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|FRLA 8247 - Cultural Practice and Paradox|
The more we are exposed to a culture, the more paradoxical it often begins to seem. In this class, we do not seek to do away with neat categorizations of cultures (high Uncertainty Avoidance versus low, Individualist versus Collectivist, and so on), which are useful frames of reference. We want, however, to complicate these schemas via a series of in-depth encounters with different cultures, including our own. Students will be asked to:
• Explore the complexity of their own culture in reflective writing assignments, pointing out paradoxes where those can be found;
• Hone their observation skills by reading and decoding a range of critical incidents of cross-cultural encounters;
• Study Hofstede’s cultural dimensions as useful tools to begin conceptualizing where cultures converge and diverge;
• Choose a cultural contact (a university student studying English) among contacts provided to them from Haiti, Senegal, Togo, and France;
• Explore context-appropriate behavior in their contact’s culture, and develop hypotheses and explanations for any paradoxical conduct they encounter;
• Video-chat with their cultural contact, allowing him or her to correct misunderstandings and answer any questions about paradoxes that surface during the students’ research.
To scaffold conversations between students and cultural contacts, we will use questionnaires developed by the Cultura program at MIT. By the end of the term, students should be able to speak in an informed manner about complexities in their target culture, from the perspective of their cultural contact. Students will leave with a deeper understanding also of the French language, as they reemploy the words of their contact in their observations and interpretations of the target culture, and regularly present on and discuss this language.