chapter  6
Cross-cultural Understanding: its Philosophical and Anthropological Problems
Pages 17

Cultural integration is a fundamental problem of our times, as the pressures of migration increase worldwide and the problems of underdeveloped countries are beginning to transform our lifeworld. Against this background, the problem of European integration becomes almost marginal. Furthermore, the world is rapidly contracting through communication and technology, a process which is not as one-sided as it might first appear. The ethnologist and literary theorist, James Clifford, has advanced the thought-provoking thesis (Clifford, 1988) that, since the 1920s, world culture has been characterized not only by a movement of homogenization - a tendency to conform with the model of Western culture - but also by a tendency towards pluralization. According to this thesis, the cultures of the Third World were forced to ‘invent’ their own identities only following the confrontation with the hegemonic violence of Western culture. Conversely, Clifford states, the resistance of other cultures to this hegemony forced Western culture to revise its own claim to universality. Even though there is a clear and unavoidable imperative to work out a position or attitude - frequently described today as ‘intercultural competence’ - the effective debate concerning interculturality does not inspire confidence that it has the wherewithal to contribute to this position. At the root of the contemporary discussion of alterity is a ‘specifically aesthetic concept of the other’ (Koch, 1992, p. 24). This aesthetic fascination stands in a rather grotesque relation to the social problem of inflamed hatred for foreigners which has broken out all over Europe.