1.4  CROSS-CULTURAL STUDY: Some Considerations
HUM 211 Online Course Pack - Winter 2010
Fall 2007
COCC Home > Cora Agatucci Home > Classes > HUM 211 Home > HUM 211 Course Pack > 1.3 Cross-Cultural Study

SHORT CUTS on this web page: A Message from Ron Mpho Shea Solberg (1998) | Interview with China Achebe (2000): Excerpt
An Arena of Learning & Change (Reed Way Dasenbrock, 1992) |
Cross-Cultural Translation (Anuradha Dingwaney & Carol Maier, 1992) |
A Code of Conduct for "Cross-Boundary Discourse (Jacqueline Jones Royster, 1996) | Works Cited

"The world is big. Some people are unable to comprehend that simple fact.
They want the world on their own terms,
its peoples just like them and their friends,
its places like the manicured little patch on which they live. 
But this is a foolish and blind wish.
Diversity is not an abnormality but the very reality of our planet.
The human world manifests the same reality and will not seek our permission 
to celebrate itself in the magnificence of its endless varieties.
Civility is a sensible attribute in this kind of world we have;
narrowness of heart and mind is not."
--Chinua Achebe, Bates College Commencement Address, 27 May 1996
URL: http://abacus.bates.edu/now/Comm96/address.html [Sorry - Link broken as of 1 Jan. 2003 ~ C. Agatucci]

A Message from Ron Mpho Shea Solberg
E-mail Communication, 11 July 1998.

Dear Cora Agatucci: 

Of equal concern to an ignorance existing within many people with white skin, is the common attitude within black organizations that tend to overfocus on skin color when persons are interested in Africa and African cultures.  I happen to be an American with white skin and one who served an extended term with the Peace Corps in a small African nation.

My experience then, and subsequent contact there, has helped me delve more deeply and directly into traditional culture and issues than a typical volunteer or interested person regardless of colour can typically experience. 

There are many persons in this country and around the world who have managed, likely with the help of their empathy and personality, to bridge racial and cultural differences, to learn often more than they teach. 

People everywhere have personal interests, agendas, and goals, but what we need to all remember, regardless of the culture we find ourselves within, is the tremendous need to learn, to question, to strive to perceive through that cultureís eyes, the situations and history that have shaped that culture.  This capability and willingness to learn, to more accurately perceive is not dictated by skin tones, but one's heart and personal drive.  It requires a personal commitment and willingness to learn, and in some cases, unlearn what they have been customarily taught.  It requires an open mind; a willingness to question, sometimes entering and working through an uncomfortable zone.

For modern human history to evolve accurately recognizing inclusive input from Africa as an example, we must discuss and facilitate dialogue between people of all ethnic families, not dependent on race.

I hope you incorporate such an open inclusive approach in your programs, your mission, and goals, and life approach.

Thank you,

Ron Mpho Shea Solberg


Bacon, Katie.  " An African Voice."  Interview with Chinua Achebe.  Atlantic Monthly 2 Aug.  2000. Atlantic Online, Atlantic Group, 2000.  1 Jan. 2003  <http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/interviews/ba2000-08-02.htm>.

[Q:] You have been called the progenitor of the modern African novel, and Things Fall Apart has maintained its resonance in the decades since it was written. Have you been surprised by the effect the book has had?

[Achebe:] Was I surprised? Yes, at the beginning. There was no African literature as we know it today. And so I had no idea when I was writing Things Fall Apart whether it would even be accepted or published. All of this was new -- there was nothing by which I could gauge how it was going to be received.

But, of course, something doesn't continue to surprise you every day. After a while I began to understand why the book had resonance. I began to understand my history even better. It wasn't as if when I wrote it I was an expert in the history of the world. I was a very young man. I knew I had a story, but how it fit into the story of the world -- I really had no sense of that. Its meaning for my Igbo people was clear to me, but I didn't know how other people elsewhere would respond to it. Did it have any meaning or resonance for them? I realized that it did when, to give you just one example, the whole class of a girls' college in South Korea wrote to me, and each one expressed an opinion about the book. And then I learned something, which was that they had a history that was similar to the story of Things Fall Apart -- the history of colonization. This I didn't know before. Their colonizer was Japan. So these people across the waters were able to relate to the story of dispossession in Africa. People from different parts of the world can respond to the same story, if it says something to them about their own history and their own experience.

[Q:] It seems that people from places that haven't experienced colonization in the same way have also responded to the story.

[Achebe:] There are different forms of dispossession, many, many ways in which people are deprived or subjected to all kinds of victimization -- it doesn't have to be colonization. Once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it's far removed from your situation. This is what I try to tell my students: this is one great thing that literature can do -- it can make us identify with situations and people far away. If it does that, it's a miracle. I tell my students, it's not difficult to identify with somebody like yourself, somebody next door who looks like you. What's more difficult is to identify with someone you don't see, who's very far away, who's a different color, who eats a different kind of food. When you begin to do that then literature is really performing its wonders.

Cora's Summary of "Teaching Multicultural Literature," by Reed Way Dasenbrock.
Understanding Others. Ed. Joseph Trimmer and Tilly Warnock.
Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1992. 35-46.

A. Cross-Cultural reading and interpretation should be approached as an arena of learning, for teachers as well as students.

1. Discard the assumption that the only "proper" interpreter is the already informed expert interpreter: if we only attempt to learn and teach what we already "know" (e.g literatures of our own cultures), we discourage cross-cultural "outside" reading and learning, and confine ourselves to the traditional "canon" of Western literature.

2. Recent literary theories have made "room" for the reader in the interpretive act, but when reading cross-cultural texts, Hermeneutics, Deconstruction, and Reader response critics have given the reader too much room. Such theorists suggest we can only understand texts on our own terms, can only understand what is like us, and we remake literary texts in our own image (e.g., "universalize"). Such theorists encourage us to read to take possession of the text and fail to address the classroom and cross-cultural situation.

3. A key goal is to stimulate the readerís curiosity about other cultures, not to possess or control the text from the position of the expert. Instead, students and teachers should cross cultures as learners, as needing and wanting to learn about other cultures, their literatures and verbal arts; initially, we choose to become more knowledgeable; gradually, we become more informed and overcome the sense of remoteness and strangeness of othersí difference across time and culture.

B. Cross-cultural reading and interpretation is an arena of change (Dasenbrock citing Davidson)

1. The site of reading and interpretation is a site of learning, adaptation, and change for cross-cultural readers as they engage with cultural difference, remoteness--it is "not an arena of certainty" where one can be proven "correct."

2. A starting point for developing new, more appropriate models of cross-cultural reading and interpretation might be this model (based on Davidson): The central movement in interpretation is from an assumption of similitude to an understanding of difference. The stages are:

a. The uninformed reader will begin with a "prior theory," "interpretive charity" that assumes the new person or text we encounter is like us (same worldview, behavior patterns, values, aesthetic principles, etc.), but also with the receptive attitude of desiring to learn across cultures.

b. The reader encounters "interpretive anomalies," differences that make us suspect the new person or text is not like us in significant ways, and our "prior theory" of similitude is wrong, incomplete, and in need of adjustment.

c. We construct a sequence of "passing theories"--short term theories of interpretation--as we gather more and more information, adapting our inferences about the person or text being interpreted/read so that our interpretive theory better fits the new person/text weíre trying to interpret and understand.

d. The powerful cross-cultural text provokes readers to construct these "passing theories"; they are often designed to do: that is, they are not written for readers just like themselves/their authors, and the "best" writers do this kind of writing well.

e. Gradually, readers change their interpretive systems to accommodate the culturally different people/texts, as readers gain more experience with such cross-cultural encounters, so that readers can communicate interculturally across difference.

3. Understanding of cultural difference leads, not to an inability to interpret, but to an ability to communicate across difference, even if we donít share the same beliefs, values, etc. What is essential is that we become better informed and more experienced in understanding what culturally different others mean by their words and they would understand ours to mean. We construct sequential short-term "passing theories" to interpret differences, and keep adjusting those passing theories again and again as we learn more and more.

4. In the process, the reader-interpreter changes, adapts, learns in the cross-cultural encounters with the anomalous, the different, so the encounters are experienced as productive, not frustrating. The cross-cultural experience is rich, even at its most confusing, because we develop and draw on translation/interpretive competencies, as we would in any sustained kind of interpersonal communication.

Cora's Summary of "Translation as a Method for Cross Cultural Teaching," by Anuradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier.
From Understanding Others. Ed. Joseph Trimmer and Tilly Warnock.
Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1992. 47-62.

A. What translators do:

1. Translators assume something in one language/culture can be communicated, "borne across," and recovered in another language/culture.

2. Translators interpret, mediate, intervene in the "prior"/original text to be translated; translators do not, cannot just repeat or copy the prior text.

3. At issue in judging the worth of translations is the "appropriateness," not the "accuracy," of the translatorís choices.

4. Translators owe "fidelity" to the "prior" text/author; the translator has not authority to disregard it or to substitute it for texts of the translatorís own. The author of the prior text, embedding or inserting her/himself into her/his culture, also "translates" that culture--its cultural, social, historical, political realities--with authority for initiating in particular ways for particular purposes that must be respected. The original text, then, constrains and resists "appropriation" by the translator-reader; that is, the translator cannot interpret the original text in terms only of the translator-readerís own experience and culture.

5. Translators must also acknowledge that even the most "faithful" translations are refracted through the translatorsí own experiences, cultures, worldviews, aethetic values, etc. "Informed" translation, then, is aware of its inevitable mediation, even as it tries to remain accountable to the original authorís purposes, what the author wants from readers, how the author envisions readers, the processes and modes of creative production with the authorís culture, the arrangement and materials of the prior text, etc.

6. Translators aim to create a "complex tension," or dialectical interplay, between two goals:

a. to make the "alien" original text familiar, accessible, immediate, readable to the intended cross-cultural readers; to allow the prior text to speak as directly as possible, with power, immediacy, urgency, to the cross-cultural reader, enabling "identification" (even if this is problematical)--enabling the reader to imagine her/himself in the authorís place--without "appropriating" the original authorís distinct cultural/personal identity; and . . .

b. to respect and render the difference of the original text/author, the cultural distance that does exist between the readersí/translatorsí world and the prior text/authorís context--yet without making that difference and distance so inaccessible as to prompt cross-cultural readers to dismiss or abandon the rewards, as well as responsibilities, of crossing cultures.

B. "Revisioning" reading (learning and teaching) cross-cultural texts as "translation":

1. Readers acknowledge the conditions, mediations, goals, limitations and possibilities of translation as definitive of reading (learning, teaching) across cultures.

2. Such readers expect cross-cultural reading to be a sometimes disquieting (e.g. the anxieties of "cross cultural translation), but ultimately rewarding activity.

3. Such reading is approached as highly interactive, a dynamic of participating-distancing that makes readers more aware of the organizing principles at work in their own reading and interpretation, and of the claims the cross-cultural text makes upon readers even as it gives them access to another world.

4. Readers are challenged to re-position themselves between and within both worlds--their own and that of the text--and readers consciously choose to work within/between the difference.

5. This effort at "transculturation" (Dingwaney and Maier cite Perez Firmat) is a transition, passage, process of fermentation, turmoil, that leads to a cross-cultural synthesis of the two worlds.

A Code of Conduct for "Cross-Boundary Discourse"
Cora's Summary of  "When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own," by Jacqueline Jones Royster.
From College Composition and Communication (Feb. 1996): 30-37.

In her Feb. 1996 College Composition and Communication article "When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own," Jacqueline Jones Royster calls for a new paradigm of "voice"--self-reflective, responsible, and responsive to the "converging of dialectical perspectives" at any site of "cross-boundary discourse." Teachers, researchers, writers, and talkers need to be carefully consider differences in "subject position" among all participants in such dialogues--differing cultural contexts, ways of knowing, language abilities, and experiences--as well as the social and professional consequences of our cross-boundary discourses. Royster believes it is time to articulate a code of behavior--respectful, reciprocal, and responsible--for such discourse that will enable us to talk with culturally different others--not "for, about, or around" them--a vision of genuine dialogue that makes open, respectful listening as important as talking and talking back.  From Royster’s three troubling stories of her experiences with cross-boundary discourse, I have abstracted below what such a code of behavior for such discourses might look like:

1. Reconsider your claims to authority to engage in knowledge construction and interpretation about a cultural group other than your own. Such claims should be constrained and tempered by
(a) acknowledgement that substantial knowledge already exists
and meanings have already been assigned;
awareness of how--from what subject positions and on what grounds for claiming authority--that knowledge [your own and others’] has been constructed;
(c) self-reflective recognition that your interpretation may say more about you and your own context than about that of your intended subject,
including the real possibility that what you think you see may not actually be there at all (30-32). That is, talking with others means placing your interpretation in dialogue with others’ as just one interpretation among the many that are mutually constituting the field of meaning making.

2. Remember your "home training" (31) when you cross the threshold into the homes and cultures of others.
The right to free inquiry and discovery in such spaces does not absolve you from the necessity of demonstrating professional integrity, honor, good manners, respect for others’ viewpoints, and adherence to the "golden rule." Be careful "not to judge too quickly, draw on information too narrowly, or say hurtful, dehumanizing things without undisputed proof" (32).

3. Commit to reciprocity in inquiry and discovery efforts especially in cross-cultural "contact zones" where engagement is likely to be contentious. To achieve a deeper, richer, broader, and more enriching mutual understanding:
(a) all inquiries--from subject positions outside as well as inside our cultures--should be taken seriously;

(b) possessive, exclusive rights to know our own cultures must be given up;

the tendency to lock ourselves into the tunnels of our own visions and direct experiences must be worked against;
all should operate with personal and professional integrity.

4. Treat differences in subject positions as "critical pieces of the whole, vital to understanding, problem-finding, and problem-solving" (34).

5. Commit to "serious study of the subject" (34), which includes these imperatives:
don’t cross cultures as "voyeurs, tourists, and trespassers" (34);
(b) approach interpretation and speaking of the subject as a "privilege" to be "negotiated," especially when you are an "outsider";
learn to listen to "insiders" with an attitude of believing, of expecting something of value, consequence, and importance from them.

6. Respect the voices of "hybrid people" who have learned to move with "dexterity across cultural boundaries and can make sense of the chaos of difference" (37); value these intercultural border-crossers and boundary-straddlers as guides, negotiators, translators, for they can shed light for those of us less experienced and competent in cross-boundary discourse; and these "hybrid people" speak in many voices--recognize all the voices of these "hybrid people" are equally "‘authentic’ constructions of social realities that affirm differences and variety (37).

This summary was first prepared by Cora Agatucci in 1996, and it has been used as a handout for courses and for a conference presentation
entitled "Mapping Pedagogies for Crossing Disciplines and Cultures," for the panel "When the Teacher Is Not the Expert:
Implementing Non-Canonical Pedagogies," with Kathy Walsh & Kevin Dye, 1996 PNASA Conference, 19 April 1996 , Bend, OR.

Works Cited

Agatucci, Cora, ed.  "An Arena of Learning and Change."  Summary of "Teaching Multicultural Literature," by Reed Way Dasenbrock (from Understanding Others: Cultural and Cross-Cultural Studies and the Teaching of Literature. Ed. Joseph Trimmer and Tilly Warnock.  Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1992. 35-46).

Agatucci, Cora, ed.  "A Code of Conduct for 'Cross-Boundary Discourse.'"  Summary of "When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own," by Jacqueline Jones Royster (from College Composition and Communication Feb. 1996: 30-37).

Agatucci, Cora, ed.  "Cross-Cultural Translation."  Summary of "Translation as a Method for Cross Cultural Teaching," by Anuradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier (from Understanding Others: Cultural and Cross-Cultural Studies and the Teaching of Literature. Ed. Joseph Trimmer and Tilly Warnock. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1992. 47-62).

Bacon, Katie.  " An African Voice."  Interview with Chinua Achebe.  Atlantic Monthly 2 Aug.  2000. Atlantic Online, Atlantic Group, 2000.  1 Jan. 2003 <http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/interviews/ba2000-08-02.htm>.

Solberg, Ron Mpho Shea.  E-mail Communication.  11 July 1998.

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