Review of Will Kymlicka’s Multicultural Citizenship



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Multicultural Citizenship Beyond Borders




Chapter 7
The Unbundling of Difference and Domination


Global communications networks and technologies have transformed the face of the earth, extending our reach and allowing a level of sharing and assistance worldwide on a scale never before imaginable. The impact of these technologies has been profound for the latest generations, born from the early 80s onwards (those who followed Generation X), Gen Y and the “Millennials” sometimes referred to as the DotNet or DotCom generations (Keeter, 2006). These are fundamentally different from any previous generations in history in that they are globally connected, their social networking is conducted more through Hyperspace than physical space138, and as computers and Internet access spread across global communities, they further increase their access to foreign influences and information. Internet chat rooms, social media, open access journals, web-mapping, satellite images, GPS, and home-videos are all making the world smaller – from Cairo, to Athens, to Wall Street.

Small wirelessly connected handheld devices are radically transforming justice, education, and media and providing a fresh approach to democratization from across and below. In this new environment, cultural sharing – from music to recipes - becomes increasingly delinked from limited bounded territories and traditional power centres. The power of the individual to spread their information and their message is shaking up conventional media, making governments more accountable, and also corporations more sensitive to consumer demand. This rise in technological innovation and globalization is not limited to the global youth-culture but is also impacting the mainstream and traditional knowledge bastions, as evidenced by the 2006 addition to the Oxford English Dictionary of the verb “to Google” (Gleick, 2006). The result of this breakdown of boundaries is that we are all connected more than ever before in an increasingly interdependent world system.

The world is becoming inescapably international. The cosmopolitan no longer needs to leave the confines of her home. She can take in the world through online gaming worlds or through social media, from reading Naguib Mafouz in Mexico City or Haruki Murakami in Dubai, from eating Indian cuisine in Toronto or fusion cuisine in New Delhi, from enrolling in Chinese language classes in Leipzig or Russian ballet in Cairo. In today’s world, culture is on our front doorstep, knocking to get in. (Waldron, 1995, p. 95) s.139 A deep multiculturalism however needs to be rooted in something much more than, what Stanley Fish has aptly described, “boutique multiculturalism”; i.e., the trendiness in purchasing exotic items and listening to foreign music (as cited in Dallmayr, 2003b, p. 40); otherwise, the fate of multiculturalism will be an uncertain one.

Going beyond the “boutique”, the increasing diversity of our societies should compel us to see the other, to forge mutual co-existence drawing from the vast richness of our multifarious human traditions. While this utopian vision, of a world without walls, one in which we can work together for our common betterment is seemingly beyond our current reach, it is nevertheless a worthy goal to keep within our sights. Admittedly, the earth’s prosperity and our common future rely on our ability to overcome traditional boundaries and see eye-to-eye, as political theorist Fred Dallmayr says,

In light of the dark shadows covering the global scenario, multiculturalism acquires new ethical and existential connotations, beyond the range of private whim: connotations having to do with war and peace, that is, with the possibility or impossibility of the peaceful survival of humankind (2003b, p. 40).

Without generating some sort of rapprochement between cultures, we are dangerously poised to witness escalations in conflict and violence, as those on the losing side of the increasingly unequal world scale, feeling disempowered and voiceless, seek to be heard and have their rights protected. Without circumlocution, “the challenges posed by sharply increased diversity are real” (de Souza Briggs, 2004, p. 312).

Problems afflicting human communities are now, more than ever, on a global scale: environmental protection and remediation, the energy crisis, water scarcity, conflict, famine, piracy, policing, the spread of information, early warning systems, doctors, academics, journalists –all increasingly go beyond borders. Increased mobility results in perilous issues such as human trafficking, the sex trade, the plight of refugees and of diasporas. As de Sousa Briggs notes, “large-scale emigration from developing countries to Europe, Canada and Australia has made the economic self-sufficiency and political and cultural integration of immigrants and their children – as well as nativist backlash – a hot topic from Berlin and Paris to Montreal and Sydney” (2004, pp. 311-2)140. But this is a very one-sided view of global migration. Indeed, migration should not be principally perceived as from developing to developed countries since total migration from developing country to developing country is vast – comprising nearly half of the 110 million international migrants each year (Mbatha, 2011).

Despite the radical shifts in global migration and networking, the majority of our political theories remain fettered by the geopolitics of the last century. As Benhabib presciently recognized over two decades ago, there is a disjunction between “the level of commercial, technological and functional interdependence of the world community…and the continuing role of sovereign statehood in defining the juridical status of individual human beings” (1992, p. 175). To adequately deal with these immanent changes we need to revise our normative political theories to reflect our changing world reality. Our failure to do so, in the intervening decades since Benhabib and others first addressed this issue, can plausibly be said to be at the source of the economic crises and evolving dissent currently sweeping the globe.

Does Kymlicka help us to bring about a “deep multiculturalism” that goes beyond the “boutique” towards a level of understanding and global solidarity? To some extent, yes. Kymlicka recognizes the need to separate nation and state and to recognize other groups within the state. Further, Kymlicka realises that minority rights are best secured by international mechanisms for protecting rights, so that the minority can appeal to an international court and override the authority of the dominant majority nation (Kymlicka, 1996). Yet in terms of advocacy of human rights, Kymlicka is nevertheless a sceptic. He cautions that “universal rights” are often used by majority nations to deny minority cultural preferences. Further, while Kymlicka does give us many of the stepping stones to move towards a more global and interconnected notion of citizenship, one of his key failings is his inability to extricate his theory from what is becoming an increasingly outdated nationalist paradigm as well as a lack of looking squarely at global trends in mobility and the ways that former notions of sovereignty, culture and nation are becoming increasingly challenged.

This chapter therefore lays out the foundations for a new paradigm to inform minority rights, contextualized by our increasing “being together in the world” through examining three areas which I believe Kymlicka needs to pay more attention to: 1. The ways our systems and sovereignty are transforming, 2. The role of economics in designing a minority rights scheme, and 3. Power sharing as a vehicle for peace.


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