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Understanding Multiculturalism in Divided Societies: Exploring a New Path

Elke Winter
University of Ottawa
Elke Winter
University of Ottawa
Open Panel

Abstract

This paper asks the following question: How does a national majority in an ethnically diverse society come to represent itself as ‘multicultural’ or normatively pluralist? It proceeds in three steps. It briefly outlines standard answers to this question for the past 30 years. It underlines the most recent scholarship, which argues that political scientists have for too long associated “divided societies” primarily to nationalism and violent conflict. Rather, most societies are characterized by significant levels of social divisions that are understood in ethnic, regional, religious or linguistic terms -- and these “old identities” pre-exist the event of post-war immigration and the establishment of “new” identities. Therefore, what matters is to examine how these old and new identities mutually impact and shape each other. Engaging with this most recent scholarship, the paper then (2) proposes a theoretical approach that concentrates on the dynamic interrelations between historically grown “old” identities and more recently emerged “new” identities, mostly that of immigrant communities. Third (3), the paper uses this approach to situate the “new” identities associated with immigrant multiculturalism in Germany, the Netherlands, and Canada within the wider context of these countries historically grown “old” identities along ideological, religious, and linguistic lines. The chapter concludes that it is important to overcome the strict separation between “old” and “new” identities when analyzing public opinion of and state responses to immigration and ethnic diversity. Multinational and multicultural regimes may be administrated in institutional silos, as political philosopher Will Kymlicka maintains, but they are closely related in public and political debates.