Working Paper

Accommodating Diversity: Why Current Critiques of Multiculturalism Miss the Point

Published 1 January 2007 / By Ellie Vasta

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Some European countries of immigration are currently experiencing a widespread 'moral panic' about immigrants and ethnic and religious diversity. This has led to a questioning of policies that recognize the maintenance of group difference and the formation of ethno-cultural and religious communities. Such approaches, which have variously been labelled 'cultural', 'multicultural', 'diversity' or 'minority' policies, share important common features concerning group recognition and group-based service provision. A backlash has occurred in policy and in public discourse, with migrants being blamed for not meeting their 'responsibility to integrate', hiding behind what are perceived to be 'backward or illiberal cultural practices'. Such a culturalist approach is blamed for placing collective rights in place of individual rights. In this paper, I will argue that such positions are often based on a disregard of racial, gender and class inequalities. I will briefly examine how the state constructs migrants in multiculturalism and secondly, how immigrants and ethnic minorities are positioned in the public discourse. British and Dutch policy changes are briefly examined and compared with the multicultural policies of Canada and Australia. In Europe, in both policy and public discourses, there has been a shift away from multiculturalism to a demand for integration, cohesion and in some cases, assimilationism. I explore the implications of this change and argue that instead of abandoning multiculturalism, we need to expand it.


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