Multiculturalism without Culture

By Anne Phillips | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Multiculturalism without Groups?

THE MAIN BURDEN of Madhavi Sunder's argument is that when the courts get into the business of legitimating and confirming cultural associations, they thereby freeze cultures and make them less available to internal reform. “However difficult, cultural boundaries are scalable; legal boundaries are much less so.”1 I take it that she would extend this warning also to government initiatives that codify or in some way institutionalise cultural groups, and I am very much with her on this point. But it is not always easy to distinguish between acknowledging the rights of the individual—who seems, from the discussion in chapter 5, to value her cultural heritage, and be willing to do battle with others over the meanings and definitions of her culture—and acknowledging the authority of the group. After all, this was where much of the recent literature on multiculturalism or minority rights began: with the idea that acknowledging the rights and autonomy of the individual might mean acknowledging and legitimating the authority of the cultural group. In this chapter, I offer some final clarification on my own position regarding the relationship between the individual and the group, and indicate some remaining and unresolved issues.

My starting point is the distinction between regulation, exit, and dialogue, which I take as the three most common approaches to contested matters of cultural diversity in the practices of contemporary states. As we have seen, governments will sometimes regulate, perhaps by reference to a schedule of basic human rights that is considered the necessary minimum for all. This approach (some elements of which are endorsed in this book, but much of which is at odds with my position) is the least shaped by multicultural considerations. It is relatively unconvinced by the epistemological or normative problems associated with cultural difference, and asserts, without incurring too much self-doubt, that particular principles of behaviour are right. The subsequent implementation of these principles may be more or less vigorous, for even in cases where a contested practice is criminalised (this would be the strictest kind of regulation), public officials might still consider it undesirable to intervene in a heavy-handed manner against specific groups because of the risk of contributing to a

1 Madhavi Sunder, “Cultural Dissent,” Stanford Law Review 545 (December 2001): 503.

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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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