|dc.description.abstract||In this thesis I seek to compare the premises for identification and communication among immigrant women in two French course groups at the Espace Couleurs Femmes, a sociocultural activity centre in Brussels. My point of departure is the potential success or failure of intercultural encounters. In discourses about ‘us’ and ‘them’ one often gets the impression that the Other is a distant figure, and that conceptions of otherness are grounded in political or ideological divisions on the macro level. It is my assertion that such conceptions are just as common in everyday encounters on the micro level.
I examine the notions of otherness within what is considered to be a ‘minority group’ – immigrant women. My aims are both to study what role these notions play in communication and ascription and self-ascription of identity, and to show the diversity of immigrant women in order to contest stereotypical ideas of them as belonging to a homogeneous group. I have chosen to compare two French course groups with quite different levels of linguistic competence, acknowledging the importance of language for both identification and communication. Principally, I employ theories of ‘us’ and ‘them’; identity; ethnic and other forms of categorisation; language; and stereotyping. I also make use of theoretical approaches focusing on the form and content of communication in encounters, as well as on situational definitions.
Besides differences in language skills between my two groups of study, one group is more cohesive and sociable while the other is rather fragmented. There is (generally under-communicated) discontent in both groups, manifested in the form of stereotypes and contest for social control. In both groups, Arabs/Muslims are perceived to exercise dominance as a group. They act as a group in many ways, but without acknowledging having much in common or exercising power. The Arab/Muslim dominance appears to be based primarily on language, and in the most cohesive group it is frequently expressed through food, meals providing a social meeting point. In the other group, the Arabs/Muslims are much more divided, but they are still perceived as unified by the others. Albeit one could imagine that those in power are also the ones performing stereotyping and alienation, in my groups of study these strategies seem to be employed mostly as protests by the powerless against those dominating.
Management of cultural diversity is the main challenge of intercultural encounters. Cultural difference is not a problem as such, but it becomes problematic when it is transformed into otherness. Making people into Others is a means to protect and differentiate between the Self and Others. I contend that a priori it is difficult to predict the outcome of intercultural encounters, as social dynamics never follow any predestined pattern but are created situationally, in the encounter.||en