Citizenship, Housing and Minority Ethnic Groups: an approach to multiculturalism

Citizenship, Housing and Minority Ethnic Groups: an approach to multiculturalism

Citizenship, Housing and Minority Ethnic Groups: an approach to multiculturalism

Increasingly, modern European states, including the UK have become ethnically diverse as a result of international labour migration and other factors such as asylum seeking. Ethnic diversity involves cultural diversity, a multiplicity of world views which may call into question hegemonic notions of citizenship. De. nitions of citizenship rights and obligations commonly presuppose a shared public culture1 (Rex, 1996:33), which cannot, of its nature, tolerate diversity. Recent commentators have discussed the resulting exclusionary potential of citizenship, referring to cultural diversity, and also to other dimensions of social differentiation. Their discussions have exposed various ways in which prevailing notions of citizenship can be exclusionary, in that certain categories of people are denied access to civil, political and social rights, and cannot participate in the wider society as full citizens. Scott (1994:150), for example, links social deprivation with exclusion from the “publicly recognised lifestyle and living conditions of the citizen”: here, he refers back to Marshall’s classic argument that “citizenship and the capitalist class system were at war” (Scott, 1994:152). Lister (1997) discusses at length women’s exclusion from citizenship, and debates some of the dif. culties of and potentialities for “differentiated universalism” (Chapter 4), that is, a basis for campaigning for and realizing citizenship forms which can incorporate diversity. Richardson (1998) explores links between citizenship status and heterosexuality, emphasizing a need to recognize diversity in sexuality and lifestyle, and to deconstruct the exclusion of “the homosexual” (Richardson, 1998:91) from citizenship as a potential threat to national security. These debates all raise the fundamental question of how to develop versions of citizenship which can incorporate diversity, ensuring that people and groups who vary in terms of culture, class, gender, sexuality and other differentiating factors have access to the rights and duties of citizenship. For minority ethnic groups, multiculturalism or multicultural citizenship have been widely debated as potential responses to this question. In the UK, commentators frequently refer back the 1968 vision of the then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, who foresaw a society of “cultural diversity, coupled with equal opportunity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance” (Rex, 1996:32). Elsewhere, visions of multiculturalism vary. Tempelman (1999) identi. es three forms, each of which is linked with different modes of inclusion and exclusion. Primordialist multiculturalism accords cultures an essentialist quality, and promotes their survival as long as they tolerate diversity. Civic multiculturalism recognizes cultural diversity, but does not assume fixity of tradition, thus allowing for changing cultural identities: it has problems, however, dealing with conflict, or with cultural groups who wish to preserve their boundaries. Universalist multiculturalism (Kymlicka, 1995) aims to ensure individual autonomy in relation to cultural preferences, as long as these remain compatible with liberal ideals.

A strong theme in discussions of multiculturalism is the participation of minority ethnic groups in activities which defend or promote their legal, civil and social rights: Rex and Drury (1994), for example, focus on ethnic mobilization; Ellison (1997:711) proposes a theory of citizenship as “defensive engagement”, with the action of diverse social participants as a central concern. Others explore participation in civil society from grass-roots level, which may occur despite centrally de. Ned exclusion: examples include black and minority ethnic housing associations,2 discussed by Harrison et al. (1996), and local Islamic organizations in Leicester, UK, discussed by Vertovec (1996). Hirst (1994) argues that “associative democracy” in which service provision rests on a network of grass roots voluntary associations offers a means of promoting empowerment and participation of all citizens, including those currently experiencing exclusion. Considerable debate therefore surrounds models of multicultural citizenship, and several criticisms have been advanced. Firstly, critics have warned that “multicultural citizenship” can itself be discriminatory. It can, notes Lister (1997:50), serve to perpetuate rigid and wholly arti. cial cultural boundaries between different groups, in disregard of internal differentiation, and the マ uidity and dynamic of cultural boundaries. Vertovec (1996:49) has argued that such boundaries can reinforce already existing exclusion of minority ethnic groups: in 1980s Britain, he argues, “multiculturalism” served to “separate and distance” members of minority ethnic groups from the public domain, and hence from the rights and obligations of citizenship. Secondly, multicultural citizenship carries the potentiality to offer only token recognition of cultural difference, which does not have real consequences for the public sphere: good examples are the “sari, samosa and steel band” view of multicultural education, criticized by Troyna (1992:74), and Bissoondath’s (1994) critique of the toothless cultural recognition he sees as offered by Canadian multiculturalism. Thirdly, Spicker’s (1993/4) criticisms emphasize what he sees as a close relationship between arguments promoting multicultural citizenship and the European tradition of particularism. He warns against the application (as he sees it) of different moral standards to different social groups, emphasizing relationships between, for example, what he sees as the relatively benign Dutch “pillarization” of society into differentiated communities with separate welfare systems, and the South African apartheid regime. In his view, particularism moves towards discrimination. Spicker’s work is relatively unusual in linking a discussion of multicultural citizenship with detailed policy issues and policy debates. Fourthly, many discussions of citizenship in multicultural societies have conceptualized citizenship as a top–down process, focusing, as, for example, Smith and Blanc (1996) do, on legal de. nitions. Whilst this is an important dimension of citizenship, and cannot be ignored in attempts to evaluate or promote multiculturalism, such a conceptualization ignores active citizenship, the grass-roots activity, in which excluded groups may assert their rights and claim participation.

From “Citizenship, Housing and Minority Ethnic Groups: an approach to multiculturalism” by Alison Bowes, Naira Dar and Duncan Sim

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