by Tim Lacy
With this post I am seeking to build a strong sense of historiography on the idea, or intellectual history, of multiculturalism. It seems, based on my own explorations and surveying colleagues, that no authoritative text exists, either in article or book form. But I have no high confidence in this assertion.
Although several books on my shelf touch on the emergence of multiculturalism in the 1970s, I will likely build my thinking on Rodgers’ accounting in—you guessed it—Age of Fracture.
What texts have you found most useful for discussing the historical development of the idea of multiculturalism?
As a starting point for thinking about the idea’s history, here is some excerpted material from the Oxford English Dictionary:
Definition (only one offered, surprisingly): The characteristics of a multicultural society; (also) the policy or process whereby the distinctive identities of the cultural groups within such a society are maintained or supported.
First use recorded in OED: 1957 Hispania 40 349 The key to successful living here, as it is in Switzerland, is multilingualism, which can carry with it rich multiculturalism.
To add some subtlety, let’s look at a few of the OED’s entries for pluralism (using their number system):
3. Polit. A theory or system of devolution and autonomy for organizations and individuals in preference to monolithic state power. Also: (advocacy of) a political system within which many parties or organizations have access to power.
First used: 1917 H. J. Laski Stud. Probl. Sovereignty i. 6 Pluralism, in the ultimate sense, is..impossible, for it would make unintelligible any rational interpretation of society.
4. The presence or tolerance of a diversity of ethnic or cultural groups within a society or state; (the advocacy of) toleration or acceptance of the coexistence of differing views, values, cultures, etc.
First used: 1924 H. Kallen Culture & Democracy in U.S. 43 Cultural growth is founded upon Cultural Pluralism. Cultural Pluralism is possible only in a democratic society whose institutions encourage individuality in groups, in persons, [and] in temperaments.
And a bonus entry from the usage list: 1995 N.Y. Rev. Bks. 19 Oct. 30/1 The institutions and practices of liberalism are likely to open public space to previously repressed and invisible groups, turning a merely theoretical or potential pluralism into an actual on-the-ground pluralism.
So the key difference here between multiculturalism and pluralism seems to be, for the former, active maintenance and support of difference of ethnic and/or cultural groups. But the latter is characterized by more passive tolerance and acceptance. The bonus entry, furthermore, tells us that liberalism is perhaps more often associated with pluralism than multiculturalism (think of the consummate liberal Arthur Schlesinger here, and Rodgers’ citation (p. 210-211) of The Disuniting of America in relation to intellectual opposition to multiculturalism).
I’m looking forward to your input!