Thinking not a Usual: Adding the Intercultural Perspective

Yelena Yershova, Joan DeJaeghere, Josef Mestenhauser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


The purpose of this article is to fill the gap between the emphasis in higher education on subject matter content and the acquisition of intellectual competencies. The authors suggest that these intellectual competencies are subject to triple conceptual reductionism, manifested in the following assumptions: (1) these skills are acquired through the content of established academic disciplines; (2) once learned, they transfer to other domains; and (3) they are “culture-free” and thus universally applicable. Contrary to these assumptions, the article attempts to demonstrate that these intellectual skills and their components are not learned automatically in traditional disciplines or by osmosis, and that they are influenced by the cultures in which they are practiced and taught. The authors selected three such competencies for review and examination: intercultural competence; critical thinking; and comparative thinking. Their analysis indicates that teaching of intercultural competence continues to be dominated by the “fix the problem” paradigm, which considers cultural differences an obstacle to be over-come. They applaud the emerging emphasis on the developmental approach to intercultural competence. Critical thinking, the second skill discussed, is the best known and is the one most commonly referred to in the literature as a universal skill. The authors dispute its universality by calling attention to specific areas of critical thinking that are influenced by culture, and by suggesting ways of expanding the concept to be more relevant to intercultural interactions. Comparative thinking, the third intellectual skill, seems to be the most neglected and yet is the most pervasively used, being practiced every time individuals explain themselves to others. Although these skills are treated separately for the purpose of analysis, they are interconnected and interdependent. The authors conclude that not only does the literature about these competencies fail to examine the role of culture in their development, but also international education literature is equally devoid of serious discussion about them. They hope that this article will begin a discussion about expanding the understanding of these intellectual skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-78
Number of pages40
JournalJournal of Studies in International Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2000


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