Pluralism and the Politics of Difference: State, Culture, and Ethnicity in Comparative Perspective

Pluralism and the Politics of Difference: State, Culture, and Ethnicity in Comparative Perspective

Pluralism and the Politics of Difference: State, Culture, and Ethnicity in Comparative Perspective

Pluralism and the Politics of Difference: State, Culture, and Ethnicity in Comparative Perspective

Synopsis

Is a plural, polyethnic, democratic society possible? Starting with Ernest Gellner's observation that `culturally plural societies worked well in the past', but `genuine cultural pluralism ceases to be viable under current conditions', this study explores pluralism in three settings; early states, modern industrial societies, and the contemporary `postmodern' world. Through a nuanced discussion ranging from pre-colonial Africa and Mesoamerica, to European and American experiences in the twentieth century, Grillo explores the ways in which different social and political forms cope with ethnic and cultural diversity. The study uncovers a range of different kinds of pluralism, from out-and-out separatism, through varieties of multiculturalism, to looser forms of `hybridity'. Rather than advocating one configuration over another, this important new book outlines the range of choices facing our societies as, moving into the twenty-first century, we try to reconcile the competing demands of universalism and difference.

Excerpt

As a teaching and researching anthropologist I have always worked where ethnic and racial difference has been of transparent importance. Like others who have attempted to understand it, I continually find 'ethnicity' a deeply puzzling phenomenon. This book is not, however, especially to do with ethnicity, whatever is meant by that vague but indispensable term. Instead it concentrates on another, albeit wide-ranging, issue: how do politics and political processes, working through the authoritative institutions of society (that is the state) shape and reproduce 'difference'? It is thus about pluralism, and the politicization of culture (in the anthropologists' sense) in societies where there coexist peoples who with varying degrees of consciousness, and with varying consequence, believe they are 'different' from each other in their way of life, lifestyle, language, religion, and historic identity.

This study builds on previous work on ethnic relations in France, and on linguistic pluralism in France and Britain (Grillo 1985, 1989), and I acknowledge the support of the University of Sussex, which allowed me sabbatical leave during 1993-4 to complete the first draft. I would also like to thank Oxford University Press's three anonymous readers for their detailed and constructive criticisms of the manuscript. Over many years I benefited from the encouragement, wisdom, and advice of Prof. A. L. Epstein. Frequent conversations with Dr Saul Dubow, an historian, and Dr Jeff Pratt, an anthropologist, have allowed me to try out ideas, and learn from their considerable expertise. Prof. Richard Burton's vast knowledge of France and French colonialism, and his formidable understanding of the literature on race, have influenced my thinking about the issues with which I have tried to deal. Sussex students, including those taking graduate courses in Social Anthropology and the MA in Culture, Race and Difference, have provided considerable stimulus, and supervising the research of Bruno Riccio and Ruba Salih has been a privilege and intellectual spur.

September 1997 R. G.

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