The global world brings people increasingly into contact with those from other cultures, or else they read about them in the media, leading them to make comparative judgments about their behavior. Sometimes people make these judgments at a national or international level as nations, multinational organizations, and social action organizations seek to discuss human rights across cultures. Contemporary Western ethics find their origins in discussions of ethics and morality by Immanuel Kant (deontological ethics) and Aristotle (teleological ethics). These and other ethical approaches are certainly relevant to communication scholars and practitioners in general, but those working across cultures face particular ethical dilemmas. Unfortunately, interculturalists often do not discuss ethics, or if they do, they discuss them in a brief and superficial way, which might give way to their own ethical stance to color their understanding of others. Those who discuss ethics face a major tension between seeking a single ethical approach that applies to all cultures (i.e., ethical absolutism) and letting each culture determine its own ethical direction (i.e., cultural relativism, one form of the broader notion of ethical relativism). Various authors have proposed deriving a stance from what ethical stances seem to be universal, much as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights seems to do. Others propose peace or humanitarian ethics that would leave most cultural elements alone in other cultures, but speak when actions, policies, or social situations work against the human dignity of individuals. Jürgen Habermas, on the other hand, proposes that people seek ideal speech situations, where people can have open dialogue without restraints, such as power differentials. Finally, as a way out of the ethical maze, others have proposed a dialogic or communicative approach that is not relative, but with which people involved in ethical decisions enter discussions with each other, often considering a wide array of contextual factors that might affect ethical outcomes.
John Baldwin, Iraklis Ioannidis, and Robert Huegel
Dialogue and its extension to polylogue are presented as an intersubjective basis of communication. The intersubjective aspect cannot be explained by any discipline without a contradiction, since any explanation would require intersubjective awareness. While necessary, dialogue requires a third aspect: dialogue about something, a theme, a subject matter, a problem, a point of disagreement, such that the topic sets a limit to the dialogical partners. This third aspect shifts the discussion away from subject-to-subject encounter as inadequate and moves to the subjects as partners who first are engaged in a dialogue about something. While speaking to someone about something, there is a mutual exchange of awareness and a broadening of horizons of both, with an addition of others who are co-present even if they are not empirically available. To speak to someone of physical laws is also to speak with Newton, Einstein, Planck, and others who form a polylogical field—forming an extension of the awareness of dialogical partners. The issue that arises is whether the individual can form her own position, or whether she is dominated by a historical tradition of interpretation. The dialectical debate between Habermas and Gadamer shows the problem, which is finally resolved by an extension of dialogue through education. The final and most concrete aspect of dialogical communication is present at the level of praxis as bodily activity which is equally intercorporeal. We build our world and thus our history and form a depth of intercorporeal communication of what we can do. While the dialogical domain is the focus of this research, it also includes suggestions on critical evaluation of specific theories and mutual controversies among theorists, e.g., Habermas and Gadamer. Such controversies are necessary to show how dialogical procedures not only posit different theoretical positions but help such positions to become clearer and more articulated.
Josina M. Makau
Communication has the power to heal and to wound, to tyrannize and to liberate, to enlighten and to deceive, to inspire and to corrupt. Subjecting ideas to the scrutiny of others through engagements of difference has long been recognized as a vital resource for the fulfillment of communication’s constructive potential as well as a critically needed antidote to the corrupting influences associated with demagoguery, confirmation bias, ideological rigidity, and partisanship. Demographic shifts and technological advancements afford unparalleled opportunities for such open, deliberative engagements and related inquiries. Enriched by attentive listening, dialogic communication provides a particularly promising means of tapping these and other resources to reach across differences in pursuit of knowledge, understanding, truth, and wise discernment. Despite their potential, however, listening and dialogue face formidable obstacles. Among these are dominant narratives regarding the human condition, power imbalances, and privilege, and their implications for communication ethics. Absolutism, radical relativism, and related false dilemmas pose significant obstacles as well. A transformation of vision—from individual adversarialism to an ethic of interdependence—offers a pathway out of the thicket, enabling humanity to tap communication’s potential in shared pursuit of human flourishing across the globe.
For Paulo Freire, the Brazilian activist educator and philosopher of education, communication is at the heart of pedagogy, teaching, and learning through praxis that involves reflection and action ultimately to address social injustice and dehumanization. Dialogue is at the center of his pedagogical approach, as means to individuation and humanization. Dialogue assumes participants to be on an equal level even in the presence of difference. In his literacy work, Freire required teacher-facilitators to co-investigate the most important themes in the lives of students. These themes were codified into pictures and brought to dialogue that animated the re-creation of knowledge of participants’ world and themselves in it and, in the process of learning how to read, achieving knowledge of the word. The objective of this approach was not to reproduce “banking” education but to promote revolutionary emancipation of individual and society. Freire developed his work in the context of life in the state of Pernambuco, in the challenging circumstances—socially, historically, and geographically—of the Brazilian Northeast Region. He experienced poverty and hunger and was lucky in his access to education thanks to the efforts of his mother. He rose through the ranks of civil service, serving at state and national levels, addressing the literacy and emancipatory needs of the population, particularly adults in rural areas. Exiled during the military dictatorship in Brazil, Freire lived in Chile, the United States, and Switzerland, where he worked on education projects worldwide.