The emergence and institutionalisation of the intercultural: navigating uneven discourses in a British university

Collins, H. (2016) The emergence and institutionalisation of the intercultural: navigating uneven discourses in a British university. Ph.D. thesis, Canterbury Christ Church University.


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This thesis provides an ethnographic account of the institutionalisation of intercultural communication, intercultural studies and the umbrella label of ‘intercultural’ within a large British university. The study finds that the spread of the term ‘intercultural’ has been prolific, but the concept of ‘intercultural’ is polysemic and kept strategically vague within the university.

The theoretical positions taken by social actors (university staff and students) who encounter and use ‘the intercultural’ is varied and uneven. The hegemonic position frames the ‘intercultural’ as compatible with the values and dominant discourses of the neoliberal university which ‘the intercultural’ must be seen to serve to become part of the institution. This position is evident, for example, in cases where ‘the intercultural’ is mobilised as a marketing tool to suggest it is a key to providing increased student employability and capacity for competing in a globalised world. In this version, ‘the intercultural’ is largely understood as essentialist and it is complicit with a wider methodological nationalism used to naturalise categories such as ‘international’ and ‘home’ students. While this may allow ‘the intercultural’ to gain institutional space, it paradoxically threatens to render the concept devoid of theoretical value. A counter position taken by some social actors stresses the need for greater criticality which avoids the essentialist traps posed by a structural-functionalist approach to the intercultural.

This study is relevant to current arguments which emphasise the need for a paradigm shift in the application of ‘the intercultural’ and it suggests that the daily exigencies of the University and its discourses serve as an impediment to a conclusive shift. This raises the question of whether a nuanced approach to the intercultural is possible within a neoliberal university and suggests there is not only a need for a paradigm shift for ‘the intercultural’, but for universities as well.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Divisions: Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Depositing User: Mr Andrew Hudson
Date Deposited: 12 Sep 2016 13:45
Last Modified: 22 Sep 2016 05:16

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00