Essay multiculturalism and assimilation

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In the context of globalization, one may argue that the notions of local cultures and identity have become increasingly important, in particular in Western countries. Today, a sense of “crisis” indeed surrounds the relationship between ethnic, religious and social communities in some Western states. According to T. Modood, the “atmospherics of this post-9/11 crisis” is linked to clear tensionsover immigration, visible difference, or over religious questions1. Therefore, different theories have attempted to address problems related to these issues and to national identity. Among them, the theories of “assimilation” and of “multiculturalism” are the most prevalent. Although both aim at building a strong, harmonious, and cohesive society, they diverge in their conception of the path tofollow in order to reach this goal. It seems therefore relevant to discuss the relevance, the strengths and weaknesses of each model. In this essay, we will first confront these immigrant incorporation theories, and in a second part, we will have a look at two states, France and the Netherlands, that are concretely influenced by both of these normative approaches, respectively by theassimilationist and by the multiculturalism theories.

In 1930, Robert Park defined social “assimilation” as “the name given to the process or processes by which peoples of diverse racial origins ans different cultural heritages, occupying a common territory, achieve a cultural solidarity sufficient at least to sustain a national existence”2. Milton Gordon later defined “structural assimilation”3 as “theentry of members of an ethnic minority into primary-group relationships with the majority group”. The first step in this process being the “acculturation”, which is “the minority group's adoption of the cultural patterns of the host society”4. Assimilationist theory strongly relates to the idea of national identity. Assimilationists suggest that if a society makes the effort to incorporateimmigrants into the mainstream, immigrants will then reciprocally adopt new customs. Through this process, national unity is maintained. Proponents of this theory do not support initiatives that give special privileges to minorities at the expense of the majority, arguing that creating an ethnic or racial rift among citizens and providing immigrant groups with special rights can harm these groups.The term “melting pot” refers to the idea that societies formed by immigrant cultures, religions, end ethnic groups, will produce new hybrid social and cultural forms, melting together5. It slightly differs from assimilation since new groups are able to affect the values of the dominant group: the aim is that all cultures become reflected in one common culture, generally the culture of thedominant group though. Thus, this term mostly refers to the United States process of Americanisation. The main critic of the “melting-pot” theory concerned its unrealistic and racist aspects. In the USA,it focused on the Western heritage and excluded non-European immigrants. The reality was basically limited to intermixing between white Anglo-Saxon individuals. While promoting the mixing of cultures, theresults have been assimilationist, since the input of minority cultures was very limited6. The assumption that culture is a fixed construct may also be subjected to critic. “Culture is not given as an entity but a process perpetually changing, argues Pareck. Culture has two sides: as a context and as a product of human choices”7. Subject of many critics, assimilationism has been since the1960s challenged by its new main rival theory, multiculturalism. Is the current “bad reputation”8 of assimilation justified? In terms of immigrant incorporation, what are the multiculturalism characteristics?
Multiculturalism is a recent and polymorphous political theory that can be defined by saying that it is “a political, social, and cultural movement which aims to respect a multiplicity of...
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