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Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory by Bhikhu Parekh

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Rethinking Multiculturalism is an ambitious, brilliant, illuminating and at times frustrating book. In a wide-ranging argument, Parekh advances a theory of multiculturalism (which he prefers to term a "perspective on human life"), and then deploys this in analysing most of the issues which confront multicultural societies from the appro priate structure of the polity, group representation, justice and rights through to questions of national and cultural identity, intercultural interaction, education, and gender relations.
Berghahn Books
Faculty of Humanities, Development and Social Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal,
South Africa
Review
Author(s): Laurence Piper
Review by: Laurence Piper
Source:
Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory
, No. 98, The West in Crisis:
Technology, Reason, Culture (December 2001), pp. 112-114
Published by: Berghahn Books in association with the Faculty of Humanities, Development
and Social Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
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Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory
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112 Reviews
Arnold Shepperson is a researcher and PhD candidate in the Gradu-
ate Programme in Cultural and Media Studies at the University of
Natal, Durban. Formerly an engineering and evaluation technician in
the gold mining industry, his experience led him to enter the Univer-
sity of Natal, where he studied English and Philosophy before enter-
ing Cultural and Media studies. His research interest is in the
philosophically realist conception of the logic of social communica-
tion and its ethical and aesthetic grounding.
Email: sheppers@nu.ac.za
Rethinking Multiculturalism : Cultural Diversity and Political Theory,
by Bhikhu Parekh. Basingstoke & London: Macmillan, 2000.
Reviewed by Laurence Piper
Rethinking Multiculturalism is an ambitious, brilliant, illuminating
and at times frustrating book. In a wide-ranging argument, Parekh
advances a theory of multiculturalism (which he prefers to term a
"perspective on human life"), and then deploys this in analysing most
of the issues which confront multicultural societies from the appro-
priate structure of the polity, group representation, justice and rights
through to questions of national and cultural identity, intercultural
interaction, education, and gender relations.
Parekh's multicultural perspective can be summarised in three cen-
tral insights. First, human beings are deeply shaped by culture but not
determined by it. Here Parekh is looking to steer a middle course
between what he sees as the one-sided and partial extremes of natu-
ralism and culturalism. The significance of culture is better located in
the dialectical interplay of the universal and the particular. Second,
different cultures represent different systems of meaning and visions
of the good life. Critically though, any culture grasps only a part of
the totality of human existence and realises a limited range of human
capacities and emotions. In many ways this insight ends up doing
much of the work in Parekh's subsequent analysis as it both ties
human well-being to culture, and limits any one culture's claim to
fully realise this. Consequently, no culture is wholly worthless and no
culture is perfect, and thus intercultural dialogue is established as a
human good. Third, all cultures are internally plural, although not
incoherent, which means that a culture cannot appreciate the value of
others unless it appreciates the plurality within it. In this way, suc-
cessful inter-cultural dialogue is made contingent on openness to
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Reviews 113
intra-cultural dialogue, thus foreclosing cultural defensiveness as
legitimate politics.
Parekh develops and deploys his multicultural perspective in a
thoroughgoing discussion of the politics of multiculturalism. This is
probably the strength of the book for not only does it touch on almost
all the issues manifest in debates on multiculturalism, but it does so
from a theoretically coherent perspective. The reader is transported
systematically through a series of arguments underpinned by Parekh 's
intimate knowledge of multicultural politics, especially in Britain.
Scholars of the state, religion, culture and gender will find something
of value. Add to this the accessible style of the book and one has a
top-notch teaching text as well as a comprehensive and compelling
defence of the pluralist perspective.
Any arguments as wide-ranging and original as those advanced by
Parekh will be the subject of much criticism. In this short review I
would like to make just three general points. First, Parekh tends to
draw out or repeat his points, and this makes the read a little slow and
frustrating at times. Second, Parekh's characterisation of the rela-
tionship between culture and identity is unclear and potentially prob-
lematic. He argues that cultural groups exist, that is, they have an
identity, despite often being internally fractured. To this he adds,
"since every culture is the culture of a particular group of people, its
creator and historical bearer, all cultures tend to have an ethnic basis"
(154). However, if cultural groups are not ethnic groups, what are
they and how would we identify them? Parekh is unclear to what
extent cultural groups are in fact groups - that is, self-aware entities
- as opposed to categories. In his analysis, Parekh treats cultural
groups as self-aware groups, but this raises the question of whether
so-called "multicultural" politics is really about culture rather than
identity. After all, cultural change can happen without prompting
instances of "multicultural politics", and identity politics continues,
even intensifies, despite the narrowing and even disappearance of
cultural difference. The latter is Taylor's argument in respect of Que-
bec nationalism in The Politics of Recognition, and despite a passing
reference in the introduction, Parekh is largely silent on issues of
identity politics.
Parekh's failure to engage with the significance of identity for
"multicultural" politics suggests a reification of culture which is
echoed in his discussion of culture and power. While stating that cul-
ture and institutions exist in a dialectic relationship (151), Parekh fails
to consider the extent to which non-liberal cultural practices are fune-
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114 Reviews
tional to, and products of, oppressive power relations. Moreover, it is
precisely this loss of power, usually over young people and women,
which is the real subtext of the debates over "cultural difference", at
least in the developing world. Parekh's correct insistence on the
importance of intra-cultural dialogue for inter-cultural dialogue
assumes away the normative grounds for many defenders of "cultural
rights" in South Africa, for instance. Behind Parekh's theory lurks
decades of experience of British politics and this does not always
speak to the "multicultural" politics of the South.
Dr Laurence Piper is a lecturer in Political Studies at the University
of Natal, South Africa. A graduate of Cambridge University, Lau-
rence teaches Political Theory, and is currently working on Kymlicka
and other liberal nationalists. He is also the resident expert on Zulu
nationalism, having written his PhD on "The Rise and Fall of Zulu
Nationalism in South Africa's Transition to Democracy".
Email: piper@nu.ac.za
Heidegger and Derrida on Philosophy and Metaphor : Imperfect
Thought, by Guiseppe Stellardi. Humanity Books: New York, 2000.
Reviewed by Patrick Lenta
The perception of the medium of philosophy has changed after Niet-
zsche, Heidegger and Derrida. Philosophy presents itself as a particu-
lar mode of discourse whilst consistently questioning and dissembling
its own status. Philosophy's dismantling of its metadiscursivity - its
self-regard as a discourse from within which the validity of other dis-
courses could be gauged - installs the question of philosophy's dis-
tinctiveness from and relationship to other modes of writing - poetry,
literature, human sciences and science - which becomes both pressing
and problematic, in the light of challenges to philosophy's "right to
exist and its demand to be listened to" (32).
Stellardi 's aim is to investigate the operations of metaphor in phi-
losophy generally and to discuss the reflections about and presence
of metaphor in the texts of Heidegger and Derrida, with the ultimate
aim of delimiting philosophy in the totality of discourses and of
negotiating and recasting the boundaries between philosophy and
certain other discourses, particularly in relation to their metaphorical
quotient. Having separated philosophy out from other discourses,
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... He argued that the concept of monism, adopted from the Greeks and Christianity, does not fit with the current era where a diversity of cultures presents in most societies. Therefore, as contended by Piper (2001) Parekh posited that multiculturalism is an inherent part of human life. However, multiculturalism is seriously taken into account with a specific ideology for change occurred in 1960s, for example, in UK, multiculturalism has become a contested concept, but it has nevertheless also come to be viewed as a soft weapon for creating change through establishing equitable policies across different levels of society (Nye, 2007). ...
... The presence of diversity is inherent to life in any social and cultural context . Building collective awareness and respect for diversity, according to Piper (2001), should start with respect intra-culture before subsequently building appreciation of other cultures. Parekh (2006) suggests that intra-dialogue within a cultural is required, because all coherent cultural groups are nevertheless internally plural. ...
... In addition, tasamuh encourages action generated from respect, especially to increase awareness among every single Muslim toward diversity. This strongly parallels Piper (2001) who states that diversities lead to the creation of cultural awareness. Furthermore, teachers pointed out that tasamuh, which is literally translated as tolerance, stresses that diversities among human beings and ability to deal with diversities are blessing from the God. ...
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