|LONDON JOURNAL OF CANADIAN STUDIES 2001/2002 VOLUME 17
Multiculturalism or Transculturalism:
Towards a Cosmopolitan Citizenship.
Donald Cuccioletta Ph.D.
Plattsburgh State University of New York
Coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Research Group on the Americas
The public policy of multiculturalism, passed by the Trudeau Government
in 1972, was according to the theory behind it, to establish an eventual
cosmopolitan identity of Canadian citizenship. More political than social,
this policy, has led to many discussions vis -a-vis the Ghetto nature that has
evolved from it. The Mosaic has remained divided. The pluralistic idea of
transculturalism (seeing oneself in the other), basically relying on the forces
of society (not politicians), has a more interactive (for citizens) and
egalitarian approach. With the break down of numerous borders (both
physical and psychological), which position is the more harmonious with a
true citizenship for the world?
The difficulty of being in contact and understanding the culture of
otherness “alterité” is not new. Human history and recent events in Bosnia,
Rwanda, Oldham, to name just a few, are outstanding examples that human
understanding and respect of the other, based on a religious, racial and
cultural perspective, despite numerous legislation, still remains to this day
very elusive. The persistent barriers of racism, fear, ignorance and
imaginative stereotypes remain constant obstacles to fruitful human
relations and need to be addressed and destroyed in order for the human
experience to progress.
We have all had the experience of reading historical travel accounts that on
the surface present exciting detail descriptions of exotic civilizations and
cultures which inhabited our world. We now know, through fundamental
historical research that these accounts were completely tainted with
passages of ethnocentrism (mostly emanating from the colonial empires of
history) and in many ways perpetuated and fostered paternalistic attitudes
towards cultures of difference. We also know that the great explorers of the
past were mire traders looking for gold, spices, and material wealth and in
numerous instances practiced genocide in order to attain their materialistic
end. Missionaries under the guise of “saving souls” and the advancement
of Christianity really wished to unify the world under their type of religion,
believing it was the one “true” religion. Other cultures and civilizations
encountered were seen as objects of possession or destruction, as the
encounter of the Europeans and the Native Peoples of the Americas.
In many ways our modern or post- modern world still functions with this
same fear and loathing of the other. In Michael Harrington’s world we
have replaced the clash of ideologies with the clash of civilizations1. And as
Immanuel Wallerstein would have it, culture is the ideological battleground
of the Modern World System. Actually both of these distinguished scholars,
have stated what in my humble opinion is the obvious.
Cultural clashes began when people started to be on the move, even within
their own national and local territories. Throughout history the
misrepresentations of cultures, the hatred of different cultures, coupled with
an ignorance of cultures have always been the underlying reasons for
human conflict. These unchanging realities of our modern world, coupled
by the fact that time and space are no longer insurmountable barriers have
fuelled an urgency, especially within the last fifty years of the 20th century,
in providing a model for cultural harmonization or at the very least cultural
understanding, in the process of human interaction for our new century.
Today, with accessible rapid means of transportation at our disposal, time
and distance have been shortened. The electronic media (e.g. the Internet)
provides us with an instantaneous contact with the other. However, even
with these new scientific developments the question remains, has our
facility for rapid physical and virtual travel really put us in contact with the
other and fostered an understanding of the other?2
In reality, do we not displace ourselves (physical travel and virtual travel)
in order to seek out what resembles our own image and thereby indirectly
making us search for our home? Octavio Paz, in his reflections on multiple
identities and a transcultural world, postulates that when we move from one
place to the other, we are in reality remaining in the same place.
The recognition that modern societies are no longer monolithic, that the
imaginary social space has mushroomed into a multitude of identities has
propelled us into a realization that we are in an era where interculturality,
transculturalism and the eventual prospect of identifying a cosmopolitan
citizenship can become a reality. However we still remain circumscribed by
our Little Italies, our China Towns etc., which beyond the pleasures of
experiencing culinary delights, nevertheless create a self illusion that we
have attained a level of cultural awareness of the other. One wonders, how
can this be? Why countries such as Canada which are immigrant nations,
have not transgressed to this day the cultural boundaries, which have
separated us in the past? Has the policy of Multiculturalism3 established in
1972 succeeded in bridging or of dividing Canadian society?
The object of this text, on the one hand, will be to attempt to bring certain
clarifications and to induce a certain reflection on the idea of a how
Transculturalism or Multiculturalism should lead to the establishment of a
cosmopolitan citizenship. On the other hand, the paper will also present a
critical appraisal of the policy of Multiculturalism as its pertains to the
understanding and acceptance of the different cultures that inhabit
Culture, Multi-culture or Trans-culture.
If culture, is defined by anthropologists and cultural historians as an
evolutionary process, how can we still ask if in our contemporary societies,
is there such a thing as a pure or unique culture. As Guy Scarpetta, wrote
in L’impurité4, “ Impurity is the order of the day. The we and you, include
also the he and the she of all linguistic groups, of all nationalities, of all the
sexes. We are of all the cultures. Each person is a mosaic.”5
In the social phenomenon of immigration, the movement of individuals or
groups is a process of dialogue, a métissage, and sometimes confrontation.
Has the policy of multiculturalism as applied in Canada since 1972, helped
or hindered this process of dialogue, métissage and the recognition of
oneself in the other. Seen from the outside, multiculturalism as adopted by
the Trudeau government of 1972 does in essence seem an enlightened
political policy. Who would question an idea of bringing people together,
of promoting their cultural heritage so that we could all enrich ourselves?
The idea conveys an atmosphere of utopianism, and human progress we
There are of course traditionalists and social conservatives who would
prefer a process of integration into one or the other of the two founding
cultures (English and French), based on the historical context “of the two
founding nations and peoples of Canada”. Following this line of logic,
shouldn’t we have all by now integrated into the First Nations of Canada?
Were they not the first ones to inhabit this geographical space?
However the question remains has the political policy of multiculturalism
lived up to the expectations of creating a cosmopolitan citizenship. Has the
policy brought forward by the Liberal Government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau
brought us closer to this goal or has it distanced us from it. It must be
understood what I mean by cosmopolitan citizenship, is a citizenship that
recognizes that each person of that nation-state processes multiple identities
that not only link him or her to their own cultural heritage, but also to the
culture of the host country, continent, neighborhood, street etc…
We must remember that beyond and long before the policy of
multiculturalism there existed multiculturalism as a social phenomenon,
one predicated upon immigration coming to Canada from all over the
world. In other words before 1971, was Canada objectively multicultural?
Of course it was. Multiculturalism is an objective fact produced by
immigration, people moving and settling around the world, for whatever
reason. Multiculturalism as a social phenonimon, directly linked to
worldwide immigration, it did not suddenly exist because a government (in
this case the Canadian Government) decreed it so.
Any personal experience, such as my own, of any Canadian growing up
especially after World War 2 and attending high school (but equally
experienced since the first massive immigrations to Canada of Jews and
Italians in 1900) in the major metropolitan cities of Montreal, Toronto and
Vancouver would attest to the multicultural world that was Canada.
Surrounded by the Budnick’s (Polish), the Spyro’s (Greek), the Charles’
(African-Canadian), the Stessik’s (Ukrainian) etc.. revealed to all who were
opened minded that we were living in an immigrant, multicultural and
multilingual society. Did these immigrant groups have their own cultural
groups? Of course they did. The Polish had their Dom Polski halls and
their Saint-Mary’s Church with the Black Virgin of Cracow. The Italians
had their Casa d’Italia’s and every Saturday morning my Ukrainian friends
Bob and Walter Weikerchuck would go to Saint-Michael’s Church to learn
the Ukrainian language and dance. What the policy of multiculturalism of
1971 did was to recognize what was already there.
Multiculturalism: a political policy gone awry?
In recent years many eminent scholars and noted novelists such as Kenneth
McRoberts and Neil Bissondath have written about and directed criticisms
toward the idea that multiculturalism, as a political policy remains the only
avenue towards a cosmopolitan harmony in Canada. McRoberts in his
most recent book6, returns to the debate surrounding the policy of
multiculturalism and traces the objections on the one hand of Quebec and
on the other of prominent left leaning scholars. For Quebec, as reported by
McRoberts, the policy of multiculturalism has always been seen as a
political ploy to disenfranchise the idea that Quebec is a nation and one of
the two founding nations of Canada. McRoberts cites Philip Resnick a
prominent Canadian and leftwing scholar as one of the critics as he writes:
“English Canada is not some tabula rasa or blank sheet to be recast every
time new cultural communities come along”.7
As McRoberts states the policy of multiculturalism did meet with support8
in the Canadians of British decent community, who saw this policy as a
way of differentiating Canada from the United Sates. Yet thirty years after
the installation of this policy McRoberts states: “If multiculturalism policy
did help some Canadians feel better integrated into Canadian society and
provided a clearer basis of Canadian identity, then it served the cause of
national unity. However it is far from clear that this has happened; in fact,
cogent arguments have been made to the effect that, multiculturalism has,
on the contrary, undermined national unity. With time this arguments seem
to have gathered force.”9 McRoberts continues,” It has been argued that the
policy of multiculturalism has impeded rather than facilitated the
integration of immigrants into Canadian society. In effect, there is an
inevitable contradiction between the first two goals of the multiculturalism
policy, namely preserving cultures and eliminating barriers to mobility.
This criticism has even come from the Canadians who ostensibly benefit
from the policy.”10
Actually the harshest critic is the Trinidadian, and Governor General
Award winner, novelist Neil Bissondath. Bissondath in Selling Illsuions11,
who argues at length that the celebration of cultural diversity (as defined by
the policy of multiculturalism) has sustained divisions among Canadians
and prevented its supposed beneficiaries from being fully accepted into the
mainstream of Canadian life. He states: “Multiculturalism, with all of its
festivals and its celebrations, has done- and can do- nothing to foster a
factual and clear-minded vision of our neighbors. Depending on stereotype,
ensuring that ethnic groups will preserve their distinctiveness in a gentle
way, it has done little more than lead an already divided country down the
path to further social divisiveness.”12
Emmanuel Castells 13 in his monumental work: “The Information
Age:Economy, Society and Culture:” writes that with the break down of the
18th century concept of the nation-state, due to rapid globalization, the idea
of a primary culture as the sole identity of an individual or a group has reemerged
because of a sense of marginalisation. What we must understand
by Castells findings is that in a world that is more interconnected (Internet,
television, travel) and the advent of the “Global Village” enunciated by
Marshall McCluhan in 1954, has produced the opposite effect of distancing
cultures and created a return to the concept of national identity. In
countries, such as Canada even where the object of the policy of
multiculturalism was intended to get away from the primitive concept of a
single identity, and foster the concept of interculturalism of multiple
identities, this has not happened.
A case in point in recent Canadian history was the Serbian-Canadians who
joined in many numbers the Bosnian-Serb militias fighting against the
Bosnians in Sarajevo. When the Canadian government accepted, under the
protection of the United Nations, to house the temporary stay in Canada of
Bosnians coming from the refugee camps, the same Serbian-Canadian
community through its leaders denounced and opposed the Canadian
government policy as counter productive to Canadian society. Canada who
has always opened it gates to immigration and has a deservedly world
reputation as the foremost country in the area of peace keeping and peace
making, was taken to task by some of its own citizens who felt more local
to the reactionary forces killing Bosnians than to the openness of the
Canadian soil. How, in this case, did the policy of multiculturalism foster
the recognition of the other?
Allan Touraine, also states that “ very often a political policy of
multiculturalism creates and imposes a judicial approach to social
interaction and destroys the democratic representative institutions”.
Similarly Gilles Bourque and Jules Duchastel in: “Multiculturalisme,
Pluralism et Communauté Politique: Le Canada et le Quebec”, conclude
that the policy of multiculturalism has lead to the atomization of the
political process. A policy that at the outset had wished to bring all
Canadians together has on the contrary, forgotten the principles on which
this nation had originally been founded. No where do we recognize the
Quebecois as a people (we are not even taking about a nation here) or the
Acadian people or even the First Nations. They believe that the policy was
inherently political and in many ways has even contributed to today’s
impasse with regards to the constitutional issue of Quebec.
As they state, “This legalization of social interaction, puts in peril the
existence of a political community as the vital cornerstone of democracy,
and at the same time erodes the capacity of parliaments to produce
democratic rules that encompass the organization of society. It is within
this context (of legalization of social interaction) that we find the possible
negative side of multiculturalism and the hyphenated citizen”.14
They go on by quoting Touraine, “ On peut, en effet, craindre l’affirmation
d’une sorte de pluritribalisme. Cette pluritribalisme est en même temps
susceptible d’imposer un rapport fondamentalment clientaliste à l’Etat
dorénavant concu comme une espace juridique d’inscription des droits que
comme un espace public. Comme aux 19ième siècle les liberaux ont
protégé le marché en s’appuyant sur le droit de proprété, maintenant avec le
multiculturalisme il s’agira d’utiliser le droit pour fixer et pour figer les
identities et les particuliarités des identités.”15
The policy of multiculturalism in Canada has now forced the judiciary and
the right of law to define culture, identities, thus making identities a
political issue and no longer a societal issue, decided and debated in the
Transculturalism, towards a cosmopolitan citizenship
Of course when one directs any form of criticism, which is the basis of any
public and democratic society, towards the policy of multiculturalism in
Canada, the response that it engenders is usually dogmatic (an “us” versus
“them” attitude). A case in point is this quote from Richard Moore in his
book: Justice and Political Stability in the Multicultural State, he states:
“Echoing some American critics of multiculturalism, Canadian writers like
Richard Gwyn (1995) and Neil Bissoondath (1994) have argued that
official multiculturalism is leading to ghettoization, where immigrants are
encouraged to form self-contained ghettos alienated from the
mainstream.”16 We can agree or disagree with the characterization of the
arguments of Gwyn and Bissondath, but this is not the question here.
Notice the reference to “American”, in order words to criticize official
multiculturalism, you must surely be close to the Americans, maybe even a
In other words for a Canadian nationalist the worst insult for any Canadian
who dares criticize or detract from the political mainstream of Canadian
society, in this case the policy of multiculturalism, is to be called or lumped
together with the Americans. Precisely because multiculturalism has
become a political policy and not left to its social prerogatives, it has
become in the public space “ untouchable” and therefore any possibility of
voicing a different position is frowned upon.
To be fair we must recognize in the policy of multiculturalism that it has
contributed to the exercise of establishing the different cultural
communities of Canada. It has affirmed and established through
governmental public policy the concrete reality of contemporary Canada. It
has not objectively, built the necessary bridges to do away with racism and
bigotry. This is done in a very effectual fashion by Canada’s and Quebec’s
Charter of Rights and Freedoms
It has created a basis from which to build on. It has kept alive the different
cultures that inhabit Canada, from which a cosmopolitan citizenship can be
envisaged. It is precisely this that must be put in perspective.
Multiculturalism is only the first level, the first rung in the socio-cultural
ladder and not the ultimate goal of society. In the Canadian case it has
recognized as I have stated earlier, the obvious, that Canada being an
immigrant nation is multicultural.
The next step, in my humble opinion, is transculturalism. The South
American scholar Fernando Ortiz originally defined Transculturalism in
1940. His thinking which was based on the celebrated article of José Marti
published in 1891 entitled, “Nuestra America” put forward the idea that
intercultural mixed peoples (métissage) was the key in legitimizing the
American, meaning hemispheric, identity. Marti referred to the process of
métissage (métizos in Latino) as a distinctive trait of a culture that is
founded on the Native population, and all the different immigrant groups
who had come and are still coming to the Americas. In Marti’s thinking,
the inhabitants of the Americas were biologically and culturally métis and
therefore always part of the dialectic with the other.
Ortiz, following Marti’s lead, defined transculturalism, in its earliest stage
as a synthesis of two phases occurring simultaneously, one being a deculturalization
of the past with a métissage with the present. This reinventing
of new common culture is therefore based on the meeting and the
intermingling of the different peoples and cultures. In other words one’s
identity is not strictly one dimensional (the self) but is now defined and
more importantly recognized in rapport with the other. In other words
one’s identity is not singular but multiple. As Scarpetta stated earlier “Each
person is a mosaic”
Lamberto Tassinari (director of the transcultural magazine in Montreal,
called Vice Versa), suggests that we can imagine and envision
transculturalism as a new form of humanism, based on the idea of
relinquishing the strong traditional identities and cultures which in many
cases were products of imperialistic empires, interspersed with dogmatic
religious values. Contrary to multiculturalism, which most experiences
have shown re-enforces boundaries based on past cultural heritages,
transculturalism is based on the breaking down of boundaries. In many
ways transculturalism, by proposing a new humanism of the recognition of
the other, based on a culture of métissage, is in opposition to the singular
traditional cultures that have evolved from the nation-state.
Transculturalism, places the concept of culture at the center of a
redefinition of the nation-state or even the disappearance of the nationstate.
This process of recognizing oneself in the other leads inevitably to a
cosmopolitan citizenship. This citizenship, independent of political
structures and institutions, develops each individual in the understanding
that one’s culture is multiple, métis and that each human experience and
existence is due to the contact with other, who in reality is like, oneself.
Transculturalism is not a total objective reality, there has to be a conscious
subjective component which must express itself in the public space, in a
democratic fashion without political interference.
With the integration of Europe and the Americas, have lead many
researchers to question the validity of globalization on a human and cultural
scale. To integrate markets by breaking down protective tariff barriers have
been done with the stroke of a pen. Yet the globalization of cultures, the
integration of peoples, the métissage with the other and the eventual
recognition in the other, is totally another matter. What is lacking in this
globalization discourse is a cultural concept of the world. We have an
economic concept, a political concept, yet, the one that remains the most
important in our Global Village, the question of multiple identities without
barriers, based on the movement and flow of peoples and of society is
In conclusion therefore, a journey from multiculturalism to tranculturalism,
which would open the horizons and eventually lead to a cosmopolitan
citizenship, forces us to envision the world through a cultural prism.
Culture, therefore becomes the eyeglasses through which we analyze,
project and solution our problems. Culture therefore becomes all
encompassing, recognizing the interaction without barriers among peoples
as the basis of a world outlook. The policy of multiculturalism on the
contrary has created borders and boundaries, while social multiculturalism
or transculturalism left to a conscious ebb and flow of interculturality,
emanating from the grass roots and not imposed and defined by
government, projects this vision.
Works Cited and Referenced
Bourque, Gilles and Jules Duchastel, Multiculturalisme, pluralisme, et
coomunauté politique: le Canada et le Québec, Presses Université
Bissoondath, Neil, Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in
Canada, Penguin, 1994.
Canclini, Nestor Garcia, Hybrid Cultures, University of Minnesota Press,
Castells, Manuel, The Rise of the Network Society, Blackwell, 1996.
Friesen, John W., When Cultures Clash: Case Studies in Multiculturalism,
Kymlicka, Will, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority
Rights, Clarendon Press, 1995.
Marti, José, Nuestra America, University of Havana, 1980.
McRoberts, Kenneth, Misconceiving Canada:The Struggle for National
Unity, Oxford University Press, 1997.
Moore, Richard, Justice and Political Stability in the Multicultural State,
Ortiz, Fernando, Transculturalismo, Mexico, 1965.
Scarpetta, Guy, L’Impurité, Paris, Seuil, 1989.
Taylor, Charles, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition, Princeton
University Press, 1992
1 Please see, Michael Harrington, The Clash of Civilizations, Cambridge, Harvard
University Press, 1998.
2 In this paper reference to the other, means the cultures, the races and the languages
that differ from the subject “I”. The world therefore is a cornucopia of otherness,
and it is this reality that forms the basis, contrary to the struggle for material wealth,
of the human experience and for human progress.
3 It is import here to distinguish between the policy of multiculturalism and social
multiculturalism. Un- fortunately when people refer to multiculturalism they are
referring to the political policy established by the government of Pierre Trudeau as
their sole reference to the concept of multiculturalism. Canada being a nation of
immigrants has always been a nation of multiculturalism, of social multiculturalism.
This distinction is important in order to dispel the falsehood that before 1972,
multiculturalism did not exist and nothing was done to create a “raprochement”
between the different cultures making up Canada of the 20th century.
4 Please see, Guy Scarpetta, L’impurté, Paris, Seuil, 1989.
6 Please see Kenneth McRoberts, Misconceiving Canada: The Struggle for National
Unity, Oxford University Press, 1997.
7 Ibid, p.133.
8 The major defender and proponent for a government policy of multiculturalism
was the Ukrainian community out of Winnipeg, who felt that with the rise of
Quebecois nationalism of the sixties, they were being left out with meager
government support for their cultural activities. Lack of funding, basically a
budgetary problem actually fuelled the debate. The support grew among other
cultural community leaders who wanted also to be heard also fearing of being left
out. Throughout the years, there have be people such as Will Kymlicka, noted
philosopher who has developed a more ideological position, please see Will
Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights,
Clarendon Press,1995, and has become the primary and constant defender of the
9 Kenneth McRoberts., op.cit., p.131.
10 Ibid., p.131.
11 Please see Neil Bissondath, Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in
Canada, Penguin, 1994.
12 Ibid., p.63.
13 Please see, Manuel Castells, The Information Age: Economy, Society and
Culture: The Rise of the Network Society V.1, Blackwell Publishers, 1996.
14 Gilles Bourque and Jules Duchastel, Multiculturalisme, pluralisme et
communauté politique; le Canada et le Québec, Presses Université Laval, 1997.
15 Ibid., p.54
16 Please see Richard Moore, Justice and Political Stability in the Multicultural
State, Toronto, p.55,