EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Anthropology and the politics of multiculturalism (a friendly merger of W014 & W030)

Location Biol B37
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Thomas Schippers (CNRS) email
Miguel Vale de Almeida (ISCTE, Lisbon) email
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Short Abstract

Current political debates around the concept of multiculturalism offer a challenge to anthropology. Anthropologists can provide comparative ethnographies of multicultural situations and offer critiques that can enrich public debates on equality and diversity, on human sameness and otherness. The central point at issue is what is understood today by the idea of "culture" beyond our scholarly circles, how it is used, and for what purposes. How should anthropologists reflect critically upon the uses (and abuses) of a concept that they helped to introduce into public debate?

Long Abstract

The purpose of this panel is to provoke anthropological questions about multiculturalism as a political phenomenon. The rhetorical strategies of multiculturalism invoke the idea of "culture" as a central concept, using it in a variety of ways that are not always compatible with anthropological understandings of it, nor with (Western) conceptions of democracy. Should anthropologists be involved in these public debates by providing ethnographic and theoretical analyses that are able to frame both multiculturalism and its central idea — "culture" — as objects of critical scrutiny? Since the rise of multiculturalism in the United States in the 1960s, "culture" and its conceptual relatives, "identity" and "ethnicity", have become the global coinage of public discussion about various kinds of similarities and differences between individuals, groups, nations, and even civilisations. We think it important and timely that anthropologists should observe and reflect critically upon the uses (and abuses) of concepts such as "culture" which they helped to introduce into public debate. Multiculturalism as a political agenda, and also ethnic marketing practices, not only seem to acknowledge human cultural diversity, but also sometimes clearly suggest more essentialist forms of alterity and otherness. Multiculturalism also tends to emphasize differences at the expense of shared attributes, and valorises the sectional over the individual, challenging the classical ideals of liberty and citizenship upon which modern democratic and secular nation-states were founded and which remain central to their constitutional principles.

Chair: Miguel Vale de Almeida and Thomas K. Schippers


Negotiating the threshold of difference: multiculturalism and other national things in Latvia

Author: Dace Dzenovska (University of Oxford)  email
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Long Abstract

Fifteen years after disintegration of the Soviet Union, the hegemonic Latvian self-narrative is one of historical and ongoing colonization. The Soviet past and the European present together render Latvian sovereignty a continuously deferred presence which incites discourses of threat and generates practices of policing borders of self and the territory.* At the same time, the post-Soviet and European present in Latvia is characterized by discourses and practices of multiculturalism. Yet, this historically and geographically specific multiculturalism is not necessarily a counterdiscourse to the hegemonic Latvian self-narrative, but rather a set of technologies for managing and disciplining difference.

On the basis of ethnographic research, I will look at how discourses and practices of multiculturalism in Latvia simultaneously expand and narrow understandings of difference. I will suggest that the current practices of multiculturalism delineate acceptable cultural diversity from threatening difference, as well as draw lines between "our", or Latvian, multiculturalism from "their", or European, multiculturalism.

Through the ethnographic, I will consider whether perhaps in conditions where sovereignty, as Etienne Balibar suggests, is distributed within the population rather than concentrated in the realm of the political, the demise of the nation-state sovereignty and the increasingly rigid immigration and integration policies point to a substantive reconfiguration of the notion of sovereignty rather than to a contradiction. I will invite consideration of the challenges anthropologists face in recognizing culture as both a folk category subject to critical scrutiny and an analytical category that some continue to find useful for critical engagements with politics of difference.

* The notion of "deferred presence" is borrowed from Ssorin-Chaikov, Nikolai. 2003. The Social Life of the State in Subarctic Siberia. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, p. 4.

Multiculturalism and national identity in an emerging polity

Author: Charlotte Davies (Swansea University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper provides a critical examination of the impact of the powerful public discourse around the concept of multiculturalism on the process of nation-building in an emerging polity. Political, and other elites who attempt to nurture a national identity, while still acknowledging the expectations generated within this discursive milieu, are forced to address concerns about the nature of culturally defined boundaries. In the process, they generate their own understandings about what constitutes a 'national culture', how 'national culture' can be reconciled with a commitment to 'multiculturalism', and how citizenship is defined in a democracy attempting to respect both concepts. The empirical research on which the paper is based looks specifically at attempts to promote a national cultural identity and a sense of national citizenship in Wales by means of education policy, in the context of the devolution of a degree of political autonomy through the establishment, in 1999, of the National Assembly for Wales. This new political institution, while not representing an autonomous 'nation-state', can nevertheless be viewed as the core institution of an emerging polity, and as such, it provides a contemporary example of the application of concepts such as 'culture' and 'identity' to the process of nation-building. The salience of these concepts is particularly high due to the fact that Wales remains part of a pre-existing national identity (British) with its own national culture (English) with which an emerging Welsh national identity must compete. Furthermore any such new national project of necessity takes place within the context of other discourses about multiculturalism and the effects of globalising processes on the meaning of national identity and citizenship. The data from this study thus provide examples of the uses of the concepts of 'culture', 'identity' and 'multiculturalism' in a particular public arena, and the paper builds on these examples to develop a broader theoretical analysis of the significance of these concepts in contemporary politics.

Culture, gender and migration in the Spanish Basque Country

Author: Margaret Bullen (University of the Basque Country, Donostia-San Sebastián)  email
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Long Abstract

The Basque Country provides a particularly fascinating context in which to explore the concept and construction of multiculturalism in contemporary society. Spanish Basque society, a society which constantly confronts the need to define and re-define its cultural and political identities, is also a space where culture has been constructed in relation to -and sometimes rejection of - the migratory movements of both the Basques themselves and other peoples in and out of the Basque community. The dynamics of these movements are complex in cultural terms and contribute to a fertile field for new debates and negotiation of meanings with regard to the new situations emerging from the recent influx of groups of migrants from outside the European Union.

This paper draws on the ethnographies produced by two different research projects undertaken in the past three years, both in relation to gender and migration in the Spanish Basque Country. One project which carried the title "Individual and collective integration strategies of migrants in Basque society" was funded by the University of the Basque Country and conducted by a team of professors and researchers from the Department of Social Anthropology. The other, titled "Ways of life and expectations for the future of migrant women in Araba and Gipuzkoa", was carried out with a grant from the Department of Justice, Employment and Social Security of the Basque Government.

Considering gender to be a fundamental dimension of the multicultural debate, I look especially at the interweaving of gender-specific variables in the interrelation between "culture", economic status and ethnic identity. Departing from the "invisibility" of women in many migration and multicultural studies, our field work served to emphasize the contrast between the representations of marginality and the active role which female migrants play in Basque society. Looking at the feminization of migration into Spain and the Basque Country and linking women's social status to their position in the labour market, we find most of the women migrating to the Basque Autonomous Community are entering the submerged sector of the economy through domestic service, care work, waitressing and prostitution. As well as being victims of a triple discrimination - on account of class, gender and ethnicity- these circumstances also raise different questions with regard to gender and culture.

An interesting aspect of the multicultural configuration is the notion of citizenship and the way it is expressed in the migration laws and policies drawn up by Spain and the Basque Country. We find the representation of migrants in the Spanish migration laws are contested to some extent by the rather utopian notions of citizenship contained in the programmes drawn up by the area of immigration of the local Basque Government.

Public policies on equality also furnish us with examples of the contradictions inherent in the attempts to project a model of equality in a culturally and economically unequal society. One such example is the paradoxical situation in which local women become the employers of migrant women in their own homes in order to take a place on the labour market themselves, often eschewing the complexity of family and professional conciliation.

The richness of the debate lies in the combination of the different aspects of change in contemporary Basque society and the diverse factors which are brought into play in the attempt to integrate people from a multiplicity of backgrounds into an ideal "Basque culture" where there is at the same time equality for both women and men and respect for all.

Multi- or inter-culturalism? An ethnography of political discourse in an Italian town

Author: Donatella Schmidt (Università di Padova)  email
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Long Abstract

The talk revolves around processes of cultural dynamics and political rhetoric investing both migrants and the larger majority in a north eastern Italian town experiencing constant migration inflows.

Data, which come from a seven year long period of field research in Padova, focus on a series of public debates in which local politicians and representatives of migrant communities confront each other and come to terms with one's another narration and representation of the increasingly multicultural context.

Such representations, displayed in the public arena, try to make sense of the present through an interpretation of the past and through images of possible future scenarios which, in turn, interact with national legislation on migration and the larger European context. All parties of the discourse are engaged in a process of self-definition and identity construction as public, different but intertwined subjects.

We look at Victor Turner's theory of performance as possible means of interpretation, and at Frederick Bailey's action theory as tool for analyzing interaction among the parties involved.

'Culture' and power in the Spanish enclave of Melilla: the ethnicisation of politics in 'The City of Four Cultures'

Author: Eduard Rodriguez-Martin (EHESS)  email
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Long Abstract

Melilla is a small Spanish enclave of 12 km² on the northern-east coast of Morocco. Before the application of the first immigration law in Spain in November 1985, the 40% of the 68.000 inhabitants of the town were originating in Morocco, and they didn't benefit of the Spanish citizenship, even if the majority of them were born in the Spanish territory. After some violent confrontations between the inhabitants with Spanish origins and those coming from Morocco, the Spanish State massively conceded the nationality to all those who were born in the city or lived there for more than 10 years. The year 1985 deeply marks the contemporary history of the city, because it represents the end of the process which brought the autochthonous population from the status of indigenous (stateless person) to the status of citizen (national). But the 1985 mobilisations also marked the entry of some 15,000 persons in the political life of the enclave. This fact was accompanied by the deployment of an institutionalized discourse which describes the multicultural component of the city in four ethnical groups (Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus). By this discourse a community of 15,000 persons (Muslims) is put on the same level as, for example, a minority of 1,500 (Jews) or 50 (Hindus). On the basis of ethnographic research, I will focus on the rhetoric of this multicultural discourse that uses the term 'Culture' to configure a symbolic system in the political life of the city that highlights the national membership and tries to question the sense of belonging to the Spanish nation by the Melilla Muslims. This system tries to keep in mind the fact that in 2010 the autochthonous population of the enclave will certainly be the majority of the population and will have the majority of votes. This majority is seen like a threat to maintain the Spanish sovereignty of the city vis-à-vis the Moroccan claims. I will analyze how the appropriation of the national symbols in every celebration of the Christian community becomes an example of how the construction of the ethnicity is used to maintain a social stratification based on ethnical discrimination. Finally, I will suggest that the deployment of the multicultural discourse in Melilla produces a feedback in each one of the four communities to resolve the question of their representation and how, by this feedback, they have been participating in the maintenance of the social stratification of the enclave society.

Multiculturalism, democracy and 'refounding' Bolivia: Ayllus, sindicatos and the Constituent Assembly

Author: Maggie Bolton (University of Aberdeen)  email
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Long Abstract

The idea of 'culture' has featured prominently in Bolivian politics of recent years. In the 1990s constitutional changes redefined the country as multi-ethnic and pluri-cultural, guaranteeing certain rights for indigenous peoples. More recently, the election in December 2005 of Latin America's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, has brought to the fore a discourse of generic 'indigeneity' and 'indigenous culture' as a new narrative of the Bolivian nation.

This paper focuses on the concept and uses of 'culture' in contemporary Bolivia: in particular it looks at the ways that 'indigenous culture' can be used strategically as a basis either for inclusion or exclusion. It is organised in two parts. The first part looks ethnographically at a small rural community in the southwest of Potosí, where an indigenous organisation (ayllu) was reconstituted in the 1990s and has been established in opposition to the local peasant union. The paper examines the indigenous organisation and its emphasis on custom and 'culture' particularly in relation to participation in democratic processes and to local expectations of a communal organisation: where expectations of egalitarianism and 'care' (cariño), exist in tension with those of authoritarianism and 'respect'.

The second part of the paper considers the debates surrounding the convening of a constituent assembly later this year to bring about a new round of constitutional changes in Bolivia. Demands for the constituent assembly originated with indigenous groups that expressed frustration with their exclusion from political decision-making at the national level. Through the assembly, the Morales administration aims to 'refound' the country along participatory lines that borrow heavily from both indigenous and union decision-making processes. Ironically, the rules drawn up for the election of assembly delegates, allow no seats specifically for indigenous groups, and indigenous people can effectively only enter the assembly as delegates for one of the political groupings. This part of the paper asks whether Morales' discourse of inclusive indigeneity and participative democracy paradoxically runs a risk of leaving culturally distinct groups, whom he claims to represent, still marginalised within the country.

Symbolic discourses and discursive symbols: multiculturalism, culture and national identity in Brazil and Germany

Author: Jens Schneider (Universiteit van Amsterdam)  email
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Long Abstract

Brazil and Germany represent two contrasting cases with regard to the role of cultural diversity and heterogeneity in the self-imagination as nations. Brazil is externally and internally closely associated with diversity, be it 'racial' or cultural. Part of the nation's 'myth of origin' is the idea of Brazilians being a 'blend' of 'three founding races', Portuguese, Africans and Natives. By contrast, Germanness until today is mainly defined through blood descent, and notions of 'purity' have played an important role in German self-definitions. Even the historical notion of being a 'Kulturnation' was based on the idea of a national folk character, 'genealogically inherited' from one generation to the next.

Of course, national self-imaginations are not necessarily compatible with empirical realities, if ever. The absurdity of the German denial to be an 'immigration country' in face of massive migration movements since the late 1950s has frequently been observed, and the insistence on a ius sanguinis-based citizenship legislation has lead to large numbers of society members being considered as non-Germans and forced to apply to the citizenship of the country they were born in and lived their entire lives. Dominant public and everyday discourses have largely failed to provide narratives for the increased empirical diversity of the society.

But also the Brazilian way of using 'race' and regional origin as continuous distinctive markers for social hierarchy and exclusion has had devastating effects on all attempts to diminish the degree of social inequality - which continues to figure among the highest in the world. The harshness of social exclusion and the omnipresence of everyday violence can be seen as the most salient contradiction to Brazil's (self-)image of a peace-loving and joyful giant.

The paper analyses, how the notions of multiculturality and diversity are dealt with in media, political and individual everyday discursive and symbolic representations of national belonging and identity. It reports some findings from ethnographic field research realised in both national settings, including quotes from interviews with leading politicians, journalists and cultural performers.

Theoretically, the paper parts, on the one hand, from nation theory's hypotheses on the constructedness of national belonging, and, on the other, from Barth's and Devereux's observations about the (dis)connection between culture and boundaries/ethnic identities respectively. Following Anthropology's traditionally strong empirical orientation, it interprets these theoretical assumptions bearing in mind possible developments in ethnographic research regarding the formation and politics of identity in (multicultural) national settings. Here, the paper sketches the concept of an "ethnography of discursive spaces". The analysis of the two cases leads to a theoretical distinction between discourse-centred (Germany) and symbol-centred (Brazil) constructions of national identity.

Culture non grata: a Swedish example of a concept in distress

Author: Simon Ekström (University of Stockholm)  email
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Long Abstract

The aim of this paper is to discuss how references to culture, as well as any other form of conceived differences between majority and minority, may have the effect of provoking a wide range of negative reactions. The empirical example is the ongoing Swedish debate concerning honour killings in juxtaposition with other recent debates in the daily press including a frequent use of the concept of culture. To a certain degree 'culture' in the former debate become an explication non grata, something that a great deal of the commentators (both academics and non-academics) whished to see abolished from the analysis of the murders and the violence. However, the debates are also a reminder of the present risk that the concept of culture is somehow going weaker in some areas, as it is popularised in others.

References to culture, even sceptical remarks concerning some peoples presumed 'culture', has often been done in the Swedish daily press under the recent years, without any intense debate as a result. But these latter topics have all been understood as concerning phenomena in the vast majority. Recent controversies in the same press, as well as in academia, concer-ning honour killing and the emerging tendency of islamofobia and culture racism, has made it clear that 'the problem with culture' is somehow evoking when the concept is related to some statements of the Other.

Actually, with regards to the use (and abuse) of the concept of culture in these debates, we are facing a specific dilemma. When culture is comprehended as a tool for better understanding what is conceived as exotic of unfamiliar circumstances, this is also the moment when the user of the concept is criticised for exaggerating, or even create, the same differences that the concept is used to analyse. As a consequence, paradoxically, 'culture' nowadays has severe difficulties being accepted in the same field as it former has had it's most successes, namely, the field of understanding the Other.

Hegemonic rhetoric and counter-narratives. the multicultural discourse in Bologna, Italy

Author: Barbara Pinelli (Università di Milano-Bicocca)  email
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Long Abstract

In the Italian context, the town of Bologna stems out for being specially open to migration processes. It has traditionally developed local policies which have proven particularly sensitive to the concept of cultural identity and differences. Aiming at protecting the specificity of different immigrant groups, public policies have focused on "cultural mediators", thus fostering a deeply ambiguous culturalist rhetoric. Drawing on an ethnographic study carried out in a local association of migrant women originating from different countries, this paper sets out to highlight how specific governmental technologies are legitimized by a distinctive conception of culture which stresses its essentialist and static aspects, instead of 'processuality', subjectivity and negotiation. On the one hand, I will recall the genealogy of this association and analyse the modalities through which the multiculturalist rhetorics of public, institutional agencies tend to typify migrant subjects, while occulting instead of solving forms of discrimination and power dynamics. On the other hand, I'll argue that it is precisely their " role as mediators" that allows the women of this association to develop gendered narratives and self-representations, which contrast with the dominant culturalist discourse. By building up social networks, which combine different life and migration histories, the women I will speak about minimise the ethnic element and shape individual and social self-positioning as a common ground. Internal practices of cultural mediation are employed to engage forms of mutual support. Cultural belongings become context specific and multi-sited. As a conclusion, multicultural rhetoric network stems out as an hegemonic system of categorization challenged by counter-narratives of identity and belonging.

The culture concept and the peace process in Ireland

Author: Andrew Finlay (Trinity College, Dublin)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper traces the provenance of the notions of culture and identity implicit in the peace agreement signed in Belfast on Good Friday 1998, and subsequently ratified in referenda in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Anthropological ideas of culture, particularly the 'old' idea (Wright, 1996) of culture as the way of life of a distinct people, are found to be influential. However it is not clear that this is a result of effort on the part of anthropologists. While people trained in anthropology have been involved in implementing the cultural initiatives that preceded the peace process, other disciplines - notably law, history and political science - have been more influential in their conception, with only occasional references to anthropology for legitmation. Particular attention will be paid to the vaunted role of political science and theories of 'consociational democracy'. Data will be presented from local debates which expose the extent to which consociational theory relies on a 'primordial' conception of culture which may be at odds with democracy.