Epistemological, Methodological, and Theoretical Challenges of Carrying Out ISL Research Involving Host Communities. A Conversation

Allyson Larkin, Marianne A. Larsen, Katie MacDonald, and Harry Smaller

Preface: This chapter was written as a conversation between a number of authors of the book who chose to engage in an online discussion about the epistemological, theoretical, and methodological challenges of carrying out international service learning (ISL) research in and with host communities. The authors were asked to consider what the existing literature and their own experiences (and positions) as privileged global North researchers tell us about the challenges involved in conducting ISL research. We consider the relational and ethical implications of carrying out ISL research for host communities.

All research makes knowledge claims and is political; therefore, all research is grounded in epistemological, methodological, and theoretical assumptions, and neglecting to closely examine these is unethical. Not reflecting on these relations or their consequences also signals the privilege of operating from a stance where our groundings are rarely questioned. When we talk about epistemology, we are reflecting upon how we come to know what we know. Epistemology involves the study of our deeply embedded beliefs and assumptions about how one might discover knowledge about the world, and what knowledges are valuable or legitimized and under what criteria. The kinds of epistemological questions that the authors below explore include: In what knowledge system does ISL “make sense”? How is ISL knowledge acquired? What kind of knowledge is valued? To what extent is it possible for a given subject (e.g., the ‘community’) to be known or to know? How is our knowledge about ISL embedded in and reflective of specific social and historical contexts?

Our epistemological assumptions shape and influence the kinds of theories and methodologies that we draw upon in our research. While there are countless definitions of theory, generally speaking, we are thinking about relatively coherent conceptual frameworks that allow us or even, we could say, challenge us to understand and make sense of the world around us and generate new ideas for future research. Some of the theories that the authors draw upon in the discussion below and in their ISL research include critical theory, transnational feminist theory, indigenous, and decolonizing theories. These do not represent all of the theoretical frameworks that authors in this book situate their work within, and we recognize the limits (and possibilities) of focusing solely on post-critical theories in our discussion here.

Methodologies are ways of thinking about how we gain knowledge—they inform how researchers choose their methods of data collection, and how they read their data. For example, a positivist methodology would be looking to make truth claims about the world, whereas a feminist methodology may suggest that privileging how participants understand the world is more important. Methodology informs researchers’ choices of specific strategies and methods in order to (de)construct and develop particular kinds of knowledge about ISL. We think out loud here about the implications of the methodological and theoretical choices we make, including how these choices exist within a world of injustice and inequality.

If this is the case, and we are to truly privilege local, community knowledge, then the reader might wonder why this chapter only includes the voices of university-based academics. The chapter, while attempting to challenge the current paradigms in ISL-host community research, exists within and is heavily influenced by those paradigms. As privileged academics based in educational institutions, we are deeply immersed in the world of theory and methodology, in ways that members of host communities may not be. Thinking about these ideas is what we have the time to do and, in most cases, are paid to do. Theories generated by people like us, in ‘scholarly,’ academic settings, are privileged in the paradigms we work within, and local, community knowledge generally is not.

However, we ask, “As researchers, how can we learn from host communities?” In posing this question, we are acknowledging that host communities are sources of knowledge and must be at the fore of decisions around ISL-host community research despite the challenges outlined in this chapter. As is clear throughout the book, host community members do theorize about their experiences in ISL, they do have suggestions for methodologies, and they do have ideas about knowledge and how we know what we know. Their voices are absent in this discussion for many reasons, including the lack of time to write about these issues, the lack of access to reliable technology to participate in an online discussion, and the privileging of English in the academy. The existence of these barriers signal to us the difficulty of shifting paradigms, and what we need to do better in the future.

A reader looking for a set of easy, prescriptive answers about how to carry out ISL-host community research will be disappointed with what they find here. The chapter, like ISL research and pedagogy, is messy and ambiguous, and the conversation is far from finished. We are not bold enough to claim that we know the answers to the questions we discuss (and indeed, this would go against many of our theoretical commitments), but suggest, through our conversation, that these questions are well worth exploring, as is doing so in solidarity with the members of host communities who may wish to engage in some way with ISL research, including a conversation about what solidarity means. In many respects, stating that ISL research is complex and complicated is stating the obvious—what is less often made explicit are the ways in which this messiness belies inequality. However, claiming that ISL research is messy and unequal should not be used as an excuse not to engage in research or consider the implications of one’s research, as we begin to do in this chapter. On the contrary, we support the idea that there is considerable potential for rich moments of insight and the possibility of producing new, more collaborative and inclusive ISL practices, knowledge, and relationships when we shift the focus in our ISL research and pedagogical practices from the ISL students to the communities that host them. Central to this shift is the recognition not only of the messiness of ISL research, but also of its uncertainties, ambiguities, and ambivalences. This chapter represents the conversation that we had as a group, and is presented in this form to encourage readers to join into the conversation with us, as well as to signal that this work is never over.

Marianne: I have felt immobilized in terms of writing this collaborative chapter with you given the importance and enormity of the topic that we have set out to discuss. Yet, I cannot fathom a book on ISL and host communities not addressing the methodological and theoretical challenges of carrying out this kind of research. At the end of my presentation of my chapter at our symposium in March, someone in the audience asked me why I did not have a local person conduct the interviews with the Tanzanian host community members for my study. Of course, I replied, I should have arranged for that to happen. There were so many flaws in my own study, which I report on in Chapter Seven in this book, that I feel embarrassed in many ways to discuss it. Yet, I believe that it is extremely unethical and problematic to conduct this type of research without deep and thoughtful consideration of the challenges before us.

My simple answer to that question was that I did not arrange to have local Tanzanians conduct the interviews because of the logistics (i.e., time and resources) available to me to do that. Cruz and Giles (2000) address this in their article on community service learning research. Moreover, there is the issue of developing trusting relationships, both with those who are participants in our research, and those whom we hire to conduct, translate, and transcribe the interviews. Developing trusting relationships takes time and much effort, as many authors in this book discuss, and I did not take the time or make the effort to go to Tanzania, spend time there, learn the language, develop trusting relationships.

Katie: As someone whose research is entwined with my practical/pro- fessional work in ISL with Intercordia, these issues of trust and building relationship^] are complicated in different ways. While Jessica Vorstermans and I heard a lot of critique from our participants, we feel this is because of the ten-year relationship Intercordia has built with them, along with our policy of always letting host communities have the last word in decision-making (see Chapter Ten). What are the ethics of building trust in order to elicit data? And, as much recent transnational feminist theory has suggested, it is insufficient simply to study inequity and the experiences of others, but it is instead necessary to think about not only our role in this inequity, but also the institutions from which we come. In an increasingly corporatized and neoliberal academy, where experiences of ISL are used to make students more “marketable,” what are our responsibilities in directing our research back at the university? In other words, if we take seriously relationship building and accountability and the interrelation between our lives, how does this change our methodologies broadly and our relationship with the university? In her book Volunteer Tourism in the Global South: Giving Back in Neoliberal Times, Wanda Vrasti (2012) writes about her decision not to talk with host communities in the global South as they have been over-researched, and as many indigenous researchers have pointed out (Kovach, 2009; Smith, 2005; Tuhiwai Smith, 2012), this research has rarely led to changes in the lives of those being researched.

Marianne: Thanks for sharing your insights, Katie. I think the existing body of ISL research is an excellent example of how research has rarely led to changes in the lives of those who host ISL students in their communities. I suppose one could go the route of Vrasti and not talk with individuals in global South communities that host ISL students, but I’m not convinced that is the answer. I recognize this kind of research is fraught with problems, methodological and theoretical, but I don’t think non-involvement is the route forward. Rather, I think it is the responsibility of global North researchers and ISL practitioners/facilitators to work in solidarity with global South community members and involve and interact with them deliberately and intimately in setting and carrying out research agendas. Many of the authors in this book have attempted to do just that, so I think it is a step in the right direction.

Harry: I’d like to second these thoughts. Katie’s question— “What are the ethics of building trust in order to elicit data?”—certainly resonated here. A complex question, to be sure—but at the least, it serves as another important reminder of the necessity/centrality of attempting to ensure that what we do will ultimately benefit those from whom we elicit these data.

Marianne: I wanted to share something else with you about my own ISL research study in Tanzania. The other issue I thought about, given that most of my participants spoke favorably about the ISL students who had spent time in their communities, was that many community members are likely to be reluctant to provide an honest assessment of programs that they benefit from financially or otherwise. As Schroeder, Wood, Galiardi, & Koehn (2009) have explained, consulting local people “may be helpful, but is unlikely to give a complete picture . . . [M]ost people are not trained to detect or analyze the effect of visitors on local communities. . . . Direct observation can also be helpful, but must be considered from a critical perspective as well. Local people may be observed to smile and appear happy when they are genuinely happy, but also when they have little choice about it, as “being happy” is required for visitors to spend money, give gifts, or come back” (p. 143).

Allyson: I think two points identified by Schroeder et al. (2009) warrant further unpacking. First, engaging with the absences and silences in accounts shared by local host partners is key. Silence speaks to the role that university researchers and theorists have historically played in the production of colonizing knowledge about ‘Others’ (Mbembe, 2001). As university researchers, and ISL practitioners, we are part of an institution which continues to be perceived by many as neo-colonial (Tikly, 2004). Since ISL is a practice actively promoted by higher education, it is important to acknowledge the role of universities in the “creation of knowledge through research, reflection, scholarship and academic freedom” (Tuhiwai Smith, 2012, p. 132). Further, most research continues to be organized around the interests and ideas of like-minded people, for example, a group of ISL practitioners striving to improve their practices. If we are part of a colonizing institution, and research in general is viewed as a colonizing practice, what does that mean for ‘service learning’ and our desire to conduct research on our impact on our host participants? Does it matter that in most, if not all, of this research, the global North participants initiated the studies? Although nearly all of the case studies presented in this volume engaged host partners in contributing to the research, how many of the methodologies in this book were designed with input from host communities, or how many participated in the analysis of the data? It is an ongoing concern for me that we, as researchers, may be continuing to [inflict] “violences upon others as we engage their stories and narratives of self-identification despite our best intentions” (Todd, 2003, p. 3).

The second aspect of the silences noted by Schroeder et al. (2009) addresses the possibility of silence as an opportunity to move outside of our epistemological foundation and ontological foundations, “to be shaken loose from our preoccupation with what is” (Mazzei, 2007, p. xii). Mazzei (2007) urges researchers to deconstruct the silences they encounter in discourse-based research and to work against that which can be observed and heard. Her approach draws on deconstruction as a strategy to engage silence as a space to explore the challenges, tensions, and omissions present in our own knowledge. Probing silences moves researchers into spaces [that] reveal the gaps, dysfunctions, or contradictions of our own work. It was through attending to silences that my attention was drawn to the notion of Ubuntu as a way to decenter Western ethical frameworks for service learning. My research and critique of service and learning, in the context of Tanzania, was radically altered as I began to engage in conversations with host partners of their understanding of Ubuntu.

One of the challenges I encounter in writing about methodologies is the possibility of foreclosing what is really an ongoing work in progress. Although we write here about particular sets of responses and experiences contributed by authors and host ISL partners, it is critical that this research is understood as an ongoing project and conversation. Indigenous research is carefully built on long-term trust and reciprocity. Currently, ISL research seems to be caught in a web of tensions that includes a desire to foreground the interests of host communities and yet, because this practice emanates from the university and is bound by those timeframes and expectations, the priority often defaults to the needs of the ISL participants. I am concerned that our research strategies reflect our ISL programming—short-term engagement and overly influenced by institutional or individual discipline’s theories, methods, and protocols. Many researchers rely on interpreters because they do not have access to local knowledges, and few researchers are able to spend extended periods in the field. Decolonizing research encourages researchers and ISL instructors to take the time to become deeply familiar with community culture and custom and be prepared to share of themselves: their stories, aspirations, disappointments, and frustrations.

Harry: I have been thinking about this within the context of the Nicaragua study that I have written about in Chapter Four with Michael O’Sullivan. One continuing dilemma is our concern about what even just our presence (Canadian, white, male, with a mission) in a rural Nicaraguan village means to local residents—how it is taken up, and in what ways it shapes the interactions, discussions, etc. As a result, in spite of very much wanting to be directly involved (and in spite of the fact that we will be in Nicaragua during much of this time), to date we have chosen not to do so, and instead work with Nicaraguan social researchers, selected on the basis of cross-cultural sensitivity, to work with us on designing methodology, and to engage in the actual interaction/discussions in the villages. However, our decision to “distance” ourselves from these spaces does complicate the ethical and epistemological aspects of the overall project, to be sure, in ways that we have yet to surmise.

Allyson: Perhaps what we need to consider is approaching ISL research and teaching from a position of vulnerability. What I am hearing in the research/case studies presented in this volume is the sense that host communities want to participate in programming, but their interests continue to be subordinated or unrealized, despite the best of intentions. The community participants struggle to articulate their expectations, whether it is gaining access to educational opportunities for their children, or attracting sustainable resources to the community. They are unable to hold programs accountable for participants’ activities in the community or to ensure that ISL participants are adequately prepared to engage with host communities.

There is a tension in the ISL literature that attempts to distance it from critical pedagogy—I think this nexus needs to be explored to understand why global North practitioners of ISL have been reluctant to consider the political dimensions of ISL. Is it possible or desirable to engage in a depoliticized practice of ISL? I do not think so and attempts to subordinate the political (which embodies all of the personal and public aspects of ISL: race, gender, history, sexuality, ability, age, ethnicity) are to engage in a dishonest practice. Similarly, if our methodologies do not acknowledge and foreground these tensions, our findings are not authentic or accurate.

Katie: Yes! These issues are so important to think about, and are revealed in what Marianne said above about the need for working in solidarity. There is a call for coalition and solidarity in this research, but it is rare to see an engaged discussion of what this looks like, and how “far” we are willing to carry this through. If a community decides that they no longer want to work with us, or want us to write about previously collected data, what do we do? How is solidarity defined? As Chandra Mohanty (2003) talks about in her reflection on her important piece “Under Western Eyes”—solidarity is a politics of co-implication. For me, this has been key in thinking about moving forward and feminist thinking has really helped me to think deeply about this. And as methodologists have talked about, sometimes hyper-reflexivity is too much. I think the answer to her question, though, is no. While Gibson-Graham (1996) have argued that thinking is doing, that thinking is a verb, they also suggest that taking the time to imagine, dream, and theorize is crucial to forming a new world, and I would add that especially in ISL, where Northerners are oriented to quick action and solving, we would be remiss if we were to just jump into “solving.”

Marianne: These issues are important to consider, especially the need to consider the political dimensions of ISL, including, as Katie notes above, not only our role in perpetuating (and often benefitting from) unequal power relations, but the corporatized universities within which we carry out our work. I think at the heart of the methodological and theoretical challenges of carrying out this research are the Western epistemologies that inform our systems of thought and research methodologies. While most of the authors in this book adopt a post-foundational epistemology, I think it is ever so easy to fall into a hegemonic trap of Western epistemological assumptions based on positivist claims of rationality, objectivity, and knowledge as absolute truth. I read an interesting article about this in the context of HIV/ AIDS research in Botswana where the author, Bagele Chilisa (2005), discusses how Western research in African societies ignores, marginalizes, and suppresses other knowledge systems and ways of knowing. In the context of HIV/AIDS research in Botswana, she describes how it is an example of “how knowledge from the ‘Other’s’ perspective continues to be subjugated, distorted or erased by dominant knowledge-power formations determined through the conspiracy of silence in the research discipline towards accommodating other knowledge systems and powerful networks from the center that determine and fund research agendas” (Chilisa, 2005, p. 666). There is a lot to unpack there and of course, Gayatri Spivak’s (1988) question, “Can the subaltern speak?” comes to mind. I’ll stop here to see what the rest of you think and see where this discussion leads us.

Katie: I think this is a trap that was really felt in feminist writing in the 80s where feminists worried about the idea of writing about others’ experiences, about analyzing them, and about the idea of “giving voice”—but, what happened at this point in feminist writing was that there was a disavowal of mediation so that life stories were presented as though that they were only what people had shared rather than a product of a conversation in a particular moment, and edited to be published. It also leaves out the need for analysis. Our partners will come from and represent different ideas about volunteer[ing] abroad. In my own research, there were some people who I talked with who thought tourism was good because of job creation, while others talked about it as a neo-imperial adventure. Too often, I think, when we write about “community” or “communities,” we assume that a community agrees.

Allyson: I concur with Katie’s comments about the problematic aspects of giving voice to participants. Challenges facing ISL research and practices intersect with issues encountered in international development studies (Heron, 2007). In much of the development literature, discurvisization, appropriating the words, ideas, and experiences of local participants in research, is an act of colonization and oppression (Lazreg, 2002). The comments by Chilisa above also echo critical themes in the international development literature. Here, researchers are concerned with practices that decontextualize and pathologize particular aspects of global South poverty, for example, HIV/AIDS. Researchers concerned with decolonizing development and pedagogical practices begin with an understanding that:

[D]ecolonisation is something that we are all implicated in and ultimately responsible for; addressing the politics of what is taught and whose point of view informs this teaching are critical to advancing a decolonising pedagogy . . . decolonising praxis means reframing the way we teach to destabilise the Eurocentric foundations of development through accounts from alternative historical and contemporary world views.

(Langdon, 2013, p. 385)

In many cases, project-driven programs tend to isolate and examine social issues from a limited perspective. Harcourt (2009) argues that researchers and practitioners need to enter into relationships and practices—research and pedagogy—in communities with a view toward how the complexities of each social context influences and complicates our understanding of social issues. I believe that some practices of ISL become isolated in this same way—this is reflected in participants’ responses in this volume who are concerned with students’ preparation to be in their community or who are critical that they are not achieving their goals through ISL participation. The theoretical frameworks and methodologies that guide our research with communities must be foregrounded in the values and interests of the community, and our relationships to the communities require nurturing that extends beyond the temporal framework of any individual program. And where we do not have access to formal sources to inform our practices, then we must cede authority and leadership to those in the local community who do understand what is appropriate to practices in their context (Tuhiwai Smith, 2012).

Harry: Certainly, in reviewing the transcripts of rural Nicaraguan villagers being interviewed about ISL programs, we are often left with wondering how these “values and the interests of the community” might best be understood or unpacked. For example, while the overwhelming response of host community participants in our study suggests strong support in favor of ISL students from the North spending time with them, there was little or no mention of problems in this regard (even when the research involved only local Nicaraguan interviewers). However, we know from other sources (program coordinators, “outside” observers, etc.) that there are certainly downsides as well for these villagers in hosting ISL programs. Do these differential findings result simply from a desire to please the interviewer (perhaps in the belief they would be protecting the future of ISL program visits), do they signal actual differences in the social locations occupied by individual villagers within their “community,” do they suggest “messiness” in our research praxis, or some/none of the above? It is certainly a dilemma, which continues to animate our continued discussions about the complexities of methodology.

And very much tied to this is the complex issue of (as all three of you have noted) the “problematic aspects of giving voice to participants” — not only in regard to the “what they say as compared to what they really believe” matter, but also the issue of juxtaposing their experiences/beliefs with the larger social/political/historical outcomes of whatever the (however well-meaning) North-South activity has been. I must say, I am really left far from [a] resolution (assuming there ever could be one) of the tensions between “local autonomy” and the larger complexities/outcomes.

Marianne: Allyson, I’m thinking about the point you made (drawing on Harcourt’s work) about the need to understand how the complexities of different social contexts influences and complicates our understanding of social issues. One issue I wanted to raise in this chapter is the recognition of the unequal playing field within which the practice of and research on ISL unfolds, and the socio-historical contexts that have created the conditions for the emergence of that field. I’m thinking about the efforts to bring host community partners from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua to be on the keynote panel for our ISL: Engaging Host Communities symposium in March. As you might recall, all five were denied visas from the Canadian government to attend the symposium, despite the fact that I sent support letters indicating that all of their expenses would be covered. This was a glaring reminder that although we in the global North may desire dialogue with those in the global South, not all have the same opportunities to speak and have their voices heard. As editor, I hope the book makes a contribution to providing a space for dialogue across and within difference, but given colonizing histories and current realities and barriers facing those in the ‘majority world,’ I realize that an enormous amount of work needs to be done.

Allyson: The focus of this book on the impact of ISL on host communities establishes it in a critical space, examining how power and privilege impact ISL practices and research methodologies. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (1989), describing the impact of one object onto another suggests a forcible, intense, violent, crash, smash, or collision. There is a breaking up of what once was, but no sense of how it is to be put back together. What happens after the impact? There seems to be a crisis of legitimacy on the horizon for ISL practices. Many researchers are concerned that ISL is in danger of remaining a site of recolonization in the absence of more critical efforts. Decolonizing ISL demands providing opportunities to theorize and enact programs and research that resist depoliticization, particularly in the context of increasing higher education internationalization that positions international programming as a value-added for students’ education.

Katie: I think in ISL work, this is a balance that I struggle with all the time. I spend a lot of time with my students that I send abroad trying to prob- lematize their desire for a quick jump to action. Too often in the West, we assume a position of fixing, doing, and that this is all imagined as fast-paced, as things we demand to see in our lifetime. This is what Courtney Martin (Tippett, 2015) talks about as a transactional view of action, where you do something toward change and expect to see the effect immediately, where it might serve us better to see our actions as a part of a longer and wider struggle. So in my own work, I find the struggle between wanting to do better and knowing that I need to learn and listen and be with folks as an ongoing tension to work with. This depoliticization that Allyson talks about is central to this I think—if we see each of these experiences as political, it becomes more pressing to think them through rather than when they are presented through a neoliberal, individual lens that present addressing inequity as a “one-off” kind of project. Much of the critical development studies research has shown how this focus on development as a non-political action fails to address the systemic and ends up perpetuating inequality and ignoring the ways in which development is racialized (Ferguson, 1990; Mohanty, 2003; White, 2002).

If our ideas are informed by the language we are using to explain, analyze, and describe experiences, is it time to learn [a] new language to inform a new, decolonizing practice of ISL? I am interested in thinking about new ways to frame ISL practices and research methodologies. Instead of interviewing communities who are invested in programming and so nervous about being critical, we might try and interview communities or members who have decided not to work with these programs. Of those still involved in these programs, would they talk about ‘impacts’ from ISL in the community? From the responses presented here in this book, I am thinking that some might, but that more may be talking about opportunities and possibilities—their responses appear to be focused on how ISL can contribute to individual and community change. This focus completely reframes the research and would inform methodologies differently.

Allyson: I believe we need to commit to ISL projects that are epistemologically, practically, and temporally much more complex if we are not to be complicit in acts of epistemicide (Sousa Santos, 2014). Sousa Santos (2014) argues for a reconstruction of existing epistemological foundations, arguing that it is not possible to work for social justice without incorporating the histories and ontologies that are other than European or Western-centric. Cognitive social justice calls for incorporating methodologies and theories informed by [the] global South. Here, colonized experiences are theorized and critiqued alongside Eurocentric knowledge to lay the foundation for new understandings of global interactions and relationships. Acknowledging indigenous research methodologies, Third World feminism, or Ubuntu are all steps toward cognitive social justice. This book can be taken as a small step toward imagining and articulating the contingencies that can potentially frame this work.

Katie: ISL suffers under the pressure of changing the world, changing communities, and changing the students who participate. This is a heavy burden for experiences that last as short as 10 days. If we take seriously the call for these epistemologies, then this must also inform how we conceptualize pedagogy and learning—perhaps we can rethink imagining transformation as transactional, off the bodies of folks in the South, rethink the banking model. If we take a long-term view to education, how does this shift our pedagogical assumptions? Eve Tuck and Wayne Wang (2002) talk about the ways in which “decolonizing” has been taken up as a metaphor in social justice education, rather than as a call to attend to existing treaties and relations between nations. Their article argues that decolonizing must also attend to land claims—if we decolonize programming and methodology, we must attend not only to epistemology and ontology, but actual physical relations, not only internationally, but also in Canada.

Allyson: Moving forward, we need post-critical studies that map out how ISL interventions affect communities, individuals, beliefs, and practices. And these maps must be produced in collaboration with members from host communities. Cornwall and Edwards (2014) contribute an important insight to the field of gender and development in that there are always “hidden pathways—unusual, unexpected and commonly unseen pathways” that we must seek out and make visible as ISL practitioners. They argue that we must look for these pathways in sites that are unexplored in our research literature, including “television, popular music, faith and religious practice, everyday domesticity, leisure and sexual relationships” (Cornwall & Edwards, 2014, p. 2).

Marianne: A number of times in this discussion, I have heard the phrase ‘ethical engagement’ being raised. This provoked me to return to an article

I read a while back by Willie Ermine entitled “The Ethical Space of Engagement.” Ermine, who is Cree from the Sturgeon Lake First Nation, is a professor at the First Nations University of Canada. In the article, he describes the ‘ethical space’ as being produced when contrasting and disparate worldviews engage with one another. There is much potential for change within the ethical space, according to Ermine, who writes that thinking about diverse societies and the space in between them can contribute to the development of a framework for dialogue between human communities. The idea of agreement, writes Ermine (2007):

must always be preceded by the affirmation of human diversity created by philosophical and cultural differences. Since there is no God’s eye view to be claimed by any society of people, the idea of the ethical space . . . entertains the notion of a meeting place, or initial thinking about a neutral zone between entities or cultures. The space offers a venue to step out of our allegiances, to detach from the cages of our mental worlds and assume a position where human-to-human dialogue can occur. The ethical space offers itself as the theatre for cross-cultural conversation in pursuit of ethically engaging diversity and disperses claims to the human order. (p. 202)

This idea of the ethical space corresponds with how Sharon Todd (2003) conceptualizes difference as being a space for ethical relationship formation. Understanding and reconciling worldviews other than our own is difficult work, but as Ermine (2007) concludes, “[I]t can become a refuge of possibility in cross-cultural relations . . . for the effect of shifting the status quo of an asymmetrical social order to a partnership model between world communities” (p. 203). Following Ermine’s ideas, I think we (and here I mean ALL those involved in ISL—individuals in communities that host ISL students, researchers, practitioners, facilitators, students, universities, third party providers) need to enter the ‘ethical space’ in order to level the playing field and create more inclusive, collaborative, and socially just ways of thinking, acting, and being in ISL relationships.


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