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Points of view, social positioning and intercultural relations

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The challenge of intercultural relations has become an important issue in many societies. In spite of the claimed value of intercultural diversity, successful outcomes as predicted by the contact hypothesis are but one possibility; on occasions intercultural contact leads to intolerance and hostility. Research has documented that one key mediator of contact is perspective taking. Differences in perspective are significant in shaping perceptions of contact and reactions to it. The ability to take the perspective of the other and to understand it in its own terms is a necessary condition for successful intergroup outcomes. This paper sheds light on the processes involved in intercultural perspective taking by elaborating the notion of the point of view based on social representations theory. The point of view provides a theory of social positioning that can analyse cultural encounters between social actors, and identify the conditions for positive relations. Insights are drawn from a study of public views on the relative merits of science and religion, following a documentary by Richard Dawkins in which it was suggested that religion is a source of evil. The findings demonstrate that the point of view may be categorised according to a three-way taxonomy according to the extent to which it is open to another perspective. A point of view may be monological—closed to another's perspective entirely, dialogical—open to the possibility of another perspective while maintaining some percepts as unchallengeable, or metalogical—open to another's perspective based on the other's frame of reference.

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