is professor of Arts Management at Heilbronn University, Germany, author of Introduction to International Arts Management and co-founder of the international, interdisciplinary network Brokering Intercultural Exchange.
Intercultural power relations
How language and terminology perpetuate inequalities
This paper deals with the power mechanisms inherent in our knowledge system, particularly focusing on the language used in arts management practice.
To draw more attention to non-English publications and countries in international arts management, we offer the possibility of re-publishing articles in English that were originally written in other languages. This paper inspired this series.
The discussion presented here will explore language in two ways: as regards to the native tongue of arts managers in which their professional practice is conducted as well as to the terminology of the profession. The paper reflects on the learnings Victoria Durrer and I gained in building the international research network Brokering Intercultural Exchange over the last two year. In doing so, the paper strives to identify the blind spots and fault lines particularly in our methodologies of participation. is shall be the beginning of a longer process of trying to overcome inequalities and misunderstandings when it comes to language and terminology in our discipline.
During all the five network sessions Brokering Intercultural Exchange hosted so far, terminology and language emerged as key issues. However, despite two years of intensive and fruitful discussions with colleagues from more than 20 countries and with many different first languages, we recognise that our literature and resources are not only dominated by the English language, but are also written mostly by researchers and practitioners from what we awkwardly came to call the Global North. Therefore, the question remains how to challenge this prevailing geopolitical canon? A ReOrienting change is urgently needed (Liu 2015). While useful to some extent as a starting point for international discussions if nothing else to do against the ever-presence of the Global North in debates on arts management such narratives are not suitable in many parts of the world (de Sousa Santos 2014; Henze 2017a, 80). But how can we get out of the dilemma of power structures when we operate within them?
The dominance of the English language especially in international arts management is nothing that can easily be changed. We made e orts with the work of our research network to reach out to what Victoria Durrerand I came to call the hidden voices not because they are not active and doing impressive work in their respective countries, but because they have not yet taken part in discussions and discourses in the international arena. However, despite these e orts, extending our reach to as yet heard voices in the field of arts management has proven to be particularly difficult.
Apart from a lack of financial resources and difficult political situations in several countries around the world and especially in the Global South, we believe that there is also a language barrier. We know amazing works from academics as well as practitioners in several countries that have so far not been translated and have therefore only been read by a relatively limited audience. The knowledge in our discipline is thus one sided, presenting an enormous disadvantage for the field. Colleagues and practitioners operating in other languages could provide new insights to recent debates on the social impact of arts and culture, for instance.
That language is not only a transmitter of information is widely known. How English conquered the world needs no further explanation at this place. It should just be underlined that to many people in the world it is surely not an innocent language but one that was forced upon them. Are we arts managers complicit, then, in using a language that is so deeply rooted in privileges?
Language competencies are key for professionals in international arts management and it would be advantageous if theyd go beyond English (Henze 2017 b, 78). If we only speak one language we will, according to Francois Jullien (2018, 55), loose the ability to reciprocally reflect on our languages that will become more and more standardised. Consequently, our thinking will become stereotyped. Babel instead is a chance for our thinking and imagination.
Since it is unrealistic for most arts managers to be proficient in more than one or two languages the prevalence of one dominant language is, as stated above, not easy to alter. Nevertheless, a few things need consideration:
- Funding bodies need to take the issue of translation more seriously because translation is logically the language of dialogue (Jullien 2018, 92). We urgently need more, unbureaucratic support and funding for non-English speakers who strive to reach out to a broader audience and scientific community.
- In international networks we too o en limit ourselves to publications and resources in English in order to have common ground. This is a contradiction in itself. We cannot on the one hand reach out toan international and interdisciplinary community and on the other exclude important works from our research and writing. At Brokering Intercultural Exchange we decided to make our international members aware of new publications, case studies, articles etc. that appear e.g. in Spanish, French, German or Mandarin.
- We need more foreign language skills as part of arts management education. Whereas in Germany, for example, foreign language classes are compulsory, lectures in English are obligatory in many arts management programmes and sometimes language classes in Spanish, French or Mandarin are also offered, this seems to be very different in countries like the UK or the USA. is difference might be due in part to the fact that many students in several of these programmes are already engaging in English as a second language. Additionally, there may still be a lack of value for how engagement for a non-native language assists in developing awareness, understanding and empathy with other cultures.
When it comes to terminology, things get even more complicated. We might involuntarily use terms that are no longer used, or are not politically correct. We may also use terms that have a different meaning in another context and language, because we are unfamiliar with the language and the culture associated with it (Henze 2017b, 157). It might also be the case that everybody seems to agree on a certain term but still mean very different things. In Germany, for example we have seen a rapid change in the terminology relating to migration, always trying to be as politically correct as possible and by doing so sometimes even paralyzing ourselves. I am very much in favour of being radical with words. Replacing a term might surely be helpful but can not change the underlying assumptions and mind-sets alone and it is exactly the later ones that need to be openly questioned.
To give you some example of the challenges of terminology:
- Diversity has become a buzzword used in many arts management contexts. I recently found myself at a conference where only during the second day participants recognised that their ideas of diversity were very different. Whereas some were convinced that the sole focus of the conference was refugees, others had a much broader understanding of diversity and wanted to talk inter alia about the LBGTQ community, for instance.
- Together with several international colleagues, I have applied for EU funding for a project that we would like to conduct during the coming years. e EU call used the term integration throughout the information material. All of us involved in the project are doubtful whether this is still a feasible concept in the 21st century. Terms like this, a similar one being inclusive society, are used strategically and maybe even in good faith, but they need to be challenged because replacing a term by another does not imply to also convey the underlying political concepts. We had to challenge the terminology and maybe even the concept of the funders, which is a delicate but necessary thing to do.
- Although already coined by Welsch (1999) in the 1990s, the term transcultural has had a remarkable renaissance in Germany recently and is used in order to overcome what is considered as the shortcomings of interculturalism (Henze 2017b, 10). Where intercultural has more of a project character and as such only limited long-term impact, transcultural refers more strongly to a long-time process. Within the international network Brokering Intercultural Exchange it has proven diffcult to find an understanding for this term that to many international colleagues still sounds alien or only vaguely familiar from very different contexts. I came to understand that especially arts managers from the USA have fought so hard and long for getting intercultural implemented into their agendas and that they are not easily willing to give up on this term although they understand its difference in relation to terms like transcultural and multicultural. Tariq Modood (2017) from the UK eloquently debates the distinction between inter- and multicultural. In Germany, as in several other continental European countries, the term multiculturalism, outdated for several years, has a different and more negative connotation concerning the way of living together than for someone from the UK or USA (Henze 2017b, 10). Although, as Robertson (2016) correctly explains, even within Europe there exist different ideas about what constitutes multiculturalism, it mainly refers to a historically questionable concept of different cultures within a country coexisting, for the most part autonomously and peacefully, while not engaging in any meaningful dialogue. This different use and understanding of key terminology.
- This leads to the last example. When doing research on the impact of globalization on arts managers all around the world two years ago, I reached out with a questionnaire in English. Several responses made apparent that some terms were understood di fferently from how they were intended in good faith, some respondents even felt o ended by the use of a special term (Henze 2017b, 157).
So what can we make out of this? It is clear that, within a discipline, conceptual usage has to be clarified (Williams 1988, 91). Works like Williams Keywords. A vocabulary of culture and society or Benne et. al.s New Keywords. A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society have surely set standards. During the last years of work in the context of the network,we have seen so many new terms emerging and held so many discussions about terms that some of the network members and workshop participants see the need for an up-dated glossary. As tempting as it may seemto have one definition that all can agree on, it is equally unrealistic and perhaps even dangerous to do so. e danger lies not only in the rapidness with which terminology changes (e.g. the terms empowerment, inclusion, migration or artivism are missing in Bennet et al.s book from 2015), but in nothing less than epistemicide. The work by Williams, e.g., is entirely European. Narratives from other parts of the world may not be oppressed, but the point remains that they are not present. Is intercultural exchange not considered to be a fusion and exchange of knowledge bases that go beyond the scope of the seemingly familiar? Is it not the range and overlap of meanings that is significant (Williams 1988, 91)? Is it not exactly the understanding of why a term is used in another way or not at all in a different context? Is the most interesting part of this discussion not about understanding contexts, histories, and traditions that lead to the use or not-use of certain terms?
I would therefore argue that what is needed, is not a united definition of terms but a collection of different understandings of key terminology in our discipline and thorough research on the reasons for these different meanings. At the moment, several colleagues from the network contribute to this collection by giving their definitions and sharing their ideas, thoughts and feelings towards terms like e.g. transcultural arts management, inclusive society, equality, post-colonialism and social impact. e outcome of this research, that we hope will also be shared with arts management students, will be made available via the website of Brokering Intercultural Exchange.
- Bennet, T., Grossberg, L., Morris, M. (2005): A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Wiley-Blackwell.De Sousa Santos, B. (2014): Epistomologies of the South. Justice against Epistemicide, London: Routledge.
- Henze, R. (2017a): Why we have to overcome paternalism in times of populism, in: Dragisevic Sesic, M. (ed.): Cultural Diplomacy. Arts, festivals, and geopolitics. Belgrade: University of the Art Belgrade, 7387.
- Henze, R. (2017b): Introduction to International Arts Management. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.Jullien, F. (2018): Es gibt keine kulturelle Identität, 3. Edition, Berlin: edition suhrkamp.
- Liu, J. (2014): ReOrienting Cultural Policy. Cultural Statecraft and Cultural Governance in Taiwan and China, in: Kim, L., Lee, H.K. (Eds.): Cultural Policies in East Asia. Dynamics between the States, Arts and Creative Industries. London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 120 138. Modood, T. (2017): Intercultural Public Intellectual Engagement, in: Mansouri, F. (ed.): Interculturalism at the Crossroads. Comparative Perspectives on Concepts, Policies and Practices, Paris: UNESCO, 83102.
- Robertson, R. (2016): Global Culture and Consciousness, in: Robertson, R. /Buhari-Gulmez, D. (eds.): Global Cultures. Consciousness and Connectivity, Ashgate: Burlington, 520.Welsch, W. (1999): Transculturality. The Puzzling Form of Cultures Today, in: Featherstone, M., Lash, S. (eds.): Spaces of Culture. City, Nation, World, London: Sage, 194213.
- Williams, R. (1988): Keywords. A vocabulary of culture and society. London: Fontana Press
This paper was first publish in Arts Management Quarterly on Cultural Inequalities.