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How can managing ambiguity help facilitate intercultural praxis?

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“Intercultural praxis” is a tricky term, so we would do well to form a baseline definition of it. To quote from leading sociologist Kathryn Sorrell’s book, Intercultural Communication: Globalization and Social Justice, intercultural praxis is:

an ongoing process of thinking, reflecting, and acting. Intercultural praxis is not only about...

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“Intercultural praxis” is a tricky term, so we would do well to form a baseline definition of it. To quote from leading sociologist Kathryn Sorrell’s book, Intercultural Communication: Globalization and Social Justice, intercultural praxis is:

an ongoing process of thinking, reflecting, and acting. Intercultural praxis is not only about deepening our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world in which we live. Rather, intercultural praxis means we join our increased understanding with responsible action to make a difference in the world—to create a more socially just, equitable, and peaceful world.

Her definition highly reflects the wording of the expression itself (praxis literally means “action in practice”). Thus, to specifically answer your question, managing ambiguity would have to go beyond merely coming to an understanding regarding concepts that remain unclear between people in order to facilitate intercultural practice. Ideas, speech, mannerisms, and anything else that might be rendered ambiguous between different people would first need to be clarified. However, that clarification would then need to be reinforced through action so as to generate entirely new meaning.

We can demonstrate this through a hypothetical example. Say a foreign exchange student from Vietnam came to study in an American classroom. In the United States, we typically greet one another by saying something like “Hey, how are you?” The question is usually just a formality. However, the concept of using empty formalities for the sake of politeness does not exist as strongly in Vietnamese culture as it does in American. Thus, our hypothetical Vietnamese exchange student, upon being greeted in this way, is somewhat taken aback, not quite knowing how to respond. The instructor notices this and decides to take action. Engaging in intercultural praxis would require two things. First, the instructor would kindly explain to the new student that asking “How are you?” is merely a formality in English and that the person asking it does not actually think anything is wrong. Second, upon making this clarification, the new knowledge would need to be put into practice, both by the Vietnamese exchange student and by the American students. This could be done in any number of ways: deciding upon entirely new greetings in that particular classroom setting, making adjustments in tone and demeanor, etc.

This is a relatively simple, abstract example, but it highlights the basic idea. Managing ambiguity to facilitate intercultural practice requires identifying and clarifying the source of ambiguity and putting the newfound knowledge into action.

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