Don's Reviews > The Crises of Multiculturalism: Racism in a Neoliberal Age

The Crises of Multiculturalism by Alana Lentin
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's review
Dec 10, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: modern-society, politics

Densely argued account of multiculturalism's crisis within the frame of neo-liberal global politics.

The authors regard multiculturalism itself as being something of a damp squib, have "rarely amounted to more than a patchwork of initiatives, rhetoric and aspirations in any given context." Its importance is less than what it is, than what it has come to mean to the global ruling elites. Yet resistance to the current mood of rejection of multiculturalism is important, because this is really a rejection of "lived multiculture."

What is seen as the failure of multiculturalism becomes a justification for ordering reality into a "good and bad diversity". The bad version is litanised into the repetition of notorious events, extending across the riots in northern English towns in 2001, the Madrid train bombings in 2004, the murder of Theo Van Gogh, the reaction to the Danish Mohammed cartoons, etc, etc. The incidents are available to be integrated into 'Clash of Civilisation' theories and presented as being essential to the character of the communities identified as being at the heart of 'the problem'.

The effect of generating a sense of 'bad diversity' of this order is that immigrants of both old and new generations become available as a scapegoat for the dislocations of the transition to post-industrialisation across the developed world. In this world, "lived diversity has evaded and transgressed the shapes designed for its management." The multiculturalism once deemed adequate to containing the anxieties of diversity now has to be replaced by a new 'transcendent homogeneity'of society.

The authors go on to consider the form which the crisis of multiculturalism has taken in Britain, the Netherlands and France. The work of Christopher Caldwell is also examined as a leading ideologue of cultural essentialism, seeing nothing more than a working out of all the negative responses to the West in the varied lives of muslims.

The book provides a compelling account of the political forms of the crisis of multiculturalism but is less clear about the part this plays in being a part of 'a neoliberal age'. Assuming they mean by this the form the mode of capitalist reproduction takes in the current period, its seems important to have the authors' views on whether the conflicts and tensions of diversity have an absolute or relative character. To what extent will the renewal of the struggle for multiculturalism be taken up by the new leaders of global capitalism as the balance of the system shifts to the east and the south, or will it carry us beyond the confines of capitalism altogether.


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