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A Critique of Cultural Competence: Assumptions, Limitations, and Alternatives

Abstract

Though cultural competence dominates as an approach to diversity, it has important conceptual limitations. “Culture” is reduced to race and ethnicity, ignoring other identities and framing race and ethnicity as residing only in the “Other,” leaving dominant cultures unproblematized. Culture is presented as unchanging, uniform, and overdetermining of the lives of Others while underemphasized in the lives of professionals. Cultural competence positions professionals as presumed members of dominant groups, rendering racialized and ethnic minority professionals invisible. It is understood as something that can be attained, individualizing failure to do so. This misconstrues structured power relations which cannot be altered individually. Worse yet, competence is measured in terms of learner confidence and/or comfort, which may have little to do with working effectively across differences. In contrast, cultural humility with critical reflexivity is an ethical stance that demands taking responsibility for privilege, reflecting on individual practices always in relation to power structures.

Keywords

  • Cultural competence
  • Cultural safety
  • Cultural humility
  • Critical reflexivity
  • Power
  • Privilege
  • Ethics

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Among the tools addressed in these three articles alone are Behavioral Assessment Scale for Intercultural Communication (BASIC) effectiveness, Cross-Cultural Adaptability Inventory (CCAI), Cross-Cultural Counselling Inventory (CCCI), Cross-Cultural Sensitivity Scale (CCSS), Cultural Competence Assessment Tool (CCAT), Cultural Competence Assessment Instrument (CCAI), Cultural Competence Self-Assessment Questionnaire (CCSAQ), Cultural Intelligence Scale (CQ), Cultural Self-Efficacy Scale (CSES), Intercultural Adjustment Potential Scale (ICAPS), Intercultural Behavioral Assessment (IBA), intercultural communication competence (ICC), Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), Intercultural Sensitivity Inventory (ICSI), Intercultural Sensitivity Scale (ISS), Inventory for Assessing the Process of Cultural Competence (IAPCC), Multicultural Awareness-Knowledge-and-Skills Survey (MAKSS), Multicultural Counseling Knowledge and Awareness Scale (MCKAS), Multicultural Counselling Awareness Scale (MCAS), Multicultural Counselling Inventory (MCI), Multicultural Mental Health Awareness Scale (MMHAS), Multicultural Personality Inventory (MPQ), and Multicultural School Psychology Competency Scale (MSPCS).

  2. 2.

    Though see Cole, Piercy, Wolfe, and West (2014) for the development of the Multicultural Therapy Competency Inventory-Client Version (MTCI-CV) which asks clients to assess their therapists on six domains: therapist awareness of their own cultural values and biases, awareness of client worldviews, use of culturally appropriate intervention strategies, respectful curiosity, naiveté (openness and receptivity), and therapeutic relationship building skills.

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Correspondence to Brenda L. Beagan .

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Beagan, B.L. (2018). A Critique of Cultural Competence: Assumptions, Limitations, and Alternatives. In: Frisby, C., O'Donohue, W. (eds) Cultural Competence in Applied Psychology. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-78997-2_6

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