Two Multiculturalism: Diversity Rights and the Common Ground


A study of multicultural cities draws on two theoretical discourses: (1) the ideas of multiculturalism and (2) the theories of the city as the geographic base of economic, political, and social institutions. In this chapter, I will critically review the notion of multiculturalism and the ideas about cities, particularly through the lens of their cultures and social organization. My objective in reviewing these concepts and theories is to develop indicators and categories by which I will observe and analyse the multicultural dimensions of the three cities. I begin with the question, What is meant by multiculturalism?

Multiculturalism is a term in use with a wide range of meanings, particularly in the popular media. Often immigrants' practices and customs are described as synonymous with multiculturalism. If a Muslim woman puts on a niqab, or face-veil, the practice is attributed to multiculturalism, even though it may be an individual act. Incidents of terrorism in Europe and North America have been explained as the outcome of laxity in immigrants' integration due to the policies of multiculturalism. On the positive side, multiculturalism is identified with the diversity of foods and music as well as the creativity of the global cast of talent in North American cities. These images of multiculturalism are partial pictures, as the following discussion will show.

Among academics, multiculturalism sparks debates about the nature of political community that it promotes, or leads to arguments about its liberal, conservative, or communitarian intents. Arguments rage over the rights of ethnic and racial minorities; apprehensions are voiced on perpetuating social segregation and eroding national solidarity. All in all, there is little consensus on the scope and limits of multiculturalism, though there is some unanimity about its field of operation or domain. These arguments call for clarifying the concept of multiculturalism. I will begin with a definition.

Multiculturalism is a social condition, political ideology, public policy, or project that, occurring in various combinations, helps realize the recognition and expression of cultural and ethnic diversity within a nation or its parts. Obviously, the point of reference in multicultural- ism is not the multiplicity of national cultures in the world. It is the cultural pluralism within nation states and in defined spaces of cities and regions. Multiculturalism is also an ideology of recognizing the rights of ethnic, racial, linguistic, and religious minorities to express their distinct identities and cultures freely. These rights apply at both the community and individual levels.

I have already discussed the nature of "cultures" in the context of multiculturalism in the previous chapter. Here I will extend the theoretical and analytical discussion of multiculturalism as a foundational concept. This chapter also develops the idea of common ground as a component of multiculturalism. It shows how common ground is necessary for linking together diverse cultures and identities in the shared space of a city as well as a civic society. These concepts provide the framework for examining changes in cities' structures and institutions brought about by the incorporation of diversity. Furthermore, the chapter links the notion of multiculturalism with the ideas of cities, citizenship, and the right to the city.

Multiculturalism is a conception of society in which several cultural and ethnic groups are recognized to be equal in rights and identities. It embodies the goal of living with diversity to promote "equality, justice, and an expanded level of societal solidarity."1 As the focus of this book is on how multiculturalism as a phenomenon transforms the structure and institutions of cities, it is appropriate to begin with a sociological understanding of its scope.

British sociologist John Rex divides social life into two domains, public and private. The main institutions of the public domain are law, politics, and economy,2 though others such as technology and civic order can also be included. The private domain is structured around family, kinship, religion, community, and identity. Each domain has its norms, values, moral order, and ethical codes. This differentiation of the two domains has been widely used to define multiculturalism.

Rex identifies four ways in which the public and private domains can be combined. A unitary public domain combined with the diverse private domain makes up multiculturalism. While both domains being unitary would represent the ideology of assimilation or the melting pot, diversity in the public domain (different laws for different communities) combined with the diversity of the private domain represents the situation of colonialism, pre-independence South Africa, or Israel, for example. To complete the fourfold combinations, a diverse public domain could be conceived to exist with a unitary private domain, a situation that Rex identifies as similar to the pre-civil-rights US Deep South.3

As the first country to pass a national multiculturalism policy (1971), Canada acknowledged "the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage ... to ensure all individuals receive equal treatment and equal protection under the law, while respecting their diversity ... to encourage and assist the social, cultural, economic and political institutions of Canada to be both respectful and inclusive of Canada's multicultural character" (emphasis provided).4 In this act, the inclusiveness of the Canadian public institutions is backed up with the recognition of the cultural rights of individuals and communities. Will Kymlicka holds that multiculturalism combines "robust forms of nation-building with robust forms of minority rights."5 The Parekh Report of the Runnymede Trust in Britain also holds a "single political culture in the public sphere and substantial diversity in the private lives of individuals and communities" as the liberal model of multiculturalism.6 The common cultural elements of the public domain are as important as the differences in norms and values of the private domain for a multicultural society to function.

This is the theory. Yet in practice, the relationship between the two domains is not as clear cut as the above description may suggest. Their respective spheres overlap and boundaries are fuzzy, shifting with political and social changes and giving rise to various forms of multiculturalism.

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