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  • Expanding the Multicultural Recognition Scope?A Critical Analysis of Will Kymlicka's Polyethnic Rights
  • François Levrau

1. Introduction

Although there was never a consensus about multicultural policies for immigrants, at the beginning of this new millennium, multiculturalism found itself in cloudy water. Within a short period, politicians Merkel, Cameron, and Sarkozy all informed us that multiculturalism had failed. While this political statement drew many objections—How could these politicians claim we should abandon multiculturalism, given that multiculturally conscious notions of justice and their concomitant laws and policies for immigrants have never even been implemented in their respective countries? (Kymlicka, Multiculturalism)—political and philosophical critique of multiculturalism have nonetheless become more vigorous (Vertovec and Wessendorf). Some have proposed "interculturalism" as a remedy for multiculturalism's deficiencies, (for an overview of this debate, see, e.g., Meer et al.; Levrau and Loobuyck, "Introduction"). In Europe, the idea of interculturalism as a "counter" to multiculturalism has been reflected in the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue published by the Council of Europe in 2008. According to the Council, the intercultural approach would avoid the failed extremes of assimilationism and multiculturalism by acknowledging diversity while insisting on universal values. According to its advocates, interculturalism would be a better tool for dealing with the complexity of superdiverse societies characterized by emerging transnational and multiple identities and cultural affiliations. The interculturalist raison d'être, so to speak, is that interaction among people has been overlooked by the multicultural citizenship paradigm, which has mainly concentrated on ensuring the cultural rights of diverse ethnocultural groups.1 Interculturalists like Zapata-Barrero ("Theorising Intercultural Citizenship"; "Interculturalism in the Post-Multicultural Debate") make a strong plea for [End Page 78] mainstreaming—hence, the need for policy approaches that speak to the entire diverse population. In the same vein, Cantle ("Case for Interculturalism") has brought to the fore the idea that people can have more than one identity at the same time and that these are not necessarily in opposition to each other, as they represent different aspects of human relations. This "cosmopolitanism" is, as Modood ("Strange Non-Death of Multiculturalism" 6) argues, a conception of multiculturalism as maximum freedom "for minority as well as majority individuals, to mix with, borrow and learn from all (whether they are of your group or not) so individual identities are personal amalgams of bits from various groups and heritages and there is no one dominant social identity to which all must conform." Interculturalists like Zapata-Barrero and Cantle assert that while the focus of multiculturalism on inequalities was justified, it has failed to adapt to the rising superdiversity and the multifaceted aspects of difference and otherness. Relying on one type of identity does injustice to the other (often mixed) identities.

In this article, I elaborate on this charge and argue why the multicultural recognition scope is, indeed, too restricted. On the basis of a close reading of the multicultural work of Will Kymlicka, I illustrate that there is no reason to single out ethnocultural identity groups (immigrants) in order to grant them polyethnic rights. In fact, most—if not all—polyethnic rights arguments extend beyond ethnicity. Zooming in on Kymlicka's "egalitarian-liberal multicultural" theory, I examine the extent to which the seeds of a more encompassing recognition theory can be found in his own work. I hereby want to clarify that it is better to treat all kinds of recognition claims on equal footing and, hence, to evaluate them on the basis of the same theoretical and normative principles and criteria. After all, what is to be recognized is not the group as such, but the individual who may or may not think of himself as being a part of a group.2 In that sense, what should be evaluated is the claim, whether it is expressed by one individual or by a collective who made an aggregated claim. As such, all people should have equal chances to make claims for recognition and therefore be accommodated in a way that does justice to their specific identity. This, of course, does not mean that all claims need the same type of recognition. Recognition policies need to be tailored, since what is necessary for one person...


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pp. 78-107
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