Culture, Heritage and Diversity


Cohen-Emerique M. (2011) - Pour une approche interculturelle en travail social, Théories et pratiques, Rennes, Presses de l’EHESP


In this work, Margalit Cohen-Emerique, after many years of experience in research and education, studies the major difficulties of various origins encountered by social workers working with migrants and their children in France, in several other European countries and in Quebec.


To overcome these difficulties, she devised the "culture shock" (or "critical incident") methodology, a combination of a research method and a teaching tool. This methodology, starting from cases of problematic professional interaction, has, through its careful collection and systematic analysis of information, enabled the cultural, social, professional and personal representations involved in the shock to be revealed, together with the resulting affects, misunderstandings and value judgments. This has made it possible to point up sensitive areas which give rise, for social workers, to inadequate action and a feeling that their personal and professional identity is under threat, and, for users, to an intrusion into their single and multiple identities.


By casting light on the processes in play when cultures meet, not in a prejudiced way (that we might describe as ideological), but on the basis of an analysis of cases of culture shock, almost a hundred of which are described in her book, the author has gradually traced a path towards more efficient practices. This is the "intercultural approach", which passes through three specific steps.


The first step is when the professional becomes aware of his or her own reference framework, through a decentring process. The second leads, correlatively, to discovery of the Other's reference framework. And the third implies investment in a true intercultural dialogue, in the form of negotiation/mediation, enabling the value conflicts inherent in many intercultural situations to be resolved as far as is possible, through channels other than confrontation or rejection.


This is a dynamic approach, bringing into play numerous cognitive, affective and cultural resources, with very careful account being taken of both contexts and the specific identities of those involved. It is learned through training, but also imposes certain requirements on institutions. In this respect it differs from the concept of "intercultural skills", focused on the player, but unrelated to contexts, identities and the objectives of the meeting.


In society's current debates on multiculturality and the place and reception of foreigners and migrants, the author’s analysis of ethnocentrism offers practitioners a vital tool. It enables meetings with others to be approached in terms of their psychological and identity-related implications, and with a pragmatism quite unlike that of political confrontation.


Similarly, the chapter on the individualist concept of the person shows that this concept is just one among several, that of the specific cultural world of western modernity.


Overall, this book is of interest in many ways both to practitioners, who will find in it ways of understanding and even instruments of action, and to researchers, who will discover a multidisciplinary approach casting light on the complex processes of the relationship with diversity. It represents a decisive step forward in the debate on how to "live together".


Order the publication (The publication exists only in French)