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How to do Contextualist Political Theory about Multiculturalism in a Post-Multiculturalist Context?

Political Theory
Methods
Normative Theory
Sune Lægaard
University of Roskilde
Sune Lægaard
University of Roskilde

Abstract

Contextualism has been proposed by many theorists of multiculturalism (e.g. Carens, Modood, Tully, Parekh) as particularly suited approach to theorizing multiculturalism. Multiculturalist political theory was from the outset based on criticism of abstract ideas of state neutrality and motivated by cases where minority groups were not treated equally despite the presence of ostensibly neutral laws. Some multiculturalist theories are furthermore based either on an ambition to provide theoretical rationales for the particular struggles of specific minority groups and/or on fundamental theoretical commitments denying the possibility of basing political theory on abstract notions of persons, agency or freedom. In all of these cases, the upshot is that in order to do political theory of multiculturalism, a contextualist approach is required. The present paper considers how this approach fares when applied to the specific political and social context characteristic of especially European political reality of the last 10-15 years. Political opposition to multiculturalism at an ideological and rhetorical level has characterized this context. At the legal level, many of the laws and rules in place actually protecting minority groups have furthermore not had the form of group rights or policies of recognition proposed by multiculturalist theories. The question therefore arises whether a contextualist approach that takes its point of departure in the facts of such a context can really deliver a justification of a recognizable multiculturalist political theory? The worry here is that, once the context develops sufficiently far in a certain direction, a contextualist approach will not be able to provide radical criticism of this development itself. The paper considers this worry and argues that there might be resources available to a contextualist approach to allay it. This, however, leads to a second question, namely what kind of theory a contextualist approach will then give us reason to adopt under these circumstances. The paper argues that contextualism will here require a more open approach to what form a political theory designed to address such a context should take. A contextualist approach would here need to broaden the conceptual framework beyond traditional multiculturalism focused on group rights, exemptions and policies of recognition. The paper sketches a notion of ‘post-multiculturalism’ as a description of this broader framework.