Culture vs. Cultures an irreverent approach to conceiving and working with diversity

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Paper presented at the symposium Cultural Diversity and the Construction of Europe, Barcelona 13-16 December 2000

An irreverent approach to conceiving and working with diversity
Jef Verschueren

IPrA Research Center, University of Antwerp

1. Diversity and Europe
Different as it may be from other continents in a number of ways, when human diversity is at issue – at least at a fundamental level – there is nothing special about Europe. The diversity it manifests is considerable, but not more impressive than in any other part of the world. Looking at one of the parameters that touch every individual’s life, a rough and approximate geographical mapping of the world’s living languages in the 1980's located only 3% in Europe, compared to 15% in the Americas, 20% in the Pacific, 30% in Asia, and 31% in Africa (the remaining 1% being found in the Middle East)1. Parameters at the more elitist levels of culture, say architecture and forms of art, show diversity in Europe (as elsewhere) that is located more along a temporal axis than along the lines of geography, states, or ethnic groups – a type of globalization avant la lettre at the level of one continent. Just like elsewhere, moreover, the face of diversity changes over time, partly due to local political processes (aimed at the reinforcement or the elimination of types of difference), and partly due to processes such as migration which are truly universal though the resulting patterns are dependent on circumstantial factors such as the degree of openness of borders and the availability of modern means of transportation (as is well illustrated in R. Grillo’s discussion of transmigration2).

In other words, the tasks involved in the construction of Europe are by no means unique. If unity and diversity are not incompatible in India (or, for that matter, in the USA – a country that is too often misconceived by Europeans as a monolythic block), there is no reason to expect incompatibility in Europe. Nor can Europe, per se, provide an exemplary way of incorporating diversity into a larger framework. It has been done before, at many times and in many places. Yet the ‘construction of Europe’ is often seen as by definition problematic because of cultural diversity. Therefore, there must be something in the European conception of diversity that makes the construction of Europe problematic. And therefore it remains useful to ask explicit questions about the tensions that are inevitably involved when, in the late 20 and in the early 21thst century in a European context with multiple well-established states, a drive for unification meets wishes for the preservation of identities, many of which entail demands that are now recognized, to varying degrees, as legitimate. Such questions have to be asked comparatively to avoid what can be observed as mistakes elsewhere (e.g. the English-only movement in the USA). They also have to be asked in relation to widespread ideologies which partly determine the constraints within which political processes of unification can unfold democratically, i.e. subject to the scrutiny of public opinion. My focus in this contribution will especially take this latter angle. More specifically, I will start from some well-researched ideas surrounding the management of ‘new’ forms of diversity resulting from migrations. The stumbling blocks for interaction between European majorities and the new minorities, however, will be shown to have implications for the future construction of Europe as a political entity trying to incorporate cultural diversity.

2. Socio-political options: The case of ‘new’ minorities
The socio-political options available in Europe today are – fortunately – limited. Both in relation to autochthonous diversity and in relation to diversity resulting from migrations inside Europe and from the outside, segregation is no longer an option, even if until the early 1970's some café’s in a city such as Antwerp posted signs saying “Interdit aux nord-africains.” Similarly, assimilation has lost its respectability, probably because many Europeans have come to realize that differences cannot be fully eliminated anyway – pre-WWII German Jews, after all, did not find protection in the fact that many were more German than the Germans. The halfway house of integration has come to replace both, incorporating the needs of a coherent society as well as the right to be different. But this is what happens at the surface of the rhetoric, where tolerance and openness are the prevailing virtues.

Why do I say ‘at the surface of the rhetoric’? This qualification summarizes the result of an investigation which I undertook with Jan Blommaert (reported in Blommaert & Verschueren 1998) to discover the extent to which non-superficial forms of diversity (i.e. beyond relatively trivial aspects such as cuisine and dressing codes) are accepted in that segment of Belgian (and more specifically Flemish) society that can be characterized as the ‘tolerant majority.’ Mainstream discourse of various types (including news reporting, policy statements, training programs, and popularized social-scientific research reports) was analyzed, paying attention not only to the overt expression of opinions but in particular to more implicit levels of meaning generation, as revealed in patterns of word choice, implication- and presupposition-carrying constructions, the interaction between different points of view, and patterns of argument construction. Though tolerance was explicitly professed throughout, at the level of implicit meaning the ingredients of an equally consistent underlying ideology could be detected that we labelled ‘homogeneism.’ The basic ingredients of homogeneism (Flemish style, in the 1990's) are the following:

(i) Homogeneity is seen as the norm or ideal for a society.

(ii) Hence, fundamental forms of diversity are regarded as deviations from the norm; in other words, they are abnormal.

(iii) Since diversity is a deviation, negative reactions to diversity (once a so-called ‘threshold of tolerance’ is passed) are normal.

(iv) Since neither deviations from the norm of homogeneity, nor negative xenophobic or racist reactions (however ‘normal’), are desirable, some form of rehomogenization is required. But in order to preserve the self-perception of a tolerant society, the acceptance of differences is said to be fully compatible with demands for ‘integration’, even though this term is used in a way barely distinguishable from strong versions of full assimilationism.

Indeed, the prevailing rhetoric on integration is highly assimilationistic. The integration concept hinges on a threefold distinction between levels of social action and principles governing social behavior: (i) values and principles protected by the concept of 'public order'; (ii) guiding social principles about which an autochthonous majority seems to agree implicitly; (iii) the level of the many cultural expressions which threaten neither the public order nor the social principles of the host country.While (i) relates to the law, (ii) bears on a vague set of attitudes related to aspects of modernity, women's emancipation, a pluralist respect for all world views, and language. Migrants have to obey the law and adapt to our guiding social principles, as we understand them. The only locus of tolerated difference is (iii), the domain of art and music, folk dance, cuisine, home language (as long it does not penetrate public life), and religion (as long as it is not 'fundamentalist'). For the tolerant majority, which basically believes in the salutary nature of a serious degree of homogeneity, this represents an open attitude. However, this integration concept is discriminatory and repressive in various ways.

First, it discriminates because of its asymmetrical use of the notion of 'identity.' Not only are migrants requested to live according to the local law (a quite acceptable demand as long as one does not see the law as a natural fact but as an adaptable construct), but they have to adapt to the values and socio-cultural accomplishments of our society. This demand is motivated on the basis of the idea that these values and accomplishments are so fundamental to our identity that we cannot accept their being questioned by people in our midst who would not share them. It is assumed that by accepting deviations from our "guiding social principles," however vaguely defined, we would become the victims of our own tolerance: the foundations of our society would be at risk. This is why the 'threat' to society, as a motivation for the demand, is indirectly introduced in the formulation of (iii). On the other hand, the tolerant discourse emphasizes that we do by no means want to curtail the others' identity. But in that claim, 'identity' is restricted to those domains of social action which, in the definition of our own identity, we would accord a marginal role at best. This asymmetric use of identity deculturalizes the migrant to the point of assimilation (though this will not prevent the majority from culturalizing any social problems that may involve migrants).

The formulated package of demands is also discriminatory in the sense that only one (albeit poorly defined) population group, consisting mainly of muslims from North Africa and Turkey, is subjected to it. In spite of explicit claims to the contrary, not everyone is equal for the integration concept. Muslims are not regarded as fully acceptable members of this society unless they accept the principle of equality between men and women, as we understand it; but no-one asks the question as to how many Belgians would have to be denied full membership of the society on the same count. Similarly, islamic schools are discouraged because they are seen as a danger to the integration process; but no-one asks any questions about the well-developed Jewish schooling system (or, a fortiori, about the vast network of Catholic schools).

Thus the autochthonous majority imposes integration on one (partly imaginary) minority group. This does not only happen without serious democratic involvement of this minority itself (the existence of which, for the sake of argumentation, we will not call into doubt), but the package of demands remains extremely vague. What happens, then, is the following: we impose demands unilaterally; we refrain from specifying the demands clearly enough so that migrants would be able to declare themselves 'integrated' at a certain moment; yet we hold them responsible for the integration process ("He/she must integrate him/herself"). If it were the intention to develop a concept that would enable us to exert ever-lasting power over a segment of the population, we could not dream of a better one. That is why the dominant integration concept is not only discriminatory but even repressive, a judgment which does not necessarily bear on intentions, but simply on the essence of the concept.

All of this must be seen against the background of the specific Belgian history of confrontation with diversity. When my 88-year-old mother, like so many people of her generation, listened to the visiting missionary in her little village dishing out stories about deprived and uncivilized blacks in some faraway country in Africa, in need of soul-saving and salvation, she definitely had a close encounter of the first kind. The second kind set in when she saw a black man on the other side of the street in Antwerp, who might have been one of the characters from the missionary’s stories. But probably she never reached the third kind, a face-to-face close encounter with such an alien being. She may even have dreaded the idea. Otherwise she would not have commented, upon hearing that my son went to a daycare place in America run by a black mama from Alabama, that he surely must be a brave little fellow. Many of her contemporaries, in urban and industrial areas, did have close encounters of the third kind. They were confronted, in the performance of their daily duties, with guest workers from Italy, Spain, Morocco, and Turkey. This was experienced as interesting by the adventurous, and as disturbing to various degrees by others. Interactions were smooth on some occasions, and more ruffled on others. But at the societal level, all these types of encounters – also the third – resulted from movements and interactions for which Belgium fully controlled the initiative and thus could dictate the terms. Much of what has been problematic in interethnic relations in the last few decades in Belgium, and particularly in Flanders, is mainstream society’s unwillingness to abandon full control and to accept that the initiative is no longer exclusively its own. In other words, the society has shown itself to be unprepared for close encounters of the fourth kind, the stage that sets in when so-called ‘foreigners’, by simply being there to stay (or with aspirations to stay), become part of the society as a whole, enter processes far beyond the functional limits originally defined for them, share a common territory with the majority population, rely on the same services, and ultimately refuse to be ignored.

An unwillingness or inability to abandon full control has direct consequences in many domains of social life since it involves mundane processes of conceptualizing ‘others’ that determine the way in which diversity is conceived and worked with. Thus the daily praxis of intercultural interaction can be profoundly affected by stereotyped and homogenized categorizations of people.3 That is why the case of the ‘new’ diversity which this section has concentrated on can be seen as typical of and instructive for life with diversity in Europe in general. For one thing, the link with local nationalisms, which affect relations between autochthonous groups as well, should be clear. Moreover, the future of Europe is imagined to be one of free movement across borders, resulting in an intensified context of close encounters of the fourth kind. Whenever local communities regard themselves as more equal than others entering their territory, or, for that matter, whenever they display hospitality from a position that presupposes the legitimacy of their original and ultimate control, problems are bound to arise.

Before going into specific implications, requiring fundamental reconceptualizations of diversity, a few remarks need to be made on the notion of culture.
3. Remarks on the notion of culture
As was already demonstrated in the above description of a widespread Flemish integration concept, the everyday notion of ‘culture’ is a vague conglomeration of miscellaneous properties, at different levels of ‘depth’, observed in or ascribed to groups of people: beliefs and values, types of behavior, habits of dressing, eating, and the like, religion, language, aspects of social structure (e..g. position of men vs. women). All of these are acquired through ‘learning’, passed on by tradition, though a link is often assumed with the equally vague but seemingly inalienable properties of ethnicity.

In contrast to the vagueness of the notion and the fact that learning is involved, culture is often seen as being the undetachable, deep-seated, essence of a group of people: this is called essentialism. This position often goes together with the metaphor of (cultural) ‘roots’, and it often underlies assumptions of territoriality (and hence even forms of nationalism).

There are two (basically equivalent) ways of describing the fundamental problem with essentialism. First, it confuses culture with nature. Second, it places clusters of cultural traits at the level of groups. Thus the nature of a group is thought to be defined by a given culture. This attitude disregards the arbitrariness with which cultural traits can be handled to emphasize or blur distinctions between groups of people, depending on the historical context, and in function of specific (usually political) goals.

Group formation is a natural and universal phenomenon in social life. Hence it is inevitable that coping with diversity and conceiving ‘others’ should involve thinking in terms of groups. In other words, the categorization of people is involved, and categories receive a form of stability and homogeneity in the mind.Unfortunately, categorization and the related form of homogenization can easily lead to stereotyping and prejudice, and hence to racism, discrimination, and exclusion. It is very important, therefore, to be clear about the precise status of ‘groups’ in social life.

Though group formation is a natural process, the resulting groups are not natural entities in any sense (though it is an assumption of naturalnesss that underscores the importance attached to ‘identity’). Groups are always products of arbitrarily used constellations of distinctive features. Not a single parameter of variability is used consistently across time and space. Thus discourse about ethnic identity used to include references to race. It is now generally agreed, however, that ‘race’ is not a useful biological category. This general observation about the differences between the way in which race used to be handled and the way in which it is now being handled, shows that even seemingly unmistakable physical properties can be in the first place culturally defined, awareness of them being learned in the same way as any other cultural phenomena. A more specific observation about race could be, for instance: why did the American one-drop rule determine that someone was black as soon as it could be shown that he or she had any black blood in his or her line of descent at all, rather than to determine whiteness in the same way? Or consider religion: in what is now Belgium, the community-forming religious deviding line has shifted in a few centuries from Catholic vs. non-Catholic, to religious (by definition Christian) vs. non-religious, to Christian (by cultural ‘heritage’ if not practising) vs. Muslim. Or language: why are Flemish Dutch and Dutch Dutch predominantly conceived as variants of one language, whereas Serbian and Croation are now viewed as two different languages (though the differences in both cases are strikingly similar in both degree and type, grounded in similar historical conditions, and correlated with other distinctions such as a religious divide)? The conclusion can only be that very little remains in the cultural chracatreization of groups that could at all be claimed to be ‘objective’.

If human groups cannot be seen as natural entities defined by clusters of cultural characteristics, neither are they strictly separable, nor stable. Objections to this view are often voiced in terms of some desperate questions: Why all this condescension towards essentialism? Can one really maintain that nothing at all is essential? The answer is simple. Of course, many things are absolutely essential – in every society, at all times, at all places. The point is that what is essential changes on the basis of what (some) people (usually the powerful), in a given society, at a given time, at a given place, decide to treat as essential. Whoever does not accept this type of relativity is an essentialist. Cultural traits are not ‘rooted’ in groups. More often than not, they are the subject of various forms of strife. Even the content of fundamental cultural principles such as ‘respect for life’, which seem to be unversally accepted within a given society can take such different shapes for diffenet members that for some all killing is condemned, while others have no qualms about abortion, euthanasia, or the death penalty (three exceptions that would not necessarily be allowed by the same people).

A number of interrelated recipes can be formulated for an alternative view of culture that may match its real-world functioning more closely. First of all, culture should always be vieweed in terms of continuity and change. As Tomassello (1999) points out with much emphasis, culture is about passing on and preserving, but as much about change and growth; hence his notion of ‘cumulative cultural learning’. Or to use Bauman’s words:
“‘Culture’ is as much about inventing as it is about preserving; about discontinuity as much as about continuation; about novelty as much as about tradition; about routine as much as about pattern-breaking; about norm-following as much as about the transcendence of norm; about the unique as much as about the regular; about change as much as about monotony of reproduction; about the unexpected as much as about the predictable.” (1999: p. xiv)
Second, the plural form cultures should be avoided. There are cultural differences and contrasts (which, when in contact, are often responsible for change) but these do not amount to clusters of features that are identifiable, let alone separable, coherent entities. Though culture is a universal human phenomenon (related to a unique cognitive development4), cultures do not exist in any real sense of ‘existence’.

These recipes are the basic ingredients of an approach to diversity which requires some far-ranging reconceptualizations which I will spell out next. It is only through such reconceptualizations that it will become possible to take diversity really seriously.

4. Reconceptualizing diversity
Within Europe, as elsewhere, the prototypical examples of non-acceptance of diversity are to be found in the rhetoric of the extreme right. This rhetoric, however, has shifted significantly in recent years. Racist thinking is no longer anchored in the concept of ‘race.’ As was already pointed out, under the influence of biology, and aided by some common sense, most people have become convinced that races and racial purity do not exist, except as mental constructs. Present-day racists know that too. In order to legitimate continued separate treatment of ‘one’s own people,’ then, it was necessary to look for a new conceptual framework as an argumentative resource. In this process, the concept of ‘race’ was almost completely replaced by ‘culture.’ Culture is then regarded, in the essentialist vein that we have already explored, as an untouchable cluster of properties, essentially linked with the identity of a population group, often rooted territorially. Foreign cultural elements, so the culture-based racist story goes, threaten the identity of a people, form a true danger and have to be contained, either by means of elimination or by means of assimilation.

Recently5 the argument has been made – focuing on the Flemish context again – that, in order to fight this new variant of racism, the democratic parties have to start “taking culture seriously.” Otherwise the extreme right would get a monopoly over cultural themes. This does not mean, the argument continues, that ‘Flemish culture’ suddenly has to appear on the political agenda – because that is a fiction too. But to oppose cultural fundamentalism, a form of ‘cultural federalism’ would have to be promoted: as a result of the globalisation of cultural factors, “there is no longer a link between territory and culture,” and “the essence of cultural federalism would be to detach culture from regions.” By eliminating territoriality from the concept of culture, the argument concludes, the extreme right loses its main foundation. After all, without realizing this themselves, “people all over Europe are members of the same group.”

As so often in the fight against the extreme right, such a line of argumentaton does not touch the premisses of the discourse. It is not enough to eliminate territoriality from the notion of culture. By positing that “there is no longer a link between territory and culture,” one implies that there used to be such a link. Also that is a fiction. Societal homogeneity has been the exception throughout history.6 Launching the term ‘cultural federalism’, analogous to political federalism in which a whole delegates power to constituent parts, thus implies that also non-territorially based cultures form bounded and identifiable entities. Without this implication it does not make much sense to demand that “culture should be taken seriously.” In a Belgian context, this demand cannot bear on specific cultural factors (such as religion) that the democratic parties would have to start reckoning with politically. They have always done so, to the extent that the entire society is organized and structured along such lines. Finally, by defining ‘people all over Europe’ as ‘members of the same group,’ it is clearly implied that there is such a thing as European culture – culture tied up with a political structure and hence paradoxically again with a territory (which is often explicitly contrasted with America, a cultural-political entity which is held responsible for what is called the ‘americanization’ of our society).

It is not enough to separate culture from territoriality. It is the highest time to give ‘culture’ the ‘race’ treatment. Just as there are no clearly separable races, there are no clearly separable cultures. Only this observation can take away the foundations of the new racism. In other words, we have to stop – rather than to start – taking culture too seriously, because only then will it be possible to escape from the homogenizing ways of thinking that are at the basis of all principles of discrimination and exclusion, and only then will it be possible to fully recognize every individual’s right to his or her own cultural life within the wide margins of general ethical principles.

Taking into account what we have said about the naturalness of processes of group-formation vs. the non-naturalness or arbitrary nature of the resulting groups, the somewhat irreverent reconceptualization of diversity that seems to be required places the locus of diversity with the individual. Working with diversity, therefore, requires policies that focus on parameters of variability rather than on groups, recognizing that every individual belongs to many different groups at the same time depending on the dimension one looks at: gender, age, family situation, language, sexual preference, profession, descent, ethnicity, etc. Needless to say that, in view of the deeply engrained common ideologies in relation to diversity, as revealed in the study of the Belgian migrant debate (see section 2.) and as manifested in instances of intercultural interaction (see Verschueren 2001a) such a reconceptualization requires a massive educational task – a task one cannot embark on without political goodwill.

In order to avoid misunderstandings, it is important to point out that there is a complex relationship between the self, notions of identity, and the group. Some salient aspects of this relationship are the following

First, claims about the differential position of the ‘self’ in different cultures (in terms of egocentric vs. sociocentric cultures) often confuse individuality with individualism. Moreover, they tend to be formulated one-sidedly as one aspect of a largely constructed or imagined us/them contrast. This is well-argued by Cohen (1994) who shows how many anthropologists have been inclined “to deny to cultural ‘others’ the self consciousness which we so value in ourselves” (p. 5) in an attempt to generalize over societies from data basically collected from individuals. He adds that there is no contradiction between the often observed importance of collectivity and a strong sense of individual self, since
“The salient point for us to note is that the aspiration to ‘sameness’or to ‘normalcy’ must proceed from the awareness of difference, of distinctiveness.” (p. 66)
Moreover, with reference to mass movements as typical examples in which collectivity prevails:
“The mere existence of a plausible structure for the expression of a grievance or for the mobilisation of a mass following might be sufficient to persuade people with very different kinds of motivation to gather behind its banner. In other words, the explanation of collective behaviour is to be sought among its individual participants.” (p. 148)
Similarly, the opposition between the self and the group is a false one. Just as social structures and dynamics are processed by individual minds, many seemingly individual processes require a social level of ‘distributed cognition’ in order to ‘work’. And just as social/cultural functioning underlies individual cognitive development, no social/cultural phenomena can be understood without an appeal to cognition. Any position that focuses exclusively on the self or on the group ignores the fundamental dynamics involved.

Furthermore, the fact that individuals have multiple identities does not mean that all identities are equally salient at all times. More often than not, social relations are determined by a one-dimensional tuning in to one type of identity, even if it is one (e.g. a ‘racial’ identity) the reality and importance of which would be denied explicitly.7 Also, different contexts appeal to different identities, so that an individual’s identities are often in conflict with each other. The false impression of monolythic identity arises when an overall dominance of certain contexts emerges.

5. Diversity and Europe – ground rules for dialogue
A widening Europe is caught in paradoxes. One paradox is that the wider Europe becomes, the more diversity it will show and the less practicable will be the classical tools for dealing with this (such as the use of the official languages of the member states). Another involves the discrepancy between the role of some regional forces that see in Europe the space in which to escape from a local minority position but that are so nationalistic in character that they form the main stumbling blocks for confronting non-autochthonous forms of diversity. Further, Europe may be the main opponent of intolerance, but it lives by the grace of political compromises that are more and more inspired by moves to the right.

In such a context, locating diversity with the individual may not only be the most logical alternative but even the only practical one. Politics, however, is essentially interaction between groups of people. Within the reconceptualized paradigm of diversity, and within the reality of politics, the most basic ground rule for dialogue seems to be that whatever group identifies itself as a group should be accepted as an actor in the political process, with the right to be heard in relation to any form of social or political action to which the parameters that define the group are relevant. That is why ‘multiculturalism’ – if we want to use that term – cannot be equated with ‘dealing with minorities’. As Parekh (2000) says (in a terminology that, unfortunately, over-reifies ‘culture’):

“Multiculturalism is about the proper terms of relationship between different cultural communities. The norms governing their respective claims, including the principles of justice, cannot be derived from one culture alone but through an open and equal dialogue between them.” (p. 13)
Therefore, no-one should have the right to impose norms beyond the law on any group, whether identified by a ruling majority or self-identified. Thinking through the logical consequences of such basic rules would reveal that they are massively violated in most EU member states. It would also reveal that numerous political compromises would have to be rethought carefully – something which I don’t doubt other contributions to this volume will be doing in detail.
Bauman, Zygmunt (1999) Culture as Praxis (New Edition). London: Sage
Blommaert, Jan & Jef Verschueren (1998) Debating Diversity: Analysing the Discourse of Tolerance. London: Routledge.
Bulcaen, Chris & Jan Blommaert (1999) De constructie van ‘klassieke gevallen’: Case management in de interculturele hulpverlening. In Folke Glastra (ed.) Organisaties en diversiteit: Naar een contextuale benadering van intercultureel management. Utrecht: Lemma, 139-158.
Cohen, Anthony P. (1994) Self Consciousness: An Alternative Anthropology of Identity. London: Routledge.
Grillo, Ralph (2000) Plural cities in comparative perspective. Ethnic and Racial Studies 23(6): 957-981.
Grillo, Ralph, Bruno Riccio & Ruba Salih (2000) Here or There? Contrasting Experiences of Transnationalism: Moroccans and Senegalese in Italy. Falmer: CDE, University of Sussex.
Grimes, Barbara F. ed. (1988) Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
Parekh, Bhikku (2000) Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory. London: Macmillan.
Tomasello, Michael (1999) The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Verschueren, Jef (2001a) ‘Culture’ between interaction and cognition: Bridge or gap? Paper presented at the 11 Susanne Hübner Symposium, February 26-March 2, 2001, Zaragoza.
Verschueren, Jef (2001b) Pragmatic aspects of culture and cognition: Interactional and conceptual dimensions of difference and equality. Paper for the conference on Cognitive Linguistics in the Year 2001, ºódï, Poland, April 19-22, 2001.

1 See B.F. Grimes ed. (1988). One of the reasons why this is only an approximation is that a number of languages (such as English, French, Spanish, Arabic, and the like) have groups of native speakers on different continents. Another reason is that only ‘autochthonous’ populations are counted and that this notion is necessarily indeterminate and susceptible to variation over time. Yet another is the indeterminacy of boundaries between languages. None of these, however, can reverse the conclusion that in terms of language, taking into account population figures, Europe seems to be the least diversified continent.

2 Reference is to Ralph Grillo’s contribution to the conference session for which this paper was written, “Transmigration and cultural diversity in the construction of Europe.” See also Grillo, Riccio & Salih (2000).

3For an example of how, for instance, a social worker fails to understand the specificity of a young Turkish woman’s problems as a result of a perception in terms of cultural stereotypes, see Verschueren (2001); the example is borrowed from Bulcaen & Blommaert (1999).

4 See M. Tomasello (1999) for the relationships between the development of human cognitive capabilities and human culture.

5 I am referring specifically to arguments made by the cultural anthropologist Rik Pinxten during a symposium on racism in the 21st century (Ghent, April 2000), as reported in De Morgen (14 April, Aula p. 27).

6For a comparative description of some examples of ethnically heterogeneous societies over a long period of history, see e.g. Grillo (2000).

7An example is analyzed in Veerschueren (2001b).

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