Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The Possibilities of Tolerance: Intercultural Dialogue in a Multicultural Europe

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The Possibilities of Tolerance: Intercultural Dialogue in a Multicultural Europe

Article excerpt

Abstract. Tolerance is everywhere. The Council of Europe endeavours to build it, schools are required to teach it, and neighbours are asked to extend it. It features in citizenship ceremonies, city-marketing campaigns, and religious texts and is attached to a variety of different objects, people, and behaviours. Yet despite its ubiquitous circulation as a moral good, critiques of tolerance as a way of relating have called for its rejection in favour of alternative projects such as respect and equality. In this paper I contextualise recent critiques and ask what possibilities remain for a politics of tolerance in multicultural Europe. In so doing, I argue that critiques are insufficiently attuned to the different contexts in which tolerance becomes productive and offer a starting point for further empirical research on its embodied practice. Using an example of dialogue, I argue that tolerance can be intrinsic to the development of alternative relations when positioned as part of an ongoing struggle to multiply ways of thinking and acting. I finish by reflecting on the relationship between tolerance, agonism, and dialogue, to outline a more pragmatic politics of difference, arguing that it is not enough to call for alternative projects without attending to the difficult and incremental learning that such projects demand.

Keywords: tolerance, multiculturalism, conflict, dialogue, Europe, diversity

1 Introduction

In 2012, during a workshop on the future of multicultural societies in Europe, a question was raised about the role of tolerance (Garner and Kavak, 2012). The response was clear and well received: tolerance has no place in a contemporary politics of multiculturalism. Following a firm reminder of its entanglement with disdain, contempt, and hierarchical conceptions of belonging, the panel put respect, equality, and justice forward as its clear and necessary alternatives.

Such demands for alternative projects are, of course, nothing new (Brown, 2006; Schirmer et al, 2012). Recent years have seen a substantial volume of work critique, and in some cases even denounce, tolerance as a desirable way of responding to difference. Yet, whilst the critiques are well founded, it is worthwhile pausing to ask how societies can achieve such alternatives in the absence of tolerance. How, for instance, does a society that is characterised by ethnic conflict move to respect? How do societies divided by fear move to acceptance? In such an outright rejection of tolerance, there is, as I will argue, a lack of account given to the difficult process that is needed to get to a point where such projects might be possible. This is not to say that we should overlook the negative undercurrents of tolerance or the relations of asymmetry that it might promote, nor is it to shy away from the more challenging projects of respect or equality that were called for by the panel. Instead, it is to recognise that tolerance can play a significant role in the realisation of such projects when it is positioned as part of a much wider telos of ethico-political practice--rather than as a political end. Such a positioning would recognise the sometimes difficult realities of lived multiculture more fully--the pragmatics of everyday life and encounter and the varied contexts in which difference comes to matter. It would also recognise the spatiotemporalities of tolerance as a practice and process rather than as an abstracted concept and value, which, as I will suggest, is crucial to qualifying some of the recent critiques of its politics.

Through a critical interrogation of tolerance as both a practice and a politics, this paper contributes to recent debates on the social sustainability of contemporary Europe (Amin, 2012), alongside work concerned with the development of intercultural competencies and the facilitation of behaviour change. Reflecting on work with a nonprofit leadership training organisation concerned with dialogue and conflict transformation, it demonstrates how tolerance can be valuable to ongoing efforts to multiply ways of thinking, acting, and belonging. …

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