French Journal For Media Research

Marlène Loicq

Media Education as an Opportunity for Intercultural Education

1Résumé : Les médias sont des agents complexes d’organisation, de construction et de circulation de la vie sociale et culturelle. Ils sont alors initiateurs de situations empruntes d’interculturalité qui peuvent être mobilisées dans le cadre éducatif pour se transformer en une réelle compétence interculturelle. L’éducation aux médias se présente alors comme favorisant l’approche interculturelle des médias à partir des questions de communication, de citoyenneté, de sens et d’identité.
Abstract: Media are complex agents for organising, constructing and circulating social and cultural life. They are thus initiators of situations marked by interculturality, which can be mobilised in an educational setting to transform themselves into real intercultural competences. Media education hence favours an intercultural approach to media, based on questions of communication, citizenship and identity.
Mots-clés : Médias ; interculturalité ; représentation ; pratique signifiante ; éducation aux médias.
Keywords: Media; interculturality; representation; signifying practices; media education.


21The media are fully engaged in transnational and globalised dynamic processes. They stand out as tools for disseminating cultural content, operating within distinct cultural spaces. They also have mediation mechanisms geared to local activities and international exchanges, which create new conditions for intercultural interaction. Media are both the vector and initiator of images and social issues that are specific to their production context. They dematerialise communication by exporting value systems to other areas, where the codes to accessing them may diverge. Seen as tools and as content, media place us in situations of symbolic otherness. They create intercultural situations.

3These media may be understood in terms of geographic spaces (production sites, circulation, reception and places represented) or as moments in time (the moments of production, reception and representation). In other words, they are cultural spaces marked by signifying elements of place and time of production, reception and involved in the construction of represented realities (spaces of discourses, representations and interpretations). Media may therefore be seen as symbolic spaces of self-staging, as ideological spaces of societies, and as social and signifying spaces of representations of the world. These spaces constitute an array of tangible figures bearing witness to the complexity how media are configured. From a technical and aesthetic point of view, this leads to new conditions of encounter and new modes of interaction with the world. The abolition of physical borders (via digitisation and ICT) and time barriers (simultaneity and archiving) is brought about by an access to the global supply of media and mediatised communication (Skype and telephony). As a result, the user is situated both in her or his cultural universes, as well as in universes from somewhere else, which are also formalised in their own codes, values and norms.

4These new intercultural situations raise many questions. While interculturality involves the encounter of surroundings with distinct signifiers which interact due to their similarities, they also sometimes confront each other due to their differences. If media do indeed have the capacity a priori to bring distinct cultural surroundings into contact, it may also be asked whether the complexity of the media landscape actually favours mediation, communication and ultimately intercultural understanding. Media are both communicational and cultural, and so here I seek to examine their links within education in order to explore their intercultural potential, above and beyond simple encounters, within a real process of learning.

5This educational space of media education allows analysis of the intercultural potential of media. Under these conditions, it is possible to identify factors essential for intercultural dialogue and even the acquisition of intercultural competences, using the contents and tools of media (Lustig, Koester, 1999). From a practical and analytical perspective, media education is a favorable field for developing both mastery in the process of communication and carrying out a critical examination of the configuration of media. In this way, an educational project in media creates a new space of interaction in which various cultural universes can be isolated as if frozen for analysis.

6To this end, the article starts by presenting the cultural dimensions of media which make media symbolic goods containing a set of contextualized values and norms. Next, it addresses the integration of media within the educational context, in its full relevancy and complexity, in order to define a heuristic space for investigating interculturality. Lastly, the article presents the intercultural potential of media as it may be staged in a dedicated educational space.2

The Intercultural Potential of Media

7As the millennia changed, major upheavals in communication were taking place. So-called traditional media were being transformed, and others were emerging to make the material frontiers and the ensuing usages of media more complex. Digitization in particular has allowed exchanges to proliferate as cultural goods are dematerialized. The technical prowess of instantaneity and long-distance contact have become trivialized. Our experiences of encountering symbolic content conveying unfamiliar cultural features have proliferated, without us really noticing it. Paradoxically, though we have never had so much contact with increasingly different otherness, within strongly changing conditions, our awareness of intercultural interaction and communication with other cultures has nevertheless not been facilitated.

A widened world

8Indeed, faced with this multiplication of international cultural contents, cosmopolitism is not given but needs to be chosen. In their recent work on the media practices of young people3, Vincenzo Cicchelli and Sylvie Octobre (2017) use the concept of aesthetic-cultural cosmopolitanism to analyze the consequences of this internationalization of the consumer catalogs of tastes, knowledge and imaginations of young people. Assuming that these mutations have an impact on apprehending ethno-national otherness, this aesthetic-cultural cosmopolitanism thus stands out as a “cultural disposition implying and intellectual posture of ‘openness’ with respect to the individuals, places and experience of different cultures, especially different ‘nations’” (Szerszynski and Urry, cited by Cicchelli and Octobre, 2017: 13). However, in line with socio-anthropological studies on the positioning of identities vis-à-vis cultural differences (Camilleri, 1989), and despite cultural consumption by young people which is highly internationalized, it seems that “liking cultural output does not signify liking its country of origin’s culture, nor wishing to show solidarity or hospitality towards the populations producing it” (Cicchelli and Octobre, 2017: 282). The cosmopolitan posture is therefore based on intention. It is a political and ethical commitment, and not only an aesthetic and cultural one in media practices, which underpins the capacity of engaging positively in healthy and egalitarian communication with a widened socio-cultural environment.

9Instead of greater contact with cultural diversity leading to intercultural understanding, contemporary use of media often leads to distortions and discontinuities, or even violence between cultures. Such violence is linked to mechanisms of identity exclusions, such as stereotyping or discrimination (Camilleri, Vinsonneau, 1996). These are processes for handling differences with the aim of neutralizing them, ignoring or manipulating them, in view specifically of domination and exploitation (Bourque, 2008). When it comes to media content, these processes are generally associated with negative representations or absence of visibility that both characterize the lack of social and public recognition (Malonga, 2008). These identity issues are essential when thinking about the interculturality of media, as individuals construct and implement their identities by interacting with their environment. In an age of globalization, available factors for acquiring knowledge about one’s environment provide broad and diversified references, in order to define oneself. Transnational imaginations need to be taken into account when constructing identities. These elements stem from diverse cultural experiences, whether sensory or symbolic. As industries of symbolism, the media participate largely in this phenomenon, by providing heightened possibilities for encountering and acceding to contents borne the plural signifying universes which go far beyond the borders of the individual’s immediate environment. Tristan Mattelart (2008: 20) recalls, “the enlarged horizon of an individual’s experiences is largely the product of the proliferating circulation of consumer goods and media within the global, capitalist system”. The universe of possibilities has become immense and globalization serves to multiply cultural identities. Be it in terms of “creolisation” (Hannerz, 1997), “indigenisation” (Appadurai, 1990) or “cosmopolitanism” (Beck, 2006), it is now essential to take into account experience horizons shaped by the media, in order to see individuals in their “complex diversity of choices” (Giddens, 1991). It is also necessary to take into account this plurality as constituting the social construction of reality. Cultural identities must, therefore, be understood from the way they fit into globalized media environments.

The “circuit of culture”

10In association with other bodies, the media are thus responsible for cultural constructions and representations of a “reality” of the world. These contents allow access to representations they provide of others and of other places. But they also reveal the society in which contents are produced, and hence the way in which societies “narrate” themselves (Grossberg et al., 1998). All media contents are therefore cultural because they are part of a production context that is situated and dated, and whose norms and values they try to reproduce, which are signifying and structural parts of cultural ensembles (Silverstone, 1999).

11The production of meaning follows what Hall (1997) calls the “circuit of culture”. Meaning is produced at different levels and circulates through various processes and practices. In all cases, it can only be shared by common access to language. The latter is the favored way to signify the world (i.e. to produce and exchange meaning), and language transmits cultural values. Culture is in fact defined precisely as the aptitude of its members to come together around shared understandings and common interpretations.

12This culture is partly based on language, made up of all the signs and symbols which materialize ideas, concepts and feelings, or which take the place of material objects and forms. From this point of view, the meaning of the world is eminently cultural, since it is shared on the basis of these codes which organize and regulate social practices, thus influencing our behavior in a major way. All forms of communication, therefore, state something beyond the intentionality of the message to be transmitted. Their importance in our modern societies lies not so much in what they are (natural or material elements), but in what they do. Their essential functions are to construct and transmit meaning, thus considering language as a signifying practice. It is activated especially within discourses which are not only the ways of “referring to”, but above all the capacity to build knowledge about a subject of practice. Meaning and culture are therefore constituent parts of discourses. 

13Thus, the media, as an industry producing discourses, play a fundamental role in making sense of the world, by representing it according to signifying codes. It is because media codes are tools for representing the world that they actually help to give it meaning, and so ultimately make the world exist. The discursive approach makes it possible specifically to approach the performative dimension of representation. According to Hall (1997: 6): “it examines not only how language and representation produce meaning, but how the knowledge which a particular discourse produces, connects with power, regulates conducts, makes up or constructs identities and subjectivities, and defines the way certain things are represented, thought about, practiced and studied”. The analysis of representations necessarily involves studying their tangible forms (signs, symbols, figures, images, narrations, words, sounds, etc.). Understanding the meaning these codes seek, therefore must be put into the perspective of their production context, in order to understand the issues at stake. Reception must also be addressed to grasp the forms of interpretation. Such meaning does indeed change, according to individuals, contexts, uses and histories. It mobilizes a set of irrational elements (for example, emotions), and highlights ambivalence and contradictions by defining in particular what is normal/abnormal and what is included/excluded. This meaning is above all anchored in two distinct signifying practices: the creation of meaning and the interpretation of meaning. However, these two practices are more likely to be close to each other, when the bodies concerned (with production and reception) are culturally homogeneous, and to be increasingly distinct as cultural differences (i.e. code sharing) increase.   

14The media, as vehicles for representing the world, are thus a privileged means for questioning cultures. They are a suspended cultural space, as they are dematerialised and so can cross borders, circulating from one cultural space to another, while retaining the specific characteristics of the space in which they were created. Media discourses are situated and dated, are therefore fixed on a support that can be transposed at will to other spaces where they can be analyzed. The aim here is, therefore, to apprehend these cultural goods in an educational space, with which they share many characteristics, but with which they are also sometimes at odds.

Educational Space and Media Analysis

15Schools and the media play concurring roles in societies’ cultural dimensions. Like the media, schools are a cultural space, defining self and society. They are also a place for constructing national identities. After families, schools are key socializing organizations in charge of transmitting cultural values ​​and norms. However, they can no longer believe in their exclusive, dominant or even homogenising position in children’s social framework. As Martine Abdallah-Pretceille already stated more than 20 years ago that “socialisation, enculturation, schooling, and education are henceforth declined in the plural”. The “strangeness” of others is now part of everyday life, either directly through contact or indirectly through the media. The future challenges of education – formal and informal – must, therefore, be defined in relation to this increasing complexity and the growing diversification of the social fabric and of experience” (1997: 123). This experience of diversity is a constituting factor of our ability to forge and update our identities.  

16While schools are subject to the norms and values imposed by socio-political ideologies, the media mainly follow market forces. Both the media and schools, therefore “see” society as it sees and stages itself, and they both play a major role in categorisation and acculturation. By establishing models and norms, they include and exclude, limit and attribute these values, all of which is inherent in the process of representation.

17The principle of education depends specifically on the interconnection of worldly things in common categories that aim to homogenise national cultures. This approach is then applied according to the socio-political models, in order to meet specific social expectations. In multicultural models such as the Australian one, for example, the “social body” of schooling needs to retain a form of cultural heterogeneity which is then put to the service of a dynamic economy favouring diversity, that is in turn conditional on the capacity for school leavers to enter the job market (Taylor, 1997; Pons, 1996). In Quebec, schools strongly support an intercultural ideology which aims to establish a common “political culture”, structured around the French language and the perpetuation of French-speaking culture. At the same time, schools encourage individuals to invest their cultural and social specificities within the same public space (McAndew, 2001; Caldwell, Harvey, 1994). By contrast, the French republican model excludes intercultural questions in the official instructions of the Ministry of Education, because the plurality of cultures is presented as an obstacle to equality, especially when displayed in public (Guénif-Souilamas, 2006). Even the very word “intercultural” was for a long time judged as “politically inappropriate, along with the transformation path it sets out” (Lorcerie, 2002: 172).

18French media output, both in terms of content and arrangements (including its agenda and framing), also tends to produce a signifying discourse about a relatively homogeneous social world (Rigoni, 2007). When studying a normal day's television, Macé (2006: 116) observed a strong disparity between France's socio-demographic reality and its representation on TV. He emphasised that “the televisual prism is not realistic from a sociological point of view, but it is entirely so from a hegemonic perspective” (Macé, 2006: 118). The media, therefore, do not reflect society but express well new conflicts over definitions, which support social values whose function is based on “smoothing”, which was hitherto associated with public schooling.

19With respect to the French school system, the media are nevertheless little-present and inappropriate in carrying out educational functions as such. The place which media could hold in schools is constrained by schools’ capacity to provide media with a more noble, citizenship function, that would be oriented towards students acquiring a critical approach to news. Non-formal learning and non-citizenship media participation (especially in terms of entertainment) struggle to become part of institutional and educational approaches, as shown by an analysis of official discourses on media education (Loicq, 2011; 2017a).

20In Australia, all media products and genres are approached within a media education project that not only supports critical understanding, but is also creative and playful, and geared to a project which is above all communicational. In Quebec as in France, certain importance is given to analyzing information, which is defined as broadly as possible,4 which allows work to be open also to different genres, aesthetics and contents.

21Finally, while this project of media education has a distinct place in school programs from one country to another, the actual integration of media in schools is always constrained by the imaginations they provoke, and by the socio-political models which accompany them. My research has shown that the education of media reveals the socio-political positioning of the state in terms of the cultural plurality that constitutes it (Loicq, 2011, 2015, 2017a).

22This raises questions about why, within different models, studying media reveals so strongly issues linked to identity (Quebec), to the communication and sharing of meaning (Australia) or to citizenship (France). These four notions share their place in intercultural and media studies. It may, therefore, be asked what their joint presence in media education projects reveals, if it is not the capacity to present a space for intercultural understanding.

Understanding Media in the Educational Space

23Three phases can be identified in a historical reading of media education. The first phase presented media as a threat of manipulation and as a propaganda tool against which pupils had to be armed. This so-called “vaccination” approach involved distrust of media contents, largely based on imagery and certain “effects theory” (Lasswell, 1927). As its name suggests, the latter heralded a direct and powerful impact media could have on the general public (viewed as a homogenous mass). This phase could be characterized as educating against media, as protection from media. Next, media were noticed by schools for their educational potential (Moeglin, 2005). Media allowed content to be fixed and reproduced and even more so be used as a tool (both pedagogical and didactic). Media contents, especially for TV, also developed in this direction by offering educational programs that reached their peak with digitization. Such education by the media however often seemed content to limit its use as a tool rather than integrating usages and meanings. Finally, media education came to take on a more general approach, with media also becoming an object of study, and integrating the entire media sphere into educational projects seeking to use media as a tool, to analyze contents, as well as integrating media into the reflexivity of ordinary educational practices (Alvaro, 2003; Buckingham, 2003). In this way, media education provides (at least theoretically) epistemological coherence that allows the practical and theoretical dimensions to be connected (Piette, Giroux, 1997). This means that media can be beneficially integrated into teaching as a tool (technicalities, devices, use of space/time, etc.) and due to their wealth in varied cultural products (all genres of audiovisual media, information and news (defined broadly), aesthetics, different media codes and languages, etc.). In this way, the study of media in classrooms opens up a space linked to personal practices and to the educational thinking behind learning-by-doing (Dewey, 1938).

24Interculturality is inherent in any teaching situation (generational, professional cultures, etc.), so this space is actually a real place of encounters and exchanges. Moreover, the integration of media in classrooms allows the intercultural potential of media themselves to be revealed, a potential that defines and stages itself on the basis of the four fundamental notions of interculturality and the media: communication, meaning, citizenship and identity.


25From an epistemological point of view, communication is logically at the crossroads of intercultural and media issues. In the context of an intercultural approach to the media through education, the media are then used as a “common place”: i.e., as space where students “discover [themselves] and acquire the similarities hidden under their differences, without these being abolished” (Porcher, 1997: 42). The practice of the media and the taste for certain contents is undoubtedly an experience common to all pupils and can be used for exchange, going beyond cultural and social differences.5

26Subsequently, through their tools and devices, the media play a mediating role between increasingly distinct worlds (Barbero, 2002). By abolishing borders (of time and space; Thompson, 1995), media allow the universality and the singularity of questions, as well as cultural phenomena to be targeted. In classrooms, media thus invite participants to ask cultural questions, within the distance allowed by these tools.

27Media education is therefore above all the education of the communication which underpins them. Whether it be media-based or intercultural, this communication refers back to the same mechanisms because, according to Charaudeau (2007: 27): “any act of communication may be considered as a social phenomenon which is characterized by the fact that individuals seek to relate to each other, to establish rules of common life, and to construct a common vision of the world. All this is done using language, and through language itself, without which there would be no human society. Language puts individuals into contact with each other, and in doing so it creates meaning, and this meaning creates social bonds”.    

28Australia and Quebec stress especially the need to acquire communicative competences (in particular, the mastery of media codes and languages). This is surely because these two countries are involved in the joint project of defining the social world as the coexistence of cultural diversity. Media education thus aims at developing communication competences, even “meta-communication” competences (Green, 1991), because it concerns the place occupied by the media in social life. This communicational approach is motivated by the importance of developing the capacity to examine and criticize the means and goals of mass communication, while at the same time questioning the contexts in which the public interacts with the media.  

29Finally, the educational space open to the media allows the principle of diversity to be established. As mentioned by Morsy (1984: 8) concerning UNESCO: “thinking and action in this area [education and culture] should be more particularly careful in non-industrialised countries as imported media are also bearers of values ​​and forms that are far from being neutral, which are not always in harmony with the requirements of cultural identity, the development of endogenous culture or with the historical modes of transmitting knowledge”.   

30The global cultural market is effectively shared out between a few multimedia groups which reign over supply. Yet, the fragmentation (of markets and audiences) also constitutes new geography of flows which must be taken into account and integrated into an analysis of ethnocentrism, since “our outlook has definitely remained very local, even for world events. It is not the planet which is shown, but the way of looking at the world from a particular place” (Gervereau 2004: 34). Access to the digitisation and the production of content by amateurs could be presented as an alternative, as an opening up to the diversity of perspectives on the world. But, the leading authors on this question highlight an important dichotomy between the supply of pluralism (favored by Internet) and the consumption of pluralism: “the promise of limitless diversity in the Internet Age has met the apparent reality that most Americans have neither the time nor the desire to seek various viewpoints via the Internet or any other medium. Any future approach to information diversity must take this fact into account. (…) There is not much point in making a vast array of viewpoints available to citizens if most citizens have little or no interest in viewpoints other than those they already hold. (…) In the Internet Age, the pressing issue is not the supply of information and opinion diversity, it is how to stimulate the demand for it among citizens” (Pritchard, Terry, 2013: 76).      


31As has already been mentioned, the configuration of media is set out within signifying practices, as much in terms of the production of symbolic cultural contents, as in the interpretation and appropriation of these contents (Liebes, Katz, 1993; Livingstone, Lunt, 1993). It is therefore not surprising that media education projects include this issue in their programs, although comparative studies reveal differentiated appropriations (Loicq, 2011). In France, the question of meaning is quickly dealt with and confined to a semiological approach to analyzing images. In Quebec, it is largely associated with a personal identity positioning, in the face of various presentations of the world. In Australia, the question of meaning is structuring. All media education projects have two key dimensions: i) the analysis of the capacity of media to give meaning to the world (near and far), based on discursive, semiological strategies, and using devices, codes, formats, genres, etc.; and ii) the possibility for students to live out a polysemy of messages and through them the plurality of meanings (significances) of the world and of things.

32The outcome and the richness of these two approaches lead not only to recognizing differences between perceptions by individuals and discourses, but also to grasping the deeply signifying, and therefore cultural, nature of any communication. Let us recall that “humans communicate by means of culture" (Hall, 1976: 21).   

33Media cannot, therefore, be approached as open windows on the world. Instead, they present themselves as non-transparent and in a coding relationship of re-presenting reality. In so doing, media enter the game of the social and cultural construction of reality. Their integration in school projects, marked by intercultural issues, seems thus to be indispensable.

34The question of meaning is also structuring in intercultural education, since culture is understood as the set of signifying elements which allow our environment to be ordered and so permit us to act within it (Camilleri, 1989). In other words, “meaning is what gives us a sense of our own identity, of who we are and with whom we ‘belong’. So it is tied up with questions of how culture is used to mark out and maintain identity within and difference between groups. Meaning is constantly being produced and exchanged in every personal and social interaction in which we take part” (Hall, 1997: 3). Every intercultural approach is therefore based on the identification of distinct systems of meaning, the recognition of the value of new systems of meaning and the interaction (and hence the transformation) of these systems (Abdallah-Pretceille, Porcher, 1996; Clanet, 1990).    


35The media have always raised citizenship issues. Initially, the link between media and citizenship concerned information-related news and especially politics. It then focussed on the development of critical thinking, before finally addressing the question of participatory citizenship, in today’s digital age, which is partly conducted online (Denouël et al., 2014). The media occupy a major place in democratic life and contribute to the shaping of what are called information and communication societies. They thus appeal to a new form of “participatory competence” which media education is intended precisely to foster. The civic perspective of media education has always been a key preoccupation in France, and it also experienced a turning point in Quebec, in the 1990s (although this called for an intercultural definition of citizenship, distinct from the French approach). Citizenship is undoubtedly an eminently cultural issue in the age of globalization.

36First of all, this citizenship manifests itself as the cement of belonging, which the media maintain through the dissemination of social ideals (Dalhgren, 2003). Next, and as a result, this form of citizenship approach addressed by the media has followed an intercultural path, because the media are tools for participatory citizenship, which today can only be thought of in terms of cultural diversity.6 This approach to plural citizenship is particularly present in Quebec, under the aegis of “living together – vivre ensemble”, and in Australia where globalisation and international communication are at the heart of the educational process. The media are actors in modern democracies (Gripsrud, 2007), and so participate both in social coherence and in opening up to the world. These two positions must be articulated and connected in intercultural terms, especially on the basis of definitions of “them” and “us”.7


37Defining a “them” in a process of differentiation confirming the similarity with an “us” is a major issue in communication (Lipiansky, 1995). Media communication extends this role in the construction and definition of identity. Media and intercultural communications then have in common the problem of self-definition (the principle of communication), in relationship with another in all her or his diversity and understood in terms of differences. It, therefore, seems particularly fertile to connect “identity” and “media”, with the theoretical tools of intercultural approaches.       

38This convergence takes place starting from the knowledge of the conditions in which identity is constituted, and requires the valuing of oneself and one’s groups (Camilleri, 1999). Next, it follows a dialogic mechanism in which the “other” allows “me” to define “myself”, and limit “my” borders (identity here being understood as positioning). Finally, the convergence occurs with regard to the media’s capacities to extend experiences and therefore cultural choices.8 Incorporated into an educational project, these media are therefore essential elements for integrating identity and intercultural issues into class dynamics.9

39First of all, when media are considered as a symbolic system (Hall, 1997), they reproduce the markers of difference by classification. In doing so, they play the role of the public sphere prone to the confrontation of identities (Macé, 2005). At the same time, they propose projections on various statuses and possible roles people could play in society (Woodward, 1997). In other words, “as we become increasingly dependent on the mediated word and image for our understanding of what takes place beyond our front door; as everyday life, in its taken-for-granted ordinariness, becomes inseparable from the mediations that guide us through it, and connect or disconnect us from the everyday lives of others; how the media position us or enable us to position ourselves, becomes crucial” (Silverstone, 2004: 443).

40Then, the very moment of reception becomes a relevant space for exploring interculturality as it is above all a moment for meeting others, constructed and/or lived as such. The history of theories about reception shows how complex and contradictory it is. However, Cultural Studies have allowed differentiated behaviors, interpretations and meanings that emerge from reception to be highlighted. Yet, the impact of these “poachers” on intercultural interactions remains enigmatic. The media – as mediations – “represent the processes by which actors meet in their internal and external multiplicity and stabilize so-called technical objects, definitions of situations, representations, postures of reception” (Maigret, 2003: 239). Thus reception, as a communication process, cannot dissociate itself from the shifting identities of those who stimulate and organize it. However, it is important that the receivers, gathered in heterogeneous audiences, be approached both in their unity and their singularity, for media phenomena to be better understood and for the object to be studied better scientifically. This involves not apprehending the texts or the public independently but considering the relationships which unite them. Reception is thus viewed not as a precise moment of media consumption, but as a process of reading texts, of redefining them, and integrating them into a social environment in which they are discussed, reshaped, reconstituted (Maigret, Macé, 2005). In other words, we can understand this media relationship as a place of culture.

41Now culture is a holistic phenomenon which we know is neither immutable nor permanent. Its very existence depends on the possibility of individuals putting it into action. Individuals are social actors acting within individual and collective logic of communication in which they perform systems of significance, as a function of varying situations (the environment, contexts, identities and the stakes involved in interaction). They, therefore, participate in the social processes of the inter-subjective construction of meanings which affect all individuals the constitution of their identities, as well as the community in its symbolic dimensions. That is to say, individuals put into action and update cultures whose identity anchors they articulate within their own culturality. It is fitting to think of intercultural phenomena according to the same performative dynamics, and thus to understand interculturality as the interaction between these culturalities. In other words, interculturalism is a deeply communicative phenomenon. It is the fundamental context of any communication, not some accidental factor. Communication will thus be more or less intercultural, depending on the degree of similarity of the cultural elements activated by the identities present, as well as of course depending on the context and issues at stake in the situation.10 This interculturality then presents itself on two levels. First of all, it is internal and intimate, as it concerns the capacity of everyone to mobilize their different cultural resources and to connect these resources within surroundings with distinct meanings (through personal histories, but also experiences of the world, openness to diversity, etc.). We may call this “intra-subjective interculturality”, as it concerns everyone’s ability to create their identity from multiple elements. Then, interculturality is external and is expressed through social and cultural issues, arising from the encounter with otherness, from the co-construction of meaning, leading to “inter-subjective interculturality”. In communication with others, surroundings of shared meanings are used as a common ground for exchanges. The different symbolic systems used are both a source of tension (misunderstanding) and enrichment (see the concept of interculturation in Clanet, 1990 and Demorgon, 1999).

42In addition, media content consumed by young people necessarily has a situated and dated view of the world. This allows the notion of ethnocentrism to be introduced into the educational process. The media tools and devices (despite the techniques of discourse naturalization) allow a form of distancing to take place because they can be read in different space-times to those of their creation. In doing so, media education invites learners to engage in an intercultural posture, in order to “look with the eyes of others”. This approach to constructing ethnorelativism encompasses the whole intercultural project.11 As Costanzo and Vignac (2001: 2) explain: “intercultural pedagogy should be seen as a tool for analysis and practice designed to foster awareness and taking a position, to favor greater responsibility we have to ourselves and to others. It must help to ‘deconstruct’ essentialist visions of identity and culture; to fight against the ‘forced ethnicisation’ of others which imprisons them in stereotypes. It must facilitate the transition from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism, by promoting the respect of and the search for differences”.        

43The media, therefore, connect us and set the limits of our identities of belonging because they shape our imaginations. They are a special and powerful instrument in meeting the challenges of intercultural education.

44Finally, the question of self-definition is the last element to bring these intercultural issues and media education together on issues of identity. The diversity of possible references plays a major role in probable identifications, just as heterogenization is allowed by increased cultural experiences (Tomlinson, 1999). Whether it is in terms of issues of representativeness, representation or recognition, the identity strategies (Camilleri, 1999) an individual puts in place, tend to maintain an awareness as well as a positive and coherent image of herself or himself vis-à-vis those constructed by the media. The staging of oneself is also a major issue in the digital media space thanks to which everyone can construct a virtual identity that is more or less real, according to the varying modalities that stem from digital media. Media education may seek to identify stereotypes, to understand the cultural shaping of all communication, as well as the mechanisms of representation of others, but also of oneself as a producer of discourse. In this way, media education provides as many opportunities and circumstances of understanding the impact of the values ​​conveyed by the media in our relationship with the world. It does this within a perspective of intercultural communication that does not aim to protect a fantasized national identity but instead strives to promote a balance of identities which is necessary for all of us.

Conclusion: arguments for intercultural media education

45The impulse to communicate is natural and spontaneous as of an early age. Yet, communicating ethically is a skill that needs to be developed and refined during the socialization process. According to Martine Abdallah-Pretceille (1997: 124), communication has even lost its self-evident character, thus requiring “systematic and objectified learning along with a functional but also, and above all, ethical dimension”. The media environment makes the very act of communicating increasingly complex. By definition, the media establish contact with otherness. They mobilize and set in motion systems of meaning and so directly challenge the interculturality of each of their actors (especially the receivers). They offer unequaled possibilities for knowing distant surroundings (in time and space), possibilities of multimodal communications and provide unique experiences of the world around us. At the same time, the media are arenas of fixed and stereotyped figures. They are vectors of unequal and dominant positions while producing and relaying identity discourses of domination. They are instrumentalized in power struggles. Communication technologies are thus presented as creating and destroying – within one dynamic process – the digital public space as well as the hopes for committed and egalitarian citizenship which they arouse. Understanding how the media sphere works is therefore essential for thinking about the socio-cultural environment in which our societies evolve.    

46That said, it would be risky to assume that because young people have massive access to media, they actually use it in diversified and/or expert ways, with an equal engagement in citizenship. Access to the media – absorbing and producing output – requires first willingness, and then competences. These results partly from implicit learning that takes place through informal practices, and on which it is necessary to build other skills. This requires formal and explicit educational investment, including communication skills linked to critical thinking and interculturality.

47By focusing their discourse about media education on the issues of citizenship, communication, identity, and sense, institutions providing such education within different contexts have shown up the major points of convergence between the media and intercultural issues. While the media have a strong intercultural potential, that latter becomes fully relevant when it is anchored in the educational space provided by media education. Media practices already are already engaged in a posture of encountering otherness and surroundings of distinct meanings. But, as we know, the encounter with difference does not necessarily create understanding, quite the contrary. The intercultural potential of media can only be fully exploited if the use of media is accompanied by critical reflexivity (Loicq, Piette, 2020) geared towards understanding the phenomena of meaning and hence of culture.

48This intercultural media education (Loicq, 2017b) revolves around the central concept of representation. This concept is fundamental in intercultural studies because it helps to understand the power of culture in bringing about a world of shared meanings, and therefore the common, signifying practices. The concept is also essential to media studies, as it helps to explain the non-transparency of the media and their ability to produce meaning. The notion of representation is a major point of convergence between these two fields. This notion is strengthened by its history in sociology and subsequently psychology, and presents itself as an essential tool for thinking about the interculturality of the media.

49Representation is the place where meaning freezes, caught in tensions of definitions and elements of culture. Representation is thus also the space of deconstruction, understanding and taking distance from a particular way of looking at the world, which is always cultural. The opening up of our own perspectives to ethno-relativism and to diversity which makes up our societies, then presents itself as an inclination to critical reflexivity, focusing on intercultural understanding.

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1 This article is an English adaptation of a text published in Roudier J., (ed.), Médias et cultures en dialogue, Paris : L’Harmattan, collection audiovisuel et communication, 2016, entitled: “Le potentiel interculturel des médias : un espace interactionnel d’apprentissage de la communication interculturelle”, pp- 217-238.

2 This space may be formal or informal, in school or outside. It is the interactions involved in work on media which create the conditions for interculturality, and not the framework which is more or less standardised, in which they take place. These considerations, as well as the four founding pillars of what could be a form of intercultural education in media are taken from the conclusions of my PhD on media education and interculturality, from a comparative, international perspective (Quebec, France, Australia) (Loicq, 2011). Therefore, The French, Quebecois and Australian cases are used as examples throughout this article.

3 The term « young people » in this article is quite general and refers to the scolarisation ages. It can be more specific regarding different issues.

4 “the media play a key informant role in the daily lives of individuals and communities. This role is not limited to daily newspapers alone. It includes magazines, radio stations, television channels, websites and a host of other media products. The media contribute to shaping public opinion in social, political and economic matters, through: general or specialised information; the dissemination of works of fiction, music, songs, shows and images of all kinds; as well as through the promotion of their products and the advertisements they broadcast,” (CREM).

5 This is the case in Australia where media education has also been partly thought of as a response to the issues of cultural diversity, which the country faced during the 1970s (Loicq, 2011).

6 As Pagé (2004: 50) has mentioned, “given that political and civil participation are the ultimate goal in educating for citizenship, we suggest (...) that education for citizenship of pupils in primary and secondary schools is geared above all to developing propensities that citizens must have to participate in democratic life, in a world of great diversity”.

7 “A classificatory system applies a principle of difference to a population in such a way as to be able to divide them and all their characteristics into at least two, opposing groups – us/them; self/other “(Woodward, 1997 : 29).

8 I draw on an approach developed by Anthony Giddens (1991: 84), who notes: “The prevalence of mediated experience undoubtedly also influences pluralism of choice, in obvious and also in more subtle ways. With the increasing globalisation of media, a multifarious number of milieux are, in principle, rendered visible to anyone who cares to glean the relevant information. The collage effect of television and newspapers gives specific form to the juxtaposition of settings and potential lifestyle choices”.

9 In Quebec, pupils are at the heart of the learning process, and media education plays an important part on work in definitions of self.

10 Power issues are for example never totally absent from intercultural questions, because they structure the entire communication process.

11 “Contrary to what we believe, it is more difficult to learn to view oneself and one’s own group from an external and distanced perspective, than to understand others. The incapacity to take distance with one’s own self and to adopt others’ perspectives is a major obstacle in symmetrical and reciprocal relationships. The aim here is not so much to advocate deracination with respect to one’s own personal values and commitments, be they individual or collective, but to learn to look at one’s own system of references objectively, in order to accept other perspectives. This ability to decenter oneself is one of the conditions necessary for encountering others” (Abdallah-Pretceille, 1997: 126).

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Marlène Loicq, «Media Education as an Opportunity for Intercultural Education», French Journal For Media Research [en ligne], Full texts/Numéros en texte intégral, 13/2020 Médias : acteurs clés pour une compréhension interculturelle, mis à jour le : 26/01/2020, URL :

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Marlène Loicq

Associate Professor (MCF) UPEC-Inspé, Laboratoire Céditec

Chair of the Centre d’études sur les jeunes et les médias



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