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Multiculturalism without Culture

Multiculturalism without Culture

Anne Phillips
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Multiculturalism without Culture
    Book Description:

    Public opinion in recent years has soured on multiculturalism, due in large part to fears of radical Islam. InMulticulturalism without Culture, Anne Phillips contends that critics misrepresent culture as the explanation of everything individuals from minority and non-Western groups do. She puts forward a defense of multiculturalism that dispenses with notions of culture, instead placing individuals themselves at its core.

    Multiculturalism has been blamed for encouraging the oppression of women--forced marriages, female genital cutting, school girls wearing the hijab. Many critics opportunistically deploy gender equality to justify the retreat from multiculturalism, hijacking the equality agenda to perpetuate cultural stereotypes. Phillips informs her argument with the feminist insistence on recognizing women as agents, and defends her position using an unusually broad range of literature, including political theory, philosophy, feminist theory, law, and anthropology. She argues that critics and proponents alike exaggerate the unity, distinctness, and intractability of cultures, thereby encouraging a perception of men and women as dupes constrained by cultural dictates.

    Opponents of multiculturalism may think the argument against accommodating cultural difference is over and won, but they are wrong. Phillips believes multiculturalism still has an important role to play in achieving greater social equality. In this book, she offers a new way of addressing dilemmas of justice and equality in multiethnic, multicultural societies, intervening at this critical moment when so many Western countries are poised to abandon multiculturalism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2773-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book arose out of two preoccupations. The first was my feeling that feminism was becoming prone to paralysis by cultural difference, with anxieties about cultural imperialism engendering a kind of relativism that made it difficult to representanybelief or practice as oppressive to women or at odds with gender equality. The feeling became especially acute after Susan Moller Okin published her essays on the tension between feminism and multiculturalism, including an abbreviated version, under the title she later regretted, “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?”¹ One might have thought Okin’s contentions would be rapidly incorporated into the common sense...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Multiculturalism without Culture
    (pp. 11-41)

    In a 2001 book, Will Kymlicka declared that the long battle to establish the justice of minority rights was over.¹ Those concerned with the rights of ethnocultural minorities had successfully redefined the terms of public debate. It was now widely recognised that states can harm their citizens by trivialising or ignoring their cultural identities, and that this harm (commonly described, following Charles Taylor’s work, as a failure of recognition)² can be as damaging to people as denying them their civil or political rights. It was also widely accepted that laws, rules, and institutions are likely to be biased towards the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Between Culture and Cosmos
    (pp. 42-72)

    Scepticism about culture is rife in the sociological and anthropological literatures, to the point where it has become commonplace to counterpose old and new ideas of culture, and criticise the former for treating cultures as if they were things.¹ Edward B. Tylor’s 1871 definition is frequently served up as the example of the classical conception. “Culture or civilisation, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits required by man as a member of society.”² “Complex whole” is the key phrase here. On this reading,...

  7. CHAPTER THREE What’s Wrong with Cultural Defence?
    (pp. 73-99)

    Critics of multiculturalism commonly argue that it encourages society to turn a blind eye to abuses of women and children. Worries about cultural sensitivity, they say, paralyse social workers, police officers, and even judges, who are made to feel that holding people from one cultural group to account for behaviour considered abhorrent by people from another smacks of cultural imperialism. Asked to show respect for other people’s culture but unsure of what this entails, they decide to do nothing. As a result, we are told, women and children are inadequately protected against physical or sexual abuse. Parents who beat their...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Autonomy, Coercion, and Constraint
    (pp. 100-132)

    The literature on cultural defence refers primarily to criminal cases, the central question being whether multiculturalism requires courts to assess defendants’ actions differently depending on their cultural background. Though the immediate issue is whether culture becomes an excuse for violence against women, I have argued that there are equally pressing concerns around the use of cultural stereotypes and the tendency to misrepresent minority defendants as less than autonomous beings. I turn here to what could be described as the civil counterpart. Arguments both for and against policies of multicultural accommodation often turn out to depend on representing individuals from minority...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Exit and Voice
    (pp. 133-157)

    In previous chapters I have argued against determinist understandings of culture that represent women and girls from minority cultural groups as controlled or coerced by their cultures, and treat them as less than autonomous beings. The implication, in relation to cultural defence, is that courts need to be aware of the stereotyping and simplifications that attend references to culture, and recognise the many individual variations that culture talk tends to obscure. In relation to public policy, the main implication is that governments should stop justifying prohibitions on female behaviour on the often-spurious ground that they are protecting girls and women...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Multiculturalism without Groups?
    (pp. 158-180)

    The main burden of Madhavi Sunder’s argument is that when the courts get into the business of legitimating and confirming cultural associations, they thereby freeze cultures and make them less available to internal reform. “However difficult, cultural boundaries are scalable; legal boundaries are much less so.”¹ I take it that she would extend this warning also to government initiatives that codify or in some way institutionalise cultural groups, and I am very much with her on this point. But it is not always easy to distinguish between acknowledging the rights of the individual—who seems, from the discussion in chapter...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-190)
  12. Index
    (pp. 191-202)