Multiculturalism Issues 3000 words High 2.1

‘Multicultural societies often face the same kind of issues’. Discuss.


Multiculturalism is a trend which has affected every developed country in Europe.  Naturally, the degree to which such impact has been witnessed differs depending on the country one subjects to analysis.  Nonetheless, in the modern globalised world, the issue of multiculturalism is one which most countries must address.

The ultimate and obvious cause of increased multiculturalism is naturally immigration.  As such, national settings where immigration has increased considerably in recent decades invariably engender greater levels of multicultural difference (Barry, 2001).  However, the wider causes of the multiculturalism phenomenon stretch much deeper than the relatively narrow confines of immigration.  As such, factors at the national, regional and global level all serve to unite, and impact upon the development of cross-national migration and the multiculturalism that result (Jenkins & Sofas, 1996).  Therefore, countries that experience multiculturalism often do so on the basis of similar factors.  Above all, international trends such as the globalisation of economic development and social movement affect every multicultural country.  Given this, it is inevitable that some of the issues posed by multiculturalism will be similar in different national settings.  However, to suggest that multiculturalism within different national settings occurs entirely on the basis of identical factors is incorrect.  Diversity and divergence at the national and local levels affect the outcome and effects of multiculturalism (Blommaert & Verschueren, 1998).  As such, unique factors within nation states directly serve to impact upon the issues which arise from increased levels of multiculturalism.  Moreover, different political approaches to multicultural trends also affect the issues which arise within nation states.

Given the above, the purpose of this work is to assess the degree to which multicultural societies face similar issues.   As suggested, many of the underlying causes of multiculturalism clearly transcend national boundaries and as such, similar issues do indeed arise.  However, it is also vital to highlight the fact that differences between nation states in relation to history, society and politics invariably means that different issues will arise in different national settings.

This work begins by offering some definitional parameters to the concept of multiculturalism itself.  On this basis it will then be possible to highlight the similarities and differences in terms of issues arising in different societies.  Although at points this work discusses multiculturalism on the basis of a broad foundation of analysis, specific focus is given to the cases study examples of the Republic of Ireland and Britain.

At its basic level, multiculturalism denotes an overt wish to ensure that cultural and ethnic difference is accepted and promoted within a given demographic (Barry, 2001).  Therefore, multiculturalism essentially rests on the acceptance of a plethora of different ethnic cultures within a particular social setting.  Alternately, monoculturalism suggests the homogenisation of different ethnic cultures into one fairly unified force (Brubaker, 1992).  However, the debates over how to accurately define multiculturalism stretch far beyond this narrow basis.   Pederson (1999) outlines an interesting element in the definitional debate.  He suggests that is it is possible to distinguish “between two sets of multicultural characteristics which differ in kind” (Pederson, 1999; p. 2).  Pederson (1999; p. 2) suggests the first set of multicultural characteristics are “the behaviours, attitudes, perceptions, feelings, and emotions that are the consequences or correlates of the yet-to-be-defined state”.  Alternatively, Pederson (1999) sees the second as being institutional structural processes which characterise a societies approach to ethnic difference.  Thus, anti discrimination laws (or the lack of them), education, social policy, criminal justice and health all unite to constitute the overall approach adopted towards multiculturalism.  Pederson’s (1999) distinction is useful because it highlights the degree to which multiculturalism can occur from the bottom up, or top down.  As such, assumptions in relation to multiculturalism can developed at the base societal level, or the institutional political realm.

It is important to bear in mind the above distinction when assessment is offered to the issues and factors which arise as a result of multiculturalism.  Above all, it is clearly possible to see the degree to which potential issues can arise at different ends of the societal spectrum.  Thus, what may be of issue to political actors may be unimportant to wider society and vice versa.

As suggested above, societies that experience multiculturalism often do so in the basis of similar issues.  Above all, these similarities can be accounted for with reference to the underlying causes of multiculturalism itself.  Although a wide array of factors account for the development of multiculturalism, one leading factor is globalisation.  Globalisation denotes the process which has seen the world become increasingly interconnected (Pederson, 1999).  Initially, during the 1960s and 1970s, globalisation took place purely on the basis of economic inter-reliance.  However, the extent of the globalisation phenomenon has stretched far beyond the narrow economic confines in which it once resided.  Developments in communications technology has meant that cultural globalisation has taken place, thus significantly reducing the relevance of national borders (Raymond & Modood, 2007).  In addition, increasing interconnection in the social and cultural realm has meant that travel and migratory patterns have altered substantially.  Thus, globalisation has served to bring about a vast increase in the movement of peoples and therefore altered the nature and characteristics of societies in turn.

In relation to the present investigation, it is easily possible to see the degree to which globalisation has been a vital issue for societies both in Ireland and Britain.  Both countries have opened their economic sectors to the outside world and thus there has been an inevitable influx of migratory workers seeking to further their own lives in new economic settings (Barry, 2001).  However, this progression has a much longer historical basis in Britain than it does in Ireland.  Immigration into Britain began as early as the 1950s, as decolonisation gave rise to the increase movement of peoples from former colonies (Raymond & Modood, 2007).  However, in Ireland, although the national economy began to become globalised in the 1960s, it was not until the 1980s and 1990s that significant multicultural trends began to appear. Above all, the economic liberalisation process which personified the emergence of what is termed “the Celtic Tiger” is largely responsible for the increased immigration in Ireland over the last two decades and the consequent development of a multicultural society (Fanning, 2009; p. 5).  Indeed, prior to the 1980s, Ireland had historically been a key example of a country with high levels of emigration, particularly to the North America as a result of persistent famine and disease in the past (Fanning, 2009).

As such, it is possible to see the degree to which Irish monoculture was affected by globalisation far later than was the case in Britain.  Therefore, whereas British cultural, economic and political processes have had time to adapt to the effects of increased immigration, such has not been the case in Ireland.  As a result, the issues which have arisen in Ireland as a result of multiculturalism often differ from those in Britain.  Although during the 1950s Britain had a fairly strong monoculture it was not economically, politically and socially inverted in the same way as Ireland (Raymond & Modood, 2007).  Indeed, it is fair to define the Irish approach to foreign relations as being isolationist and thus at times reactionary to immigration.  Naturally, similar trends have been witnessed in Britain; however, it is nonetheless the case that the Irish experience of immigration has been more protracted than that of their British counterparts, primarily as a consequence of differing national histories.

Furthermore, some commentators have suggested that the Irish response to multiculturalism has been directly affected by the high levels of national identity which have historically personified the countries society (Fanning, 2002).  Of course, similar arguments were proffered in Britain during the 1970s, however, it is once again important to highlight that homogenous national identity has historically been stronger in the Republic of Ireland than in Britain, certainly over the last half century.  Therefore, the issues arising from multiculturalism in Britain and Ireland have differed as a consequence of innate national divergences in societal frameworks and cultural homogeny.  In addition, Fanning (2002) has pointed out that increased social unity in Ireland prior to the 1980s was possible because the kind of social divisions which existed in Britain were not as stark across the Irish Sea.  In particular, whereas Britain had an engrained social class structure based primarily on economic relations in industry, such divides never existed in Ireland to the same degree (Fanning, 2002).

Therefore, the above discussions highlight the extent to which the issues arises from increased multiculturalism differ in the national setting as a result of historical and social phenomena.  However, it is important to further exemplify this point as a way of highlighting the protracted political problems which have emerged in Ireland as a result of multiculturalism.  In particular, strong social institutions in Ireland have served to intensify the issues arising from multiculturalism.  In particular, the continued presence of the Catholic Church as a source of national identity has served to create a variety of potential problems (MacLachlan & O’Connell, 2000).  Above all, multiculturalism invariably brings with it a varied religious identity.  Once again, the issue of religious identity has been an important factor in the British approach to multiculturalism; however it is easily possible to see how such factors are propelled both in terms of importance and impact in Ireland.

Although a variety of different issues arise in relation to multiculturalism in various national setting, it remains the case that markedly similar factors are evident.  With regards to Ireland, although significant immigration has occurred from a variety of countries all over the world, in recent years the primary source of migrant labour has come from the European Union (Fanning, 2009). In addition, although Britain has far higher levels of asylum application from outside the EU than Ireland, immigration from the new Eastern European countries is also a consistent feature of British multiculturalism (Raymond & Modood, 2007).  As such, membership of the EU has directly served to impact upon the issues which arise from increased multiculturalism and immigration in both Ireland and the Britain.   One of the most obvious impacts that such European migration has had is in relation to employment and economic processes.  Above all, during the latter 1990s both Britain and Ireland were reliant on migrant workers in order to ensure effective economic growth in parts of the economy which lacked effective labour levels (Fanning, 2009).  However, the recent recession caused a variety of problems in the employment market which many argue was exacerbated by increased immigration from Europe (Fanning, 2009).

Whether or not one concurs with the assessment that increased European immigration has served to worsen the post-recession recovery in Britain and Ireland largely depends on the theoretical position one assumes towards both immigration and multiculturalism in general.  As such, it is possible to proffer arguments in favour and against immigration within the EU.  However, it nonetheless remains the case that EU policy with regards to migration within the union has directly affected the multicultural processes of every member state, including Britain and Ireland.

In addition, increased multiculturalism has meant that internal policies with regards to issues such as race, ethnicity and religion have figured more prominently than was previously the case.  Naturally, such issues affect all countries where multiculturalism has occurred and thus both our case study examples have been impacted upon in this way.  However, before detailed assessment with regards to multicultural policy in Ireland and Britain is offered, it is first prudent to outline the degree to which the social policy agenda in both countries has been affected by the EU.  Above all, increased economic and financial union in Europe has meant that disparity in terms of socio-economic development between member states and their societies has been highlighted as never before (Warleigh, 2004).  As such, the EU itself has in recent years developed an active social policy which aims to address such inequality.  However, the policy prescriptions of the EU with regards to socio-economic inequality are not merely confined to problems between states, but also within them (Warleigh, 2004).  As such, issues such as racial discrimination, religious hatred and human rights have been enshrined at the European regional level.  Although member states still maintain significant sovereign authority over such areas of policy, there is an inevitable impact from the EU itself.  Thus, both Britain and Ireland have been affected in this regard.

Nonetheless, as suggested, member states within the union are still able to exert national influence over a broad range of policy areas, including multicultural policy.  The approach undertaken towards multiculturalism and diversity differs considerably depending on the national setting one subject to analysis.  For example, the traditional approach adopted by consecutive French governments has been to engage in the continued propagation of a monoculture (Brubaker, 1992). Thus, although France has undergone massive cultural transformation – largely as a result of having some of the highest immigration levels in all Europe – the policy of the central French state has been to integrate new communities and cultures into existing French society (Raymond & Modood, 2007).  As such, in social policy areas ranging from health to education, French governments have systemically set about attempting to enshrine a unified French culture based on a common identity with the French Republic.  Now the degree to which such policies have been successful is the subject of concerted disagreement.  However, what is important for the present discussion is to highlight the theoretical and practical approach undertaken to multiculturalism in France. Above all, understanding such approaches provides an effective contextual foundation for the two case studies which are the subject of focus in this work.

As suggested earlier, the Irish experience of multiculturalism is relatively new compared to most other developed countries in Europe.  As such, the response of the Irish political establishment to the increasing pressures and issues brought about by multiculturalism is in a relative state of infancy compared to elsewhere.  However, it is possible to see the degree to which the Irish response to multiculturalism, discrimination and racism has taken a course which follows the British example far more than that undertaken in France.  Above all, the British approach to multiculturalism has been to celebrate and promote diversity through a variety of public and social policy areas (Raymond & Modood, 2007).  As such, cultural diversity in Britain is promoted within the employment market, government departments, the civil service, the police service, education, social services and health (Raymond & Modood, 2007).  Such policy is supported by active legislation which aims to criminalise discriminatory behaviour, both on the part of the individual and the collective organisation.  As such, a number of British parliamentary statues form the legal foundation on which anti discrimination rests, along with the promotion of difference.  These include The Sex Discrimination Act, 1975; The Race Relations Act, 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act, 1995 (Jenkins & Sofas, 1996).  Therefore, the British governments approach to multiculturalism and the racist sentiment which often occurs as a result has been to actively impose legal restraints which limit such behaviour.  Moreover, in the wider social policy realm, increased multiculturalism has been promoted in a way which respects and propagates difference in society.

As suggested, the approach of Irish governments to issues such as racism and discrimination has been formed on much the same basis as that in Britain.  Naturally, responding to problematic issues brought about by multiculturalism in terms of active legislation has occurred later in Ireland than in Britain.  However, anti discriminatory policy in Ireland has been heavily directed by the wider connotations brought about by multiculturalism and the issues which have arisen as a result (Lentin & McVeigh, 2002).  Thus, legislative actions undertaken by the Irish state include; the Employment Equality Act, 1998; the Equal Status Act, 2000 and the Equality Act, 2004 (Fanning, 2009).

Furthermore, in relation to the social policy agenda, the Irish approach has more similarities with that undertaken in Britain than that in France.  As such, social policy prescriptions in Ireland have attempted to highlight the importance of cultural diversity and the promotion of cultural and ethnic difference (Fanning, 2002).  Thus, both Ireland and Britain have distanced themselves from the propagation of a monoculture, choosing instead to promote cultural, ethnic and religious difference.  It is however important to note that this approach has been more widely undertaken and accepted in Britain than in Ireland.

Whether the approaches outlined above in relation to Britain and Ireland are effective and beneficial for society in the long term has been the subject of widespread debate.   Above all, given that Britain has a much longer historical basis for multicultural policies, then this national setting has often been used to highlight the failings of policies which aim to promote cultural and ethnic diversity.  For example, Raymond & Modood (2007) argue that the promotion of cultural diversity in Britain has meant the emergence of wholly separate ethnic communities which act in a divided and fragmented way.  Therefore, distinct communities have developed within British society in a way which engenders division.  Of course, France has had its own fair share of ethnic and cultural conflict, however, Raymond & Modood (2007) suggest that national cultural identity and shared identity with regards to the state itself is considerably higher in France than it is in Britain.  As such, it is problems such as these that largely account for the differences in policy undertaken in Britain and Ireland.  However, as suggested above, the Irish approach is markedly more similar to that undertaken in Britain than in France.

The various discussions and assessments undertaken above have clearly highlighted the degree to which different societies experience similar issues as a result of multiculturalism.  However, it is also the case that significant levels of difference simultaneously occur.  Issues such as racism and ethnic division invariably tend to transcend national boundaries and thus affect all multicultural societies.  However, the degree to which such issues serve to impact upon national societies themselves differs as a result of the policy approaches undertaken by national governments.  Indeed, the social policy agenda in Britain and France has developed over many decades, with the consequences only becoming apparent fairly recently.  It is quite obvious that fragmentation has personified the approach undertaken by governments in relation to multiculturalism.  However, given that the social policy remit of the EU is likely to grow and develop in the years to come, the degree to which national political actors can wholly direct such policy areas may be brought into question.  Thus, the future direction of multiculturalism may come from the EU itself as opposed to individual member states.















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