Multiculturalism – is it dead?

By Dr Katharina Lefringhausen

With Brexit supporters asking for migration reduction and hate crimes reaching a peak of 41% after the Brexit referendum in July 2016 (1), we will discuss the question at the upcoming SIETAR UK event: Is multiculturalism dead?

To evaluate the vitality status of multiculturalism, we need to consider what we mean by that. Multiculturalism can be evaluated by using three broad categories that can be further subdivided: multiculturalism as an…

  • empirical (2),
  • normative (i.e., a political framework towards the management of empirical multiculturalism; 3), and
  • social phenomenon (e.g., relationships between empirically defined different groups – e.g., interculturalism; 4).

Multiculturalism as an empirical phenomenon
It refers to the simple existence of a ‘them’ and an ‘us’ in a specific geographical region based on concepts such as culture, ethnic origin, and nationality rather than one homogenous group of ‘us’ based on endorsing the same culture, ethnic origin, and nationality.

However, these concepts are not clearly distinct from each other and often vary even within an individual. For example, I can be a British national with an Asian British ethnicity who strongly endorses individualism which is also strongly endorsed by North Americans (5).

Specifically, culture has been defined in multiple different ways mostly concerning the question of the degree of sharedness and influence – that is, does culture determine people or people determine culture (6).

Social and cross-cultural psychologist use:

  • value dimensions (e.g. individualism vs. collectivism; 7),
  • belief systems (e.g. social cynicism; 8) or
  • norms (looseness-tightness, 9)

…to assess cultural differences between people and groups. Yet depending on what value, belief or norm you use as an indicator leads to a different categorization of who is ‘them’ and who is ‘us’.

Cultural concepts vary much more within countries than between countries
According to Hofstede citizens from the UK and Iceland share a strong willingness to realise their impulses and desires with regard to enjoying life and having fun yet oppose each other in their support for competition and achievement as the goal in life. Actually research stresses that nation states are inappropriate canvasses to make cultural distinctions between people as cultural concepts vary much more within countries than between countries (10).

There is also no standard definition of ethnicity within the social sciences nor across national surveys (e.g., Censuses). Instead, it is often mixed with nationality, religion and race (11; 12). For example, ethnicity can be defined as the culture, religion, geography, language, and practices shared by individuals connected by loyalty and kinship (13). Thus, one’s ethnic identity can be seen as either a fixed category with one’s kin or as a socially constructed category that can change.

For example, in the USA, being ‘Hispanic’ is regarded as an ethnic category largely based on its members shared language (Spanish; 14). Yet on this basis people from Spain would also be considered to hold a Hispanic ethnicity.

What is nationality?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary (15), nationality can be understood as “the official right to belong to a particular country”. This ‘right’ can be achieved in the UK by either being born in the country or through naturalization (16). But national borders can change, and thus, who is considered part of such a political entity.

For example, if the last (and next) Scottish referendum in 2014 had been a success, the ‘right’ of being a British national would have changed for both Scots as well as English and Welsh people. More broadly speaking, ever since homo sapiens spread out from its original African base 100,000 years ago, human groups have been merging and splitting and therefore people’s belongingness to a specific geographical region was always in a state of flux (17).

In conclusion…
Multiculturalism as an empirical phenomenon has always been alive in coherence with human existence, is currently alive around the world and will always be alive as culture, ethnicity and nationality does not only vary between groups but can also vary and change within the individual.  These perspectives and other indicators as well as how SIETAR UK and its members can foster multiculturalism will be our focus.

In particular, some of the big questions we want to tackle include:

  • Why has the ‘multiculturalism isn’t working’ argument seem to have won? Where has multiculturalism done ‘wrong’?
  • How do/will people perceive and value multiculturalism in a post-Brexit and Trump protectionist worldview?
  • What can we do to protect multiculturalism as an important value linked to our traditions of humanism and tolerance?
  • How can the UK become ‘global Britain’, maintain its status as a magnet for diverse people and not end up with a ‘little Britain’ mentality?
  • What can we do as individuals and as a group to reverse the trend back towards a positive understanding of cultural diversity?

Take part in SIETAR UK’s panel debate ‘Is multiculturalism dead?’ on 27 March 2017 at King’s College, the Strand,  in London. 

Speakers:

  • Dr Katharina Lefringhausen; Assistant Professor at University of Warwick
  • Neil Payne; Director of Commisceo Global
  • Faeza Afzal; Business Development Manager at London School Group
  • Abby Beckley; Marketing Manager at Worldwork
  • Bill Reed; Intercultural Management Consultant and Trainer at East Asia Business

References:

1) Gov.uk – Hate crime report
2) The introduction of multiculturalism in Canada and Australia, 1960s–1970s
3) Multiculturalism: Success, Failure, and the Future
4) About Interculturalism
5) Ethnic group
6) Intercultural Interaction
7) National Culture
8) Social Axioms: A Model for Social Beliefs in Multicultural Perspective
9) Tightness–looseness across the 50 united states
10) Whence Differences in Value Priorities?
11) Ethnicity: The term and its meaning. Juby, Heather L.; Concepción, William R. Handbook of racial-cultural psychology and counseling, Vol 1: Theory and research, von Carter, Robert T., ed.. 26-40, Chapter xxviii, 448 Pages. John Wiley & Sons Inc, 2005.
12) Zagefka, H. (2009) The concept of ethnicity in social psychological research: definitional issues. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 33
13) Student Development in College: Theory, Research, and Practice
14) Is Hispanic an Ethnic Category or a Racial Category?
15) Definition of Nationality
16) Gov.uk – Become a British citizen
17) Kumar, K. (2008). Core ethnicities and the problem of multiculturalism: the British case. In J. Eade, M.Barrett, C. Flood and R. Race (eds), Advancing Multiculturalism Post 7/7 (pp. 116-134).Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishers.

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