Notes for January 27, 1998
Kymlicka builds much of his argument for minority rights around
culture, arguing that culture is extremely important for
people and "relevant to individual freedom" (p. 75),
that it is important to be able to retain a particular culture
and not just any culture, and that "the desire of national
minorities to retain their cultural membership remains very strong"
When Kymlicka first introduces and defines what he means by culture, he notes:
I am using a 'culture' as synonymous with 'a nation' or 'a people'-that is, an intergenerational community, more or less institutionally complete, occupying a given territory or homeland, sharing a distinct language and history. (p. 18).
Note that here he specifically excludes lifestyle forms of culture
(gay, youth, punk, religious) and his approach is much broader
than including only artistic and folk culture such as songs, dances,
poetry, and heritage languages. As he points out near the bottom
of page 19, his aim is to distinguish national minorities from
ethnic groups. Other aspects of culture are important in other
contexts, but Multicultural Citizenship is specifically
concerned with arguments related to group rights for national
minorities and ethnic groups.
While the above quote identifies culture with nation
or people, Kymlicka later refines his definition to that
of societal culture, "the full range of human activities,
encompassing both public and private life. These societal cultures
are typically associated with national groups" (pp. 75-76).
In Chapter 5, culture then is not identical with nation or people,
but it is the ways of life, practices, institutions, memories,
and values that assist in defining the nation and extends across
the members of the nation.
For Kymlicka, "freedom is intimately linked with and dependent
on culture" (p. 75), culture is a "context of choice"
(p. 82), "provides options" (p. 89), "determines
the boundaries of the imaginable" (p. 89), and "provides
an 'anchor for [people's] self-identification and the safety of
effortless secure belonging'" (p. 89). In this approach,
the meaning of culture is that it is a resource for people that
provides them with a sense of belonging and a context for making
choices. As such, it is an essential underpinning for individuals,
and individuals cannot make meaningful choices in the absence
of a cultural framework. Given its importance for the exercise
of choice and freedom, having access to a familiar culture is
especially important. The argument in Multicultural Citizenship
is that the importance of these cultural aspects creates the need
for group rights, thus allowing individuals to maintain and protect
some aspects of their culture. Arguments concerning which aspects
these will be are in Chapters 6 and following.
B. Sociological Approaches.
Culture has a number of different meanings and is not well defined within sociology. This may partly be since culture
is one of the two or three most complicated word in the English language. This is so partly because of its intricate historical development, in several European languages, but mainly because it has now come to be used for important concepts in several distinct intellectual disciplines and in several distinct and incompatible systems of thought. (Williams, p. 87).
In the Marxian tradition, culture was not a central feature,
since it was not part of the economic base of society, but part
of the superstructure that emerged from the economic base. Since
the bourgeois class controlled the economic base of society, in
the Marxian tradition, culture was often viewed as bourgeois or
ruling class culture, sometimes being seen as similar to
ideology. This was especially true of much of the visual art,
architecture, and music which was directly supported and paid
for by the bourgeoisie.
Culture in the form of norms and values did form part of
Durkheim's early analysis and in his later writings he analyzed
religion and the sacred as cultural. Durkheim notes that
society defines what is sacred and what is profane, and religion
has its roots in social structure. Weber laid emphasis on some
particular forms of culture such as the protestant ethic in
the development of early capitalism, and rationality as
a cultural system and set of values and practices characterizing
modern, western society.
The twentieth century United States social theorist, Talcott Parsons,
paid more attention to culture, making it part of his systems
of actions (cultural, social, and personality systems). The cultural
system was a "major force binding the various elements
of the social world" (Ritzer, p. 244). Culture was a patterned,
ordered system of symbols that orient actors and which are internalized
and institutionalized. These are the "values, beliefs, language,
and other symbols" that are "internalized into the personality
system" through socialization (Turner, p. 60). Further, "it
is through this process that actors are
given the interpersonal
and other skills necessary for playing roles" and "to
provide stable and secure interpersonal ties that alleviate much
of the strain, anxiety, and tension associated with acquiring
proper motives and skills" (Turner, p. 61). Parsons is considered
to be a cultural determinist, in that the values and symbols common
to a society are internalized in an individual through socialization.
At the same time, Parsons considered culture to be flexible, being
able to move readily from one system to another.
Part of the problem may be that culture was used differently in
different disciplines, with different although related meanings.
In anthropology, it could mean symbols, practices, and ideas,
or it could be considered as "an all-encompassing concept,
roughly analogous to social structure or social organization for
sociologists." Within sociology "culture is more specific
than anthropology's, including only abstract ideas (norms, values,
style, strategies, repertoires, etc.) and the symbols that imply
or represent them" (Berger, p. 19).
Bocock distinguishes five uses of culture ("The Cultural Formations of Modern Society," in Hall, pp. 151-154). These are:
It is the latter three uses that Kymlicka develops and he notes that societal cultures involve "not just shared memories or values, but also common institutions and practices" (p. 76). That is, it is not just the common ancestry, the memories of founding fathers, the form of dress, or the dances or music of a group. Rather, it is the (see p. 76):
These societal cultures could have existed at earlier stages of
history, but for Kymlicka these societal cultures are a product
of modernization and liberalism. That is, these are not tribal
or isolated forms of culture as the fourth meaning implies. Rather,
these are cultures that have emerged in many parts of the world
as a result of the need for (i) a modern economy, (ii) democracy
with social solidarity and common identity, and (iii) some attempt
to establish equality of opportunity -- e.g. through public education
(p. 77). That is, these societal cultures have developed as part
of the process of building a nation or people and a common culture.
This is especially true in North America, but the process has
also occurred in many parts of the world.
C. National Minorities and Ethnic Groups.
By focusing on societal culture, and the practices and institutions
that are part of it, Kymlicka shows how the situation of immigrants
or ethnic groups differs from that of national minorities. National
minorities have or had their own societal culture, and wish
to retain it. The problem they face is that some of the
above four characteristics have been destroyed or weakened - perhaps
because of conquest and assimilation into the dominant culture
(e.g. aboriginal groups in North America), or perhaps because
of integration of one group into a larger entity (Welsh, French-Canadians?).
The language may have partially or entirely disappeared, the institutions
of the minority may be in disarray, and many aspects of the dominant
societal culture may have taken over and replaced much of the
national minority culture.
The weakening or loss of societal culture of the national minority
may lead to requests or demands for protections and rights that
allow the national minority culture to become re-established.
Somewhat ironically, this heightened awareness of the need for
such protection and the demands that accompany this often come
at a time when that national minority has liberalized or modernized
and has become similar to other modern, liberal societies.
Kymlicka's example of Quebec moving from a rural, conservative
society to an urban, liberal society with "all the diversity
that any modern society contains" (p. 87) is especially striking.
"Québécois have become more like English Canadians
in their basic values" (p. 88), but at the same time this
has been accompanied by a stronger national identity.
The example of Quebec shows the importance of societal culture,
and maintenance of the societal culture of the national minority,
not some other culture.
Ethnic groups generally are part of the dominant societal
culture. At the same time, they do wish to retain some aspects
of their own culture, although which aspects may be more or less
accidental, depending on the circumstances they face in the new
D. Importance of Culture.
For Kymlicka, culture is not merely an abstract set of symbols
that could be interchanged with other symbols, nor is it like
joining a different church, moving to a different city, or taking
on a different job. Rather, "freedom involves making
choices amongst various options, and our societal culture
not only provides these options, but also makes them meaningful
to us" (p. 83). These societal cultures are "contexts
of choice" and provide the choices available, the vocabulary
for making these choices, and the meaning we attach to the choices.
As an example, consider the set of choices you make as students,
proceeding through the educational system. Upon completion of
university, many students have different directions they pursue
than when they entered university, and different views concerning
desirable courses of action. University provides you with a range
of options and you have to make some choices - concerning courses
and majors, but also in terms of friends, peer groups, lifestyles,
and social and political action. In what context are these choices
made. Language is obviously a very important basic resource, and
those without knowledge of the language of instruction must first
learn this. Knowing and being able to use the language provides
the means of considering what the options are, what are the potential
advantages and disadvantages of the various options. The culture
and values that you entered the university with will have some
influence, the new understanding of other aspects of history and
social structures that you develop in university, and meeting
individuals from different backgrounds, all have an effect, and
these are all part of the societal culture. The institutions and
practices associated with the educational system provide constraints
and opportunities, a framework within which the choices are made.
The values each of us has, which Kymlicka notes may be wrong or
may need revision, are developed within the societal culture as
we grow up and age.
In this way, societal culture can be viewed as a resource which
each of us has, which is necessary to survival, to pursuing
a good life, to revising ideas of the good, to pursue
options, to exercise freedom of choice. As noted
in the last paragraph, the liberal society provides people with
"information about other ways of life
and makes it
possible for people to engage in radical revision of their ends"
But if culture is so important, why not pick a good culture, abandon
one that is inferior, and why not change cultures. Emigrants
generally decide to do this, although many have great difficulty
adapting to a new culture. Some do this at the level of subcultures,
and that is part of the exercise of freedom of choice - e.g. youth
subcultures, sexual preference, religion. But all of these are
carried out within the same societal culture, and do not involve
making changes in such basic features as language or altering
many practices and institutions. For example, changing sexual
preference may involve changing family and household structure,
in addition to changing sexual practices, but it need not involve
a change in neighbourhood, language, job, etc. or in the way in
which social interaction occurs among friends, associates, or
co-workers. In contrast, changing societal culture is much more
dramatic and much more difficult, and most people prefer not to
There are various reasons why people would like to retain their culture.
Individuals may choose to leave a culture, but where possible,
individuals should be able to have access to one's own culture,
much as we treat access to material resources as desirable.
E. Conclusions and Implications Concerning Culture.
Kymlicka concludes Chapter 5 by noting the importance of culture
for (i) enabling meaningful individual choice and (ii) supporting
self-identity and belonging. Even though individuals may adopt
quite different styles of life, make different choices, and may
not even share moral values, attachment to a common culture may
be important for these individuals. In fact, it may be more important
in the contemporary era where moral values and ways of life differ
so dramatically, and when such attachment does not require common
values and lifestyles. A common language and culture may provide
"a secure foundation for individual autonomy and self-identity"
(p. 105). Nations provide a "domain of freedom and equality,
and a source of mutual recognition and trust, which can accommodate
the inevitable disagreements and dissent about conceptions of
the good in modern society" (pp. 105-106).
The consequence of this argument is that it may be important to
protect group rights, so that members of the group can maintain
the bond to their own culture. For national minorities, this may
be the only route to allowing the minority to achieve equality.
The importance of this may lead to creating self-government, group
rights, or other forms of cultural protection. See pages 27-30.
For ethnic groups, polyethnic rights mean protection
of some aspects of culture, but need not entail the same set of
rights. For example, polyethnic rights might include protection
and maintenance of language, anti-racism policies, public funding
of cultural practices, and exemptions from laws that disadvantage
certain religious practices (pp. 30-31). Note that these are not
to create special rights to privilege certain groups. Rather,
these rights encourage the individuals in the group to participate
more fully in the mainstream economic and political institutions
of the society. Kymlicka argues that these further, rather than
discourage, integration into society.
References for Notes on Culture:
Berger, Bennett M., An Essay on Culture: Symbolic Structure and Social Structure, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995.
Hall, Stuart "The Question of Cultural Identity," in Stuart Hall et. al., Modernity: An Introduction to Modern Societies, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Blackwell, 1996.
Ritzer, George, Sociological Theory, fourth edition, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1996.
Turner, Jonathan H., The Structure of Sociological Theory, fifth edition, Belmont, California, Wadsworth, 1991.
Williams, Raymond, Keywords, London, Fontana Paperbacks,
1976. Revised Flamingo edition of 1981.
Notes from classes of January 27 and 29, 1998. Last edited on January 28, 1998.
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