This essay concerns some new concepts that can help sociological theory interpret globalisation
and multicultural societies. Its key-concept is intercultural communication, largely used in communication
studies, studies on intercultural relationships, and linguistics. The essay proposes an integration
of a sociological theory of communication with some of these studies, explaining and analysing
the different forms of intercultural communication which can give a more precise meaning to the
processes of globalisation and to multicultural contexts. The historical background of these processes
and contexts is the expansion of modern European society, which is interpreted as functionally differentiated,
following Luhmann’s social systems theory. In contrast with the dominant forms of ethnocentrism
which have continuously shaped intercultural communications between the functionally differentiated
European society and the other societies in the world, new theories propose a form of
intercultural dialogue. The meaning of such a dialogue is defined in two versions, transcultural and
cosmopolitan: the comparison between these versions enlightens their different features and problems.
Finally, the reasons for a sociological interest in these theories are discussed, with reference to
explanations of globalisation and multicultural society.