"The Challenge of Multiculturalism: Beyond Liberalism and Communitarianism"

Nazmul Sultan (Hunter College, CUNY)
First published 8 Jan. 2014

Centralizing a relational understanding of socio-cultural groups, this paper argues that both liberalism and communitarianism fail to address the profound questions that are being posed by multiculturalism. For both liberalism and communitarianism, socio-cultural groups are something sociologically given, and it is also presupposed that groups exist by virtue of their positive identity. The normative visions of liberalism and communitarianism are conditioned by this rather essentialized idea of groups. If groups are not seen as something self-constituted, but rather as entities that are formed through their relational differences and contests, the limits of liberal and communitarian theories become quite apparent.The primacy of negative group-rights in liberalism ends up reproducing the existing inequality among socio-cultural groups. Communitarianism, on the other, positivizes each (cultural) group in a pre-political manner, while it is also incapable of addressing the inter-group relationality among hegemonic and non-hegemonic groups. Against the negative rights oriented liberalism, I argue that what is needed is the space of a positive political participation that does not begin with an imposition of majoritarian or hegemonic culture. The positive space of interaction should not however be reduced to the institutional level. The political dialogue and contest among groups, whose only condition is the presupposition of equality of all participants (including their cultures), should complement institutional assertion of equality.

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