Multiculturalism and Ethnic Pluralism in Sociology: An Analysis of the Fragmentation Position Discourse

Article excerpt


The two quotations (above) come from front page articles in the Calgary Sun (summer, 2006) that highlighted sociologist Mahfooz Kanwar's views of official Canadian multiculturalism policy shortly after the arrests in Toronto of eighteen people, including five youths, in an alleged bomb plot. These two newspaper articles subsequently appeared on the web sites of several conservative anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism organizations to give credence to their cause, as many of the public debates about immigration and multiculturalism are entwined. However, it is safe to say that many Canadian sociologists, over the past several decades, have been supportive of cultural and ethnic diversity in Canada and supportive of official multiculturalism policy, as has the general Canadian population. Public opinion polls in recent years have consistently found that the vast majority of Canadians (75%) approve of multiculturalism in Canada. However, there is a growing minority which does not. Thus, one would also expect to find in the academic sociological literature, in Canada and elsewhere, a clear critique of ethnic pluralism or multiculturalism (1) that approximates the views of Kanwar. Earlier work by Roberts and Clifton (1990, 122) stated that multiculturalism is problematic for integration in Canada, although this statement, like others that articulate the same postulation, was not evidence-based.

In the post-9/11 era, public discourse on anti-multiculturalism has grown, largely because it has been fuelled by the Madrid bombings in 2004, the London bombings in the summer of 2005, and in Canada by the alleged terrorist plot in 2006. Similarly, academic sociological discourse that is anti-multiculturalism has also increased since 9/11. This discourse has produced the term "post-multiculturalism" that suggests the need to move beyond current policies of multiculturalism and different approaches to the processes of immigrant and ethnic integration. The term "post--multiculturalism" was popularized in Europe by Vertovec (n.d.), who meant it to be a call for alternatives to multiculturalism that includes a search for new models that foster social cohesion and promote assimilation and a common identity. It would be erroneous to attribute the rise of "post-multiculturalism" discourse specifically to the aforementioned terrorist events, since some post-multiculturalism public discourse had been articulated in the 1990s. Much of the discourse was rooted in a view that multiculturalism was "everywhere" and that there was "too much" of it. This view was particularly evident in the "anti-multiculturalism" and "anti-immigration" movements in Europe. A central aspect of "post-multiculturalism" discourse is based on the perception and claim that multiculturalism is not working, or perhaps has not worked, and is segregating (rather than integrating) diverse "racial," ethnic, and religious groups. In other words, the perception and claim is that multiculturalism policy and the reality of cultural pluralism contribute to a fragmentation of society and make social cohesion difficult if not impossible.

This article provides an overview and analysis of some of this sociological discourse that views multiculturalism as a force of societal fragmentation. It begins with a contextualization of multiculturalism (or ethnic/cultural pluralism) in terms of sociological theory. This allows for different conceptualizations of multiculturalism vis-a-vis the bases of social cohesion. A brief description of the sociological literature search methodology follows, together with the findings of what the sub-themes of the fragmentation perspective are. This is followed, in turn, by a highlighting of the ideas of some of the major sociologists in Canada and Europe who have adopted some form of the fragmentation perspective on multiculturalism over the past three to four decades. These sociologists include John Porter, Reginald Bibby, Michel Wieviorka, Bruno Latour, and Tahir Abbas. …


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