Cultural sensitivity and intercultural communication

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  • JMitchell
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  • Curator for contemporary art with a focus on the intersection of art and politics – insistent on shifting the narrative. Member of the Neue Deutsche Museumsmacher_innen
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Cultural sensitivity and intercultural communication

During my undergraduate degree, I was introduced to Milton Bennett’s development model of cultural sensitivity (DMIS) and throughout my continued studies but also in different workplaces, I’ve encountered aspects of it again and again, and have found it helpful to go back to it from time to time.

Bennett developed this model in the 1980s as one of the first sociologists to look at the different stages of cultural sensitivity. Since then it has been applied and expanded upon countless times. Cultural sensitivity can be described as the awareness, knowledge and acceptance of other cultures and others’ cultural identities. It means having awareness that cultural differences and similarities between people exist without assigning them value. And being aware that these cultural differences and similarities has an effect on values, learning and behavior. 

Bennett described several stages that a person undergoes to “reach” cultural sensitivity:


A key characteristic of the last two stages is also recognizing the value of diversity: Diversity goes beyond culture and race, it includes a range of aspects such as age, ethnicity, gender, physical qualities and sexual orientation, income, education, religion, geographic location, parental status or marital status and more. 

Bennett was speaking from an American perspective in the 1980s, his model is closely tied to the United States understanding of itself in the late 1980s and 1990s as a multiracial society; a “melting pot”. But it can also be applied to different scenarios, e.g. office culture; think of the differences between office culture in different sectors such as the financial sector vs. academia or a more creative workplace that embraces flat hierarchies. 

I think we can all acknowledge that we have over time moved along the scale as we grow and mature, expand our point of view through the experiences we have. They are a learning process and in todays globalized society, I believe that we all strive to eventually “reach the final stage”. 

Do you think this approach has value or is useful when speaking about images or using images to communicate or convey information? Could it be helpful when making decisions as to what images to use and how? Do you have other suggestions or what would you change about this approach? 

Looking forward to your thoughts!  
Best, Janice
Curator for contemporary
Member of the Neue Deutsche Museumsmacher_innen

[Discussion lead Representation and Visual Culture]
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