Friday, November 16, 2007

Featured Book - "Multicultural Odysseys"

Will Kymlicka
Multicultural Odysseys: Navigating the New International Politics of Diversity
Oxford University Press, 2007, 323.1 KYM

We are currently witnessing the global diffusion of multiculturalism, both as a political discourse and as a set of international legal norms. States today are under increasing international scrutiny regarding their treatment of ethnocultural groups, and are expected to meet evolving international standards regarding the rights of indigenous peoples, national minorities, and immigrants. Yet this phenomenon isn’t just the result of internal pressure from the minorities that live within these states, but is also advocated, and even demanded, by inter-state bodies such as the UN and EU.

However, the formulation and implementation of these international norms has generated a number of dilemmas. The policies adopted by international organizations to deal with ethnic diversity are driven by conflicting impulses. Pessimism about the destabilizing consequences of ethnic politics alternates with optimism about the prospects for a peaceful and democratic form of multicultural politics.

The result is often an unstable mix of paralyzing fear and naive hope, rooted in conflicting imperatives of security and justice. Moreover, given the enormous differences in the characteristics of minorities (eg., their size, territorial concentration, cultural markers, historic relationship to the state), it is difficult to formulate standards that apply to all groups. Yet attempts to formulate more targeted norms that apply only to specific categories of minorities (eg., "indigenous peoples" or "national minorities") have proven controversial and unstable.

Yet the emerging international framework for minority rights has proved popular as a framework within which minority groups in a wide variety of countries, from tribal groups in Africa divided by state boundaries to immigrant groups in Western Europe, to make claims for greater recognition and autonomy. Against those critics who argue that this multiculturalism is a threat to the universal human rights it calls upon, Kymlicka shows that the laws and norms that govern these claims are inspired and constrained by the human rights revolution, and embedded in a framework of liberal-democratic values.

The RSA has recently hosted two lectures on how societies do or don’t cope with this new politics of multiculturalism: Paul Snideman on When Ways of Life Collide and Anne Phillips on Multiculturalism without Culture. Please cick the titles for more information and full audio downloads of the events.

To borrow a copy of Multicultural Odysseys, please contact the RSA Library.

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