“It’s Alive!” Reports of multiculturalism’s death much exaggerated

Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy

Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy

In recent years there has been a backlash against multiculturalism in countries in which it was previously viewed positively.  For example, Prime Minister Cameron has stated that ‘the doctrine of ‘state multiculturalism’ has encouraged culturally different people to live apart from one another and apart from the mainstream’.  Clearly the Prime Minister, with others, has understood multiculturalism and integration in mutually exclusive terms.

Dr Nasar Meer, Reader in Social Sciences, Northumbria University

Dr Nasar Meer, Reader in Social Sciences, Northumbria University

This is surprising since prior and new evidence points to a very different reading. If we take residential settlement as a behavioral example of minority integration, then the analysis of demographic distribution using the Index of Similarity (to measure ethnic minority concentration in a given area) suggests a pattern of dispersal (away from family of origin). If we take an attitudinal indicator of integration, self-identification with Britain, we find ethnic minorities overwhelmingly self-identify as British (often in a hyphenated way).  Indeed, our recent study, Cosmopolitanism and integrationism: is British multiculturalism a ‘Zombie category’?, argues while the appeal of ‘multiculturalism’ as a term has clearly declined, the category in Britain that multiculturalism denotes has been deepened and expanded, even while joined and challenged by other developments.

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A multicultural nation?

Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy

Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy

Are multiculturalism and nationalism necessarily opposed to each other? Well, the pioneering political act of multiculturalism is widely regarded to be Prime Minister Trudeau’s famous declaration in 1971 that Canada was a multicultural nation. This emphasis on multiculturalising the nation was the archstone of the Swann Report on multicultural education in Britain in 1985.

‘Rethinking the national story’ was the most important – yet the most misunderstood – message of the report of the Commission on Multi-Ethnic Britain (2000; aka The Parekh Report). It argued that the post-immigration challenge was not simply eliminating racial discrimination or alleviating racial disadvantage, important as these were to an equality strategy. Continue reading