Thanks for sharing the story of Paula (Rarick, 2004). I appreciate the way you developed the epistemological, ontological and axiological aspects of the case. I would question, however, the order of the analysis. If axiological considerations came first, different possibilities of ontology can be developed, and upon these, epistemological concerns can be addressed. Of course, Rarick (2004) only presents the case from Paula’s perspective, and I wonder if your call for more phenomenological research asks for a dual-phenomenology from both her and Rafael’s viewpoints? The complexity of the case is also indicated somewhat by Rarick deciding not to clarify if BMS’s core values were ethnocentric, polycentric or geocentric (Perlmutter, 1969) or only if Paula held the ethnocentric position.
I would begin, therefore, from the axiological stance held by both Paula and Rafael. Paula’s values and opinions were stated clearly in the paper, but Rafael’s were not. Furthermore, no attempt was made by Rarick to position Rafael’s actions within the broader cultural beliefs in Brazil. To add to this, there was no discussion of the legal aspects of the case. Taken together, my initial reading was that Paula may be (please note the modality of my feeling) overreactions to cultural norms with which she was unfamiliar and her inability to adapt to a situation that she was prejudiced against.
Hammer, Bennett and Wiseman’s (2003) intercultural development inventory (IDI) describes six stages in attitudinal approach to cultural difference from denial, through defence reversal, minimisation, acceptance and adaptation to integration (see figure 1, p. 424).
Paula’s denial is appropriate to her early experience in the new culture. She is still very much in the ethnocentric stage of intercultural development. Axiologically, Paula’s stance reflects the social, moral, ethical and legal values of her home culture, and she is unable (i.e. in denial) to the possibilities of pluralistic ontologies in the other. Also, she has not recognised her position as an ethnic minority and considers her home values as being superior.
In terms of leadership, dealing with Paula’s case seems straightforward. The first stage is to understand the cultural norms and mores in play. Simply to accept Paula’s lived experience as the only valid one is to risk cultural imperialism. However, the opposite—cultural relativism—risks a simplistic ‘we’re all correct’ attitude that could condone actual ethically questionable practices that lead to symbolic violence. The broader question of ‘Is an action always right (wrong)?’ is very hard to answer without invoking axiomatic beliefs that generate ideologies, such as utilitarianism. Furthermore, cultural relativism must also contend with notions of teleology, where society may be erroneously viewed as heading towards goals and purposes.
Once the cultural norms are known, a judgement regarding Rafael’s actions can be made. As the judgement is likely (by definition) to be rooted in the particular society’s axiological values, should Rafael be found to be in the wrong, it is probable that others in the locality would also support Paula and that Paula would not find herself isolated.
Hammer, M. R., Bennett, M. J., & Wiseman, R. (2003). Measuring intercultural sensitivity: The intercultural development inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27(4), 421–443. http://doi.org/10.1016/S0147-1767(03)00032-4
Perlmutter, H. V. (1969). The Tortuous Evolution of the Multinational Corporation. Columbia Journal of World Business, January-Fe, 9–18.
Rarick, C. A. (2004). Paula Kobe’s Harassment in Brazil. SSRN Electronic Journal, (May 2004). http://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1112318