Book Review: The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe: A History

By Anderson, Alan B. | Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Book Review: The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe: A History


Anderson, Alan B., Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE


In the very first page of the Introduction: ' The Multicultural and Multiculturalism', Rita Chin (Associate Professor of History at the University of Michigan) relates the supposed 'failure' of multiculturalism in Europe to the rapid rise of populist political parties strongly opposed to what they consider to be excess immigration. But it soon becomes clear that this book is intended as a history, more than as a contemporary analysis. From the outset the author stresses the difficulty of defining multiculturalism, commenting on historical and definitional ambiguities. It also becomes clear that this book is not actually about Europe in its entirety; rather it represents a limited comparative approach, focusing primarily on Britain, France, and Germany, as well as the Netherlands and occasionally Switzerland. In this introduction ample attention is paid to the initial conceptualization of 'multiculturalism' in the United States, first in 1944, then the term was popularized during the 1960s to describe pluralism and politicization. It seems strange that only brief passing mention is made of Canada, the only country where multiculturalism was made an official national policy (in 1971); there is no reference to or use of the extensive Canadian literature on multiculturalism-the only Canadian source mentioned in a list of 'Suggestions for Further Reading' in the rear of the book is W. Kymlicka's Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights (1966). The author does briefly comment on the rather bewildering range of descriptions of the varieties of multiculturalism, such as 'conservative', 'liberal', 'pluralist', 'critical', 'commercial' or 'corporate', ' strong' and 'weak' multiculturalism, yet does not directly explain the fundamental distinction between multiculturalism as a sociological reality, an ideology, or a policy (although this distinction is later implied). She does respond to a number of critiques of multiculturalism: 'One of the central complaints lodged against multiculturalism is that it fosters superficial paeans to cultural diversity as opposed to inclusive visions for how to manage it...' Multiculturalism, by contrast, 'denotes the strategies and policies adopted to manage and govern the problems of diversity and multiplicity' which characterize multicultural societies. In other words, 'multiculturalism designates a programmatic statement or specific approach for dealing with multicultural societies. As such, it can be articulated in the guise of political philosophy, social ideal, or state policy.' Yet it is not one thing: 'In practice there are innumerable models for managing cultural diversity, and many of them claim the label "multiculturalism". Given the sheer variety of multiculturalisms, it is not especially surprising that the concept has provoked an equally various set of criticisms.' She queries: 'If multiculturalism contains so many meanings- some of them quite contradictory-does it continue to serve any constructive purpose?' Yet she concludes: 'Simply writing off multiculturalism as a "failed" experiment- or a project that has outlived its usefulness - does little to change conditions on the ground.The basic fact of ethnic and cultural diversity in European cities, neighbourhoods, and streets remains' (18-22).

Chapter 1, 'The Birth of Multicultural Europe', describes 'how this diversity developed in Europe in the first place' (23). The author suggests that while it is popular among academics to consider the increase in the ethnic diversity of Europe to have been due to immigration following the Second World War, actually this diversity goes much farther back in history; yet her interest is virtually exclusively post-war. In the section titled 'Empire and Labor', she focusses initially on Britain, starting with the first West Indian immigration in 1948, observing that Britain had been a country of emigration but would now become a country of immigration as it began to inherit imperial immigration (and was not sure what to do about it when imperial migrants could claim to be British subjects-the question soon arose as to how much would be too much). …

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