Hoffman, Edwin & Arjan Verdooren, Diversity Competence: Cultures Do Not Meet, People Do



Reviewed by Dr. George Simons at diversophy.com


Diversity Competence firmly focuses our understanding of culture in a performative direction. It is based on the awareness that our behavioral patterns, are steered by the various powers that delineate what they should be, and which judges them on their defined standards. I am reminded of the somewhat doggerel verse of Ernest Hemingway:

“The age demanded that we dance
And jammed us into iron pants.
And in the end the age was handed
The sort of shit that it demanded.”


We play our roles as we do our footwork on this stage, developing a repertoire of comportment that is both created by and creates culture. While cultural studies often focus on nationality, ethnicity, class structure, and other valid starting points, the fluidity of culture over time, as well as the multiple forms of contact of the digital age, in the view of Hoffman and Verdooren, suggest that we see cultural competence rather as diversity competence, hence the title of the book.

People meet in infinite varieties of situations and contexts requiring a kind of alertness to performance in addition to awareness of one’s own and others’ cultural group markers. There are ample warnings about not too readily playing the “cultural card” as facile interpretation of others’ actions and motives.

As a fundamental antidote the authors present the TOPOI analysis tool (Tongue, Order, Person, Organization, Intentions), a model whose extrapolation and means of application occupy roughly the final two-thirds of the book. The model is a quarter century old and versions of it have played a role in counseling and social work as well as in intercultural studies and praxis. Its method of inquiry, whether used in its entirety as a formative curriculum, or piecemeal as situations suggest, remains worth integrating into our interculturalist toolbox as it stimulates shifts in perspective, so necessary for getting the whole picture without forgetting how diverse details may define it.

Diversity Competence is written in an English that is quite comprehensible for second language speakers (a Dutch language version is shortly to make an appearance). The reader is treated to numerous highlighted examples and mini-cases that often involve either Dutch or Dutch colonial actors (Antilles, etc.), accounts which this reader quite enjoyed, having resided and worked in both urban and rural Netherlands for some years. Humor, a sizeable part of human life and conversation, too often excluded by the danger and detour signs posted by political correctness, meaningfully finds its rightful way into these examples.

 Uitgevereij Coutinho, 2018. ISBN 9789046905982, 97890464415  

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