Interkulturelle Kompetenzentwicklung durch kulturelle Bildung: Deutschlands Akteure im Spannungsfeld (Development of Intercultural Competence through Cultural Education)

Publication Type:



VDM, Saarbrücken (2007)




Intercultural communication and competencies are seen as increasingly important fields of responsibility in educational and cultural institutions. However, few have the methodically sound knowledge needed to teach these skills. Moreover, the structural characteristics of the different institutions and players also determine the extent to which interculturality can be integrated into the respective field of work. Author Andreas Dittlmann describes how and why arts education (music, art, theatre etc.), in particular, can have a beneficial effect on the acquisition of intercultural skills. A comparison of school and non-school cultural learning environments reveals a discrepancy between the two culturally different organisational systems. Descriptions of tendencies in the cultural dimensions and structurally dependent competence potentials of both players are determined and compared.


Research project

The study Development of Intercultural Competence through Cultural Education (original title: Interkulturelle Kompetenzentwicklung durch kulturelle Bildung) was conducted in 2006 by Andreas Dittlmann and published in 2007. In his research, the author attempts to deliver theoretically and methodically founded results on the transmission of intercultural competences through cultural education. In this context, Dittlmann examines school and non-school settings, taking into account their respective potentials and comparing both types of organisation cultures.

Intercultural learning and cultural education in Germany

According to Dittlmann (2007), the need for intercultural education in Germany has arisen from three social transformation processes: 1) a multicultural society shaped by several migration processes, 2) the emergence of supranational and global interdependences, and 3) the influences of globalisation on “the formerly homogeneous cultural orientation system of national statehood shaped by the Christian West” (Dittlmann, 2007, p. 14). The author outlines how Germany has been struggling to perceive itself as an immigration country for a long time, a process that has been accompanied by widespread political and public debate about multicultural society and the German Leitkultur. Dittlmann finds that “in the course of globalisation and migration flows, identities are shaped by conflicting and diverse cultural influences” (ibid., p. 19), posing unprecedented challenges for the education system. Regarding cultural education, he notes that German cultural education actors generally do provide intercultural education, however they often lack a theoretical and methodological foundation (Tutucu & Kröger, 2005, p.23).

Theoretical approach

Describing it as a “field of work to train the five senses of human beings” (Dittlmann, 2007, p. 43), the author claims that cultural education is, in principle, predestined to promote intercultural learning. At the same time, he underlines the limitations of cultural education and strongly insists on “draw[ing] a line between the terms ‘intercultural education work’ and ‘cultural education work’” (ibid., p.8).

Dittlmann defines cultural education as “the subjective preoccupation with cultural values and norms through artistic-aesthetic formats such as visual art, music, theatre, literature, etc” (ibid.). With regard to the goal of acquiring “intercultural competence”, Dittlmann therefore emphasises the aspect of “learning through the arts”. Making use of the “Third Place” concept according to Dirscherl (2004) and the transculturalism concept based on Welsch (1996), he understands intercultural competence as a “metacultural process competence” (Dittlmann, 2007, p. 52, based on Beneke, 1999), enabling the subject to perceive his/her own culture from a distant perspective. In this context, the author suggests that intercultural competences evolve in so-called Third Places, which latently exist in cultural education formats (ibid.). However, cultural educational work does not guarantee successful intercultural learning: “It is essential (…) the “metacultural aspect” is (...) perceived as such, and deliberate coping efforts are made.“ (ibid. p. 53)


Against this theoretical background, Dittlmann attempts to gain knowledge on cultural educational work in the Federal Republic of Germany and, subsequently, to examine how curricular and extracurricular actors display “convergent or divergent interests and ideas regarding the transfer of intercultural competences according to the respective potentials of their organisation cultures” (ibid., p. 55f). The author defines organisation culture as “normative objectives, structure of working conditions (…) and styles of behaviour shared by the employees involved” (ibid., p. 57). Dittlmann suggests that different organisation cultures, such as school and non-school places of learning, create their own reference systems, influencing the practice of intercultural learning and cultural education in different ways.

In order to measure the “organisation culture” dimension, data was collected with guided expert interviews and standardised questionnaires and evaluated with qualitative content analysis based on Meuser & Nagel (1991) according to Mayring (2005). The interviews were carried out with n=5 teachers and n=5 extracurricular actors from the region of Lower Bavaria. The data coding was based on Hofstede’s (1991, 1993) cultural dimensions theory and Bennett & Bennett’s (1993) Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity in order to measure the respective organisational cultures and their levels of intercultural competence.

The questionnaires were developed on the basis of interview results as well as templates for the assessment of intercultural competence. They were sent to 200 schools and 200 extracurricular actors with a response rate of 24% and 18%.


As Dittlmann himself stresses, it is important to note that due to low data density and a possible regional bias, the study’s results cannot be generalised (Dittlmann 2007, p. 96). Nevertheless, with regard to the actors examined, he was able to draw the following conclusions:

- Due to their professional identity, teachers are more likely to approve external evaluations of their cultural educational programme than extracurricular actors.

- Presumably due to their internalised postulate of equality, teachers are less willing to “perceive complex patterns of cultural difference” (ibid., p. 68), whereas extracurricular actors are more likely to emphasise cultural differences and translate them into development opportunities. Dittlmann concludes “that extracurricular cultural education is somewhat more strongly oriented towards cultural transformation processes and accordingly closer to cultural transformation processes than schools” (ibid., p. 69). Moreover, extracurricular actors happen to display a higher degree of tolerance to ambiguity, heightening their capacity to accept cultural differences.

- Due to their pronounced collectivism, schools emphasise the social, daily-life-orientated value of arts and culture relatively, which “is likely to counter the interests of the extracurricular actors and their aesthetic categories” (ibid.).

- Due to their stronger collectivistic orientation, the curricular actors are more likely to adapt to a strict set of cultural attitudes shared within the school system, whereas the majority of extracurricular actors support a flexible, dynamic concept of culture, which includes the idea of change and diversity.

- In terms of intercultural orientation, the majority of curricular actors display a sort of cultural egalitarianism, whereas the extracurricular actors are more likely to focus on differences, aiming at the understanding of the “other”, which Dittlmann interprets as a higher development in intercultural orientation.

- Regarding the readiness for intercultural discourse, the author claims that schools are advantaged since they are more likely to recognise the “necessary intellectual and didactical competence” (ibid., p. 91), whereas the extracurricular actors are more likely to remain in the realm of “pure artistic production” (ibid., p. 90). However, Dittlmann claims that both groups lack focus and methodology: “Both curricular and extracurricular educational actors have launched projects that are not carefully thought through (…), and the development process is neglected” (ibid., p. 89).


With regards to his initial research interest, the author identifies a tension between both research groups, finding the extracurricular actors to be structurally advantaged in terms of intercultural educational work. On the other hand, schools have a clear advantage in terms of accessibility and sustainable development processes.

In spite of his study’s lack of representativeness, Dittlmann draws some possible conclusions. For example, he suggests that schools and extracurricular learning spaces take advantage of the strengths arising from their respective organisation cultures. He states that self-reflective processes among the actors and diversity management play an essential role, as does an overall conceptual and content-based revaluation of intercultural cultural and educational work.