Since the late 2000s, “interculturalism” has been proposed as a policy solution for integrating migrant and ethnic minority communities across the European Union. A corrective to “multiculturalism” (stereotyped as divisive and ghettoizing), social interculturalism prioritises dialogue between ethnic minority and majority individuals as the starting point of social change. “Intercultural dialogue’s” chain of reactions flows from the individual to group to institutions to society, theoretically promoting social cohesion and redistributive access to services and institutions.
But in order to work, individuals must be successfully aroused by a “intercultural performative.” Following interaction with an “Other,” they must yield or build on the bodily knowledge generated by the tactile encounter and then pass this process on. This decentered logic of performative efficacy puts individuals before collectives and dangerously reproduces neoliberal logics of governmentality, charging the individual with their preservation under conditions of precarity, while also assuming equality between culturally diverse individuals meeting across difference.
The theatre is a key forum for working through social interculturalism’s political weaknesses amidst ongoing debate about racism and immigration in the EU. I profile the work of three theatre companies who employ theatrical interculturalism and use it to question the efficacy of the intercultural performative: Kloppend Hert (Belgium), Terra Nova Productions (Northern Ireland), and Outlandish Theatre Platform (Republic of Ireland.) I apply materialist, feminist and anti-imperialist critiques of theatrical interculturalism to social interculturalism to expose how intercultural dialogue’s dependence on the performative as a gauge of efficacy risks substituting temporary arousal for structural change.