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