I recently gave an interview for the Open University course on ‘Why is religion controversial?’. The interview is actually not about religion but about multiculturalism. It is somewhat oddly edited in places (a number of times, for instance, part of the answer to one question interpolated into the answer to another in a way that seems confusing), but still, I hope, it makes sense. Here anyway is the interview.

Check out also my Milton K Wong lecture that I gave in Vancouver last year and that probably best expresses my critique of multiculturalism. There is an audio of the CBC broadcast, and a transcript in two parts, here and here. Other discussions of multiculturalism include ‘Conflicting credos but the same vision of the world‘, From streetfighters to book burnersHow to make a riotMaking a difference: Culture, race and social policyMulticulturalism at its limits?, A Merkel attack on multiculturalism, How to become a real Muslim, Shadow boxing, Shadow of the fatwa and Offending the audience.


The image is of the painting ‘Multicultural’ by the American artist Robert Daniels whose work can be found on Fine Art America.

One comment

  1. Aloevera

    I am an American woman writing in (for the first time) from America–I am a frequent reader of your blog which I find very interesting and stimulating.

    I do agree with your assessment about multiculturalism–but I wonder if the problem of multiculturalism is not bigger than its particular manifestation and development in the UK–and therefore, harder to move beyond.

    Multiculturalism has now become a standard feature of being politically and morally correct for adherents of the left-side of the traditional political spectrum (such as myself) –internationally.

    I understand being “on the left” to mean promoting equality of (1)-some thing, in (2)-some way, and to (3)-some degree–and (4)-appealing to some idea of universalism as a kind of master ethos. The various philosophies on the left side of the political spectrum have traditionally differed from one another with respect to their approach to (2), (3) and (4). However–with respect to (1), there had always been singular agreement until around the 1960’s. From the time of the French Revolution until the 1960’s, the “thing” to be equalized, no matter where one was positioned on the left, was the “economic situation” of society. In the 1960’s that “thing” was replaced by “identity”–or, as it is put in philosophical circles–the replacement of “redistribution” by “recognition” (and the “naturalness” or “justice” or “rightness” of cultural group identity alongside individual identity).

    You are, perhaps, aware of the various political philosophical discussions that have taken place over the past several decades among such writers as Charles Taylor, Will Kymlicka, Nancy Fraser, or Axel Honneth–and of attempts to remedy the dilemmas thrown up by multiculturalism by way of a turn to “cosmopolitanism” as variously promoted by Kwame Anthony Appiah or Seyla Ben Habib. (Sorry to fly by all these names so quickly without giving any details in case it is not clear what I am referring to–but I don’t want to turn this post into a dissertation).

    Informally, in my own social sphere, I have tried to argue with friends that we need to return to a policy of “redistribution” rather than “recognition” in any of our governmental programs directed at disadvantaged sectors of the US population. I have argued that such a policy would still pick-up impoverished “people of color” such as African-Americans, but would also include impoverished whites of the sort that end up in the army as foot soldiers without very responsible mentoring (as the sorry story of Abu Ghraib illustrated) and from whose circles many of our theater, shopping mall and post-office mass shooters come from. But my friends will have none of it–because my suggestion is viewed as an attack on the current affirmative action program–and therefore, as “racist”. Being racist is not my intention at all–I am an “inclusivist”–I just think we need to go about it in another way–but so far, no luck.

    My point is: that in any attempts to move beyond the difficulties connected to multiculturalism which you have discussed in the British context; you (we) also have to do philosophical combat internationally, where the idea remains very entrenched along with (at least in the US) a large multicultural industry in schools and workplaces. The supposed antidote looming on the horizon (cosmopolitanism) is still rather tenuously conceived and practiced. It may be that there is no way to engineer a move beyond multiculturalism–the only possibility is that as society (may) become more cosmopolitan (gratis the internet, migrations and other new developments), the new social connections forged will create a reality that will render the present conception and practices of multiculturalism obsolete.

    (Sorry if this post is too long for any reader’s comfort).

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