A PhD Thesis Proposal About the Implementation of the Intercultural in Social Interactions

Updated: Jul 18

Implementation of the Intercultural[1] in Social Interactions with Individuals Inflicted by forced migration and residing in the Canton of Neuchatel: Effectiveness and Stakes


In its empirical part, this research is aiming at examining the impact of practices and visions of social agents working in the field of integration of refugees, in the light of their perception by refugees and asylum seekers and the resulting consequences. In its theoretical part, it traces the constitutive and regulatory cultural rules (D'Andrade, 1984) in addition to the meaning systems standing behind the propositions of activists working in the canton of Neuchatel. It investigates how these propositions are influencing the implementation of Rey’s concept of the Intercultural ( Rey, 2001). To come to its results, this study is going to use developmental(experimental) methods and by doing so, it is going to develop many socio-driven concepts like social mirroring, bonding and bridging in addition to those already rooted in psychology like collective narcissism. The findings of this research are expected to be crucially important to the civil society as well as the cantonal authorities in charge of the multicultural infrastructure.


Interaction between refugees and asylum seekers as one category, henceforth category 1 and social agents as another, henceforth category 2, is seen as a process of social interaction. Social interaction is not the only interaction type amenable to development and capable of helping category 1 construct knowledge and competencies to be assimilated or integrated in the host country, but a considerable number of refugees and asylum seekers is likely to prefer social interaction due to different reasons. Insufficient language proficiency and poor computer skills are the major reasons, but given social interaction is a goal rather than a means for newcomers to a certain society, it is likely to be the preferable type of interaction unless we have cases of migrants coming already with psychological problems or mentalities which might have them prefer little contact with people. Internet-addiction might be also a reason for replacing social interaction with a non-human type of interaction. However, the relationship between social interaction and socio-cognitive development has not attracted experimental research in psychology before roughly 1970 (Mugny, Doise, 1978). Indeed Mugny and Doise refer in their article published in 1978 that their distinctive developmental approach to social psychology favoring social interaction was in its infancy (Mugny, Doise, 1978) despite some promising results ( Doise, Mugney and Perret-Clermont, 1975).

According to Dasen’s definitions and classification of the acculturation policies adopted by host countries, some of these host countries block or hinder social interaction with migrants by adopting marginalization and segregation as acculturation policies. Besides she refers to the fact that negative consequences like psychosomatic problems were observed in situation where integration was possible and even the goal aimed at.

Dans l’ensemble le choix de l’intégration est lié au style de réactions au stress psycho-social le plus flexible. Les problèmes psychosomatiques sont surtout associés à l’assimilation et pour les latino-américaine même à l’intégration. La ségrégation n’est pratiquement jamais choisie. (Dasen, 2001)

Micheline Rey is another scholar who dug deeper into the social interactions between social agents in the host community, which is referred to as category 2 in this paper, highlighting the role of category 2 in encouraging a positive attitude from members of category 1. In her article which was dedicated to explain her concept ‘l’interculturel’, which is addressing a community favoring integration as an acculturation policy or strategy, she refers to an ego-centralized vision on the part of category 2 as the culprit for dysfunctions in the integration process.

Cette perspective nous invite une certaine décentration, à un questionnement, dans la réciprocité, par rapport à nos visions égocentriques ( socio-, ethno-, culturo-, européocentrique) du monde et des relations humaines. Elle invite à saisir la réalité dans sa dynamique. Avec la communication, les cultures, les communautés, les identités se transforment, et chacun participe de plusieurs. Il s’agit donc d’appréhender cette réalité d’une manière dialectique, capable de rendre compte des relations et des changements réels et potentiels qu’elle entraine. (Rey, 2001).

Apart from the pitfalls the ‘Intercultural’ is supposed to confront “On peut voir aussi l’interculturel comme une stratégie pour interroger les égo- ( socio-, ethno-, culturo-, europeo-, etc) centrisme. » she refers to the fact that this remedial project, is capable potentially of producing negative consequences like any other project, unless it is implemented properly. Indoctrinating the concept without sufficient awareness and expertise can make it even harmful as she says:

L’interculturel en tant que projet est un défi, social et éducatif, mais, comme tout projet, il est en butte à des pièges, qu’il faut reconnaitre et éviter. Pièges au niveau de discours d’abord. D’aucuns parlent d’inter culturalisme. Or, il serait dangereux de faire de l’interculturel une doctrine. Il risquerait le dogmatisme, la paralysie, l’aveuglement, et le rejet qui iraient à l’encontre de la perspective interculturelle elle-même. Pièges au niveau des pratiques également. L’action sociale comme l’action éducative ont besoin de supports ( activités, illustrations, exemples, actes concrets …). Des outils sont indispensables. Mais ils peuvent devenir des pièges. Comme le dit un proverbe : « Le sage montre la lune, le fou regarde le doigt ». Il s’agit donc d’être vigilants.

Hypothesis and methods:

My research is therefore going to be deeply concerned with the mental representations of members of category 2 and how it is affecting reactions from members of category 1 in the framework of this social integration in process. This concern with the impact of the other is known in social psychology as social mirroring

When the reflected image is negative (negative mirroring), it is extremely difficult to maintain an unblemished sense of self-worth. On the other hand, a positive reflected image (positive mirroring) instills a feeling of being competent and worthwhile. (Duveen, 2015)

Some of my research questions will be therefore:

1- Are the perceived ego-centralized visions of members of category 2 underpinned by certain mental phenomena which are the result of a hierarchy of cultural rules and are therefore threatening the potential and the effectiveness of the Intercultural?

2- What are the culturally inherited attitudes and aptitudes which are influencing a certain interpretation of the ‘Intercultural’ or shaping its implementation in practice?

3- In what way are these attitudes, aptitudes and visions affecting members of category 1? In what cases can these same attitudes be positive, and where can they be negative?

4- On borrowing and developing some integration-related concepts like bonding and bridging (Bolin, Hackett, Harlan, Kirby, Larsen, Nelson, , … Wolf, 2004) I will investigate if internal capacities (like low self-esteem on the part of members of category 1) can function as a ‘bonding’ premise and if high self-esteem requires ‘bridging infrastructure’ and what are the stakes of such approach?

In other words, my research is partly an empirical study aiming at examining the impact of ‘Intercultural’-based practices and visions of category 2 in the light of their perception by category 1 and the resulting consequences. I hypothesize, therefore, that ego-centralized visions et propositions ( ethnic-, social, cultural-, European-, etc) mentioned in Rey’s literature are underpinned by some culturally shaped constitutive and regulatory rules (D'Andrade, 1984) to which category 1 little has contributed so far. This lack of contribution to the host culture on the part of category 1 along with their passivity, and submission to the little awareness and emphasis on migrants backgrounds and internal capacities are threatening the effectiveness of the ‘Intercultural’ and engendering latter-day practices. For instance, collective narcissism (Golec de Zavala, Cichocka, Eidelson, & Jayawickreme, 2009). on the part of members of category 2 is a major source of ego-centralized propositions which are threatening the self- esteem of members of category 1, who have no ready access to the local collective narcissism. Therefore, no effectiveness of the ‘Intercultural’ can be guaranteed without feeding the social intelligence of members of category 1, which is hard or impossible to achieve without a full consideration of internal capacities ( mainly self-esteem) on which emotional intelligence is based and this latter is an integral part of social intelligence ( Albrecht, 2004).

To operationalize my research I intend to conduct it in a Swiss canton whose migratory policy is excluding separation and segregation, and hence paving the way for social interaction between the categories mentioned above. Among this canton’s associations concerned with the social action, I will conduct my research in the framework of an association which includes among its activists and upholders members of the target group of my research _ L’Amar. Moreover, this association attacks in its manifesto the cantonal infrastructure and measures which hamper social interaction even with asylum seekers, who do not have a proper residency permit, and opens its doors even to those who are asked to quit Switzerland. More precisely, I am planning to record interviews with members of this association belonging to both categories and apply a thematic analysis which will provide me with an access to the culturally-based mental phenomena underlying behind their dispositions and verbal utterances.

Given the social theory itself is witnessing a 'linguistic turn' in which language is credited as playing a major role within social phenomena (Fairclough, 1992) and these mental phenomena are responsible for constructing certain propositions, which natives do not usually discuss with each other, and a set of other descriptive and normative propositions which can be explicitly found in language (Hill, 1988, p. 23), I will rely partly on the analysis of linguistic discourse ( as far as it proves being a must) as well as the developmental methods in psychology to conduct my research.

Beyond the over-estimated qualitative/quantitative divide, I propose that we distinguish between traditional, “square” research, in which researchers analyze human thinking or social activities in a static way, and “developmental” research, which creates experimental (in the sense of experimenting) spaces of transformation of human thinking or social activities. (Cloetzer: 2015)

Inspired by the developmental methods partly illustrated by Cloetzer, I intend to give a course to the subjects of my research after the first round of interviews. This course will be dedicated to core issues in social interaction: Cooperative principle in communication ( Grice, 1989), Social mirroring, bonding and bridging, threatened egotism theory (Bushman, Baumeister, 1998), level of self esteem (Kernis, Grannemann, Barclay, 1989), social intelligence, the Intercultural ( Rey, 2001), etc. The second round of interviews will be carried out after a considerable time after the course ( 3 months minimum), but I will rise the same questions about successful and unsuccessful experiences, motivation for activism, the behavior and paths of members of the other category, self criticism, etc. The results of my thematic analysis based on my first round of interviews will be compared and contrasted with the second analysis and hence a further investigation of the role of the ‘Intercultural’ in practice taking into consideration levels of awareness of its aspects and interpretations.


The results of this study will give us a deeper insight into the psychological factors ( imitation processes, internal capacities of migrants in their chase of equilibration with their environment, modulations caused by intercultural differences, socio-cognitive conflicts, collective cognitive performances, etc) to which the effectiveness of interaction can be ascribed. Furthermore, this interdisciplinary study takes some concepts from related fields like cultural theory, linguistics (pragmatics) and sometimes poorly developed concepts from social psychology ( social mirroring, bonding, bridging) and provide them with a necessary and sufficiently illustrated psychological support to give them more credit in social-interaction-related research. Furthermore, the results of this research are likely to be indispensable as a guide for civil-society associations concerned with hosting and integrating refugees and asylum seekers in the canton of Neuchatel. They are also worth taking into consideration by the cantonal and federal authorities as long as these authorities are concerned with intercultural interactions and the effectiveness of the implemented measures in practice.


Albrecht, K. (2004). Social Intelligence Theory. Retrieved from https://karlalbrecht.com/siprofile/siprofiletheory.htm.

Bolin, B., Hackett, E. J., Harlan, S. L., Kirby, A., Larsen, L., Nelson, A., … Wolf, S. (2004). Bonding and Bridging: Understanding the Relationship between Social Capital and Civic Action. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 24, 64–77.

Bushman, B. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (1998). Threatened egotism, narcissism, self-esteem, and direct and displaced aggression: Does self-love or self-hate lead to violence? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 219-229.

Cloetzer, L (2015, September). Towards a concrete psychology. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://laurekloetzer.blogspot.ch/2015/09/towards-concrete-psychology_3.html

Dasen, P. R. (2001). Intégration, assimilation et stress acculturatif. In C. Perregaux & T.

Duveen, G. (2001). Representations, identities, resistance. In K. Deaux & G. Philogene (Eds.), Representations of the social (pp. 257–270). Oxford: Blackwell.

Ogay & Y. Leanza & P. R. Dasen (Eds.), Intégrations et migrations : Regards pluridisciplinaires(pp. 187-210). Paris: L'Harmattan.

Fairclough, N. (1992). Discourse and social change. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Golec de Zavala, A., Cichocka, A., Eidelson, R., & Jayawickreme, N. (2009). Collective narcissism and its social consequences: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (pp 1074-1096). https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/4252/1/Golec_collectivenarcissism.pdf. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.

Grice, H. P. (1989). Studies in the way of words. Cambridge, UK: Harvard University Press.

Hill, J. (1988). Language, culture and world view. In: Newmeyer, F. J. (ed.) Linguistics: The Cambridge Survey (pp. 16–26). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,.

Kernis, M. H., Grannemann, B. D., & Barclay, L. C. (1989). Stability and level of self-esteem as predictors of anger arousal and hostility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 1013-1022.

Mugny, G., & Doise, W. (1978). Socio-cognitive conflict and structure of individual and collective performances. European Journal of Social Psychology, 8, 181-192.

Rey, M. (2001). Michelin Rey. Dynamiques identitaire et intégration piste de réflexion et d’action dans une perspective interculturelle. In C. Perregaux & T. Ogay & Y. Leanza & P. R. Dasen (Eds.), Intégrations et migrations : Regards pluridisciplinaires (pp. 239-265). Paris: L'Harmattan.

[1] L’interculturel: a concept appeared in Michelin Rey’s article “Dynamiques identitaires et intégration. Pistes de réflexions et d’action dans une perspective interculturelle » and others.

Note: This PhD thesis proposal, whose author is Rami Ibrahim, was rejected in August 2018 by two teachers at the University of Neuchatel (department of psychology and education) without mentioning any pitfall related to the proposal itself. Their reply revealed clearly that the applicant had not a completed degree in psychology or cultural psychology.

However, I publish this thesis proposal here in the hope that it will help make universities in the French-speaking countries more flexible and take more of applicants' competencies into consideration. I might work on it further or use it for another application at another university.

This thesis proposal was written by Rami Ibrahim ©, the owner of this website. #RamiIbrahim, #Interculturel, #socialinteractions

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