The dimensions and implications of polyculturalism for intercultural relations

The dimensions and implications of polyculturalism for intercultural relations

The poster of the webinar

The Department of Psychology and Counselling parked under the Faculty of Arts and Social Science (FAS) organised a webinar titled “Polyculturalism: A Lay Theory of Culture, Its Dimensions and Implications for Intercultural Relations” on 7 October 2021 via Microsoft Teams. The webinar was presented by UTAR’s External Examiner Prof Allan B. I. Bernardo from De La Salle University, Philippines. It saw more than 120 participants. The event moderator was FAS Department of Psychology and Counselling lecturer Tay Kok Wai.

In the webinar, Prof Allan introduced the concept of polyculturalism as well as its dimensions and implications for intercultural. Polyculturalism is an ideological approach to the consequences of intercultural engagements within a geographical area. According to him, polyculturalism is a lay theory of culture that is related to the study of cultural differences and similarities, the study of cultural influences and interactions, as well as the study of cultural change and maintenance. He also briefly explained the lay belief of how cultures are dynamically interconnected.

“Polyculturalism is very relevant to our lives, especially to those who live in Southeast Asia. We are living in countries that consist of diverse cultures, languages and ethnicities. In addition, polyculturalism is also related to our fast globalisation world where people get a lot of chance to interact with people from different countries who practice different cultures,” said Prof Allan Bernardo.

He added, “Lay theories of culture is a theory in the sense that it predicts how a person will see, interact and feel about people from other cultural groups. It also predicts how a person will respond to a situation when different cultures are in interaction.”

Prof Allan then moved on to explain the four lay theories of culture, namely colourbindness, multiculturalism, polyculturalism and interculturalism. He explained, “The theory— colourblindness believes all people are the same, so the cultural differences are unimportant. Interculturalism refers to the creation of mixed forms through synthesis. Multiculturalism believes that cultural identities, norms and practices are important and should be respected and preserved. Last but not least, polyculturalism believes that cultural identities and influences are partial, mutual, multiple, interacting and dynamic.

Speaking about the similarities and differences between multiculturalism and polyculturalism, Prof Allan said, “Polyculturalism is similar to multiculturalism in the sense that culture is important as part of the social identities. However, polyculturalism is different from multiculturalism as it assumes more similarities could bring together different cultures.  In another word, multiculturalism stresses on the differences and sometimes tends to emphasise cultural differences and also stereotyping, while polyculturalism highlights the cultural interconnection, social interaction and the similarities of different cultures.”

Throughout the webinar, Prof Allan also shared his research findings and theories on the bright side of how polyculturalism results in positive output to people globally. The concept of polyculturalism theory shows especially good results to students. The learning environment of students usually consists of people who come from different cultural backgrounds.”

“It is necessary to find a way of enhance intercultural communication to have a conducive learning,” Prof Allan said and continued, “Endorsement of polyculturalism is associated with the willingness to try cultural fusions of culture mixing. It also shows more positive attitudes towards people who try to accommodate a new culture. Endorsement of polyculturalism helps to mediate and moderate specific intercultural orientations, so polyculturalism requires active representations of intercultural connections.”

Prof Allan during the talk session

Speaking of the new dimensions of polyculturalism, Prof Allan introduced “mutualist polyculturalism” and “asymmetrical polyculturalism”. “The mutualist polyculturalism refers to cultural contact and influence is mutually beneficial. Asymmetrical polyculturalism refers to cultural contact but involves power inequality associated with possible exploitation and harm for weaker culture.”

He further explained, “The research topics of mutualist polyculturalism involves multicultural acquisition, appreciation of diversity, contact and engagement with cultural outgroup, and less perceived realistic threat of cultural outgroup. The research area of asymmetrical polyculturalism covers topics like the genetic theory of race, ethnic protection orientation towards other cultures, the realistic and symbolic threat of cultural outgroup, as well as negative action tendencies towards the cultural outgroup.”

Before moving to the interactive Q&A session, Prof Allan concluded polyculturalism as a study that focuses on culture as a shifting concept. “The cultural shifts here are not only influenced by internal factors (politics, migration, economic change) and larger forces (industrialisation and technology), but also other cultures,” he said.

Prof Allan (top row, second from the left) with participants

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