Interculturality in the Digital World – Interview with Dr. Milene Mendes de Oliveira on the Research Project ReDICo

Dr. Milene Mendes de Oliveira | Photo: private
Photo : private
Dr. Milene Mendes de Oliveira
The universities of Potsdam, Jena, and Mainz established a joint project group called Researching Digital Interculturality Co-operatively (ReDICo) in 2020. The researchers intend to bring intercultural communication research closer to the interdisciplinary field of internet studies to study digital interculturality from a new perspective.

The acronym ReDICo stands for “Researching Digital Interculturality Co-operatively” – that sounds interesting.  What exactly is “digital interculturality”?

In reference to the German cultural and communication studies scholar Jürgen Bolten, we understand interculturality as a situation in which the perceived familiarity with our own culture is lacking. Digitalization has led to a substantial increase in the interlacing and complexity of our life-worlds, fueled by a multitude of new communication platforms like various social media, WhatsApp, and online news. So we use the term “digital interculturality” for this increased complexity of everyday life in differing digital communication contexts. That is our topic and cooperative research is the essence of our partnership.

What motivated you to participate in the application process?

My motivation to submit this proposal was the exciting scientific exchange I had with Luisa Conti, Roman Lietz, and Fergal Lenehan prior to writing the ReDICo project outline. The writing process, which lasted from November 2019 to January 2020, was long but very democratic, with all of us contributing equally to the result. One thing I learned from the process was that getting out of one’s own scientific community –
in my case, applied/cultural linguistics – and talking to researchers from other disciplines is also, per se, a kind of intercultural communication. We all have an interest in culture as a subject of scientific inquiry and rely on different theoretical and methodological frameworks. What seemed quite difficult to bring together at first turned out to be complementary in many ways.

To launch the research project, a paper entitled “Digital Interculturality: A Digital Turn for Intercultural Communication Studies” was presented at a conference of the International Association for Languages and Intercutural Communication (IALIC) in November. Are we talking about a paradigm shift on a large scale?

On the one hand, we can already say that digitalization has influenced intercultural communication in a way that could lead to a partial reorientation of the discipline in the near future. On the other hand, we also believe that studying online communication from the perspective of intercultural communication theory can be a valuable approach. In doing so, it would be possible to understand communication patterns that have become relevant in recent years, from cooperative and synergistic exchange to radicalization and polarization. Our project includes four empirical studies and a theory formation phase in its final year. First, we want to examine different streams of digital intercultural communication – e.g., tweets, Facebook, and communication via videoconferencing tools – using both established and innovative models of analysis of intercultural communication, and bringing in new perspectives, especially from the interdisciplinary field of internet studies.

What do you consider to be the greatest added value of ReDICo for the University of Potsdam?

 

I expect the sub-project “Digital Communities and Intercultural Online Competence” at the University of Potsdam to increase the visibility of topics like intercultural communication, intercultural games, and English as a lingua franca among students, especially of the Institute of English and American Studies. Many of them will be teaching English in the future, and it seems extremely important to me to encourage them to think about the use of English as a means of intercultural communication in the digital world.

What are your specific plans as a linguist at the University of Potsdam?

 

My first ReDICo study is about intercultural simulation games in online environments. To this end, I am developing BA and MA courses that will be offered online during the summer and winter semesters. In these courses, students can play an intercultural simulation game with a team from another university, practicing, discussing, and evaluating their intercultural communication skills. In compliance with all necessary ethical procedures, data will be collected and used in my study. During the courses, the game will of course be accompanied by theoretical discussions, especially about the role and function of English as a lingua franca and the tenets of intercultural competence. Such discussions are important for our students who have grown up with digital media and are likely to experience digital intercultural communication on a daily basis.

What does work in the interdisciplinary project group look like – both in terms of organization and time?

 

Our teamwork is excellent, which might be due to the fact that we reflected on the concept of “teamwork” together from the very beginning. We took the time to get to know each other, not only the core team, but also all the graduate assistants participating in the project. This closeness and trust in each other helped us to get through the initial phase of the project. We are sad that we have only had the chance to meet in person as a team once, so far. That was in January 2020, when we were still writing our proposal. At the same time, we are happy to see that digital communication can also promote synergies.

ReDICo collaborative partnerships extend across borders. What does an ideal scientific exchange look like for you in this context?

We are pleased to have our international network as project partners, which includes researchers from the universities of Minas Gerais (Brazil), Limerick (Ireland) and Tel Aviv (Israel). We will work closely with them throughout the project.

On the researcher

In the ReDICo project, linguist Dr. Milene Mendes de Oliveira from the University of Potsdam investigates the use of English as a lingua franca and the development of intercultural competence in virtual spaces. Her goal is to shed light on new methods for foreign language instruction in intercultural digital spaces.
In addition to Dr. Milene Mendes de Oliveira, the core team of the joint project group includes Dr. Luisa Conti and PD Dr. Fergal Lenehan from Friedrich Schiller University Jena and Dr. Roman Lietz from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, who are investigating topics such as neo-nationalism and neo-cosmopolitanism in internet forums.
The four-year research project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with a sum of approximately EUR2.1 million. The funding volume in Potsdam amounts to around EUR500,000.
ReDICo also cooperates with partners at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil, the University of Limerick in Ireland, and the Kibbutzim College of Education, Technology, and the Arts in Israel. To maintain cooperation with them and build new partnerships, the research group is establishing a future-oriented, open-access virtual platform where scholars can network and share publications, calls for papers, and other relevant information on digital interculturality. The research group is also going to organize three international digital conferences in cooperation with partners around the world.

 

This article was originally published in the University Magazine Portal – One 2021 "30 years of the UP" (PDF).