Multiculturalism without Culture

By Anne Phillips | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Autonomy, Coercion, and Constraint

THE LITERATURE ON CULTURAL DEFENCE refers primarily to criminal cases, the central question being whether multiculturalism requires courts to assess defendants' actions differently depending on their cultural background. Though the immediate issue is whether culture becomes an excuse for violence against women, I have argued that there are equally pressing concerns around the use of cultural stereotypes and the tendency to misrepresent minority defendants as less than autonomous beings. I turn here to what could be described as the civil counterpart. Arguments both for and against policies of multicultural accommodation often turn out to depend on representing individuals from minority cultural groups as lacking in autonomy, or at least as lacking in the kind of autonomy that has come to be regarded as normal among individuals from majority cultural groups. For example, one common argument for multicultural accommodation rests on the notion that membership in a cultural or religious group is involuntary, and yet significantly curtails an individual's room to manoeuvre. This being so, it is claimed, it is discriminatory to require members of minority groups to abide by rules and regulations that were dreamt up with members of the majority group in mind: to require Sikhs as well as non-Sikhs to wear crash helmets when riding a bike; to tell Sikhs, Jews, and Muslims (as well as Christians, agnostics, and atheists) that they must remove their head coverings in a courtroom; or to tell Muslim schoolgirls that it is not school practice to wear a headscarf in class. These arguments generally turn on people being less able to comply because of their membership in a particular cultural or religious group. They therefore turn on people being constrained by their culture.

A similar presumption often appears in arguments against multicultural accommodation. For example, when politicians announce that banning the hijab in schools will help Muslim schoolgirls because it will protect them from the undue pressures of their religion and culture, they also treat culture as something that incapacitates people, something that makes it difficult, even impossible, for individuals to act in a different way. This approach to culture encourages one particularly pernicious policy development: the imposition of blanket prohibitions on practices like covering one's head in school or marrying an overseas spouse. It is sometimes offered as a partial justification of these prohibitions that the bans will pro

-100-

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Multiculturalism without Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iv
  • Contents viii
  • Acknowledgments x
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - Multiculturalism Without Culture 11
  • Chapter Two - Between Culture and Cosmos 42
  • Chapter Three - What's Wrong with Cultural Defence? 73
  • Chapter Four - Autonomy, Coercion, and Constraint 100
  • Chapter Five - Exit and Voice 133
  • Chapter Six - Multiculturalism Without Groups? 158
  • Bibliography 181
  • Index 191
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