Established educational leadership discourse has been dominated by Anglo‐American perspectives oblivious to the cultural diversity that characterizes the contemporary world. It has frequently privileged mono‐cultural, mainstream values which have meant indigenous and ethnic groups have suffered alienation, exclusion and disadvantage. Western‐led educational interventions in developing nations also frequently fail to acknowledge the rich cultural traditions of recipient societies and theories and practice are rarely appropriately scrutinized for “cultural fit”. The purpose of this paper is to construct a theory for leadership in intercultural contexts.
The article reviews how monocultural assumptions of colonial and national leadership cultures in the past were frequently inappropriate for the diverse populations they were intended to serve. The global era has witnessed the emergence of cross‐cultural theory and research paradigms to combat cultural blindness and develop cultural sensitivities. While applauding these developments, the epistemological assumptions that underlie such research are questioned. A case for more nuanced theory, which acknowledges complex interactions between agents from different cultures, is developed. This includes a call for more dynamic research tools based upon constructivist and phenomenological premises.
Cross‐cultural research has generated territorial maps that promote insight and mutual understandings. However, it relies upon essentialist stereotypes that mask the existence of complex sub‐cultures and dynamic forces of change within national cultures. Case study research which taps the subjective understandings of cultural actors is cited to reveal a more complex process of interaction between cultural agents.
This is a theoretical exploration, not an empirical report. It is limited by the scarcity of existing research in a fledgling field.
The article encourages researchers to move from observationally based, stereotypical portraits to more nuanced concepts of cultures as complex, multi‐layered and changing phenomena. It establishes the epistemological foundations for future research in inter‐cultural contexts.
The paper develops new directions for future theory and research.
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