4 things that are important to know about culture, when we talk about intercultural competence

Cultural intelligence, intercultural competence, diversity competence. They are all definitions of what the Danish Ministry of Education defines as “an individual’s knowledge about and ability to understand the cultural complexity of everyday life, as well as the ability to communicate unprejudiced with people from other cultures”.  But before we start talking about how you build up “intercultural competence”, it’s very important to define what understanding of culture that lies behind this concept.


1: Culture is imagined by people

Culture is not “real” per say. Culture is there because we as human beings believe it’s there, and because we act on it like it’s something of importance. Culture is a social construct, if we have to be really Bourdieu about it. Objects, things and people can of course be symbolic artefacts of a culture, but in this case the chicken came before the egg: Culture is created by humans.


2: Culture is relations

Culture is always created in the relations between people. In that way culture is “patterns of thinking and doing that are passed on within and between generations by learning”, as Anthropologist Donald Brown puts it so well. Groups of people create understandings of culture(s) that are somehow similar (but very importantly not completely similar) because they live in the same country or area and interact under the same set of rules, discourses and environments. This will make their understanding of the world somehow similar.

We come from a country not a culture and in that sense culture is not something we have, but something we do. And we “do culture” in collaboration with other people.


3: Culture is ever changing

Remember that we wrote that culture is something we do? That makes culture an ongoing negotiation between people. And in that way culture is potentially ever changing. In that way culture is also something that you as an individual negotiate with yourself and others every day, and that gives culture a major potential for development.


4: Culture is not only a matter of nationality

If we understand culture as a matter of relations and ongoing negotiations, then culture also becomes based on actions. In that way you can actually say that there are as many cultures, as there are interactions between people, who communicate successfully. Hence culture is not at all matter only of nationality. There is culture in everything: In the way you do things in your family. In your team or study group. Or at a Bruce Springsteen concert.


So to summer up culture can’t be seen as something static that we have, culture is so much more. It’s something that we choose and do in interaction and collaboration with each other – it’s ever changing.


Want to learn more? Then stay tuned when we next week elaborate on the meaning of intercultural competence.  


All the best from,

The Culture Nerds