ArticlePDF Available

Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory by Bhikhu Parekh



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
Author(s): Laurence Piper
Review by: Laurence Piper
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
Stable URL:
Accessed: 19-05-2016 13:44 UTC
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted
digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about
JSTOR, please contact
Berghahn Books, Faculty of Humanities, Development and Social Sciences, University
of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to
Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory
This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 May 2016 13:44:55 UTC
All use subject to
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.
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
This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 May 2016 13:44:55 UTC
All use subject to
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-
This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 May 2016 13:44:55 UTC
All use subject to
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".
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,
This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 May 2016 13:44:55 UTC
All use subject to
... 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. ...
Full-text available
This qualitative study examines examples of multicultural attitudes in pesantren (Islamic boarding school) in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. It employs focus group discussions (FGD), in-depth interviews and participatory observations research methods to figure out multicultural life at Pesantren Darul Istiqamah (DI), a non-denominational pesantren in Maros, South Sulawesi—Indonesia. The research subjects were ustad (teacher), students (santri), and kyai (religious leaders) of the pesantren. The data were analyzed, contrasted and compared systematically through an inductive qualitative approach. The researcherss conclude that pesantren have their own perspectives about multiculturalism derived from the holy Koran without adopting Western theories. Their views fundamentally reflect an opinion that human beings are created with differences, so, diversities in language, race, and religion are inevitable and therefore people should respect each other. This philosophy underpins curriculum, teaching-learning process and interactions inside/outside of the pesantren which are inclusive and equally valued all diversity.
Full-text available
Ethnic minority status and female gender convey a risk for suicidal behavior, yet research of suicidality of ethnic minority female immigrants is scarce. The authors of this article conducted qualitative interviews with 15 young women (of four ethnicities) in the Netherlands, who either had attempted suicide or contemplated suicide, and analyzed these in a narrative psychology tradition. Suicidality was associated with despair and frustration over the violation of the women’s personal autonomy and self-integrity regarding strategic life choices. Autonomy restrictions and violations followed two patterns, which are interconnected with four criteria regarding the capacity for autonomy. Findings are discussed with referral to Durkheim and feminist theories of autonomy.
Full-text available
Though now under some challenge, the policy orthodoxy in Australian Aboriginal affairs since the 1970s has been progressive in its social justice orientation, postcolonial in its amelioration of the colonial legacy, and culturalist in its privileging of ethnicity. In this paper I argue that its attempt to recover the past in the face of increasing postethnicity is becoming counter-productive, by stultifying cultural adaptation and compromising individuals’ capacity to engage with modernity. The notions of interculturality and postethnicity point to coexisting ancestral cultures, an imagined, symbolic national Aboriginality, and deep intersection with settler-Australia and the world, and so cultural ‘changing-sameness’ and simultaneous ‘bothness’. The paper argues that a dialectic of public policy and Aboriginal identity politics resists this lived reality, with negative effects. It proposes that a way forward is to engage more fully with the lived reality.
Full-text available
In the last decade, the political rhetoric around citizenship for ethnic minority groups, particularly recent migrants, in Aotearoa/New Zealand has been influenced by two dominant paradigms. In the wake of the post-neoliberalism advanced by the Fifth Labour Government (1999-2008) and the efforts to build an inclusive state, the idea of the 'active citizen' has evolved, encouraging ethnic migrants to contribute to their own communities and to a wider New Zealand identity. Equally, broader discourses on the recognition of group-based citizenship have helped ethnic communities in securing a multicultural framing of social rights. Based on qualitative analysis of interview and policy documents, this paper argues that the active citizen and the rights-bearing citizen emerge from discrete paradigms that reveal a fundamental tension between policy-centred celebration of diversity and the political recognition of difference. © The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permissions:
Recent interpretations of policy developments across Europe have suggested a potential tension between multiculturalism and national identity. This article examines how this tension has been understood in British political debate by analysing, as a proxy, debates from the House of Lords. These debates show that four competing frames exist on the relationship between multiculturalism and national identity. These frames offer rival perspectives on the issues surrounding multiculturalism and national identity; they present different problems and solutions. Moreover, the article shows how these frames start from different interpretations of the social reality they are responding to. It concludes by questioning the pursuit of consensus on these matters.
Political philosophy is that area of philosophy dealing with politics and government, that unstable mix of war and foedus, conflictual division and authoritative union. As ‘philosophy’ it is part of the vita contemplativa, which is pure thinking; as ‘political’ it has always something to do with vita activa, that is action and praxis in a world that exists with its own rules and language games before any philosophical attempt to make that world the embodiment of a theory as Plato did (Arendt, 1953, 1959). Philosophy, like science, is about truth whereas politics is about power or, more accu¬rately, ‘the constrained use of social power’ (Goodin and Klingemann, 1996). This formulation reintroduces truth into the possible constraints alongside rhetoric, persuasion, compromise and negotiation.
Full-text available
In the Israeli public sphere we often hear claims about offences to religious feelings. For example, representatives of the three major religions have argued that having a gay pride parade in the holy city of Jerusalem offends their religious feelings. The debate about allowing motor traffic during the Sabbath on Bar-Ilan road, which is located in a Jewish ultra orthodox neighbourhood in Jerusalem, is another example in which claims about offences to religious feelings were raised. According to the orthodox view in current liberal thought, there should be no legal protection from mere insult to feelings and sensibilities, as related to sacred religious and cultural values as they may be. The Israeli legal doctrine is a unique exception. It acknowledges claims about offences to religious feelings. It is not based, however, on a comprehensive theoretical framework in political and moral philosophy. In this article, I draw on the Israeli example and argue – against the prevailing liberal orthodoxy – that some claims of offence to feelings deserve legal protection. I argue that such claims boil down to a struggle for equality in the public sphere between competing cultural identities. I conceptualize such claims from offences to feelings as claims that purport to protect one’s right in the integrity of one’s cultural identity. I argue that from this conceptualization a principle for justly regulating claims from cultural identity emerges. This is the vulnerable cultural identity principle, according to which the more vulnerable the social and civic status of one’s cultural identity is, the stronger one’s claim is to integrity of cultural identity. The vulnerable identity principle recognizes the asymmetrical social power relations between minority and majority members. It is entailed by the notion of toleration, which requires the state, according to certain conceptions of toleration, to take active steps to ensure equal recognition of different cultural identities.
People and politics in many western countries appear increasingly hostile to immigration and cultural diversity. Multicultural discourses have been abandoned as public concern rises about European countries becoming too ethnically diverse. Opponents of multicultural approaches believe that western democratic values will be destroyed by too many immigrants whose cultures, religions and values are seen to be either too different or inferior. The claim that diverse values may threaten national identity and damage social cohesion has moved from the far-right periphery to the centre of European politics. Discourses about difference have become more exclusionary and nationalistic, while social cohesion is often being redefined to equate with homogeneity and assimilation. My analysis indicates that these changes point to a deeper underlying social process, namely that social solidarity has changed irreversibly over the past 50 years. I will examine the theoretical underpinnings of solidarity: its meaning, its contexts and foundations. Then I will explore some of the major social transformations of the past 50 years that have altered European collective identities and impacted on notions of solidarity. I conclude by considering whether the current push for ‘integration and cohesion’, for controlling difference, has any chance of achieving its desired outcomes.
Full-text available
Little is known about the influence of culture and beliefs about breast cancer, and its implications on preventive health behaviour among South Asian people in the UK. Using a qualitative approach, 24 South Asian breast cancer patients and their significant others were interviewed. Most patients were unfamiliar with the subject of cancer; they expressed lack of knowledge of cancer as a disease and its symptoms. They identified a painless lump in the breast as sign of abnormality, but not cancer. They also did not know any non-lump breast symptoms. Over half participated in breast screening after encouragement from daughters or relatives. Most did not practise breast self-examination. Perceptions of cancer and health behaviour were influenced by cultural beliefs. Common themes were cancer is a taboo subject and cancer is a stigma. Patients also expressed misunderstandings about the cause of cancer. Cancer in the family had ramifications on children' s marriage prospects and may cause marital breakdown. Terminology used also caused communication problems with healthcare professionals and within the family: the use of ' chest' to substitute ' breast' changed the meaning of the message conveyed. Cultural beliefs and practices accentuate difficulties in understanding breast cancer, breast screening and breast self-examination, and can prevent South Asian women from adopting preventive health practices.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.