Working paper

This paper is concerned with the competing demands of multiculturalism and the interplay of race and democratic practice in an age that is often seen as being somehow post-political.

State multiculturalism as an example of a regulatory framework, works by enabling recognition of particular group identities and for their bearers to make certain claims – or at least to place them up for discussion, whether or not they are met – so long as particular rules of the game are followed. Indeed, it is worth noting that multiculturalism was backed by the state during the early 1980s in part as an attempt to defuse tensions and politics felt to have been stoked by anti- racism and to have led to race riots in a number of British cities .

The curious thing is that thirty years on multiculturalism is routinely described in the tabloid press and public discourse as having roundly failed because, it is alleged, multiculturalism has gone too far in having excessively benefited minorities, in turn obstructing the integration of minorities into western democracies. This fundamentally misunderstands multiculturalism which, far from being a free-for-all in a sweetshop of rights, has been a system within which minorities have often had to engage in lengthy struggles for rights such as protection against hate crimes and that, in its routine institutional application, frequently tends towards stale managerialism, cynical box-ticking and tokenism rather than an arena of radical politics.

David Tyrer is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Political Theory at Liverpool John Moores University, UK.

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