Multiculturalism and the Need for New Policy Responses to Ethnic Diversity
Essay title: Multiculturalism and the Need for New Policy Responses to Ethnic Diversity
Multiculturalism and the Need for New Policy Responses to Ethnic Diversity
In less than three decades multiculturalism has become a word immediately recognised by policy makers, social commentators, academics and the general public in Western industrial countries, if not elsewhere. The rapid adoption of the term multiculturalism has occurred in a situation where there is increasing international concern about the limitations of existing policies to address changing patterns of inter-ethnic relations. Recognition does not, however, ensure uniformity in usage. Three major levels of usage are distinguished here, as a means of bringing some clarity into the debate over the relevance of multiculturalism to policy development in multi-ethnic societies (7).

Multiculturalism: A Clarification of the Concept
Three interrelated, but nevertheless distinctive, referents of multiculturalism and its related adjective multicultural which can be distinguished in public debate and discussion are: the demographic-descriptive, the ideological-normative and the programmatic-political.

The demographic-descriptive usage occurs where multicultural is used to refer to the existence of ethnically or racially diverse segments in the population of a society or State. It represents a perception that such differences have some social significance-primarily because of perceived cultural differences though these are frequently associated with forms of structural differentiation. The precise ethnic groupings which exist in a State, the significance of ethnicity for social participation in societal institutions and the processes through which ethnic differentiation is constructed and maintained may vary considerably between individual States, and over time.

In the programmatic-political usage multiculturalism refers to specific types of programs and policy initiatives designed to respond to and manage ethnic diversity. It was in this usage that multiculturalism first gained currency after it was recommended in the 1965 Report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. This Report recommended that multiculturalism replace the bicultural policy based on the British and French Charter groups around whom policies for ethnic diversity in Canadian society had been organised for over a century. Since then, its usage has extended rapidly to encompass the demographic-descriptive and the ideological-normative usage.

The ideological-normative usage of multiculturalism is that which generates the greatest level of debate since it constitutes a slogan and model for political action based on sociological theorising and ethical-philosophical consideration about the place of those with culturally distinct identities in contemporary society. Multiculturalism emphasises that acknowledging the existence of ethnic diversity and ensuring the rights of individuals to retain their culture should go hand in hand with enjoying full access to, participation in, and adherence to, constitutional principles and commonly shared values prevailing in the society. By acknowledging the rights of individuals and groups and ensuring their equitable access to society, advocates of multiculturalism also maintain that such a policy benefits both individuals and the larger society by reducing pressures for social conflict based on disadvantage and inequality. They also argue that multiculturalism is an enrichment for the society as a whole. The close parallels between this ideological-normative usage of multiculturalism and the United Nations views on cultural diversity are clear.

Critiques of Multiculturalism
Such a positive assessment of cultural diversity is not, however, universal. Critics argue that positive support of cultural diversity, or multiculturalism, has the potential to foster highly divisive social conflicts. In support of this position they cite the international resurgence of ethnic conflict. One of the strongest statements of the dangers inherent in cultural diversity is Huntingtons highly contentious thesis on the clash of civilisations in which religion is argued to play a crucial role (8). The theoretical support for this and similar expressions of fear about the continuing threats to social

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Demographic-Descriptive Usage And Ethnic Diversity. (April 3, 2021). Retrieved from