From public multiculturalism to private multiculturality?

Authored by: Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain

Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  July  2010
Online publication date:  September  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415474450
eBook ISBN: 9780203891377
Adobe ISBN: 9781134026159


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Multiculturalism strives to celebrate and appreciate diverse cultures, races, and ethnicities. It is a social movement, an ideology, and a battleground for cultural ideas within legal, political, and national discourses. Multiculturalism in the United States is not an official government policy; it emerged from “below,” out of the struggle for civil rights and on the back of the racial/ethnic “power” movements to gain equal representation and rights for people of color. For example, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was a result of this “bottom–up” process. Although multiculturalism is a relatively recent phenomenon, there have been heated debates about its efficacy as both an ideal and a policy in modern society. In the US, these debates—which address issues such as political correctness, reverse discrimination, colorblindness, etc.—are so heated because multiculturalism embodies a tension between the ideals of liberal equality, the autonomy of individuals/ groups, and notions of inclusion in the national whole. This essay briefly outlines the theories of multiculturalism in the US and applies them to international examples to see if multiculturalism plays out similarly in other parts of the world. I give examples of countries employing different models of multiculturalism—assimilationist (Japan), liberal (UK, Ireland), and cosmopolitan/social (France, Germany, and Sweden).

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