Community Media Discussion – Intercultural Identities

This week in our community media discussion, we are continuing our conversation about community cohesion, and the role that community media can play in promoting an intercultural social experience. We will be talking about how community radio can promote greater social understanding between majority and minority communities, and if community media practitioners and advocates should promote intercultural rather than multicultural media?

Join our regular Tuesday discussion by signing up on Patreon for as little as £1 per month.

Continuing our theme of community cohesion and intercultural interaction, we’ve seen how Ted Cantle raises some interesting questions about multiculturalism and social interaction that can be applied to community media. Ted asks questions about how well we are prepared to deal with social change and increased social differences. Ted Cantle notes that:

“While the post-war period of mass integration was addressed through the lens of multiculturalism and ‘race’, the emphasis was almost inevitably upon dealing with the discrimination and intolerance of monocultural host communities who felt threatened by ‘difference’ and offended by what they saw as unacceptable social and cultural minority norms” (Cantle, 2012, p. 141).

There is motive, then, and according to proponents of the intercultural approach, for us to ‘break free’ of many of the past concepts of social identity and interaction that have informed multiculturalism. If we are to build a new, more dynamic approach to thinking about and practising social relationships and identities fit for the future, then the intercultural approach will be necessary.

According to Ted Cantle, the intercultural outlook is driven by the overarching need for effective community cohesion and interaction between communities. There is a clear need to break down any potential segregation that may hold people back, either collectively or individually. This approach to interculturalism is defined, according to Ted Cantle, by a framework of rights that demands equal treatment of people with different social characteristics. It is non-discriminatory. However, where interculturalism differs from multiculturalism can be seen when we consider the apparent purpose of social interaction, where we want to go beyond merely coexistence, and instead gear ourselves more towards interaction and dialogue, and a mutually meaningful existence. This means, according to Ted Cantle, adopting an approach to social cohesion that is less focussed on group identities, and which requires us to give more space and time to the dynamic emergence and interaction of identities, expressions of purpose and the practices of intercultural relationships.

Intercultural approaches, therefore, are holistic, being determined by a sense of the whole society and community, and within the context of the wider social framework of interactions. So, rather than simply taking a slice of a single part of our identity and extrapolating out from that unique experience, however marginalised that identity might be, intercultural thinking instead sees social engagement as part of a field of interdependent systems and nodes within those systems. At its worst, multiculturalism places an expectation on people from minority communities to confirm and assimilate with the majority host community. The problem with this model was that it failed to allow either the minority population, nor the majority population, to mutually respond to one another and to change. Placing demands on people to protect the boundaries between inherited cultures, wherever and in whatever for they are articulated and manifested, is like trying to stop the tide from changing. Arguing that cultural appropriation is wrong, on the one hand, while at the same time discouraging people from ‘selling out’ their cultural heritage, is equally problematic. Why erect boundaries between people when we should be learning from one another?

There will always be communities of people who hold themselves steadfastly against any form of incorporation with the majority culture. In a liberal democracy, segregation can be justified and respected because it is not a requirement for everyone to assimilate themselves into the majority culture. However, it is not an unreasonable question to ask: what would happen if every self-identified person of a minority community declined to interact in a reciprocal way with other people who cherish their identities equally vociferously? The intercultural approach, therefore, seeks to demonstrate that there is considerable benefit to be gained by establishing and sustaining meaningful interaction and dialogue between people with different cultural experiences, ethnicities, faiths, abilities, and so on. The expectation in the intercultural approach, moreover, is that we can achieve more by fostering and upholding a range of different types of social bonds between us. Social bonds are necessary because they enable us to take part in the wider and more fluid social field, but bonds can also be constraining.

Interculturalism recognises the need, then, for “‘interdependency’, ‘interactions’, ‘interconnectedness’, ‘internationalism’, ‘integration’”. Each of these is an essential part of what should be the “policy and practice discourse” associated with effective and pragmatic social policy objective (Cantle, 2012, p. 143).  By extrapolation, the intercultural approach and practice and therefore be applied to community media. Ted Cantle explains this when he states:

“The concept of interculturalism is more about the creation of a culture of openness which effectively challenges the identity politics and entrenchment of separate communities, based upon any notion of ‘otherness’. But, it is also a dynamic process in which there will be some tensions and conflicts, as a necessary part of societal change in which people can positively envision ideas for multicultural and multifaith societies and where diversity and globalisation are recognised as permanent features of society, to be embraced, rather than feared” (Cantle, 2012, p. 142).

Unfortunately, there are few opportunities, it seems, to put this more dynamic understanding of intercultural interaction into practice, at least when it comes to community radio. Ofcom’s role, for example, increasingly shaped by the need to ‘police’ social and cultural differences, anticipating what community radio can and should seek to achieve. Two recent examples might help to situate this problem. The first, and as Radio Today reports, can be seen in Ujima Radio’s successful application with Ofcom to change to its key commitments to better serve its audience and reflect changes in their target community. Ujima previously sought to serve “people in the St Paul’s and Easton areas of Bristol” with content that “informs represents, educates, entertains, communicates and celebrates culture, heritage and diversity within the local BME communities’”. This has now been changed to allow Ujima to develop radio programmes that are “predominantly for people of African and Caribbean heritage in the St Paul’s and Easton areas of Bristol”, with the station now able to inform represent, educate, entertain, communicate and celebrate “culture, heritage and diversity within the local African/Caribbean communities.”

The second, as noted in the Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin 470, is where Ofcom found that 1055 The Point to be ‘in breach of its’ licence because the station had failed to provide programming that was sufficiently locally produced, and did not reflect the licence requirement that the station provide programming for people who are socially disadvantaged or from “diverse backgrounds”. 1055 The Point has a commitment to offer a platform for the exploration of “local emerging music and arts,” while simultaneously promoting the “voluntary sector”. Due to difficulties in attracting sufficient numbers of volunteers, the station was unable to produce enough locally derived content, and so resorted to playing content that was produced from outside its area.

These two examples suggest a line of enquiry that might be more fully explored in detail, namely the sense that Ofcom has to tread a blurred line as the arbiter of equality of opportunity for community broadcasting. Ofcom has a strong preference for dealing with stations that identify that they serve a specific social and cultural groups. This is relatively clear when identified by either race, ethnicity, faith or language. However, where Ofcom faces a more difficult path is in making provision for community radio services that are more general or more integrated in nature. When applying for a community radio licence, for example, applicants are expected to demonstrate that they have a recognisable, underserved community in mind, and that the proposed station’s primary purpose is to serve the needs of those people. This doesn’t always fit into replicable and comparable pieces, however, as the community radio jigsaw is full of competing provision that doesn’t follow a standard model. Should we aim for segregation because that’s a sure fire way to win a licence, or should we aim for integration because that is more in line with our social interests over time?

This division of principles is ironic, given that community cohesion is one of the essential purposes of community radio. The aim of community radio, which is reflected in UK legislation, is to break down barriers, both real and imagined because there is a benefit for people when they experience other cultures. People who know and have experience of working with those from other cultures are more likely to expect diversity to be a positive thing. This ‘Intercultural Community Bridge Building’ is rooted in the notion that everyone, either individually or as a community, “benefits from knowing, experiencing and working with other cultures. ” By working interculturally, as Ted Cantle notes, “the focus is on what is held in common rather than any differences, and it is these commonalities that bind groups together” (Cantle, 2012, p. 147).

Do we need to rethink the purpose of community media? Would community media be better if our practice and thinking was aligned with the intercultural approach to social cohesion? What do we need to emphasise in our programmes and the content we share? As Ted Cantle asks, to what extent are we can provide a “broader level of engagement” which can “create a more open and tolerant climate of opinion,” and which makes it possible for underrepresented or marginalised people to “gain wider political, media, institutional and civic support.” The intercultural approach contends that we benefit as individuals from enhanced interpersonal contact, and Ted Cantle is correct when he points out that this contact needs to be “underpinned and reinforced by more robust normative processes” (Cantle, 2012, p. 150). Can community media play a role in fostering functional and meaningful social cohesion? Can intercultural dialogue in the form of community radio programmes assist communities where communication has broken down; or provide a voice where understanding has been “rendered complicated”; or “open new channels of communication” and “help break down judgemental views.” (Cantle, 2012, p. 150).

According to Ted Cantle, advocates and practitioners of community cohesion must develop “policies and practices that are less hidebound by rigid conceptions of identity” while being open to facilitating “new cultural competences” (Cantle, 2012, p. 153). An intercultural approach aims, then, to facilitate dialogue exchange and reciprocal understanding between people of different backgrounds (Cantle, 2012, p. 156), and is a “dynamic process by which people from different cultures interact to learn about and question their own and each other’s cultures.” Ted Cantle expects that over time this may “lead to cultural change,” especially if it “recognises the inequalities at work in society and the need to overcome these.” Intercultural understanding, therefore, is a “process which requires mutual respect and acknowledges human rights” (Cantle, 2012, p. 156).

Given the increasing pressures of globalisation and super-diversity, against which populist and reactionary forces are pushing back by denying the benefits of diversity, and which are sinking into a comfort-dream of nationalistic solidarity, a great deal is at stake. As Ted Cantle points out:

“People who live in multicultural communities are generally more supportive of diversity and have acquired some degree of multicultural competence, whereas the opposite is generally true in respect of people who live in insular communities which little meaningful experiences of ‘others’. However, while it is possible to change people’s attitudes and behaviours towards others, the task is made much more difficult when the climate of opinion is working in the opposite direction” (Cantle, 2012, p. 172).

We have to understand that culture has never been, nor should ever be considered as a homogenising practice, but should always be understood as a dynamic process that is “constantly being made and remade.” (Cantle, 2012, p. 173).

As individuals who are situated in the dynamic field of social relationships, we see our identity, and the way that particular groups and communities represent themselves, as something that changes over time. As Ted Cantle states:

“Singular identities are no longer the norm – if they ever were – and choices do not have to be made between nation, faith, sexuality or other descriptors; it is perfectly possible to hold several conceptions of ourselves, perhaps not in equal measures, but certainly at the same time” (Cantle, 2012, p. 174).

This does not mean that our practice as community media makers should now “lurch in the opposite direction, with all communities designed on a ‘melting pot’ of mixing”. Some “form of clustering” is always going to be necessary, according to Ted Cantle because they help to support a complex array of cultural and social systems. But many people are experiencing high degrees of social segregation anyway, despite the policies that have been applied in the past. Our lack of investment in intercultural dialogue and engagement is leading us blindly towards “impermeable and insular communities that perpetuate their own myths and stereotypes (and confirm them to others)” (Cantle, 2012, p. 174). The question is for advocates and practitioners of community media, is how can we correct what hasn’t worked in the past, and how can we set the stage for future generations of community media makers and activists to step forward and do things in new and intercultural ways?

Cantle, T. (2012). Interculturalism – The New Era of Cohesion and Diversity. Palgrave MacMillan.

Liked it? Take a second to support Decentered Media on Patreon!

Become a patron at Patreon!

1 Comment

  1. I hadn’t realised the contradiction between Ofcom approving licences for a group that can identify themselves through language, culture, etc. and then idealistically saying that we should integrate, so then appearing to want the opposite as the ideal. It is very interesting.

Comments are closed.