Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Discontinuities of Multiculturalism

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Discontinuities of Multiculturalism

Article excerpt


Lauded as a successful federal policy, multiculturalism is both simple in its public appeal and complex in its personal meanings for people. Liberal humanists celebrate a multiculturalism premised upon equality and respect for difference. Missing from such debates are illustrations of the tension between abstract vision and the subjective experience of multiculturalism. This essay substantiates this discontinuity through the presentation of excerpts from twenty-four interviews with monocultural parents about their responses to the "sudden multiculturalism" of their neighbourhood public school. The personal experience of many parents arouses some concern about the project of multiculturalism when it transcends abstract discourse to become a dynamic of everyday life.

Reconnu comme une politique federale fructueuse, le multiculturalisme est a la fois simple dans son volet public et complexe quand on songe au sens qu'il prend pour chaque citoyen. Les humanistes liberaux font valoir un multiculturalisme fonde sur l'egalite et le respect des differences. Or, ces debats font abstraction des diverses tensions qui existent entre la vision abstraite du multiculturalisme et son experience subjective. Le present essai met en lumiere cette discontinuite en presentant des extraits de 24 entrevues realisees aupres de parents monoculturels concernant leurs reactions au << multiculturalisme soudain >> de l'ecole publique de leur quartier. L'experience personnelle de nombreux parents souleve certaines preoccupations quant au projet de multiculturalisme lorsqu'il transcende le discours abstrait pour prendre forme dans la vie de tous les jours.


Although meanings of multiculturalism are clearly multiple, there can be a wide gap between its articulation by intellectuals and its everyday experience in subjective experience for both dominant and subordinate groups. Liberal-humanist definitions of multiculturalism propel a vision of successful integration of ethnocultural groups. This diverges from a multiculturalism manifest in everyday social relationships forged in neighbourhoods and workplaces. The discourse of successful integration of groups, of equality, and of respect for difference is abstract from experience. It conflicts with subjectivities developed in neighbourhoods like the one I visited and will describe in this article. It also conflicts with recent opinion polis on multiculturalism and discrimination as well as research on income patterns and underemployment of immigrants, also described later. These moments in multiculturalism are overlooked in its liberal-humanist form. This article explores these various claims and focusses on some interview data culled from my research. I intend to demonstrate that the apolitical nature of liberal-humanist versions of multiculturalism reflects a popular yet fragmentary response to the demands of diverse groups. Its neglect of power relations together with its denial of the ambiguity of "community" for social actors means that the multiculturalism represented by liberal humanism is simply not up to explaining the complexity of multiculturalism as it is experienced by those social actors.


   This presumption [that we owe equal respect to all cultures] would
   help explain why the demands of multiculturalism build on the
   already established principles of the politics of equal respect. If
   withholding the presumption is tantamount to a denial of equality,
   and if important consequences flow for people's identity from
   the absence of recognition, then a case can be made for insisting
   on the universalization of the presumption as a logical extension
   of the politics of dignity. (Taylor 1994, 68)

In his celebrated essay "The Politics of Recognition," Charles Taylor (1994) articulates the ideal foundations of multiculturalism from a liberal-humanist perspective. …

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