CONFERENCE THEME IN THE 4TH ESTIDIA CONFERENCE – DIALOGUES WITHOUT BORDERS: STRATEGIES OF INTERPERSONAL AND INTER-GROUP COMMUNICATION

Most of the world’s population – and Europe is a case in point – lives in contexts that are becoming increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural. Travel across national boundaries is becoming an everyday activity for many, and new technologies allow individuals to communicate easily and cheaply across such boundaries, even if they stay at home. Meanwhile, hostilities between ethnic, national, religious, and other groups do not seem to be decreasing, but on the contrary, are being kindled by extremist groups and totalitarian leaders. To oppose, prevent and do away with such negative and dangerous developments in the 21st century, it is more important than ever to acquire an in-depth and nuanced understanding of how individuals communicate based on group or community memberships, and how communication allows or encourages group segregation and isolationist tendencies. It is languages – verbal language, sign language, body language – that constitute the basic channels of communication through which group stereotypes can be tolerated, changed, and/or resisted.
While the dynamics of interpersonal and intergroup relations has been a recurrent topic in several disciplines, such as psychology, social psychology (Tajfel 1978, 1982; Haslam et al 1998; Bar-Tal 2000) and political science (Sherif 1966; Pennebaker et al. 1997; Sidanius & Pratto 2001), research on communication and miscommunication in interpersonal and intergroup interaction has been conducted primarily within the fields of linguistics, sociolinguistics anthropology, rhetoric and communication studies (Hymes 1964; Gumperz 1971; Gudykunst 1998; Gudykunst & Mody 2002; Giles 2012; Berger 2014). A major advantage of these research strands lies in their intergroup perspective that considers people not only as individuals, but also as members of social groups (in terms of e.g., gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, region), and investigates the ways in which various social group memberships relate to the way that we communicate with each other.
A major goal of this conference is to bring together scholars from a wide range of disciplines who are interested in sharing their expertise and in discussing and comparing their extensive empirical and theoretical findings, so as to achieve a synergy and a cross-fertilisation of perspectives and approaches that highlight the role of communication practices in dealing with challenging situations emerging in interpersonal and intergroup encounters in 21st century societies.
Consequential work on intergroup issues was inspired by the development of social identity theory, initiated by Tajfel and Turner (1986), who explained that an individual does not just have a personal selfhood, but multiple selves and identities associated with their affiliated groups, and therefore the individual might act differently in varying social contexts according to the groups they belong to, which might include a sports team they follow, their family, their country of nationality, and the neighborhood they live in, among many other possibilities. A major finding of social identity theory consists of the insight that social behavior falls on a continuum that ranges from interpersonal behavior to intergroup behavior, since most social situations call for a compromise between these two ends of the spectrum.
The importance of intergroup and interpersonal communication in understanding ongoing societal changes has been highlighted by Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT), by exploring the links between language, context, and identity and by examining the reasons why individuals emphasize or minimize the social differences between themselves and their interlocutors through verbal and nonverbal communication (Giles 1977; Giles, Howard, Coupland, J. & Coupland, N. 1991; Gallois, Ogay & Giles 2005). CAT focuses on both intergroup and interpersonal factors that lead to accommodation, as well as the ways in which concerns about power, macro and micro-context affect communication behaviour in various professional settings, such as the medical field (Watson & Gallois 1999; Gasiorek, Van de Poel & Blockmans 2015; Hewett, Watson & Gallois 2015), the legal context (Aronsson, Jönsson & Linell 1987; Gnisci 2005; Davis 2007; Di Conza, Abbamonte, Scognamiglio & Gnisci 2012), and police interrogations (Berk-Seligson 2011), to name but a few. Cultural perspectives on ingroup and intergroup relations that have been developed within the framework of the ethnography of communication, strongly rooted in anthropology (Gumperz & Hymes, 1964) have added valuable insights into sources of misunderstanding and asymmetrical communication. Investigations like the ones carried out by Carbaugh, Berry & Nurmikari-Berry, 2006) provide evidence that ways of speaking, behaving and interacting define social and group relationships within and across cultures.
Today many countries, including European countries, are confronted with great challenges following the increasing societal and economic globalization, the internationalisation of cross-border cooperation and the effects of cross-border mobility through the arrival of migrants and refugees. Subtle differences in private or public interaction patterns can result in misunderstandings and disagreements, which can lead to serious conflicts involving local, national and regional actors, groups and communities. How to avoid misunderstandings and prevent conflicts? Irrespective of the approaches used, dialogue is a must since it requires and encourages a spirit of inquiry, self-reflection and personal scrutiny. The inclusiveness, open-endedness and long-term perspective of dialogue are necessary prerequisites for building interpersonal, inter-group and inter-community bridges by fostering exchanges of views, by searching for common ground in cross-border encounters, by acknowledging the value of difference and diversity. This is why we need to encourage research across a diverse range of domains, including language attitudes (accent/language choice), intergenerational communication, communication in health care, family communication, instructional communication, and computer-mediated communication.
The major goal of this international conference is to offer a forum for interdisciplinary and multi-level dialogue among researchers and practitioners in interpersonal and inter-group communication across social-cultural contexts and fields of activity. The questions they are called upon to examine, explore and debate include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • How are interpersonal and intergroup relations constructed, de-constructed and re-constructed through multilingual, multi-level and multidimensional communication?
  • To what extent can social rituals and cultural traditions enable, promote or prevent ingroup harmony/disharmony and outgroup inclusion/exclusion?
  • How do the groups people belong to influence the (positive and negative) ingroup-outgroup stereotypes they develop/hold? What role do language and linguistic representations play in spreading or exposing stereotypes?
  • What types of pro-migrant and anti-migrant arguments are being put forward in official media coverage and in the social media? In what ways do they differ and how do they affect individual and group reactions?
  • How do media programmes, advertisemensts, online networking, and other types of multimodal communication impact the (positive and negative) attitudes and emotions of the viewers?
  • What commonalities and what differences can be noticed in the terminology and discourse used to describe individuals and/or groups migrating within or between countries? Which are the recurrent collocations used with regard to categories of people referred to as refugees, migrants, immigrants, expats, asylum seekers, and/or displaced people?
  • What is the role played by digital platforms in reproducing, reinforcing or challenging class and gender systemic inequalities within and across groups?
  • How can digital communication culture contribute to fostering a multidimensional and multidirectional dialogue across groups and communities?
  • In what ways can translation and interpreting serve as bridge-builders across generations, genders, and a wide range of different or mixed cultures?
  • How can the activation of certain social categories and stereotypes influence how we communicate with others, and how can this both facilitate and complicate the interaction between members of different social/cultural/ethnic groups?
We welcome contributions from diverse fields of enquiry, including linguistics, media studies, journalism, cultural studies, psychology, rhetoric, political science, sociology, pedagogy, philosophy and anthropology.