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CulturePrintCritical dictionary

Multiculturalism

Cláudia Álvares

Multiculturalism is linked to the coexistence of ethnicity-, gender- or religion-based cultural differences. Juridical recognition of equal rights between culturally different citizens is one of the biggest challenges of western democracies in the present. Encouraging public institutions to face each citizen’s identitarian specificity as publicly relevant, multiculturalism is based on the impurity that is intrinsic to any culture, considering the historical experience of constant crossings. This perspective, according to which a Nation-State consists of a product of a common symbolic imagination, appeals to the use of culturally persuasive mediums in order to increase communion bonds between the several social groups.

Keywords: material culture; religion; risk and modernity

Multiculturalism is linked to the coexistence of ethnicity, gender or religion-based cultural differences. Juridical recognition of equal rights between culturally different citizens is one of the biggest challenges of western democracies in the present. The term ‘cosmopolitism’ has been used by Paul Gilroy to describe ‘the processes of cohabitation and interaction inherent to the multiculture of contemporary life’ (2004: xv) in some western metropolitan centres where public institutions are encouraged to consider the identitarian specificity of every citizen as publicly relevant.

 

However, in a post-cold war context where terrorism has become a constant threat, particularly after 9/11, multiculturalism has been increasingly connoted with risk and imminent catastrophe: ‘The failure of multiculturalism is a pre-condition for the triumph of securocracy’ (Gilroy, 2007: 178). This situation carries the risk that ‘comunidades de origem’, once deemed potentially destructive of national collectiveness, may now be seen as a significant source of identities and ways of life. Zygmunt Bauman alerted to that danger as a result of the Nation-State’s incapability to replace individual rights by national interest (1996: 84).

 

The so-called risk society that characterises the present, dominated by insecurity, uncertainty and anxiety as global phenomena may lead to a never-ending quest for the roots or securising symbols in order to face the absence of solid references (Beck, 1992: 49). The fragmentation of a cohesive identity that accounts for the prevailing uncertainty climate is frequently attributed to multiculturalism. Huntington, for instance, holds that the current political order is based on alliances between States that share cultural affinities, thus resulting in a worldwide ‘shock’ between ‘civilisations’: ‘efforts to transfer societies from one civilisation to another are unsuccessful’ (1996: 21).

 

However those who support multiculturalism prefer to stress the fact that all cultures are inherently impure, and lack ‘authenticity’, considering the historical experience of constant crossings (Said, 1994: 59). In this perspective, Nation-States are based on cultural artefacts around which several groups structure a common symbolic imagination (Anderson, 1983). The aim of a successful multiculturalism is to increase the communion bonds that spread horizontally between the several groups in a given State so that they may feel they belong to the same community. Persuasive mediums inherent to everyday life’s material culture may contribute towards the redefinition of the imagined community of the Nation-State.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Anderson, Benedict Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.

 

Bauman, Zygmunt ‘On Communitarians and Human Freedom: Or, How to Square the Circle’, Theory, Culture and Society Vol. 13(2): 79-90. London: Sage, 1996.

 

Beck, Ulrich ‘On the Logic of Wealth Distribution and Risk Distribution’, in Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, translated by Mark Ritter. London: Sage, 1992, pp. 19-50.

 

Huntington, Samuel O Choque das Civilizações e a Mudança na Ordem Mundial, translated by Henrique Ribeiro. Lisboa: Gradiva, 2001 (1996).

 

Gilroy, Paul ‘Cultura e Multicultura na Era de Rendição’, translated by Maria João Cotter, in Emílio Rui Vilar (ed.) O Estado do Mundo. Lisboa: Edições Tinta-da-China, 2007.

 

Gilroy, Paul Postcolonial Melancholia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

 

Said, Edward Culture and Imperialism. London: Vintage, 1994.

 

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