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Politics A Level

"Multiculturalism breeds tension and social conflict." Discuss.

By Natalie G.Published 6 years ago 9 min read

Multiculturalism is often criticized for breeding tension and social conflict. However, critics of multiculturalism have argued this case in different ways depending on the political tradition from which they come. On the other hand, multiculturalists strongly reject this view arguing that multiculturalism is in fact a way of relieving tension and reducing social conflict.

Multiculturalism has been accused of breeding tension and social conflict by conservative nationalists, socialists and feminists. Conservatism is the political tradition that contrasts with multiculturalism largely. Moreover, most anti-immigration nationalists against multiculturalism draw ideas from conservative assumptions. It most closely resembles the racial nationalism of fascism, or even Nazi race theory. The chief conservative objection to multiculturalism is that shared values and a common culture are a necessary precondition for a stable and successful society. Conservatives, therefore, favor nationalism over multiculturalism. This is based on the belief that human beings are drawn to other who are similar to themselves. A fear or distrust of strangers or foreigners is natural and unavoidable. And so, multiculturalism is inherently flawed as multicultural societies are inevitably fractured and conflict-ridden in which suspicion, hostility and even violence come to be accepted as facts of life. The multiculturalist image of "diversity within unity" is a myth, a sham exposed by the simple facts of social psychology.

Furthermore, in order to avoid the threats of social conflict and tension of multiculturalism is to restrict immigration to ensure that minority ethnic communities are absorbed into the larger national culture and immigrants can return to their country of origin. A further aspect of the conservative critique of multiculturalism reflects concern about its implications for the majority or host community. In this view, multiculturalism perpetrates a "reverse" set of injustices by degrading the culture of the majority group by associating it with colonialism and racism, while favoring interest and cultures of minority groups through positive discrimination eg. USA African-Americans had political advancement in 1978 when the supreme court allowed black students to gain admission to US universities with lower qualifications than white students, and the allocation of "special rights."

Socialists believe multiculturalism does not address the interests of disadvantaged groups properly. It does not address class inequality. Moreover, it emphasizes cultural differences that divide and weaken people with common economic interests, and it weakens people’s sense of social responsibilities. Social reformists have advanced a number of criticisms of multiculturalism. Concerns have been raised about the extent to which multiculturalism encourages groups to seek advancement through cultural or ethnic assertiveness, rather than through a more explicit struggle for social justice. In that sense, the flaw of multiculturalism is its failure to address issues of class inequality: the "real" issue confronting minority groups is not their lack of cultural recognition but their lack of economic power and social status. Indeed, as Brian Barry argued, by virtue of its emphasis on cultural distinctiveness, multiculturalism serves to divide, and therefore weaken, people who have a common economic interest in alleviating poverty and promoting social reform. Similarly, a more actor awareness of cultural difference may weaken support for welfarist and redistributive policies, as it may narrow people’s sense of social responsibility.

Feminists believe multiculturalists deepen gender conflict. The relationship between feminism and multiculturalism has occasionally been a complicated one. Although forms of Islamic feminism have sought to fuse the two traditions, feminists have more commonly raised concerns about multiculturalism. This happens when minority rights and the politics of recognition serve to preserve and legitimize patriarchal and traditionalist beliefs that systematically disadvantage women, an argument that may equally be applied to gays and lesbians and is sometimes seen as the "minorities within minorities" problem. Cultural practices such as dress codes, family structures, and access to elite positions have thus been seen to establish structural gender biases. Multiculturalism may therefore be little more than a concealed attempt to bolster male power, the politics of cultural recognition being used within minority communities to legitimize continued female subordination. Thus, multiculturalism strengthens male power, something that feminists want to avoid completely.

However, multiculturalists reject the idea that multiculturalism breeds tension and conflict. They argue that multiculturalism is the only viable approach to cultural diversity because the politics of recognition leads to social harmony and civic unity. Multiculturalists argue that minority cultural groups are disadvantaged in relation to majority groups, and that remedying this involves significant changes in society’s rules and institutions. As such, multiculturalism is associated with the advancement of marginalized, disadvantaged or oppressed groups. Three contrasting approaches can be adopted. "Politics of rights" is rooted in the ideas of republicanism which are associated by many with liberalism. Republicanism is concerned primarily with the problem of legal and political exclusion, the denial to entrain groups of rights that are enjoyed by their fellow citizens. Republican thinking was reflected in first-wave feminism, in that its campaign for female emancipation focused on the struggle for votes for women and equal access for women and men to education, careers and public life in general. They are, therefore, "difference blind" as they view difference as the problem, leading to unfair treatment, and propose that difference should be banished for equality to be established. Republicans, thus, believe that social advancement can be brought about through the establishment of formal equality.

"Politics of redistribution" is rooted in a social reformist stance that embraces, among other traditions, modern liberalism, and social democracy. It arose out of the belief that universal citizenship and formal equality are not sufficient, to tackle the problems of subordination and marginalization. People are held back not by legal and political exclusion, but more importantly by social disadvantage eg. Poverty, lack of education. The key idea of social reformism is the principle of equal opportunities, the belief in a "level playing field" that allows people to rise or fall in society strictly on the basis of personal ability and their willingness to work. This implies a shift from legal egalitarianism to social egalitarianism, in order for redistribution of wealth takes place and poverty is abolished. Difference is acknowledged as it highlights social injustice. Nevertheless, this amounts to no more than a provisional acknowledgment of difference, in that different groups are identified in order to expose unfair practices and structures which can then be reformed or removed.

Multiculturalism developed out of the belief that group marginalization often has even deeper origins. It is not just a legal, political, or social phenomenon but also a cultural as it operates through stereotypes and values that structure how people see themselves and are seen by others. Multiculturalists have been inclined to emphasize difference rather than equality. This is reflected in the "politics of recognition" which involves a positive endorsement, even a celebration, of cultural difference, allowing marginalized groups to assert themselves by reclaiming an authentic sense of cultural identity. The foundations for such politics of recognition were laid by the postcolonial theories that developed out of the collapse of the European empires in the early post-World War II period. Edward Said’s Orientation criticized eurocentrism and how western cultural and political hegemony was maintained over the rest of the world, especially the Orient through stereotypes that battled non-western peoples and cultures eg. The Mysterious East.

On the other hand, the denial of minority rights and refusal to acknowledge diversity are more likely to breed tension and social conflict as they violate a genuine sense of cultural belonging and deny people the right to follow a distinctive culture and a way of life. Multiculturalism in all its forms, aims to blend diversity and unity. They refuse to see distinctive cultures as opposing forces. Multiculturalism accepts that people can have multiple identities and loyalties: for instance, to their "country of origin" and "country of settlement."

Liberal Multiculturalists place emphasis on containing diversity within a framework of civic unity. Liberal multiculturalism draws an important distinction between "private" and "public" life. It sees the former as a realm of freedom, in which people are free to express their cultural religious and language identity, whereas the public life must be characterized by at least a bedrock of shared civic allegiances. Citizenship is thus divorced from cultural identity, making the public life essentially a private matter. Such a stance implies that multiculturalism is compatible with civic nationalism. An example is "hyphenated nationality" that operates in the USA, through which people view themselves as African-Americans, Polish-Americans etc. In this tradition, integration rather than diversity, is emphasized in the public sphere. The USA stresses proficient in English and a knowledge of US political history as preconditions for gaining citizenship.

Pluralist multiculturalists go further in embracing "deep diversity." Pluralism provides foundation for a politics of difference that does liberalism. Liberals believe in "shallow" diversity constructed within a framework of toleration and personal autonomy, in which liberals "absolutize" liberalism. Isaiah Berlin went beyond liberal toleration in endorsing the idea of value pluralism. This holds that people are bound to disagree about the ultimate ends of life, as it is not possible to demonstrate the superiority of one moral system over another. In this view, liberal or western beliefs, such as support for personal freedom, toleration and democracy, have no greater moral authority than illiberal or non-western beliefs. Berlin’s stance implies a form of live-and-let-live multiculturalism. John Gray argued that pluralism implies a "post-liberal" stance, in which liberal values, institutions and regimes are no longer seen to enjoy a monopoly of legitimacy. An alternative basis for pluralist multiculturalism has been advanced by Bhikhu Parekh, in which he believed that cultural diversity is a reflection of the dialectic between human nature and culture. Although human beings are natural creatures, who possess a common species derived physical and mental structure, they are also culturally constituted in the sense that their attitudes, behavior and ways of life are shaped by the groups to which they belong. A recognition of the complexity of human nature, and therefore privets the basis for a politics of recognition and thus for a viable form of multiculturalism. Such a stance goes beyond liberal multiculturalism in that it stresses that western liberalism gives expression only to certain aspects of human nature.

A form of a "particularist" multiculturalism can be identified. They emphasize that cultural diversity takes places within a context of unequal power, in which certain groups have customarily enjoyed advantages and privileges that have been denied to other groups. Particularist multiculturalism is very clearly aligned to the needs and interests of marginalized or disadvantaged groups. The plight to such groups tends to be explained in terms of the corrupt and corrupting nature of western culture, values and lifestyles which are either believed to be tainted by the inheritance of colonialism and racism or associated with polluting ideas such as materialism. Cultural distinctiveness amounts to a form of political resistance, a refusal to give in to repression or corruption. However, such an emphasis on cultural purity which may extend to an unwillingness to engage in cultural exchange, raises concerns about the prospects for civic cohesion: diversity may be stressed at the expense of unity.

Whilst cosmopolitan multiculturalists celebrate cultural exchange and mixing that lead to personal and social development. Cosmopolitan multiculturalism can be seen as entirely distinct, even conflicting, ideological traditions. Cosmopolitanism encourages people to adopt a global consciousness, whereas multiculturalism appears to particularize moral sensibilities, focusing on the specific needs and interests of a distinctive cultural group. Jeremy Waldron said that multiculturalism can effectively be associated with cosmopolitanism. Cosmopolitan multiculturalists endorse cultural diversity and identity politics, but they view them as essentially transitional states in a larger reconstruction of political sensibilities. This position celebrates diversity on the grounds of what each culture can learn from other cultures, and because of the prospects for personal self-development that are offered by a world of wider cultural opportunities and options. This results in a "pick and mix" multiculturalism, in which cultural exchange and cultural mixing are positively encouraged. For instance, people may eat Italian food, practice yoga, enjoy African music, and develop an interest in work religions.

Culture is fluid and responsive to changing social circumstances and personal needs; it not fixed and historically embedded. A multicultural society is a "melting pot" of different ideas, values, and traditions, rather than "cultural mosaic" of separate ethnic and religious groups. In particular, the cosmopolitan stance positively embraces hybridity; a condition of social and cultural mixing in which people develop multiple identities. In the modern world, individual identity cannot be explained in terms of a single cultural structure. The benefits of this form of multiculturalism is that it broadens moral and political sensibilities. However, multiculturalists from rival traditions criticize the cosmopolitan stance for stressing unity at the expense of diversity. To treat cultural identity as a matter of self-definition, and to encourage hybridity and cultural mixing, is to weaken cultural belonging.

Multiculturalism is criticized for breeding tension and social conflict by conservatives nationalists, socialists and feminists. Nevertheless, these critics of multiculturalism have argued this in different ways depending on the political tradition from which they come. However, multiculturalists strongly argue against this view as they believe that multiculturalism relieves tension and reduces social conflict instead of encouraging it.


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Natalie G.

Instagram: _nataliesenses_

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    Natalie G.Written by Natalie G.

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