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ECAH/EuroMedia2020 - Keynote Presentation

Donald Hall, University of Rochester, United States

IAFOR’s special theme in 2020 is “Embracing Difference”, which builds on two previous years’ themes: examinations of fear for what the future might hold (2018), followed a year later by explorations of our ability to shape alternate futures (2019). The continuing timeliness of both topics has been fuelled not only by global political trends, but also (and in ways that largely account for those trends) the fact that individuals today are being confronted incessantly with forms and intensities of “difference” as never before in human history. Unless we are wholly off the grid of media and extra-communal encounter (as we might find with self-isolating religious communities), we are confronted daily with lifestyles, belief systems, languages, and ways of being that are radically different from our own. Whether face-to-face or mediated, these continuing micro-shocks of encounters with epistemological difference can be terrifying, exhilarating, disorienting, or even erotically stimulating (if not several of those at once). Much hinges on how we decide to process such encounters, a choice for which, I argue, we bear responsibility. To the extent that we can actively choose to frame such “dislocations” as desirable “invitations”– to question the rightness of our own stances, the security of our own “truths,” and the limitations of our own knowledge – we can welcome encounters with difference as necessary for learning and growth. Too often, of course, they are processed much more narrowly as violent threats to insular selfhood, to national and cultural primacy, and to religious absolutes. We as teachers, scholars and public intellectuals have a role to play in reframing a public debate on the fundamental value of “difference”. Beyond our common and often tepid proclamation of respect for “diversity”, it is imperative that we promote and defend the inherently generative effect of the “unsettledness” that terrifies so many of our fellow citizens. Invitations to rethink our “selves”, our beliefs, and our values should be celebrated as inherently educational opportunities, rather than feared as apocalyptic threats to coherence or community.

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