Friday, 28 September 2007

Multiculturalism and social exclusion

In order to assess whether the policies of multiculturalism are responsible for social exclusion, the definition of the term must first be clarified. It must be noted that there is a distinct difference between a society that is 'multicultural' and one that adheres to the doctrines of 'multiculturalism'. A 'multicultural' society is described by Stuart Hall as one that is 'by definition culturally heterogeneous' (Hesse 2000:210), this term would for example be applied to describe French society, but many commentators would doubt whether France, in its continued endorsement of a common French national citizenship, could be defined as a society that adheres to 'multiculturalism'. A 'multiculturalist' society, as S. Sayyid describes in his essay 'Beyond Westphalia', is defined as one that follows 'a normative stance arising out of the recognition and celebration of the variety of cultural forms and practices that exist within the body of the nation' (Hesse 2000:33).

The philosophies of 'multiculturalism' are clearly distinct from the previous models of 'assimilation' and 'integration', that had been deployed to incorporate marginal groups into the mainstream of western societies. The assimilation model, otherwise known as 'mono-culturalism', has a central feature of insisting that all those within the marginal groups who are capable of doing so, should incorporate the traditions and customs of the dominant culture of a society. Assimilationists believe that with the removal of state-imposed restrictions and outlawing of discrimination, marginal groups would be able to follow the path of the dominant groups to prosperity. The disadvantages experienced by marginal groups in society would be explained by assimilationists as an insufficient or an inadequate degree of assimilation of the groups or individuals in question.

An integrationalist stance on the management of diversity in society, would be the 'humanist' approach of believing that individuals among such diverse groups all share a natural intellectual equality with those of mainstream society, and have more personal 'human' commonalities than ethnic or racial differences. Its goals are the levelling of barriers to association, creating equal opportunities regardless of race, and the development of a progressive culture, drawing on both mainstream traditions and those of its diverse constituents. Integrationalists also believe that cultural practices which are particular only to the groups in question should, and will eventually become more of a privatised matter for these groups.

Multiculturalism, in contrast to both of these approaches, focuses on difference as opposed to sameness between groups in society, and refutes that in doing so it disrupts the dominant western narratives, as democracy involves not merely concern with the rights of the majority, but also the marginalized. Multiculturalists claim that pluralism is the supreme social virtue of globalized, flexible, post-modern and post-Fordist capitalism. The purpose of education in multicultural theory is to create a 'multicultural literacy' among a nation's population, meaning that people from mainstream culture are able to successfully operate in subcultures and culturally different situations. In turn, members of sub-cultures would learn to operate in mainstream culture and gain essential abilities through equal economic and educational opportunities, while simultaneously building a pride in their heritage and cultural difference.
The roots of the doctrine of multiculturalism as an official government policy are found in the Canadian government's declaration of 1971, that 'all citizens (of Canada) are equal….can keep their identities, can take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging'. Simultaneously such citizens must 'respect the political and legal process….address issues by legal and constitutional means….integrate into their society and take an active part in its social, cultural, economic and political affairs' (, 10/04/2006).

This policy was adopted as a reaction to the Canadian Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1963, who had advocated that the government recognizes that the Canadian peoples, with their British and French ancestry are a bilingual and bicultural society, and must adopt policies to preserve this character. The opposition to the 'biculturalist' policy came mainly from Canadians who were neither of French or British ancestry, but diverse groups, such as descendents of migrants from the Ukraine, the Caribbean, or Canadians of Aboriginal origin. To accommodate these groups, "biculturalism" was adapted to "multiculturalism".

Examples of multicultural ideas that influence government policies include the allowing of dual citizenship, accommodation of traditional and religious dress in schools or the workplace, or the financial support for ethnic minority media, events, and community groups. This policy also encourages affirmative action programmes to encourage minority representation in politics (such as the 1980s campaign within the British Labour party for Black sections), education, and the work force. It must be noted however, that despite the emphasis on cultural differences, as Nira Yuval-Davis points out, it would be incorrect 'to suppose that those who advocate multiculturalism assume a civil and political society in which all cultural identities would have the same legitimacy….in all states in which multiculturalism is an official policy, there are cultural customs (such as Polygamy, using drugs, etc.) which are considered illegal as well as illegitimate, giving priority to cultural traditions of the hegemonic majority' (Werbner and Modood 1997:198).

The reasons put forward for adopting of policies of multiculturalism over those of assimilation and integration are that 'minorities have a right to maintain and transmit their ways of life and denying it to them is both indefensible and likely to provoke resistance' (Parekh 2000:197). Bikhu Parekh's also claims that the whole premise of the assimilation model is 'unable to redeem its promise of unqualified acceptance….(as) the demand for total assimilation springs from intolerance of differences, and for the intolerant even the smallest differences are sources of deep unease' (Parekh 2000:198).

The link between monocultural theories of assimilation and a fundamental intolerance of difference is also made by Kincheloe and Steinburg. They claim the assimilationist model to be 'a new embrace of the colonialist tradition of white male supremacy' (Kinchloe and Steinburg 1997:3) and that melting pot assimilation model had 'never operated smoothly even for non-white people who wanted to melt - no matter how much they tried to assimilate, they were still marginalized on the basis of their colour' (Kincheloe and Steinburg 1997:4).

The monocultural model also over looks how fragmentation within receiving societies had existed throughout the era of the modern nation-state, based on differences of class, religion and regionalism, and in many cases sub-divisions such as being 'Scottish' or 'Quebecois' failed to effect one's identity as British or Canadian. Bikhu Parekh notes that the monoculturalist tendency is to assume 'that society has a coherent and unified cultural and moral structure, and that is rarely the case….the assimilationist ignores all this, and either offers a highly abridged and distorted view of national culture or equates it with that of the dominant group' (Parekh 2000:197).

Parekh asserts that although national identity and the sub-divisions within such territories need not conflict, such a situation 'can arise in practice if either of them were to be defined as to exclude or undermine the other…minorities cannot feel part of the community if its very self-definition excludes them and treats them as outsiders' (Parekh 2000:232). S. Sayyid also points out how the idea of exclusion is a built in feature with national identity, as 'the nation is at best an enterprise based on exclusionary universalism. It is a bounded entity; it is not open to everyone' (Hesse 2000:36). Therefore by its very nature, a national culture will have difficulties assimilating marginal groups into its collective identity.

Multiculturalists also argue that integrationalist policies are equally as flawed as their assimilationist counterparts. They argue that such theories are grounded in a supposed colour blindness, but the reality of their implementation makes marginal groups culturally invisible, resulting in an unconscious ethnocentrism. Kincheloe and Steinburg argue that appealing to consensus and similarity between groups falsely portrays such perspectives as 'neutral and universal process(es) of consciousness construction'. As a result their beliefs of an 'unexamined sameness….allows educators and cultural producers to speak the language of diversity but to normalize Eurocentric culture as the tacit norm everyone references….(it) still assimilates to white standards' (Kincheloe and Steinburg 1997:11).

Also part of the logic for having a perspective that is grounded in the differences between groups, rather than their commonalities, or a call for such groups to create a homogeneity between them, is that it assumes a bi-polar 'white/non-white' perspective. As Stuart Hall points out 'in the 1970s anti-racist struggles by both (Afro-Caribbean and Asian) groups tended to cluster under the affirmative identity of 'black', defined by their shared racialized difference from white society. However, one unintended effect was to privilege the Afro-Caribbean experience over that experienced by Asians' (Hesse 2000:224).

It also needs to be remembered that theories which draw upon a cultural sameness, or call upon marginal groups to assimilate to the dominant culture, are grounded in different societal conditions to the ones which prevail today. The 'melting pot' assimilation model in particular was formed in the era of late nineteenth century migration to the new world and are very much a product of modernity. Zygmunt Bauman argues that multiculturalism has an enhanced potential to reduce social exclusion, because of its closeness to post-modernist theories.

Bauman claims that the boundary-conscious certainties of modernity had in many ways inspired the social exclusion of marginal groups, meaning that they were often 'earmarked for annihilation'. By contrast, the uncertain and non fixed identities of post-modern citizens, makes the creation of internal 'others' equally uncertain, therefore such groups are to be considered 'by joyful or grudging, but common, consent - here to stay….their strangerhood is to be protected and lovingly preserved…ours is a hetrophilic age…the question is no longer how to get rid of strangers and the strange but how to live with them' (Werbner and Modood 1997:54).

The nineteenth century era, when the 'melting pot' theory was founded, was also one that lacked the communications technology of today, and consequently migrants would have had a near-absolute severance with their homeland both physically and culturally. The practicality of the assimilationist, and also to a great extent integrationalist policies are questionable in this present-day era, with the compression of space and time that has occurred through technological advancement. The development of the internet, satellite technology and digital broadcasting, has brought with it an increased capacity to transmit more diverse forms of culture within western society. This includes an increased ability for migrants and their descendants to communicate with family and peers in migrant homelands, and attain instant access to cultural information and produce from these territories within the receiving nations.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown points out that such technologies of communication have aided the creation of 'pan-national virtual communities….you can see this most clearly with the growth in pan-Islamic identity in the last decade' (Alibihai-Brown 2000:269). Technology's creation of increased space for media produce has in turn led to an increase of 'narrowcast' rather than 'broadcast' media, meaning that such produce is 'not aimed at a general national audience, but at specialised segments, whose particular patterns of consumption are targeted by advertisers' (Billig 1995:132). This development has brought an opening for ethnic minority programming by organisations such as Al Jazeera, Star TV and Bollywood TV companies. A situation that had not even existed with Britain's original wave of non-white immigration in the 1950's and 60's.

The increasing deregulation of national markets created by globalization, has also led to a situation where the national cultural identity of any given nation 'must compete with other identities on a free market of identities' (Billig 1995:133). A belief that society's marginal groups must assimilate to a singular national culture is at best an inherent contradiction to, and at worst an endorsed exclusion from the prevailing ethos of post-Fordist market liberalism. As explained by Anthony Giddens, many on the new right of the political spectrum have often assumed that 'individualism and choice are supposed to stop abruptly at the boundaries of…national identity, where tradition must stand intact. But nothing is more dissolving of tradition than the 'permanent revolution' of market forces' (Giddens 1998:15).

It could be argued therefore that the policies of multiculturalism are a mere response to societal changes resulting from such a technological and commercial paradigm shift. However the potential of market-led pluralism as a force of emancipation for the socially excluded is criticised by Kinchloe and Steinberg. They argue that the primary purpose of ethnic minority media representation and produce is 'to sell and create consumer markets for particular goods and services. Techno-power becomes a medieval alchemist that instead of turning base metals into gold transforms 'truth' into 'what sells'. Valuable information in this context becomes not that which explains or empowers but that which creates a cooperative community, a culture of consumption' (Kincheloe and Steinburg 1997:116).

Kincheloe and Steinburg support their view, by pointing to the fact that the very same ethnic groups, whose cultures have become more commodifiable, have experienced a corresponding deterioration in their share of society's overall material wealth. Commodification has reinforced their exclusion as it 'constructs non-whiteness as lesser, deviant and pathological - but concurrently more interesting, more exotic, more natural and, therefore, more commodifiable than the 'white bread' norm' (Kincheloe and Steinburg 1997:18). Therefore, as such multicultural media representations of marginal groups have been accused of failing to adequately address the social inequalities they experience, multicultural policies, many of which are the subject of their indirect or covert influence are equally susceptible to repeating such failings.

Multicultural theories and policies have often been accused of a general reluctance to address issues of power relations that result from one's socio-economic class and standing, and as a result 'honour cultural difference outside of a historical power-literate context….trivialise the lived realities of exotic others and relegate them to a nether land of political isolation' (Kincheloe and Steinburg 1997:18). This lack of challenge to socio-economic issues, has led to critics questioning the egalitarian potential of such policies.

Kenan Malik criticises multicultural policies as a new form of 'divide and rule', reminiscent of that experienced by diverse tribes under colonialism, who were culturally pigeon-holed and indirectly ruled via local chiefs. Malik's claim is that the colonial system, rather than removing the indigenous culture of the colonised, had in fact changed it from one that was a living and open culture to one that was 'mummified' in a closed static formation. This 'mummifaction' came about by a 'plural outlook (that) ignored the dynamic interplay of the various groups making up colonial society, and instead represented the products of their mutual interaction as cultural forms created by autonomous segments of society, each supposedly following its particular path in isolation' (Malik 1996:172).

Malik's claim is that multiculturalism's own pluralist vision is destined to repeat such a stagnating 'mummification' of culture. Cultural differences that result from the mainstream exclusion of minority groups and their resulting willingness to cling to 'old habits and lifestyles as a familiar anchor in a hostile world', have in turn become 'rationalised not as the negative product of racism or discrimination but as the positive result of multiculturalism' (Malik 1996:177). Malik believes that rather than refraining from disrupting the narratives of modernity, multiculturalism is an embodiment of the death of post-French Revolution enlightenment ideals of universal progress and humanity. He claims that the 'philosophy of difference is the politics of defeat, born out of defeat.….unable to pursue the goal of equality, postmodernists have simply refashioned its meaning and embraced difference. The consequence has been the celebration of marginality, of parochialism, and indeed of oppression' (Malik 1996:265).

In reference to Malik's claim of multiculturalism's neo 'divide and rule' tendencies, ethnic minority community leaders have been often been cast by many critics in the role of the indirectly-ruling local chiefs. They have been criticised in many cases for providing poor leadership, resulting from a remoteness that stems from 'accepting as representatives of minorities people, in class and power positions very different from those of the majority members of that community' (Werbner and Modood 1997:200).

A Home Office report from an independent review team compiled in the aftermath of the 2001 riots in Northern England, had noted that 'In some areas, the Asian community have drawn our attention to a situation where some local political activities, including the selection of candidates, owe more to familial and other inappropriate connections than to the legitimate and pressing concerns of the local electorate. The 'politics from back home' was often cited, not only as a distraction, but also as a factor in priorities and decision making, overriding the merits of the local circumstances' (, 15/04/2006).
Malik's claims of Multiculturalism's stagnating 'mummification' of culture, is also backed by the accusations of social commentators, that such policies give a disproportionate level of cultural influence to religious leaders. Such critics claim that this has led to the extremely narrow defining of cultures and the formation of religious and cultural essentialisms. Akhtar Saeed Bhutta, director of the Muslim Education Council of Scotland, coupled his claims for state funded Muslim schools with accusing secular state education of dislocating Muslim pupils from their cultural heritage. Bhutta claims that state schools promoted entirely materialistic principles, which resulted in their Muslim pupils being 'in a cultural limbo….they are not ours, neither are they theirs'. (, 17/04/2006).

Bhutta's comments were criticised by Glasgow University's Amanullah De Sondy, an adviser on the teaching of Islamic studies within the Scottish curriculum. De Sondy claims that Bhutta's perspective on education 'will make it difficult for (Muslim) kids to face their uniqueness….if we only want to hear things we agree with in school, then is that really education?….I think working with this (state) system will help foster a Scottish Muslim identity far quicker than this other isolationist appreciation of Islam' (, 17/04/2006). In the essay 'Ethnicity, Gender Relations and Multiculturalism', Nira Yuval-Davis also claims that such perspectives bring about 'an inherent assumption that all members of a specific cultural collectivity are equally committed to that culture…(and) tend to construct the members of minority collectives as basically homogeneous, (and) speaking with a unified cultural or racial voice' (Werbner and Modood 1997:200).

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, however disagrees that the influence of religion in multiculturalist theory, has an anti-modernity stance, or that it has failed to challenge inequalities, especially regarding questions of freedom of expression. She points to the 'Satanic Verses' controversy as one that 'more than any other, made white Britons confront the fact that multiculturalism was not merely about happy-clappy festivals and world music…fundamental values were now being contested in a public arena' (Alibhai-Brown 2000:266-7).

Alibhai-Brown points to the long established principle that even in the west 'freedom of expression could not always prevail unquestioningly' and the Rushdie affair had questioned 'lazy beliefs about freedom' (Alibhai-Brown 2000:266-7). The right to 'Freedom of Expression', encapsulated in Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, is not an absolute, but a qualified right limited by legal penalties, one such example being the strict liability offence of Blasphemy.

As shown by the 1979 case of R v Lemon, producing anything related to Christianity that is considered 'contemptuous, reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous' could be grounds for prosecution. Lord Scarman, one of the Law Lords who formed this decision, had advocated its extension to non-Christian religions, as 'in an increasingly plural society….it is necessary not only to respect the differing religious beliefs…but also to protect them from scurrility, vilification, ridicule and contempt' (Barnett 2004:575). This however, failed to materialise in 1991 when an attempted to prosecute Rushdie for blasphemy had failed, as it was not considered applicable to non-Christian faiths.

Alibhai-Brown points out that such protests by the Muslim community were aimed at this very power inequality, rather than attempting to stifle the right to free speech. She points out that 'censorship is something enforced by powerful people and their institutions….the book burning was the complete opposite' (Alibhai-Brown 2000:267). She claims that such protests against the Satanic Verses signified that 'Asian people of faith were no longer just clamouring for access but for influence and power in cultural life and political life' (Alibhai-Brown 2000:267).

Bhikhu Parekh had also highlighted that the Rushdie affair, rather than caused by a multiculturalist outlook, was a situation where multiculturalism had been insufficiently incorporated into British life, particularly with regards to creating a 'multicultural literacy' as 'the debate would have been properly engaged if both parties had been sufficiently bicultural or had made a genuine effort to enter into each other's way of thinking….British society as a whole lost the opportunity to develop a self-understanding adequate to its multicultural character' (Parekh 2000:305).

Parekh points out that both Conservative and Liberal commentators were 'unwilling to appreciate that their deep historical fears about the public role of religion might be unjustified' (Parekh 2000:311), due to an historical memory based on early modern religious conflict. They had assumed that Muslims were opposed to free speech, rather than advocating its exercise with proportionality to the sensitivities of religious communities. Muslims had in turn brought their memories and experiences of racism and colonialism, and saw the Satanic Verses as a form of demonising the Islamic faith, and 'for their part…were unwilling to appreciate that the European Islamaphobia might have lost some of its earlier intensity, that religion must change with the times….and that the refusal to ban a piece of writing did not imply its endorsement' (Parekh 2000:311).

In conclusion therefore, as Tariq Modood points out 'the leading political philosophers of multiculturalism….do not advocate separatism….but for renegotiating the terms of integration'. He equates such an outlook with the example of gay rights campaigners, who were not content with their mere decriminalisation, but also called for public acceptance and equality with heterosexuals. Such an outlook, according to Modood, has similarity with religious minorities who are discontented with the mere toleration and privatisation or of their religion. He further elaborates that 'when subordinate, oppressed or marginal groups claim equality, they are demanding not to be marginal, subordinate or excluded. We too, they are saying, our values, our norms, our voice, should be part of the structuring of the public space' (, 24/04/2006).

The policies of British multiculturalism, however have failed to recognise the important aspect of social integration endorsed by such multiculturalist theorists and consequently also failed in their attempts to prevent social exclusion. The Home Office report into the 2001 riots noted that in executing such multicultural policies 'the development of cross-cultural contact and the promotion of community cohesion, was not valued as an end in itself', and also that 'many communities operate on the basis of a series of parallel lives. These lives often do not touch at any point, let alone overlap and promote any meaningful interchanges' (, 15/04/2006).

In realisation of such failure the UK government has ' in recent years…undergone a quiet revolution in its citizenship policies', claiming a rejection of 'multiculturalism' by introducing such measures as an emphasis on achieving basic knowledge of English language skills, British history and civic life and public citizenship-awarding ceremonies. However, as Nick Pearce points out, these policies 'are familiar to many other Anglo-Saxon democracies (such as Canada or Australia), not least those that proudly describe themselves as multicultural' (, 24/04/2006). Therefore it can be concluded that it has been the particular application of multiculturalism by the British government through its policies that have failed, rather than multiculturalism itself, as a theory.


Kinchloe and Steinberg, Changing Multiculturalism, 1997, Open University Press, Buckingham, Philadelphia

Parekh, Bikhu, Rethinking Multiculturalism, 2000, Palgrave, London

Malik, Kenan, The Meaning of Race: History and Culture in Western Society, 1996, MacMillan, Basingstoke

Alibhai-Brown, Yasmin, Who Do We Think We Are?: Imagining The New Britain, 2000, Penguin, London

Werbner & Modood, Debating Cultural Hybridity - Multi-Cultural Identities and the Politics of Anti-Racism, 1997, Zed Books, London and New Jersey

Billig, Michael, Banal Nationalism, 1995, Sage Publications, London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi
Giddens, Anthony, 1998, The Third Way, Polity Press, Cambridge

Barnett, Hilary, 2004, Constitutional and Administrative Law: Fifth Edition, Cavendish, London
Hesse, Barnor, 2000, Un/settled Multiculturalism, Zed Books, London and New York

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