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Although researchers are often required to convince the readers of their ability to distance themselves from the study in order to avoid becoming ‘blind’ to certain significant issues concerning the phenomenon under study (Merriam, 1998), I think that the fact that I knew some of my research subjects and shared similar experiences with many of them was more of a strength than a weakness in this study. I felt that the atmosphere in the interview situations was relaxed and that the interviewees trusted me.

I also felt that the participants understood my interview questions and the purpose of the study rather well.

In biographical interviews (e.g., Atkinson, 1998) it is agreed that the interviewee and the interviewer construct experiences, knowledge and ideas together, in which case the whole question of being an insider or an outsider actually becomes meaningless. On the other hand, the aim in the study has been to ‘give a voice’ for my research subjects and, most of all, I see my role in the interview situations as being that of an active listener.

2 Theoretical framework of the research This part of the summary introduces the contextual and conceptual lenses and assumptions that have guided my understanding on the nature of teachers’ intercultural competence and learning. It starts by providing a brief overview of the concepts and research approaches in the field of intercultural education. It also analyses the way in which culture and diversity are understood in this study.

The next chapter introduces critical pedagogy as a framework that has guided my theoretical understanding on the nature of intercultural competence and learning and also given me a lens through which to approach my empirical data. The theoretical part continues by analysing the approaches to teachers’ intercultural competence. In the final chapter of this part of the summary, various learning theories (transformative, experiential and sociocultural), which in this study are seen as approaches that provide analytical and theoretical tools to understand the intercultural learning process, are discussed.

2.1 Contextualising and conceptualising the research in the field of global and intercultural education As Figure 1 shows, intercultural learning and competence can be seen as important dimensions in the area of intercultural education, which, at the same time, has often been seen as one sub-area of global education (Räsänen, 2007b, p. 28). Global education is a term that is widely used to combine various areas such as peace education, environmental education, human rights education, media education and so on. These concepts are overlapping, and although they emphasize different aspects, it is not possible and not even meaningful to separate them (Lampinen, 2009, p. 12). From an educational point of view, the United Nations and UNESCO have been important international actors in promoting global education. The main task of UNESCO is to promote intercultural co-operation to protect human rights through science, culture and education (Ibid.). Global education as its own subject area emerged after the tragic events of the World Wars, when the participating countries decided that this must not occur in the future. A long-term human rights process started, the first step being the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 followed by numerous acts and conventions. In these documents it is emphasized that an aim of education is to promote human rights, intercultural understanding, tolerance and peace between people and nations (Räsänen, 2002, pp. 16–17; Räsänen 2007a, p. 57). The human rights process continues, and the most visible movements today, which also deal with education, are the UN’s Millennium Goals (2000) and UNESCO’s Education for All project. Global education also plays an important role in Finnish educational policy. The newest ministry-level projects in the field of international education in Finland are the Education for Global Responsibility (2007–2009) project and the Global Education 2010 proposal for an action programme.

Figure 1. Contextualising intercultural learning and competence.

Intercultural education can have different meanings. It can especially emphasise the individual cultural encounters (see Räsänen, 2007a, p. 28; Lasonen, Halonen, Kemppainen, & Teräs, 2009, p. 11) or it can refer to more general theories and models of education that attempt to response to the challenges of globalisation (Coulby, 2005, p. 245; Portera, 2008, p. 488). In the educational field, the word ‘multicultural’ has been largely replaced by ‘intercultural’, especially in the European context (Coulby, 2006). This change of terms has been justified by arguing that ‘multicultural’ is a descriptive term that refers simply to the reality of pluralism and the factual coexistence of people of diverse cultures, whereas ‘intercultural’ suggests actual interaction among people (Camilleri, 1992; Räsänen, 2007a). However, the term ‘intercultural’ also warrants criticism. Coulby (2006, p. 247) rightly asks, what the discursive strategy was for this lexical change from multicultural to intercultural? Does it not serve to disguise the historical realities of cultural interactions, which have often been characterized by conquest, slave trade, imperialism and genocide? It is important to recognize the problems associated with various terms, but it is also true that each term can be criticized. Despite the critics, I have chosen the term ‘intercultural’ for my study because I want to emphasize the importance of mutual and dialogical interaction.

Internationally, research on intercultural education is diverse. Within the field of intercultural education, there are various approaches depending, on how the focus, nature and aims of the area are understood (Räsänen, 2002, pp. 104–105). Lynch (1989) divides intercultural education broadly into cultural, societal, economic and environmental dimensions that can be looked at on communal, national and international levels. However, most research on intercultural education has focused on the school context, defining the main concepts of intercultural education, pedagogical approaches, curriculum development and language learning.

Moreover, this literature is most extensive in the North American context (e.g., Banks, 1993, 2002, 2006; Bennett, 1995; Clayton, 2003), although intercultural education has also been studied in European, especially German and British contexts (e.g. Bredella, 2003; Christ, 2003; Hayden, 2007; Nieke; 2008, Troyna 1993). There is also research in the area of intercultural education that focuses on human relations and the development of intercultural competence (Bennett, 1993, 2004, 2009; Bennett & Gastiglioni, 2004; Lynch 1989; Kealey, 1990; Sue, Arrondo, & McDavis, 1992; Taylor, 1998). As my research particularly focuses on that area, I will elaborate these theoretical aspects more in Chapters 2.3. and

2.4. One additional research approach in the area of intercultural education is to emphasize the awareness of societal processes, social justice, power questions and action for eliminating unequal structures (Hooks, 1994; May, 1999; McLaren, 2007; Nieto, 2005; Sleeter, 2001). Although my focus is primarily on individual learning processes, this study also deals with structural and power questions of education and teachers’ work as introduced in the next chapter (2.2.).

As the emphasis of intercultural education is on individual cultural encounters, it is important to clarify how culture and cultural diversity are understood in this research. My starting point for intercultural competence and learning is different from, for instance, Hofstede (1997), whose focus is on differences between national cultures and on how individuals can cope with these cultural differences. In this study, the significance of national culture for our identities is not denied. However, it is acknowledged that cultural ‘knowledge’ may easily lead to stereotypes and generalizations. In an ideal situation, everyone is given the opportunity to identify themselves individually (Panzar, 2009, p. 105). As Nieto (2002, p. 53) argues, many discussions of cultural difference are based on limited conceptions of culture that take into account only ethnicity, race and language. I agree with Nieto (Ibid.), who defines culture as ever-changing values, traditions, social and political relationships, and world views created and shared by groups of people bound together by a combination of factors (which can include a common history, geographic location, language, social class and/or religion, gender and sexual orientation). It is important to emphasize that not all the people of the same group necessarily share these common characteristics. Parekh (2006, p. 3) writes about subcultural diversity, referring to the idea that although the members of a society share a broadly common culture, some of them have different beliefs and practices concerning particular areas of life or relatively distinct ways of life (e.g., those with various sexual orientations, artists, miners, fishermen). According to Parekh (p. 3), these groups do not represent an alternative culture but seek to pluralise the existing one.

In this study, cultural diversity thus refers to dynamic and changing cultural and subcultural characteristics and differences that are part of our identities. Teachers need intercultural competence not only for encountering ethnic, racial or linguistic differences but for other subcultural differences as well. When the term ‘diversity’ is mentioned in this study, it is understood in this broad sense. We can conclude that if cultures are seen as dynamic, flexible and constantly changing constructions affected by various subcultures, intercultural learning and competence cannot merely be seen as the possession of specific knowledge on certain cultural groups, or skills on how to behave in certain cultural contexts, but is a process that demands constant reflection, openness and willingness for mutual learning.

2.2 Critical pedagogy as a theoretical lens of the research

Advocates of critical pedagogy (Freire, 1972, 1994; Giroux & McLaren, 2001;

Hooks, 1994; McLaren & Kincheloe, 2002; May, 1999; McLaren, 2007; Nieto, 1999, 2005; Sleeter, 2001) focus on analysing questions of equality in education, mostly on structural levels. McLaren and Kincheloe (2002, p. 90) define critical pedagogy to be concerned, in particular, with issues of power and justice and the ways that the economy; matters of race, class and gender; ideologies; discourses;

education; religion and other social institutions; and cultural dynamics interact to construct a social system. Critical pedagogy contributes to intercultural education by recognizing the fundamentally political nature of education and the need to challenge both its content and form. Furthermore, it brings to intercultural education a sharp institutional analysis, which is often missing from research and practices in that area (Nieto, 1999, p. 191.) One of the central concepts in the field of critical pedagogy is the notion of power. Nieto (1999, p. 192) points out that all educational decisions carry an enormous amount of ideological and philosophical weight: what is considered as valuable and what is not or whose knowledge, culture and needs are considered to be most important in education. According to May (1999), educational decisions and practices often affect the members of certain (often minority) groups so that they come to believe that their educational failure results from their natural inability or lack of giftedness. Nieto (2000, pp. 88–109) analyses how some of the structural issues, organizational practices and policies that are widely used in education can reinforce social inequities and harm certain groups and students. Examples of these are tracking (or ability grouping either indirectly or directly), standardized testing, competitive atmosphere, curriculum that does not meet the needs of the students, physical structure, disciplinary policies and so on (Ibid.).

Critical pedagogy influences this study in various ways. First of all, it guides my ontological assumptions on the nature of teachers’ intercultural learning and intercultural competence. In my opinion, it is not enough that teachers learn didactic skills in order to work in multicultural contexts, but that they also need to become aware of power structures and attempt to change unequal procedures of education.

Furthermore, as one primary aim of critical pedagogy concerns the transformation of inequitable, undemocratic or oppressive social relations (e.g., Burbules & Berk, 1999; Freire, 1972, 1994), it is also taken for granted in this study that educational equality is a desirable goal of education and that supporting the development of teachers’ intercultural competence is one way to approach this goal.

Secondly, critical theory has provided me with the lenses through which to view my empirical data: when analyzing teachers’ stories, I have also been looking for narratives on power questions, equality and societal and global awareness and activism. Thirdly, the perspective of how critical pedagogy is related to this study deals with the aims of this study. According to critical theory, the purpose of educational research should not only be to understand or deepen knowledge but also change issues so that more just, democratic and egalitarian society and education become possible (e.g., Tomperi, Vuorikoski, & Kiilakoski, 2005, pp.

11–12). In critical theory, educators are seen as intellectual transformative change agents who identify and address injustices in educational practice and also provide their students with the tools for active and critical participation regarding various societal issues (Giroux, 1998; McLaren, 2001; Popkewitz, 1999). One aim of this research is to provide tools to support the intercultural learning processes of teachers so that teachers can actually become transformative intellectuals who also affect the intercultural learning processes of their students. Although in my research focus is more on individuals than on structure, the assumption is that because it is individuals who create and build structures, they also have the potential to reconstruct, change and develop them.

2.3 Defining teacher’s intercultural competence

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