Left-Liberal Multiculturalism

McLaren’s (1995, pp. 124-5) third form of multiculturalism, the ‘left- liberal’ variety, in Ladson-Billings’ (2005, p. 54) words, exoticizes cultural differences. As McLaren (1994, p. 51, cited in Ladson-Billings 2005, p. 54) puts it, this approach ‘locates difference in a primeval past of cultural authenticity’. In an earlier paper with William Tate (Ladson-Billings and Tate 1995, p. 61) this form of multicultural education is described as trivia: ‘artefacts of cultures such as eating ethnic or cultural foods, singing songs or dancing, reading folktales’ (as we shall see later in this chapter, the dominant form of multicultural education in the UK is very similar to this approach).

Critical and Resistant Multiculturalism

McLaren (1995, pp. 126-144) offers, in place of these three forms of multiculturalism, a notion of ‘critical and resistant multiculturalism’. He describes this as ‘a resistance post-structuralist approach to meaning ... located within the larger context of postmodern theory’ (ibid., p. 126). Critical and Resistance Multiculturalism ‘stresses the central task of transforming the social, cultural, and institutional relations in which meanings are generated’ (ibid.). Resistance multiculturalism ‘doesn’t see diversity itself as a goal but rather argues that diversity must be affirmed within a politics of cultural criticism and a commitment to social justice’ (ibid.). The ‘central theoretical position of critical multiculturalism’ is ‘that differences are produced according to the ideological production and reception of cultural signs’ (ibid., p. 130). The politics of signification, McLaren goes on, are at work in the way minority students, unlike white middle class students, are considered for ‘behavioural’ placements (ibid.). A critically multiculturalist curriculum, McLaren (ibid.) suggests ‘can help teachers explore the ways in which students are differentially subjected to ideological inscriptions and multiply-organized discourses of desire through a politics of signification’.

Like poststructural and postmodern analyses in educational theory in general, there is much talk of social change and social justice in McLaren’s mid 1990s analysis, but no concrete suggestions for societal change. Elsewhere (Cole 2008a, chapter 5) I have examined the work of leading poststructuralists/postmodernists, Patti Lather, Elizabeth Atkinson and Judith Baxter. I argue that, while many questions are asked, and there are many claims for moving towards social change and social justice, no specific indications are given except at the local level.1 One of the great strengths of Marxism is that it allows us to move beyond appearances and to look beneath the surface and to move forward collectively at local, nationally and internationally. It allows us to transgress Derrida’s (1990, p. 963) ‘ordeal of the undecidable’, Lather’s (2001, p. 184) ‘praxis of not being so sure’, which is itself derived from the ‘ordeal of the undecideable’, and Baxter’s (2002) ‘paralysis of practice’ (see Cole 2008a, chapter 5).2

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