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Interculturality: dialogue in the space between differences

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

by Ana Werkstetter

Starting in the 1980s, Latin America has a new focus on diversity with the aim of creating just societies and equality while acknowledging ethnic and cultural plurality. Confronting discrimination, racism and social exclusion from an institutional perspective through “interculturality” was part of this effort.

Broadly speaking, interculturality refers to the dynamic between cultures, as the “active dialogue and debate between differences, which lead to the sharing and transformation of experiences, meanings, and practices” (Stolle-McAllister, 2014: 237). The term began to be widely used in public policy, and in constitutional and education reforms that were proposed across the region by Indigenous peoples, NGOs and/or the state. Education policies began to focus on intercultural, bilingual education (IBE) with the intent of reclaiming cultural and linguistic rights. These initiatives look very different, are dependent on the respective country or regional context, and have been implemented with varying degrees of success. (Read about the Bolivian case in Paeradigms’ blog post from 22 May 2020).

There are many meanings and interpretations of interculturality. Catherine Walsh (2010) showed how interculturality can and indeed has been used in service to dominant social groups in Latin America, and as a result, effectively sustained colonial power dynamics. For example, initiatives to acknowledge ethnic-cultural plurality have been reduced to representation politics, including imagery of Indigenous and Afro descendants in schoolbooks that reinforced stereotypes and colonial practices of racialization (Granda, 2004). In response, Walsh (2010) proposes critical interculturality as a political project of decolonisation, transformation and creation by recognising social stratification is built from a colonial matrix of racial power, with a hierarchy where white and “whitened” people are at the top and Indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants are at the bottom. From this perspective, interculturality is a tool, a process and a project that can be built from the people, in contrast to a functional perspective of interculturality imposed from power structures. Critical interculturality is a political, social, ethnic and epistemic project that underlines the need to change not only the relations, but also the structures, conditions, and mechanisms of power that sustain inequality, inferiority, racialisation, and discrimination (Walsh, 2010). For intercultural education to be successful in creating more equitable societies across cultural and ethnic boundaries, interculturality needs to function as a form of historical redress. In Latin America, this means it must be (re-)created by and for the Indigenous Peoples and Afro descendants.

In post-independence Latin America, identity, rights, difference, autonomy and nationhood have been in continuous dispute, and interculturality has come to represent this struggle. As a political, social and cultural space, education is where (hegemonic) values, attitudes and identities are developed, which in turn is why education has been a central focus for intercultural initiatives (Walsh, 2010). Critical intercultural approaches to education and academia legitimise other epistemologies and ways of knowing which have often been marginalised along colonial differences.

The case of Nicaragua

In Nicaragua, the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast (URACCAN) and the Foundation for the Autonomy and Development of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (FADCANIC), represent successful initiatives of critical interculturality in practice. Both focus on education (higher education and TVET respectively) from the perspective of multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual contexts of the Autonomous Caribbean Region of Nicaragua. URACCAN and FADCANIC are political, educational projects that facilitate the historical aspirations for autonomy and the demands of Indigenous peoples, people of African descent, mestizos and other ethnic communities who reside within Nicaragua in the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean. These initiatives have been supported since their inception by the Norwegian Students' and Academics' International Assistance Fund (SAIH for its acronym in Norwegian) since the early 1990s.

Paeradigms partners with SAIH in evaluating its global programme work focused on equitable higher education and academic freedom in Latin America, Southern Africa and Southeast Asia funded by Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad). Targeting youth, academics and the education sector, SAIH’s programme specially focuses on Indigenous Peoples, young women and LGBTQI+ youth. SAIH supports projects initiated and run by local organisations that promote equity, inclusion and diversity. Among other themes, SAIH’s global higher education programme works on:

  • Empowering political participation and strengthening student organisations;

  • Working for the right to relevant and quality (higher) education;

  • Supporting students and academic in claiming their human rights and academic freedoms.

Paeradigms’ national consultant Dina Castillo (centre front) visiting the Project Centre for Technical Environmental and Agroforestry Education of Wawashang (CETAA), part of the Foundation for the Autonomy and Development of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (FADCANIC). CETAA aims to facilitate high quality comprehensive vocational technical training opportunities for adolescents and youth along the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast – a strategic effort to support them in exercising their right to be included in higher education institutions.



Granda, S. (2004). Textos escolares e interculturalidad. La representación de la diversidad cultural ecuatoriana. Quito: Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar.

Stolle-McAllister, J. (2014). Beyond Mestizaje: Andean Interculturality in Ecuador. In S. Wickstrom, P. Young (Eds). Mestizaje and Globalization: Transformations of Identity and Power. USA: The University of Arizona Press.

Walsh, C. (2010). Interculturalidad crítica y educación intercultural. In J. Tapia, L. Viaña, C. Walsh (Eds.) Construyendo Interculturalidad Crítica. Bolivia: Instituto Internacional de Integración del Convenio Andrés Bello.

Wickstrom, S. & Young P. (2014). Mestizaje and Globalization: Transformations of Identity and Power. USA: The University of Arizona Press.


Ana Caravaca is Research Analyst at Paeradigms. Presently, Ana is also Country Lead for Nicaragua for SAIH's evaluation of their Norad-funded global education programme.


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