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'Say you, Say me': On the Imperatives of Multiculturalism

in and around McDonaldization

By Prasenjit Maiti

Department of Political Science

Burdwan University, India

_______________________________________________________

Multiculturalism as a modern value framework celebrates cultural pluralism and
tries to cohere a social arrangement where different communities arrive at a common identity while retaining their intrinsic cultures. Multiculturalism
ascribes recognition to the collective identities of ethnic communities. So
multiculturalism tends to portray a new politics of identity where unity of
individuals into the State is not necessarily predicated by a disjunction from
particularistic community bonds. The State even recognizes that individual
dignity impacts on the collective dignity of the community.

Multiculturalism and liberal democracy occasionally appear conjoined in history
because only democracy can examine interfaces that presume equality and respect.
Multiculturalism has also sensitized us to the dangers of cultural
majoritarianism, especially the manner in which cultural majoritarianism
subverts minorities, alienates them, escalates inter-community conflicts and
impedes self-understanding.

Multiculturalism, however, is not merely an uncritical acceptance of cultural
pluralism and multiple solitudes without a common public agenda. It is neither an incentive of liberal democracy nor an optional policy within a democracy. It
is not as if a democracy can choose to be multicultural or not. Every democracy
must necessarily be multicultural if the democratic and liberal ethic in it is
to sustain itself. Finally, multiculturalism is not only about inter-group
relations but it also underpins intra-group connectedness[1] within a community.
Respect for other cultures is necessarily premised on first recognizing
individual identities.

The politics of identity (a la Edward Said[2]) and pluralism are notions that
are perhaps best understood as present-day multiculturalism that appears to be
an unintended derivative of the collapse of a culturally homogenous (?) Nation
State whose vision had once dominated the now discredited ideology of nation
building[3] in the Third World. The public sphere,[4] in order to manufacture
such nation building, was expected to reject class, gender, ethnic or cultural specifics, and was supposed to be informed by the rational modernity of
constitutionally defined rights, the rule of law, citizenship and the civil
society.

But it was increasingly being realized during the 1980s that Nation States had
either subverted or marginalized minority cultures while engaged in their agenda
of national identity formation - examples may be cited around the world:

1. Rwanda, Burundi and Nigeria in Africa;

2. Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iraq and India in Asia;

3. ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe;

4. Quebec in Canada; and

5. the Afro-Americans in the United States of America.

Such developments only underscore the fact that the Nation State was in reality
a project for legitimization of hegemonic texts of power and undermining of
minority identities.

Minority struggles for identity provide insights into the dynamics of both
domination and resistance as we realize that although these people required access to the means of social reproduction, they also required recognition as
socially meaningful actors who happen to impact (in a manner similar to the
constructed idea of mainstream) on their immediate material conditions of life.
This recognition, arguably, is the central referent of multiculturalism.

Recognition primarily implies that we legitimize ourselves in the context of an
otherness. According to Honneth, "Human integrity owes its existence, at a deep
level, to the patterns of approval and recognition."[5] According to Will
Kymlicka, the political and the cultural community are not coextensive, and the
political community comprises a plurality of cultures some of which would be
necessarily marginal to the constitution of the polity.[6] Kymlicka has also
mentioned that majoritarian norms more often than not define the entire
political community. But this is tantamount to cultural injustice because
minority cultures are either subverted or marginalized in the process.

Any culture can be considered to be thus marginalized when its worldview is
either not represented at all or being inadequately represented in the public
sphere. Multiculturalism, however, has facilitated the understanding that plural
cultures need to be recognized.[7] There is yet another important aspect to this
exercise: culture has provided us with the capital with which to
intellectualize, and so culture in this sense emerges as a (limited) resource
that enhances human intellectual faculties and actually helps us appropriate
the material conditions of life in the sense of making these more accessible and
comprehensible. Communities, therefore, are rather vital because they empower
their members with meanings or to make the world more manipulable. This would
indicate that culture is underpinned by fundamental definitions and structures
of cognition. We would be defenseless without access to our cultural resources.

Whereas liberal theory is contented to extending recognition to a culture because this improves the worth of its individual members, it is not as yet
prepared to highlight the worth of group identities. Groups may well demand the
extension of respect in the body politic and yet not be ready to accord that
respect to their own members (such as women). Thomas Sowell has rejected
Taylor's prescription that we should equally revere all cultures:

History cannot be prettified in the interests of promoting 'acceptance' or
'mutual respect' among people or cultures. There is much in the history of every
people that does not deserve respect. Whether with individuals or with groups,
respect is something earned, not a door prize handed out to all. It cannot be
prescribed by third parties. 'Equal respect' is an internally contradictory
evasion. If everything is respected equally, then the term respect has lost its
meaning.[8]

But the critics of multiculturalism occasionally do not concede that imperial
histories have privileged some cultures as worthy of respect and stigmatized the rest as unworthy. Nathan Glazer, for instance, has criticized the inclusion of
African histories in school curricula on the ground that whereas Western history
is history proper, other Third World histories are myths![9] Moreover, these
critics hardly treat culture as a set of meanings. Cultures facilitate
understanding that can occasionally both transgress and modify that culture. So
cultures are never static as they are subjected to reworking even subversions
through different individual understandings. Nancy Fraser has also criticized
Taylor for his stress on cultural injustice as if we no longer have reason to be
concerned with economic injustice or as if cultural injustice is more important
than economic injustice or as if cultural injustice provides us with the means
to attack economic injustice.[10]

But cultural non-recognition may actually impede the exercise of economic or
political power. We have to, therefore, focus on revaluing group identity because cultural marginalisation can operate autonomously of, or in tandem with,
other forms of exclusion and deprivation; it is here that multiculturalism can
serve to reorient the material conditions of life and ascribe meaning to the
individual identity so long dominated by facelessness of a community.

So multiculturalism is perhaps best understood neither as a political ideology
nor as a philosophy as a perspective the material conditions of life. Its
central notions can be understood accordingly:

1. human beings are culturally embedded ie they develop within a
culturally structured world and organize their lives and societal connectedness
in the context of a culturally derived system of meanings and import; this does
not imply, however, that they are exclusively informed by their cultures ie they
are unable to transcend cultural categories of power and critically assess their
assigned values and meanings;

2. different cultures variously portray systems of meaning and visions of well-being; each culture requires other cultures to facilitate understanding of
fundamental meanings regarding the material conditions of life;

3. each and every culture happens to be plural internally and reflects a
continuing dialog between its various lineages of meanings; this is not to
suggest, however, that it is without coherence and identity but that its
identity is plural and open. Cultures evolve out of conscious and unconscious
interfaces with one another, define their identities in terms of what they
assume to be their significant other, and are at least partially multicultural
in their origins and constitution.[11]

Any system of culture would not be able to recognize the worth of others unless
it appreciates the plurality within itself, and it cannot be comfortable with
extraneous differences unless it is comfortable with its intrinsic differences.
Any dialog between cultures necessitates that each should be prepared to open itself up to the influence of and learn from others, and this presupposes that
each is self-critical and prepared to engage in a dialog with itself.

So our multicultural worldview comprises the cultural embeddedness of men and
women, the desirability of cultural plurality and the plural composition of each
and every system of culture. It follows, therefore, that no politico-economic
ideology can portray the entirety of our material conditions of life.
Liberalism, as a case in point, is an ideology that underscores generally
uncontested values as human dignity, autonomy, liberty, a scientific / critical
attitude and equality. However, these can be defined in ways more than one, of
which the liberal happens to be only one and not always the most coherent.

A multicultural society, moreover, cannot really afford to repeat the mistake of
its monocultural counterpart by requiring that all its communities should become
multicultural. It cannot cohere itself without developing a common sense of belonging among its citizens. This should be a political program predicated by a
shared commitment to the political community. Such commitment, however, does
neither involve commitment to common objectives nor to a common consensus of its
history which they may read very differently, nor to its arrangements of
governance about which they might entertain very different views, nor to its
dominant cultural ethos which some might strongly disapprove of. Commitment to
the political community involves commitment to its continuing existence and
well-being, and implies that one cares enough for it not to jeopardize its
interests and undermine its integrity. It is a absolutely a matter of degree
and, moreover, impacts on political development.

Samuel P. Huntington's works are important in this connection.[12] According to
Huntington, political development implies institutionalization of political
organizations and procedures. He writes that ". . . institutions are the behavioral manifestation of the moral consensus and mutual interest . . .
Historically, political institutions have emerged out of the interaction among
and disagreement among social forces, and the gradual development of procedures
and organizational devices for resolving those disagreements . . . Institutions
are stable, valued, recurrent patterns of behavior. Organizations and procedures
vary in their degree of institutionalization . . . the modern state is
distinguished from the traditional state by the broadened extent to which people
participate in politics and are affected by politics . . . The most fundamental
aspect of political modernization, consequently, is the participation in
politics . . . and the development of new political institutions . . . The
breakup of traditional institutions may lead to psychological disintegration and
anomie, but these very conditions also create the need for new identification
and loyalties."[13]

So we can appreciate both the validity and utility of institutions in the
corporate lives of men. Institutions act as benchmarks to gauge the 'quality' of
human organizations. As institutions evolve and become increasingly detailed,
they tend to become almost indispensable, and their levels of encompassment and
embeddedness in the daily affairs of men rise accordingly. Institutionalization
here indicates a process through which organizations acquire value and
stability. The adaptability, complexity, autonomy and coherence of its
organizations and procedures can determine the level of institutionalization of
any given political system. Similarly, the level of institutionalization of any
given organization can also be determined with the help of the above criteria.

The role of social trust and institutions in the context of good governance in
multicultural societies is rather vital. As Confucius had once observed that
trust is the single most important factor in the political lives of men.[14] Trust leads to social bonds and intra as well as inter-institutional
connectedness, and this actually coheres institutions, so to say. Trust
indicates a system of values; a system of values implies social mores; and
social mores are themselves an important institution. So trust can, and often
do, lead to the sustenance of institutions.

Neoinstitutionalism as a dominant frame of reference in present-day political
theory serves to explain the phenomenon of governance or even the lack of it; it
introduces a fresh way of looking at and handling institutions. Richard Rose
would approach the so-called problem of 'ungovernability' as a problem of
political authority, more specifically as a challenge to government as known in
fully legitimate Western nations. Rose adds that value conflicts arising from
nonbargainable and conflicting claims by political élites are relatively rare
today, but extremely disruptive where found, eg Northern Ireland. Citizen indifference to the government represents a novel and potentially more pervasive
challenge to the effectiveness of government as well as to allegiance.[15]

Gavin Drewry is convinced that that "Public law is woven tightly into the fabric
of public administration, albeit more tightly in some countries than in others.
The rise of 'new institutionalism' within political science promises to
strengthen all these ties."[16] So we tend to move closer to the
'neoinstitutional' approach in politics as we would prefer to ideally link the
problem(s) of governance to the legitimacy or otherwise of institutions. "The
old institutionalism did make some definite contributions to comprehension of
governance . . . The new institutionalism differs from its intellectual
precursor in several ways, all reflecting its development after the behavioral
revolution in political science . . . Although the new institutionalism focuses
on structures and organizations rather than on individual behavior, the concern with theory and analytic methods is shared with behavioral approaches to
politics. Whereas the older version of institutionalism was content to describe
institutions, the newer version seeks to explain them as a 'dependent variable'
and, more importantly, to explain other phenomena with institutions as the
'independent variables' shaping policy and administrative behavior . . .
contemporary institutional analysis looks at actual behavior rather than only at
the formal, structural aspects of institutions . . . the newer approaches to
institutional analysis focus on outcomes in the form of public policies or other
decisions . . . One of the virtues of the newer versions of institutionalism is
that they enable the discipline to talk about institutions in more genuinely
comparative ways." [17]

For what are institutions but formalized / codified agencies and domains of
human interaction? And is not the problem of governance really a problem of interaction in its primary sense, a problem of interface involving both the
state and its civil society / societies?[18] If rules are the accepted and
expected modes of behavior, then institutions are simply the facilitating
channels that help socialize such behavior. Douglass C. North and Subrata K.
Mitra, among others, have developed this organon of neoinstitutionalism.[19]
Neonstitutionalism, to understand the 'baffling' phenomenon of multicultural
governance, deals with actors and institutions as well as actors in
institutions. Governance is a derivative of appropriately operating political
institutions. Political actors who function through institutions tend to make a
lot of difference as to how such institutions perform.

Present-day multicultural societies are new avatars that pose both theoretical
as well as political challenges that perhaps are without any parallel in
history. The political training of men that was developed in the process of entrenching the everyday affairs of a culturally homogeneous Nation State (?)
during the last three hundred years is of limited assistance, and occasionally
even an impediment, while negotiating multicultural societies that have to be
gradually reconciled with the legitimate demands of unity and diversity, of
achieving political integration without cultural uniformity, and of
institutionalizing among its citizens both a common sense of belonging and a
willingness to respect cultural differences.

 

 

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Notes and References
[1] Cf. The concept of Social Capital that was introduced by Glenn Loury, 'Why
Should We Care about Group Inequality?', Social Philosophy and Policy 5 (1987),
and was later developed by James S. Coleman, Foundations of Social Theory
(Cambridge, Massachusetts / London: Harvard University Press, 1994; orig. 1990):
"Social capital . . . is created when the relations among persons change in ways that facilitate action. Physical capital is wholly tangible, being embodied in
observable material form; human capital is less tangible, being embodied in the
skills and knowledge acquired by an individual; social capital is even less
tangible, for it is embodied in the relations among persons. Physical capital
and human capital facilitate productive activity, and social capital does so as
well. For example, a group whose members manifest trustworthiness and place
extensive trust in one another will be able to accomplish much more than a
comparable group lacking that trustworthiness and trust" (Part 2, Ch. 12, p.
304). Also see Robert D. Putnam et al, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions
in Modern Italy (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993).

[2] See Said, Orientalism (New York: Random House, 1978).

[3] See, for instance, Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on
the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983); Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Delhi: Oxford
University Press, 1997); and Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial
World: A derivative Discourse? (London: Zed Books, 1986).

[4] That allows 'disengaged' social scrutiny of politics. See Hans-Jürgen
Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into
the Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992; orig. 1962);
and Habermas, 'Further Reflections on the Public Sphere', in Craig Calhoun (ed),
Habermas and the Public Sphere (Columbia: Columbia University Press, 1992).

[5] Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social
Conflicts (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998; tr. Joel Anderson), p. 131. 2. Charles
Taylor has extended the concept of recognition from individuals to cultures,
even as he argues that all cultures possess an identical value. "[T]he further
demand we are looking at here is that we all recognize the equal value of different cultures; that we not only let them survive, but acknowledge their
worth." See Taylor, 'The Politics of Recognition', in Amy Gutmann (ed),
Multiculturalism and the 'Politics of Recognition' (Princeton, New Jersey:
Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 64.

[6] See Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship (Oxford: Clarendon, 1995).

[7] The ideal multicultural model is obtained in Canada that has been more or
less successful to negotiate the relationship of the State to a multiethnic
society. Cf. Joseph Raz, 'Multiculturalism: A Liberal Perspective', Dissent,
Winter 1994, p. 72: "Slighting my culture, holding it up for ridicule, denying
its value, and so on, hurts me and offends my dignity. It is particularly
offensive if the slight bears the imprimatur of my state or of the majority or
official culture of my country."

[8] Sowell, Migrations and Cultures: A World View (New York: Basic Books,
1996), pp. 9-10.

[9] See Glazer, We Are All Multiculturalists Now (Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Harvard University Press, 1997).

[10] Fraser, "From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a
'Post-Socialist Age'", New Left Review 212, July-August 1995, pp. 68-93.

[11] See, for related insights, Prasenjit Maiti, 'Class Conflict Theory: The
Wallerstein Critique and After', Socialist Perspective, Vol. 25, Nos. 1-2
(June-September 1997), pp. 63-70; as well as Maiti and Panchanan Chattopadhyay,
"On Derrida, Marx and 'Hospitality'", Socialist Perspective Vol. 25, Nos. 3-4
(December 1997-March 1998), pp. 93-8.

[12] Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven / London:
Yale University Press, 1968); and Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the
Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).

[13] Huntington (1968), op. cit., pp. 10-12 and 36-7.

[14] I am grateful to Professor Thomas Fleiner, Director of the Institute of Federalism, University of Fribourg, Switzerland for kindly pointing this out.

[15] Rose, "Governing and 'Ungovernability': A Sceptical Inquiry", Studies in
Public Policy, No. 1, Centre for the Study of Public Policy, University of
Strathclyde, Glasgow.

[16] Drewry, 'Political Institutions: Legal Perspectives', in Robert E. Goodin
and H.D. Klingsmann (eds), A New Handbook of Political Science (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1996), Ch. 6, p. 191.

[17] B. Guy Peters, 'Political Institutions, Old and New', in ibid., Ch. 7, pp.
206-7.

[18] I thank Professor Lidija R. Basta Fleiner, Director of the International
Research and Consulting Centre of the Institute of Federalism, Fribourg for this
insight.

[19] See, for instance, North, Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic
Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); and Mitra,
'Legitimacy, Governance and Political Institutions in India after Independence', in Mitra and Dietmar Rothermund (eds), Legitimacy and Conflict in South Asia
(New Delhi: Manohar, 1997).

 

 

 




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