Multiculturalism without Culture

Multiculturalism without Culture

Multiculturalism without Culture

Multiculturalism without Culture

Synopsis

Public opinion in recent years has soured on multiculturalism, due in large part to fears of radical Islam. InMulticulturalism without Culture, Anne Phillips contends that critics misrepresent culture as the explanation of everything individuals from minority and non-Western groups do. She puts forward a defense of multiculturalism that dispenses with notions of culture, instead placing individuals themselves at its core. Multiculturalism has been blamed for encouraging the oppression of women--forced marriages, female genital cutting, school girls wearing the hijab. Many critics opportunistically deploy gender equality to justify the retreat from multiculturalism, hijacking the equality agenda to perpetuate cultural stereotypes. Phillips informs her argument with the feminist insistence on recognizing women as agents, and defends her position using an unusually broad range of literature, including political theory, philosophy, feminist theory, law, and anthropology. She argues that critics and proponents alike exaggerate the unity, distinctness, and intractability of cultures, thereby encouraging a perception of men and women as dupes constrained by cultural dictates. Opponents of multiculturalism may think the argument against accommodating cultural difference is over and won, but they are wrong. Phillips believes multiculturalism still has an important role to play in achieving greater social equality. In this book, she offers a new way of addressing dilemmas of justice and equality in multiethnic, multicultural societies, intervening at this critical moment when so many Western countries are poised to abandon multiculturalism.

Excerpt

This book arose out of two preoccupations. The first was my feeling that feminism was becoming prone to paralysis by cultural difference, with anxieties about cultural imperialism engendering a kind of relativism that made it difficult to represent any belief or practice as oppressive to women or at odds with gender equality. The feeling became especially acute after Susan Moller Okin published her essays on the tension between feminism and multiculturalism, including an abbreviated version, under the title she later regretted, “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?” One might have thought Okin's contentions would be rapidly incorporated into the common sense of feminism; indeed, Katha Pollittt commented that “coming in late to this debate, I have to say I've had a hard time understanding how anyone could find these arguments controversial.” Okin noted that most cultures are suffused with gendered practices and ideologies that disadvantage women relative to men. For a feminist, this is not an especially controversial claim. She asserted that while most cultures are patriarchal, some are more so than others, and that cultural minorities claiming group rights or multicultural accommodation are often more patriarchal in their practices than the surrounding cultures. It would be easy to get into arguments about how to define patriarchy and whether it remains a useful term; but again, it seems uncontroversial to say that some practices are better for women than others, and hard to see why all cultures would turn out to be equally good or bad on the woman question. Nor is it hugely contentious to suggest (as Okin did) that a practice like polygamy is less popular among women than men, or to point out that it is no longer regarded as an acceptable form of marriage in legal systems across Europe and North America. Okin also maintained that when claims are made on behalf of cultures, they should be carefully interrogated to see who is going to benefit, and that the “requirements”

Susan Moller Okin, “Feminism and Multiculturalism: Some Tensions,” Ethics 108
(1998): of 661–84; Susan Moller Okin, “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?” in Is Multi
culturalism Bad for Women?
ed. Joshua Cohen, Matthew Howard, and Martha C. Nuss
baum (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999); Susan Moller Okin, “ 'Mistresses
of Their Own Destiny': Group Rights, Gender, and Realistic Rights of Exit,” Ethics 112
(January 2002): 205–30.

Katha Pollitt, “Whose Culture?” in Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? ed. Joshua
Cohen, Matthew Howard, and Martha C. Nussbaum (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1999), 27.

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