Self-organised inter-disciplinary cultural workshop for doctoral researchers and post-docs in Lindlar

By Rene Vesper and Chigozie Nweke-Eze

Eight months after the CRC 228 „Future Rural Africa“ has been staffed with more than two dozen doctoral students and postdocs; about 18 of them took part in the first self-organised inter-disciplinary workshop in the town of Lindlar from 4th to 5th of December 2018.

Prior to our long field stays in Namibia, Tanzania, and Kenya in the upcoming year 2019, the workshop in December was a golden opportunity for the early career researchers (ECRs) to engage in inter-disciplinary and inter-cultural discussions and different kind of team-building activities. The Jugendherberge in Lindlar turned out to be a suitable venue for just that. Besides the two days of input (see report below) also the evening hours on day 1 have been used for team building, e.g. with a role game (called Werewolf) and rounds of table tennis (with an improvised net consisting of 10 rolls of toilet paper).


Day 1 (Tuesday, 4th of Dec 2018):

The first day was scheduled for three external inter-disciplinary inputs. First “On the sociology of the second scientific revolution” by Prof. Rudolf Stichweh, the University of Bonn who asked how did science as an own knowledge system evolve in history? Furthermore, he discussed how science as a system is reproducing itself, which are its dominant sub-systems, who are its gatekeepers and how inclusive/ exclusive is science in the 21st century in which “alternative facts” seem to question the system science as a whole?


The second talk of the first day was about Modeling by Prof. Michael Hauhs; the University of Bayreuth who dealt with the questions how modelling as a scientific practice can potentially bridge the gap between quantitative and qualitative methods, as well as between humanities (social sciences) and natural sciences. He asked to what extent is modelling a compromise and what can be represented with a model?

The third talk entitled “Invasive ecologies – challenges of human-microbe-insect entanglements” by Dr. Meike Wolf; University of Frankfurt dealt with the questions when and how did mosquitos and also tropical diseases come to central Europe, which actors react how to these mosquitos and which language is being used when fighting them. We ended this third input with group work on what might be potential research questions of humanities and natural sciences about the invasion of mosquitos.


The final session of the first day in Lindlar was yet another group work with an inter-disciplinary fish-bowl discussion on common terms/ concepts like „nature“, „invasion“ and „ontology/ epistemology”.


Day 2 (Wednesday, 5th of Dec 2018):

The second day was scheduled for an inter-cultural training and moderation with an external trainer – Johannes Köhn of the ‘dasTraining’ agency, Köln. The session started with each participant giving brief introduction about themselves, expressing their impression from the prior inter-disciplinary sessions, as well as pointing out their expectations from the intercultural training.


The comfort zone model was introduced as a model which shows different personal growth areas and possibilities. The model consists of: comfort, learning and panic zones. Accordingly, participants were made to consider their growth areas. Next, participants were made to build networks by pairing in twos and interacting with each other in order to find out what they have in common and how they differ from each other. Afterwards, the participants mapped out sets of rules that would guide the rest of the inter-cultural moderation and training. The participants agreed to harmonize breaks, use phones only during breaks, use English as the medium of communication, listen actively to others contributions, and to give others opportunity to contribute to discussions.

The session continues with the introduction of the Johari Window – a diagram that shows classifications of knowledge and information into: known to others, not known to others, known to self, not known to self. This classification helps to identify knowledge or information which can be: public, private, blind-spot or unknown. The model helped participants to establish that: feedback decreases blind spots & disclosure builds trust. Next, the card game – Barnga was played by the participants. This card game helped participants to be conscious of the fact that: there can be different ‘rules’ in different cultures; ignorance of this different rules leads to the impositions of one’s own rules. It also helped the participant to think about: where they can draw the line between adaptation and negotiation, as well as what roles universal ‘rules’ play.


Furthermore, the different levels and constituents of communication – relational and situational level; verbal (7%) and non-verbal (93%) – were explained to the participants. They were made to understand that maintaining congruence between all communication levels is important. The 4-ears model – consisting of: facts ear, appeal ear, relationship ear, self-revelation ear – were also explained. In explaining the model, participants were made to consider: how the different ears differ from each other and when to use which ear. Additionally, the Iceberg model was explained to consist of visible (10%) and invisible (90%) sides. The visible side consists of rituals such as languages, art, dressing, food, Interactions etc; and the invisible side consists of values such as beliefs, norms, emotional patterns, societal roles, history, etc. Following the explanation of the model, the participants were urged to recognize and accept these different sides in the face of intercultural confrontations. The session continues with the usage of a temperature analogy – hot, neutral and cold zones – to explain ways in which inter-cultural conflicts can be managed. It was explained that the ideal way of managing such conflicts would be to bring the temperature to a neutral level where meaningful communication can take place. The two possible stress/conflict behavior – silence or violence – were also explained. Silence implies: masking, avoiding, withdrawing; while violence implies: controlling, labelling, attacking. Participants were informed on skills/strategies for managing stress/conflict situations. They include: staying in dialogue, speaking persuasively, listening effectively, turning crucial conversations into actions and results, etc.

The Hofstede’s dimensions for dissecting cultures were also introduced. It consists of binary dimensions like: Individualism-collectivism, feminity-masculinity, restraint-indulgence, etc. The participants criticized the binary description of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions while recognizing that it can only serve as a preliminary knowledge tool, like most. Intercultural competences – Knowledge, skills, attitudes – were explained as follows. Knowledge entails: cultural self-awareness, culture-specific knowledge, socio-linguistic awareness, grasp of global issues and trends. Skills entails: viewing the world form others perspective, using patience and persistence by listening, observing and evaluating. Attitude entails: respect, openness, curiosity, discovery.

The inter-cultural training ended with each participant answering the following questions: What was the most important learning point and content for you? What was your ‘aha’ moment during the training and Why? What is the commitment/action step after the training? What else would you like to say? Marie pointed out during the training that the inter-cultural training provokes one to consider research ethical questions in the research field. She thinks that the issue of security incidences in the field, for example, should be taken seriously. In this case, she suggests: having a clear and detailed report of security incidents in the field and provision of possible psychological counselling services. Overall, the training was very interactive and revealing; and the participants were generally glad to have participated.

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