveness of diversity. This demands a more comprehensive effort to empower the entire social fabric to foster a strong intercultural awareness and responsiveness to the issues arising from the co-existence of citizens and non-citizens in modern societies.

European societies are gradually coming to terms with their cultural identity and the so-called European way of life. This is because their national cultures and institutional structures are being transformed by the constant and loud presence of culturally different others in a process named vibrant cosmopolitanisation. New demands for legitimation and integration are emerging as “natives (familiar others) and the alien (exotic) others unavoidably and involuntarily mix all over the world”. However, on the other side of the coin, the forces of re-nationalisation, populism and radicalisation, which negate refugee/migrant presence, are posing a huge challenge as to how the European mainstream narrative is constructed. Grand narratives of homogenised and idealised ‘national building’ usually suppress/assimilate cultural and ethnic differences to project a canon of normality. Ethnocentricity and superficial multiculturalism promote a singular cultural narrative which is based on superiority and gross divisions. Belonging in this context is not comfortable as clear dichotomies are drawn between mainstream and minorities.

“When their differences are productively used, people develop a more powerful sense of inclusion than they would if homogeneity were forced upon them”

Diverse Europe faces the construction of the so-called new mainstream. This new mainstream is affected by the cultural logic of cosmopolitanisation and globalisation. In our globalised world, culture appears to be homogenised through standardised symbols, actions and products (e.g. in media communications, fashion icons, entertainment). At the same time culture is open to divergence allowing for a myriad of styles, tastes and preferences as people actively try to differentiate. In this context, people develop powerful senses of belonging based on their differences, experiences and perspectives. When their differences are productively used, people develop a more powerful sense of inclusion than they would if homogeneity were forced upon them. When differences are ignored then people feel less engaged and valued, and they are therefore less productive.

The new mainstream is an intermediate space (a third space) of intercultural capital building, negotiation, reciprocal engagement and openness. It does not represent a single cultural destination / framework as it refers to a process of community building where experimentation and the interrelation of diverse cultural mindsets occurs. It therefore signals a profound shift beyond superficial multiculturalism which relies on mere recognition of minority presence. It makes this shift by accepting the transformative power of civic pluralism and recognising differences as a productive resource/asset in building the new civility. This new nation building is open to and inclusive of different cultural narratives. It gives prominence to various displays of difference and constructs a new national identity through reciprocal cultural exchange, intercultural dialogue, risk-taking, negotiation and collaboration. It builds a new social agreement of democratic co-existence taking account of the risks involved. 

“Differences become a fundamental and productive resource for learning where students do not have to be the same or have identical opportunities.”

In education, the new mainstream is formed at the intersection of ‘gross demographics’ (material differences of class, locale, family, corporeal differences of age, race, sex/sexuality, physical/mental and symbolic differences such as language, ethnicity and gender), and ‘lifeworld divergence’ (formed by life narratives, personae, affinities and orientations).

Differences become a fundamental and productive resource for learning where students do not have to be the same or have identical opportunities. They must be equal having comparable opportunities in terms of access to employment and civic participation. Inclusiveness is a key premise upon which education can manage individual differences without prejudice so as to secure social access and recognition. The goal of education is to support learners’ ability to collaborate and negotiate with culturally different others in new and changing settings as well as to support their efficiency to learn and to transform themselves by working and sharing with others. To achieve this, education must consider learners’ ‘lifeworld’, namely their everyday life experiences and learning gained in their respective family, community and cultural context. To ignore or negate this diverse cultural asset is counterproductive. The assumption that there is a single and standard form of culture is not helpful as in the modern world “there is only aptness to situation”. For instance, instead of teaching standardised national language grammar rules, we need to teach language learners how we make sense of the differences in meanings we encounter in complex communicative situations. 

Only plurilingual and interculturally competent citizens will have the ability to sustain personal/professional growth and inclusive participation in local/global democratic processes. A fundamental challenge for education is therefore to build upon, extend and transform learners’ lifeworld experiences. This implies a systematic reform with the aim of including language and cultural diversity as a social/learning resource of cohesion, solidarity and economic development. But how can formal school learning connect with such a vast divergence? Pedagogues for a long time have argued for the adoption of a ‘pedagogy of productive diversity’, which is equitable and transformative in nature and allows for multiple representations of culture towards building a new mainstream concept. This pedagogy occurs through heritage language teaching, collaborative praxis, responsive feedback, and scaffolded/differentiated learning. 

In conclusion, the fabrication of a new European citizenry comes about through the responsiveness to and inclusiveness of diversity. It demands a more comprehensive effort to empower the entire social fabric to foster a strong intercultural awareness and responsiveness to the issues arising from the co-existence of citizens and non-citizens in modern societies.

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