Creating Ethical Spaces

Effective intercultural leadership involves developing the skills, knowledge and attitudes that facilitate good relationships between individuals, communities and populations. However, intercultural relations are often underpinned by asymmetrical power dynamics that create challenges to relationship-building, particularly within the context of ethical engagement with Indigenous communities (Ermine, 2007). Creating an ethical space where different worldviews can interact through reflexive and dialogic processes has the capacity to reconstruct intercultural relations into collaborative partnerships underpinned by equality, thus enhancing the cultural fluidity of leaders (Nikolakis & Hotte, 2021; Peltier, et al., 2019).

Initially conceived as philosophical discussion in Roger Poole’s 1972 book Towards Deep Subjectivity, Ermine expanded upon this concept of the ethical space to describe the analogous “space” created when diverging worldviews intersect, thus highlighting the individual differences and diversity that exists between them (Ermine, 2007). An ethical space is not something that is tangible, rather, it is an acknowledgement of a metaphorical “space” that exists between beings through which differing worldviews can interact in an authentic manner (Ermine, 2007). While Ermine focused his discussion particularly within the context of Indigenous and Western thinking, the concept of creating ethical spaces can be again further expanded upon to include all intercultural interactions in general to better assist leaders in navigating intercultural relations and fostering cooperative dialogue.

Because individual worldviews are influenced by many different dimensions, such as their social contexts, history, politics, economies and local traditions, disparate worldviews are indeed a part of reality. However, adopting an ethical space approach to intercultural communication supports the principles of respect and reciprocity to allow for relationships to be built upon equality and cross-validity of worldviews (Ermine, 2007; Nikolakis & Hotte, 2021). Likewise, ethical spaces do not serve as a platform for critique (Indigenous Circle of Experts (ICE), 2018); rather it is an acknowledgement that no one worldview or culture is superior to the other. Further to this, ethical space allows for these relationships to develop on multiple levels rather than simply along a single dimension, assisting in dispelling assumptions or cultural stereotypes.

With reconciliation efforts increasing in momentum, it is important for leaders to continuously self-reflect on their knowledge of Indigenous worldviews and make room for different ways of knowing and being into their personal leadership theories. In theory, creating an ethical space for reflexive dialogue to take place across two cultures is easy, however, flexibility and adaptability are integral to this process; all parties must be open to undertaking the practice of introspection and reflection and be open to seeing the world through the lens of another (ICE, 2018; Nikolakis & Hotte, 2021). In adopting this approach of creating ethical spaces, leaders can develop greater awareness of how diversity and difference contribute to the other ways of knowing and in turn, further develop their leadership skills and intercultural fluidity.


Ermine, W. (2007). The Ethical Space of Engagement. Indigenous Law Journal. Retrieved from

Indigenous Circle of Experts. (2018). We Rise Together. Retrieved from…

Nikolakis, W., & Hotte, N. (2021). Implementing “ethical space”: An exploratory study of Indigenous‐conservation partnerships. Conservation Science And Practice4(1).

Peltier, C., Manankil-Rankin, L., McCullough, K., Paulin, M., Anderson, P., & Hanzlik, K. (2019). Self-location and ethical space in wellness research. International Journal of Indigenous Health, 14(2), 39-53.

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