Multiculturalism is an ideology that promotes the institutionalisation of communities containing multiple cultures. It is generally applied to the demographic make-up of a specific place, usually at the organizational level, e.g. schools, businesses, neighborhoods, cities, or nations.
Whilst interculturalism and multiculturalism share much as approaches concerned with recognising cultural diversity, the answer to Lentin's question (2005: 394) – is interculturalism merely an ‘updated version’ of multiculturalism? – is in the main ‘no’. That is to say that while advocates of interculturalism wish to emphasise its positive qualities in terms of encouraging communication, recognising dynamic identities, promoting unity and challenging illiberality, each of these qualities already feature (and are on occasion foundational) to multiculturalism too.
Britain is becoming an increasingly multicultural society in sometimes unexpected ways and with often unpredicted consequences. Until recently, however, most research (and policy attention) has tended to concern itself with the experience of inner urban areas or that of England's northern towns, with their experience of industrial decline.
Convention suggests that multicultural areas tend to exhibit high levels of residential and educational segregation, high degrees of poverty and deprivation and low rates of contact between culturally distinct individuals and groups.
Multicultural education that began to develop during the late 1960s and 1970s initially focused on fostering respect within and across different racial and cultural groups. The anti-bias approach, which appeared in written from in 1989, argued that other aspects of identity such as gender, social class, religion, sexual orientation, and disabilities were also germane to the development of the children's positive identities and respect fro others.
A multicultural approach to education began to take shape in the 1960s with the underlying assumption that we are a society of many peoples and that we all need to learn to honor ourselves and one another. From this perspective, schools have a responsibility to support the cultures of all children, to teach children to respect themselves and others, and to get along with a wide range of people.
The ‘drastic break with multiculturalism’ recently made by the Dutch has been widely recorded; it has seen the Netherlands discontinue some emblematic multiculturalist policies while introducing others specifically tailored to ignore ethnic minority differences.
In Britain, meanwhile, multiculturalism is widely believed to have been responsible for domestic terrorism, but even prior to that to have been creaking under the Muslim weight of allegedly ‘culturally unreasonable or theologically alien demands’.
During the 1990s, antibias multicultural education more explicitly incorporated a social re-constructionist orientation that assumes that the creation of a just society requires a fundamental change in institutional structures, policies, and behaviors that inhibit the equitable participation of all racial and ethnic groups.
Multiculturalism is about diversity and inclusion, but what is more important, it is also about power structures and struggle. Its goal is not just to understand, accept, and appreciate cultural differences, but also to ultimately transform the existing social order to ensure greater voice and authority to the marginalized cultures, and to achieve social equality and justice among all cultures so that people of different cultural backgrounds can live happily together in a truly democratic world.
It is argued that it amounts to a British multiculturalism which, although lacking an official ‘Multicultural Act’ or ‘Charter’ in the way of Australia or Canada, rejected the idea of integration being based upon a drive for unity through an uncompromising cultural ‘assimilation’ over 40 years ago.
British multiculturalism is alleged to have buckled under various Muslim-related pressures. Indeed, some intellectuals, commentators and politicians of different political persuasions have pointed to evidence of a ‘retreat’ to be found in an increased governmental emphasis upon ‘integration’ and ‘social cohesion’.