“Multiculturalism tends to preserve a cultural heritage, while interculturalism acknowledges and enables cultures to have currency, to be exchanged, to circulate, to be modified and evolve. Understanding how cultures move around in a society, introduce social changes, and facilitate cultural integration requires an interdisciplinary approach: one that includes the obviously primary concerns of human rights, citizenship, work, education, health and housing, one that also develops inclusive policies and supports the development of creative expression.”

Fiona Sze and Diane Powell (Interculturalism: Exploring Critical Issues, 2004)

“Interculturalism  presents a new set of policies and programmes. It seeks to replace  multiculturalism and provide a new paradigm for thinking about race and diversity. Multiculturalism may have had some success in the past but it has simply not adapted to the new age of globalisation and super diversity. Interculturalism is about changing mindsets by creating new opportunities across cultures to support intercultural activity and it’s about thinking, planning and acting interculturally. Perhaps, more importantly still, it is about envisioning the world as we want it to be, rather than be determined by our and separate past histories.”

Ted Cantle (2012)

Introducing interculturalism

The concept of Interculturalism is not new and can be traced as far back as 1959. It has largely lain dormant however, and there has been little by way of academic development and neither has it been adopted in policy and practice to any great degree. In countries such as Germany, Greece, Russia and Spain, the term has occasionally been employed, (Meer and Modood, 2011) though often in relation to education programmes. It has also been used in French speaking Canada (Bouchard, 2011) but in this context may be seen as a means of distinguishing itself from the more open Canadian multiculturalism – adding to the confusion over an already contested term which is used in many different ways.

There is still no clearly accepted definition of ‘interculturalism’ (nor of ‘multiculturalism’) and whilst there are some broad parameters around the terms, they have often been confused and conflated. Ted Cantle’s new book (Interculturalism – The New Era of Cohesion and Diversity) attempts to create a clear and progressive vision for interculturalism and to set it free from the baggage of multiculturalism

There is a timely and obvious need to develop a progressive re-thinking of multiculturalism. For many reasons, not all of which are fair, the multicultural brand has become toxic and enjoys little by way of popular nor political support. However, it is not just about re-branding. Multicultural policies were developed in the 1960s and while appropriate for that time have failed to adapt to the current period of globalisation and super diversity.

All societies will become more multicultural  – but intercultural policies are the future.

A recent and significant report, commissioned by the Searchlight Educational Trust (SET, 2011) set out to explore the issues of English identity, faith and race. It is one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys to date. It showed how limited the support for multiculturalism is at present. ‘Confident multiculturalists’ were found to be only eight per cent of the population. ‘Mainstream liberals’ made up another 16%. This Report therefore, somewhat alarmingly, suggests that only one quarter of the population are comfortable with our present model of multiculturalism.

It concluded that:
‘there is not a progressive majority in society and it reveals that there is a deep resentment to immigration, as well as scepticism towards multiculturalism. There is a widespread fear of the ‘other’, particularly Muslims, and there is an appetite for a new right-wing political party that has none of the fascist trappings of the British National Party or the violence of the English Defence League.
Matt Goodwin (2011) confirms this rather depressing attitudinal picture, with a review of the opinion polling on migration and race related issues over the last 10 years or so. This indicates that immigration in particular has been a totemic issue for race relations and consistently opposed by around 80% of the population in the UK (and mirrored in many European countries).However, there is some good news as he also shows that presenting race as a biological difference no longer commands popular support and the Far Right are now trying to use other tactics to attract support.

There are of course, great dangers in giving credence to the idea that ‘multiculturalism has failed’, as supporters of this view often – and sometimes wilfully – conflate the idea of the failure of multicultural societies, with the failure of multicultural policies. There are even greater dangers, however, in simply defending the concept of multiculturalism because it is under attack from the Far Right. The concept needs to recognise that society has moved on and to provide a progressive intercultural vision for the new reality. All Western societies will become more mixed as globalisation proceeds. 

Multiculturalism is the past – the future is interculturalism

A shift to interculturalism is not just about re-branding, though frankly it will help the debate, both in popular and political terms.

Interculturalism provides the opportunity to address five significant issues which multiculturalism has simply ignored. These are crucial in the new context of globalisation and super diversity and are set out below:

  • Identity as a dynamic concept
  • From ‘race’ to recognition of all other forms of difference
  • From national to global/international drivers of difference
  • New power and political structures
  • An inter-disciplinary approach


These are discussed in further detail below.

Identity is a dynamic concept. Multiculturalism sees identity as static and fixed within group boundaries. In many cases these have become as ‘essentialist’, based on old ideas about racial difference. They have – possibly inadvertently – promoted separatist notions of superiority, rather than breaking down boundaries and recognising our common humanity. The reality for many people today, however, is that identity is more fluid and even transitory. To a large extent, identity can now be regarded as chosen, rather than given. The growth of mixed race, intermarriage across national, faith and other boundaries now means that there is a lot of support for the notion that ‘You can’t put me in a box’, as Fanshawe and Sriskandarajah explain:

‘In an age of super diversity where people do not identify around single identities and feel conflicted allegiance (if any allegiance at all) to pre-defined groups, activism around particular ‘strands’ seems irrelevant to many people and may not even be that effective in addressing  the true causes of inequality. Even the very categorisations that we rely on (For example, ‘black’, ‘gay’, ‘Asian’ or ‘disabled’) no longer seem to be able to tell us much about who people, what  lives they lead, who they identify with, or what services they need from government and society. And the tick box approach seems to be missing out on growing numbers of people who fall outside or across standard classifications. Yet society seems to treat ethnic identities as if they are clearly bounded, static and meaningful, and public bodies insist on a tick box classification’

(Fanshawe and Sriskandarajah, 2010 p11)

Multicultural theorists have never accepted this perspective and attempted to reinforce past conceptions of identity, supported by systems of over-protective community leaders and single identity funding which have homogenised and hardened in-group boundaries and stereotypes.
From ‘race’ to all other forms of difference. Multiculturalism also revolved solely around race and failed to take account of the other forms of difference that have moved firmly into the public sphere – particularly sexual orientation, gender, faith and disability. This has had profound implications as race has been defined in relation to social class and therefore racism is inextricably bound up with economic issues. This still has some salience, but difference – and the prejudice which it has created – is founded on relational bases too. Identity is now a hybrid concept for many people – particularly younger people and combines faith, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality and other ideas. Hybrid identities are now the new reality for many people.

National to international drivers of difference. Multiculturalists assumed ‘difference’ was driven by the minority-majority relationship within nations. That was true in the 1960s, but globalisation and super diversity has meant that the influence of diasporas, transnational communications, social media and international travel, has created entirely new relationships. ‘Difference’ is no longer determined within national borders. And it is no longer based upon the majority/minority relationship – there are now a multiplicity of tensions within and between minorities. The black-white binary divide is no longer central and should no longer underpin our view of race and racism.

New power and political structures. Globalisation has brought many new international agencies into being. These have responded to a range of issues from international finance, crime, environmental concerns like climate change, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and many more. The European project perhaps stands out most in this regard. However, the process of Western de-industrialisation, the growth of global business and brands and international migration on a new scale, has created a popular sense of powerlessness and alienation. This has also had a profound impact upon the way people see themselves and together with the above, impacts on national identity. The claim of nationalistic identities has inevitably been weakened, both by the growth of regional and separatist appeals as people ‘hunker down’ and by the wider appeal of international interdependence. The SET Report asked people about the ‘most important impact of their identity’ and found that a number of factors now appeared alongside, or instead of ‘nationality’ and this widely varied by ethnicity.

Elsewhere in the Report, the SET quote Castells (1997) and his view that the state has been bypassed by networks of wealth, power and information and lost much of its sovereignty. In later work Castells (2006) draws upon the research of Professor Norris of Harvard University who has analysed the World Values Survey to show that regional and local identities are trumping national loyalties. Professor Norris calculated that for the world as a whole, 13% of respondents primarily considered themselves as “citizens of the world”, 38% put their Nation-State first, and the remainder (i.e. the majority) put local or regional identities first.

None of this should suggest that national identity could or should be downplayed. In fact, there is a great danger in suggesting that the one area of identity that many people feel able to cling to in a time of uncertainty should be wiped away. The reality is however that national and cosmopolitan identities do now need to sit alongside each other – they are not opposed – something that multiculturalism has never acknowledged.

An inter-disciplinary approach is now required to allow multiculturalism to move on from a purely class based structural approach to one where multi-faceted relationships are understood. Already social psychologists are beginning to determine many of the recent developments and in terms of policy and practice this means much more reliance on education programmes, shared spaces and interaction. New and pervasive experiential learning opportunities need to be created to combat insular communities and extremist views.
Past attempts at tackling racism and resolving inter-ethnic divisions have depended upon legislation and punitive measures to control behaviours. That will undoubtedly have to continue but now needs to be supplemented by measures which address how and why and how such attitudes are formed in the first instance.
In an era of globalisation and super diversity, relational issues have become much more important than structural divisions, simply because there are now many more cross cultural and multi-faceted inter relationships which arise within and between communities on an everyday basis.
Again, multiculturalists have insisted that ‘difference’ revolves around structural divisions and see ‘relational’ concerns as a smokescreen designed to hide more fundamental problems. In fact, most of the principal multicultural texts fail to even consider the contribution of social psychology, they hardly mention contact theory, or any concept of in-group and out-group divisions. It would therefore appear that social psychologists and sociologists have been living in ‘parallel lives’.

The attempted shoring up of multiculturalism

The writing on the wall for multiculturalism has been recognised. Meer and Modood (2011) in particular try to position interculturalism as merely complementary to multiculturalism’ and hope that this will shore up support for the ailing multicultural model. In doing so, they rightly suggest that interculturalism is:

first, as something greater than coexistence, in that interculturalism is allegedly more geared toward interaction and dialogue than multiculturalism. Second, that interculturalism is conceived as something less ‘groupist’ or more yielding of synthesis than multiculturalism. Third, that interculturalism is something more committed to a stronger sense of the whole, in terms of such things as societal cohesion and national citizenship. Finally, that where multiculturalism may be illiberal and relativistic, interculturalism is more likely to lead to criticism of illiberal cultural practices (as part of the process of intercultural dialogue).
(Meer and Modood, 2011)

However, they then attempt to argue that these features were ‘foundational’ elements of multiculturalism all along. This argument cannot be sustained and whilst the original UK race relations legislation form 1968 did create a duty to ‘promote good race relations’ this was never translated into any meaningful programme of activity (Cantle, 2008). Further, when community cohesion emerged in 2001 with many new inter-relational programmes being introduced for the first time, the whole concept of community cohesion was attacked by avowed multiculturalists as an illiberal and politically motivated attack on established race relations policies (Cantle, 2012).

The key similarities and differences between multiculturalism and interculturalism has been summarised by Cantle (2016) and is set out in this table Inter Multi Similarities and Differences Cantle 2016

What difference will it make in practice?

Branding is important. We need to be able to talk about race and diversity in a new way. This in itself will be a major step forward and people may begin to feel that ‘political correctness’ is no longer the dominant ethos and that ethnic, faith and other differences are less important than the common interests of all humankind.  Interculturalism is also associated with more positive language of ‘inter-dependency’, ‘integration’ and ‘internationalism’. It represents a break with the past.

It also represents a break with the tired old identity politics which younger people are already rejecting – the huge growth in mixed race/dual heritage relationships is testimony to this. There is a well of untapped desire to dispense with past language and fears about difference and to recognise that the world is made up of just one human race. Younger people – particularly those that have grown up in diverse areas – reject old ideas about difference and are beginning to endorse this intercultural view of the world.

Interculturalism means:

– Abandoning the old politics of identity and rather than constantly flagging difference, we need to value what we have in common. We should be proud of our particular identity or identities, but also need an additional cosmopolitan form which we can share. This will mean re-designing the outmoded ‘tick box’ classification system of identity.

– Providing intercultural education to give people the competence and confidence to relate to people who are different to themselves and to see others as an opportunity to learn, rather than as a threat.

– Valuing people of mixed race, faith and nationality on an equal basis to those who claim a single or pure identity.

– In a society which has many faiths and large numbers of people with no faith, we should value the faith contributions, but if faith is in the public sphere faith communities must expect their views to be contested too. Faith organisations should not expect privileged financial support, nor special representation through faith leaders. And they should not expect to have special funding or state aid for the services that they provide. We need secular governance rather than secular societies.

– Leadership and vision is needed to give effect to interculturalism. Too many political leaders – at a national and local level – rely on identity politics and promote fear of other nationalities, faiths and backgrounds to engender the loyalty of their own constituency or interest. This sadly, includes some faith leaders who nevertheless preach goodwill to all men. We need a new vision of a future society in which people mix and collaborate. This may develop from present political structures but seems just as likely to emerge from younger people, perhaps using social media to connect across old boundaries and to forge new international and intercultural relationships.

– Part of the vision must be for mixed communities, in which people are able to live within shared spaces – schools, communities and workplaces. This does not mean creating ‘melting pots’ where groups lose their heritage, but rather dispensing with segregated environments, that are totally impermeable by outsiders and in which communities live in fear of others. This can only succeed where there is at least a semblance of equality and people believe that they are being treated fairly.


Previous debates have focussed on the pros and cons of multiculturalism. This is not a productive debate and has generally been brought back to past policies, such as the alleged ‘banning of Christmas’ or insistence on ‘political correctness’. Extremists go still further and try to garner support on the basis that we can somehow turn the clock back to the 1950s and pretend that globalisation has not happened. If they could, they would disinvent the aeroplane and satellite communications. Interculturalism is, by contrast, a future orientated debate. It will be challenging, but it will create a fairer society and a modern conception of difference in which we ‘learn to live together’.

“To address … monoculturalism, I suggest it is important to view intercultural exchanges as periods of revolutions.  Like in periods of scientific revolutions, intercultural exchanges involve a change of world view, a change of meaning and a change of the repertoire of questions.  Intercultural exchanges cannot be properly conceived as an accumulation of past cultural experiences but the hybrids must be regarded as new entities”

Lau Chek Wei (The Ownership of Cultural Hybids, 2003)

For more discussion of interculturalism see

Interculturalism: for the era of cohesion and diversity, by Ted Cantle. Published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2012

Recent developments in interculturalism

The Foresight Report

The Government has very recently acknowledged the huge change in people’s identities that is taking place with the publication of an excellent Report:  Foresight Future Identities (2013) Report by the Government Office for Science.

This confirms that:

‘Identity in the UK is changing. Over the next 10 years, people’s identities are likely to be significantly affected by several important drivers of change, in particular the rapid pace of developments in technology. The emergence of hyper-connectivity (where people can now be constantly connected online), the spread of social media, and the increase in online personal information, are key factors which will interact to influence identities. These developments need to be set within a wider context of demographic change: the shift of the large post-war generation into retirement, and the coming into adulthood of young people who have been immersed since birth in a digital environment. The increasing diversity of the UK’s population means that dual ethnic and national identities will continue to become more common, while the gradual trend towards a more secular society appears likely to continue over the next decade. A key message for policy makers is that identities can be a positive resource for social change, building social capital, and promoting wellbeing, but they can also have a role in social unrest and antisocial behaviour.’

But like the previous Government, seems very reluctant to consider the policy impacts let alone implement any change.

The Undivided Past, by David Cannadine

David Cannadine’s book The Undivided Past: History Beyond Our Difference makes a great contribution to the development of interculturalism. It was published in March 2013.

His thesis is that history creates a ‘them and us’ view of the world and that the static forms of identity like race, faith and civilization have entrapped us with fatal consequences. It has profound consequences for the way in which history is understood and taught.

Cannadine is offering a new and radical perspective. The New Statesman’s review (March 2013) saw Cannadine as ‘a dreamer’, because of his impassioned plea for us to promote a common humanity.  But his evidence is hard to deny – and we do need to recognize that multiculturalism has dramatized difference .

Three Strands of Interculturalism are Proposed

The academic and conceptual support for interculturalism is expanding and developing and has already created an alternative progressive perspective to that of multiculturalism. In this new academic paper (see below), Professor Ricard Zapata Barrero (Zapata-Barrero, 2013; Departament de Ciències Polítiques i Socials, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, www.upf.edu/gritim ) reviews Gerard Bouchard’s L’interculturalisme: un point de vue quebecois, and Ted Cantle’s Interculturalism: The New Era of Cohesion and Diversity.

Professor Zapata-Barrero distinguishes Bouchard’s  ‘contractual’ strand and Cantle’s ‘cohesion’ strand and suggests that interculturalism should also see diversity as a resource of innovation and creativity, and so can drive individual and social development under a ‘constructivist’ strand. These three strands are put forward as a comprehensive model and policy managers are challenged  to achieve a balance between these  policy drivers.

Zapata-Barrero, R. (2013) The three strands of intercultural policies a comprehensive view. GRITim Working Paper Series No.17, Summer 2013. (Barcelona Universitat Pompeu Fabra)

Interculturalism moves forward – with the support of the Council of Europe

This new book examines Interculturalism and multiculturalism: similarities and differences

Ted Cantle’s chapter sets out the strong case for interculturalism – supported by some other great contributions on language, intercultural competence, educational challenges, concepts and controversies and more

Published December 2013 by the Council of Europe; paper back 188 pages

Order Online at: https://book.coe.int/eur/en/cultural-policies/5790-interculturalism-and-multiculturalism-similarities-and-differences.html

(And Interculturalism gains support with a series of new publications – see ‘References’ below)

The New Work of Contact Theorists Adds Further Support to Interculturalism

Contact theory is not new and was developed more than 60 years ago by Allport’s The Nature of Prejudice (1954). But its lessons were almost completely ignored by multiculturalists who failed to draw upon any element of social psychology to any significant extent. However, interaction between individuals and communities can clearly be shown to impact on the way that people see others who are different from themselves.

A meta-analysis by  Pettigrew and Tropp of contact theory in 2006 puts the beneficial impacts beyond doubt.

This short guide to Intergroup contact theory as explained by Everett, J (2013) is helpful in setting out the conceptual background.

Miles Hewstone from Oxford University has been prolific in the production of research evidence on contact theory, demonstrating the results of intervention in segregated and monocultural environments. However, his work (with others) goes further. This pan-European and large scale study shows how the contextual effect on diverse and mixed communities positively impacts on the way that people think about diversity and difference and states:

‘these findings reinforce the view that contact has a significant role to play in prejudice reduction, and has great policy potential as a means to improve intergroup relations, because it can simultaneously impact large numbers of people’

Intercultural Skills in the Workplace

The British Council has produced a report which sets out the value of  intercultural skills in the workplace  (British Council, 2015). This has been a neglected area and perhaps has become more salient because of the failure of schools and colleges to develop the intercultural skills of their students. Employers are gradually realising that this is a gap that they must begin to fill for themselves. The British Council concludes:  “the research shows that there is real business value in employing staff who have the ability to work effectively with individuals and organisations from cultural backgrounds different from their own.  In particular, employers highlight the following as important intercultural skills:  the ability to understand different cultural contexts and viewpoints; demonstrating respect for others and;  knowledge of a foreign language.

The Importance of Place

There have been relatively few publications on the importance of physical place and in particular, how to design and shape areas in a way which encourages people from different backgrounds to interact. Noha Nasser’s book Bridging Cultures: the guide to social innovation in cosmopolitan cities http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bridging-Cultures-Social-Innovation-Cosmopolitan/dp/1517157188 is therefore an important and welcome contribution to interculturalism

Connections for Interculturalism

LABBRI (Montreal) – The Intercultural Relations Research Laboratory of the University of Montreal is a place of research, teaching and development of expertise in intercultural relations

Intercultural Cities interculturalcities/home supports cities in reviewing their policies through an intercultural lens and developing comprehensive intercultural strategies to help them manage diversity positively and realise the diversity advantage


(some of these publications are available from our publications page)

Barrett M., Editor (2013) Interculturalism and Multiculturalism: Similarities and Differences (Strasbourg: Council of Europe)

Cantle T., (2008) Community Cohesion:  A New Framework for Race and Diversity. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).

Cantle, T., (2012) Interculturalism: for the era of cohesion and diversity (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

Cantle T., (2012a) Interculturalism – a rejoinder to Modood and Meer Political Insight Dec 2012 (Cantle 2012a)

Cantle, T., (2013) ‘Interculturalism as a new narrative for the era of globalisation and super-diversity’in  Interculturalism and multiculturalism: similarities and differences. Council of Europe 2013.

Cantle, T., (2014) ‘National Identity, Plurality and Interculturalism’ in Political Quarterly Vol. 85 No.3 July – September 2014

Cantle T., (2015) ‘Implementing Intercultural Policies’ in Interculturalism in Cities  Edited by Ricard Zapata Barrero. Elgar Publishing

Cantle T., (2016) ‘The Case for Interculturalism and Plurality’ in Multiculturalism and Interculturalism Debating the Dividing LinesEdited by Meer, Modood and Zapata. EUP

Cannadine, D., (2013) Our Undivided Past: History Beyond Our Differences (London: Allen Lane)

Castells, M. (1997) The Power of Identity: The Information Age, Economy, Society and Culture.  Revised Edition 2010 (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell)

Castells, M (2006) ‘Globalisation and Identity: A Comparative Perspective’ in Transfer, Journal of Contemporary Culture 01 Nov.2006 (Barcelona: VEGAP)

Fanshawe, S., and Sriskandarajah, D., (2010) You Can’t Put me in a Box: Super Diversity and the End of Identity Politics (London: Institute for Public Policy Research)

Goodwin, M., (2011) New British Fascism – The Rise of the British National Party (London: Routledge)

Meer, N. and  Modood, T. (2011) ‘How does Interculturalism Contrast with Multiculturalism?’ Journal of Intercultural Studies 2011, 1. 22. For the rejoinder  to this article  – see above (Cantle, 2012a)

Searchlight Educational Trust (SET)  (2011).  Fear and Hope Project Report.  (London: SET)

Zapata-Barrero, R. (2013) The three strands of intercultural policies: a comprehensive view. GRITim Working Paper Series No.17, Summer 2013. (Barcelona: Universitat Pompeu Fabra)

Zapata-Barrero, R. Editor (2015)  Interculturalism in Cities Elgar Publishing