Studies in psychology often refer to their samples as being WEIRD –Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. It should come as no surprise that most social psychology results rely on research that is tested on a narrow and in many ways privileged sample of society, given that most participants in behavioral studies are undergraduates at Western universities. What is more intriguing, and less obvious, is the fact that there seems to be an opposite, specular trend in the field of public and social policy. We—political scientists, sociologists, anthropologist, legal scholars—tend, by and large, to focus on subjects only insofar as they appear to be marginalized, racialized, or vulnerable: in short, only when they are seen as a ‘problem’.
The burgeoning, rich scholarship on migration and integration that has developed over the last years is no exception. The surge in research on (and research funding available for) minority integration, social cohesion and European identity is highly dependent upon migration being understood as a ‘problem’ to be managed, on ‘identity’ being seen as under threat, and on there being a clear-cut distinction between who belongs to a minority and who doesn’t, who migrants are and who they are not.
In my recent Policy & Politics article on the multilevel governance of superdiversity in Europe, as part of the journal’s superdiversity Special Issue, my aim is to problematize the relationship between identity and difference, and to suggest ways in which superdiversity can be employed as a useful tool to deconstruct what is usually left unstudied (because it is perceived as unproblematic): the so-called ‘mainstream’ or ‘majority’. Continue reading →
A recent Guardian Roundtable in association with the British Academy identified the increasingly ethnically diverse nature of British society, while acknowledging the contested nature of multiculturalism. Such debates are now a regular occurrence as the UK struggles to accommodate what Bhiku Parekh called back in 2000 a ‘community of communities’. The prime minster, David Cameron, no supporter of multiculturalism, has criticised the passive tolerance of different cultural values, which he sees as potentially undermining the nation’s collectively agreed sense of British-ness. Nor is this an isolated view and others go as far as to attribute the failure of multiculturalism to minority ethnic Continue reading →
Ever since immigrants began to come to the UK in significant numbers after the Second World War, governments have sought to find ways to manage relations between the white British ‘host’ community and new arrivals. This was politically problematic from the earliest days in the late 1940s as some British people resented their arrival; these tensions led in some cases to what were dubbed ‘race’ riots, initially blamed on migrants failing to adjust but later recognised to be generated by white hostility, assisted by racist policing responses. Initially, it was widely assumed that immigrants would assimilate into British culture and effectively become British people in every way save for the colour of their skins. This assimilationist approach was later (in the 1960s) recognised as unrealistic and demeaning to migrants’ cultures and identity, and gave way to approaches which were more respectful of migrants’ original identities; structures and organisations were created under the general rubric of race relations or community relations.
Eventually, the official policy response became known as multiculturalism, whereby, within a broad acceptance of British values and norms, migrants were free to maintain many important elements of their own culture. By the early part of the 21st century, however, in the context of increasing diversity and growing minority numbers, and anxiety about the growth of terrorism, some influential political voices were arguing that migrants were establishing what were effectively autonomous communities separate from the mainstream of British society. One such influential voice, Trevor Phillips, argued that Britain was ‘sleepwalking towards segregation’ and that this was the cause of much social and economic dislocation and, indeed, major disturbances in areas where there were significant migrant settlements. This ignored the fact that for many years, migrants had been disproportionately affected by poverty and social exclusion as a result of institutional and individual racism, and heavy-handed policing. The dominant government position now is that ‘multiculturalism is dead’ and the policy clock appears to be edging back towards an assimilationist position under the policy cover of what is now known as community cohesion and other similarly amorphous terms.
This article reports a study of managing local cultural relations in a city in northern England which found that ‘multiculturalism’ is never talked about in local authority policies or practices. The overall picture was one which distanced significantly from an explicit ‘race’ agenda, instead focusing on language, narratives and perceptions of difference and community tensions This shift appeared to be at the expense of tackling inequalities with targeted service provision and the representation of migrant and minority individuals or groups in local initiatives. The result is a dual, apparently contradictory process. The de-emphasis of ‘race’ in community cohesion and equalities policies aimed at managing difference has emerged alongside heightened security concerns, hostile media representations and xenophobia which reify different, Other, identifiable and racialised groups, in particular Muslims. It is now far more difficult to source financial support for migrant community organisations but the difficulties facing these communities – often generated by racist responses – remain.
The January 2014 issue of Policy & Politics is now available in print and online.
In this issue our authors consider nudge, multiculturalism, ethnic residential stability, lobbying, policy translation, human rights bodies, security regulation, and procurement. We take in policy issues including water and alcohol, and include conceptual debates around neo-liberalism and legitimation. The edition has an international flavour, with perspectives taking in the UK, Turkey, Ireland, and Vietnam, as well as considering ideas around issues of policy transfer between states. We have articles that are both empirically based and more theoretical contributions.