How to convince conservative locals to accept multiculturalism?

Valerie Cheong Took summarises our 2016 April event

Valerie Cheong Took

The constant inflow of refugees into Europe has created a huge debate amongst European political leaders.  It is also one of the main reasons why UK is looking to exit the European Union. Gaining back control of its borders, a number of British political leaders hope that this will be the solution to a number of issues including the use of its infrastructure such as the NHS, Education currently under pressure due to a large increase in local demand.

Dr Katharina Lefringhausen has recently finished a PhD in Cross-Cultural Psychology and her thesis focused on how to convince the citizens of the host country to be more accepting of multiculturalism.
The recent debate in the UK has highlighted the fact that many people are not in favour of the free movement of people within the European Union because of the negative perception of multiculturalism.

Previous research has shown that communities or people can experiences changes in their own cultural behaviours, values and identities (on a group and/or individual level)over time as they interact regularly with foreign cultures. This is the process of acculturation. The Vancouver Index of Acculturation was developed to measure this degree of acculturation by assessing two orientations: the extent to which migrants endorse their heritage culture and to what extent they endorse their host culture. These two cultural orientations predict intercultural competence and the ability to cope with stress in times of transition. Intercultural competence is a set of numerous skills that enables someone to “fit in” in a foreign cultural environment.

Dr Katharina Lefringhausen highlights the common aspect and lack of previous studies:focusing on the ability of migrants to adapt to the host culture (e.g., values, norms, identity, or intergroup contact) rather than locals’ (i.e., host country nationals) adaptation towards migrants, and locals’ expectations towards migrants which hinders or fosters their adaptationFor example, in Germany, migrants are considered as foreigners though they have been living in the country for a number of generations – the ethnocentric ideology. In France, migrants are expected to adapt to the cultural norms of the country although policies disregard cultural differences – colourblind ideology.. In the UK, there is not much dialogue amongst different cultural communities. As long as you abide by the law, you are accepted – voluntary segregation

People’s aversion against multiculturalism is often explained by their perception of two forms of threat: the loss of national identity and way of life (i.e., culture) which is a symbolic threat and the loss of economic and physical welfare (e.g., loss of jobs) which is a realistic threat.  Taking a different perspective on the subject, Dr Katharina Lefinghausen explains that when people are high on conservation, they fear change. According to Schwartz’s Cultural Value Model, conservation values indicate a preference for tradition, conformity and security in contrast to the value of  “openness to change”  which indicate a preference for change and novelty. Multiculturalism is often understood and represented in the media and political discussions as a concept that fosters  openness to change values, which in turn, indicates a symbolic threat to people who prefer conservation values.

In her research, a survey covering 535 people from the US and India was carried out to test this observation. Dr Katharina Lefringhausen identified local people as being born in the country, having lived there for over 3 generations or more and not having lived overseas. The results of the survey confirmed that people who are open to change are not bothered by multiculturalism and would not mind to adapt to foreign cultures themselves. People who find it difficult to accept multiculturalism were conservative in their value system. However, when these conservative local people read about multiculturalism to fall into line with their value system, their attitudes changed to not being bothered about it.

Thus, in response to how to convince conservative locals to accept multiculturalism, Dr Katharina Lefringhausen advocates the promotion of multiculturalism not only as a source for change and novelty as this representation can lead to further feelings of threat by local people. Moreover, local people should be educated about acculturation and that cultural adaptation is not only possible and beneficial for migrants but also for locals.

To know more about what can be done, please contact Dr Katharina Lefringhausen at katharina_lefringhausen@hotmail.de

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