Comments, In Focus, Migrants, Multiculture

Multiculturalism: present and future

“The economic crisis, austerity and cuts are not factors that favour multicultural policies. In many cases they have strengthened the rejection of multiculturalism under the shadow of Islamophobia”


Claudio Chipana


One of the biggest problems in the debate on multiculturalism is the lack of agreement on the definition of this term. As Gary Younge says “The beauty of multiculturalism, for its opponents, is that it can mean whatever you want it to mean so long as you don’t like it.”

However, as argued by several proposers of multiculturalism, we should distinguish several plans and models. Tariq Moddod distinguishes four modes of integration, multiculturalism being one of them. One also has to differentiate various intensities in multiculturalism:  for instance Rattansi talks about a strong multiculturalism (Australia and Canada), a moderate form (Belgium, UK y others) and a weak form (Austria, Denmark, and Finland).

At the same time, it is necessary not to confuse multiculturalism at an objective or descriptive level, which is the expression of cultural diversity, with the set of state policies in favour of multiculturalism.

Perhaps David Cameron alluded the latter in his criticism of “state multiculturalism” wanting to justify the dissociation of the state with any multicultural obligation.

Modood adds a third sense of multiculturalism that he calls the “ideology” of multiculturalism or multiculturalism as an “idea of nation”.

For him this third definition is important as it allows us to imagine the nation as identity. In the case of Great Britain it allows for the definition of ‘Britishness’.

For Kymlicka, however, in order to counter the model constructed by some critics of multiculturalism who have caricatured it by reducing it to a mere expression of cultural diversity, the crucial thing is to differentiate between multiculturalism as “feel-good and enthusiastic celebration of ethno-cultural diversity” and multiculturalism as a model of citizenship or “citizenization”.

According to Kymlicka, “multiculturalism is first and foremost about developing new models of democratic citizenship, grounded in human-rights ideals, to replace earlier uncivil and undemocratic relations of hierarchy and exclusion.”

With the exception of the Netherlands where there has been a marked decline of multiculturalism in favour to an assimilationist policy, according to the Policiy Migration Institute  the evolution of multiculturalism in the last thirty years in Europe and other countries  that  have embraced multicultural policy to a greater or lesser extent, shows that multiculturalism has not failed and neither has there been a retreat.

Better still, empirical data suggests that there has been moderate progress, however, in the last ten to fifteen years there has been a strengthening of civic integration policies in several countries with the adoption of compulsory citizenship and language and stricter immigration controls.

In other words neither the “backlash” nor the anti-multicultural, anti-immigrant and Islamophobic rhetoric have managed to stall or rule out multiculturalism.

However, the economic crisis, austerity and cuts are not factors that favour multicultural policies. In many cases it has strengthened the rejection of multiculturalism under the shadow of Islamophobia. There a future for multiculturalism? (To be continued)

(Translated by Amanda Flanaghan – – Photos: Pixabay

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