Multiculturalism in 2020

Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy

Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy

In 2020, Western multiculturalism will be an even more significant feature of political debate and controversy than it is today. Gender and sexual orientation will have become relatively uncontroversial aspects of group identity and campaigns against disadvantage and misrecognition. Cultural difference, especially ethnoreligious difference, will, however, continue to be political battlegrounds. This will be the case particularly in Western Europe, with the non-white population having reached 15%, and the Muslim population about 10%, and concentrated in the towns and cities, in some of which – following the trend started some years ago in California – white native-born people will cease to be a majority. This will be true of London – Europe’s most populous city – but the same trend will be evident in Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, greater Paris and Marseille amongst others.

According to some politicians Multiculturalism died in the 2000s, when rhetoric turned to ‘integration’, ‘muscular liberalism’ and an emphasis on nation-first discourses, but by 2020 it will be apparent that thinking of integration in a classic individualist way was impossible. The idea that there are post-immigration groups in society that can be called ‘black’, ‘Asian’, ‘Hispanic’, ‘Muslim’, far from disappearing actually grew and hardened in that anti-diversity climate. Such a political climate of fear and hostility reinforced negative perceptions of these groups despite the clamouring for them to integrate. By 2020 it will be better realised that demanding integration doesn’t challenge the negative perceptions of groups, nor do politicians cease to accommodate groups. Hence each national government is found for example to have created national organisations of Muslims as governmental partners even while denouncing that Muslims have a right to differential treatment. Such top-down organisations struggle to win grass-roots support and so on the one hand fail to be effective national partners and on the other hand their unrepresentativeness and docility creates further distrust and alienation at a grassroots level. By 2020 it will be clear that this syndrome exacerbates the problem governments set out to address, namely ‘to win the hearts and minds’ of minority communities such as Muslims and reverse the causes of exclusion and militancy.

It will also be clear by 2020 that rethinking political secularism, the boundary between private and public religion, is one of the new frontiers of multiculturalism. Encouraging and resourcing linguistic, cultural and sub-state national identities – not to mention gender and sexual orientation – whilst excluding religious identities from public and political space, will be seen as a secularist prejudice. This will further underline that liberal, difference-blind integration by itself was not an adequate or comprehensive strategy. Nor is the kind of cosmopolitan individualism that is hostile to national identities.

Hence, the politics of cultural difference will be even more prominent in 2020 than it is today. Despite all the political uncertainties and varied rhetorics, it will be clear that there are really only two options: a version of monocultural nationalism and a version of multiculturalist remaking of national citizenship.

Professor Tariq Modood is the founding Director of the University of Bristol research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship. He led one of the recent Politics Cafe events in the run up to the 2015 General Election, on the topic: Are multiculturalism and cultural integration opposing forces?

You can follow Professor Modood on twitter @TariqModood and his website is 

This blog was first written for Global Brief magazine.

Prof Modood gave a talk on Are multiculturalism and cultural integration opposing forces? as part of the Politics Cafe event series. 

The views expressed here are personal views and do not reflect the views of the funders of our research.