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This special issue showcases papers presented at the International Association of Languages and Intercultural Communication (IALIC) conference in Durham in December 2012. The conference, similarly entitled ‘Intercultural dialogue: Current challenges; future directions’, invited presenters to critically examine the concept of intercultural dialogue and its implications for researching and learning about intercultural communication in the increasingly intercultural communities in which people now live.
The term ‘intercultural dialogue’ is now in wide currency and offers much hope to peace and harmony among nations. Officially inaugurated in 2008, via the Council of Europe's White Paper and promulgated by the European Union's declaration in the same year, the concept suggests a social and political response to the need for intercultural communication and understanding in what was then a rapidly expanding European Union. (Currently, there are 28 nations encompassing a mix of languages, ethnicities, religions, histories, geographical complexities, etc., including emergent transcultural landscapes brought about by migration and other global flows of people.) The term engenders a rational post-war European society where people can engage in (inter)cultural communication openly and freely in conditions of security and mutual respect, thanks to the numerous institutions within the European Union, and the laws and conventions that require and condone civil communicative practices.
Other organisations, e.g., UNESCO, the British Council, have also developed their own definitions (see Phipps’ paper in this issue for their description and critique) and institutional structures associated with the term. The aims and activities of these institutions within the European Union seek to advance peace, reconciliation and democracy through the principles of intercultural dialogue, earning the European Union the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012.
The concept has been taken up outside of Europe, too, through the National Communication Association's Summer Conference on Intercultural Dialogue in 2009 at Maltepe University, Istanbul, Turkey, resulting in the establishment of the Center for Intercultural Dialogue (http://www.centerforinterculturaldialogue.org/) by Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz and supported by the Council of Communication Associations in the USA. And there are many other institutions, too numerous to mention here, in support of the cause of intercultural dialogue, and much associated research activity.
The authors of the papers in this special issue offer new and fresh ways of theorising and researching inter-cultural dialogue – its potential for development, and its limits and qualifications. They do this through their critical examination of the concept, its meaning in practice, and its implications for intercultural communication, intercultural education, language teaching and improving people's lives.