Questioning the European ‘Crisis of Multiculturalism’

resist-mc“Culture and community are caught in a circular, tautological reasoning… culture is being invoked to solve problems that previously were the province of economics and politics.”
George Yúdice, The Expediency of Culture (2003: 25)

The idea that multiculturalism is in crisis is a predominant feature of the post-9/11 world and has become a pronounced aspect of public debate across Western Europe. A broadly shared narrative of crisis has emerged that perceives a range of states emerging from a period of failed experimentation that emphasized difference over commonality, cultural particularity over social cohesion, and a default relativism at the expense of shared liberal/universal/national values. We read the ‘crisis’ as the mediation of an anxious fantasy, the reduction of disjunctures in globalised, neoliberal societies to the impact of disintegrating forces from elsewhere. Rather than critiquing multiculturalism as policy, it is the fact of ethnoracial, national, religious, linguistic, and under today’s neoliberal imperative, economic diversity that is being rejected. The crisis deemed to be posed by ‘too much diversity’ is publicly addressed in the transformation of immigration policy and the inculcation of ‘national values’. Faced with the emergence of ‘parallel societies’, ‘ghettoes’ and diverse populations who do not share our ‘way of life’, citizenship tests and ceremonies for new immigrants – but also the formal and informal policing and surveillance of ‘ethnic minorities’ – are said to encourage social cohesion in contexts of cultural diversity.

The narrative of crisis, through its constant repetition and accretion across European public space, recites not only what was, but what is, what is yet to come, and what should be done about it. This narrativisation reveals how disparate social debates and tensions in one country become crystallised around national and continental crisis as parsed by an incident elsewhere – headscarves, ghettoes and other spectacles from another place now swiftly mediate the crisis as viewed from here.

On 12 December 2008, an international colloquium on Questioning the European ‘Crisis of Multiculturalism’ was organised at the National University of Ireland Maynooth by Gavan Titley (NUIM) and Alana Lentin (Sussex). The speakers were Les Back (Goldsmiths College, UK), Michael Cronin (Dublin City University, Ireland), Ronit Lentin (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland), Peter Hervik (Malmö University, Sweden/Denmark), Arun Kundnani (Institute of Race Relations, UK), Maria Stehle (University of Tennessee Knoxville, USA/Germany), Pierre Tevanian (France), Ellie Vasta, COMPAS, University of Oxford (UK).

The colloquium sought to uncover the discursive mechanisms through which the ‘crisis of multiculturalism’ is mediated and narrativised, spreading and being mirrored across societies with often radically different political traditions and histories of immigration. Its aim is to develop meaningful ways to consider the myriad ways in which the attack on multiculturalism, in its various dimensions, is reshaping an image of Europe that reflects an incomplete and partial perspective of society in its complex, yet truthful, diversity.

This website is a continuation and widening out of the proces initiated at the colloquium in December 2008. In addition to an academic publication, the website houses blogs, podcasts and videocasts by a range of scholars, images and links to a range of relevant material.