… a core concept in Socioeconomic and Political Context and Atlas105

Concept description

Collins English Dictionary defines multiculturalism as “a situation in which all the different cultural or racial groups in a society have equal rights and opportunities, and none is ignored or regarded as unimportant.”

Writing in The Canadian Encyclopedia, Burnet and Driedger (2014) note the different ways multiculturalism has been used as a term In the Canadian context over the last century:

“In many ways a contested concept, multiculturalism is used in at least three senses: to refer to a society that is characterized by ethnic or cultural heterogeneity; to refer to an ideal of equality and mutual respect among a population’s ethnic or cultural groups; and to refer to policies implemented by the federal government in 1971 and subsequently by a number of provinces.”

They describe the conceptual and political issues arising from multiculturalism policies:

“Government policies of multiculturalism have been viewed with hostility and suspicion by many. They have been viewed by some French Canadians as injurious to the French Canadian position as one of the two linguistic communities of which Canada is composed; some scholars decried them as a means of buttressing Anglo-Saxon dominance by diverting the efforts of the non-French and the non-English from political and economic affairs into cultural activities and excluding other ethnic groups from power and influence. Advocates from ethnic groups viewed multiculturalism policies as unacceptable substitutes for aid and many considered the policies and programs to be bribes for “the ethnic vote.”

“At times, hostility and suspicion toward multiculturalism resulted from ambiguities in policy statements, as subtle but necessary distinctions between cultural assimilation and structural integration were not always clearly articulated.

“Will Kymlicka and Charles Taylor have been among the most influential Canadian thinkers on the subject of multiculturalism. Both work within a liberal framework, but at the same time critique and distance themselves from certain “difference-blind” elements of liberal thought in order to defend the application of special minority rights in certain exceptional circumstances, such as that of Québec.

“In his 1995 book Multicultural Citizenship, Kymlicka develops a typology of minority rights, which includes self-government rights, special representation rights, and polyethnic rights (which he defines as legal and financial support for the protection of specific cultural practices). Kymlicka’s case for such special rights rests on three central arguments: the straightforward value of cultural diversity; what he calls the “equality argument” (the notion that without special protection, minority cultures are vulnerable to assimilation); and finally the role of historical agreements (such as historical agreements between the Crown and French Canada or Aboriginal communities). To that effect, he argues that it is important for policymakers to draw clear distinctions between national minorities and immigrant groups: “Immigrant groups are not ‘nations,’ and do not occupy homelands,” he writes, “Their distinctiveness is manifested primarily in their family lives and in voluntary associations, and is not inconsistent with their institutional integration.”

“Taylor, in his 1994 essay “The Politics of Recognition,” takes a more philosophical and less policy-oriented approach, but like Kymlicka suggests that “liberalism can’t and shouldn’t claim complete neutrality.” Focusing on Québec, Taylor discusses two conflicting tendencies in the politics of equality: on the one hand the belief that people should be treated in equal and in therefore a difference-blind fashion; and on the other, the respect for cultural particularity. “The reproach the first makes to the second is just that it violates the principle of non-discrimination. The reproach the second makes to the first is that it negates identity by forcing people into a homogeneous mold that is untrue to them,” writes Taylor. Noting that difference-blindness is often promoted by the dominant culture, he adds, “Consequently, the supposedly fair and difference-blind society is […] in a subtle and unconscious way, itself highly discriminatory.” However, also like Kymlicka, Taylor declines to address the obstacles often faced by immigrants and only makes passing reference to Aboriginal peoples.”

See also Politics of Difference; Cultural DifferencesIdentity and Identity Politics; and Identity and Rights.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Immigration and Integration (core topic) in Socioeconomic and Political Context and Atlas105.


Collins English Dictionary, Multiculturalism, at, accessed 27 December 2018.

Jean Burnet and Leo Driedger (2014), Multiculturalism, The Canadian Encyclopedia, at, accessed 27 December 2018.

Page created by: Alec Wreford and Ian Clark, last modified on 27 December 2018.

Image: David Eaton, Resentment, Multiculturalism and Identity Politics, at, accessed 18 December 2018.