Introduction to Kymlicka, Multicultural
In the Winter, 1998 semester, the first section of Sociology 304
will be based on the book, Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship:
A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights (Clarendon Press, Oxford,
Kymlicka in Multicultural Citizenship focuses on
both theory and on a contemporary problem - that of multiculturalism
and group rights.
Kymlicka's analysis is rooted in contemporary social analysis
in that it examines the ethnic and racial diversity of
societies, and the increasing connection among these societies
(with modern forms of transportation and communication). These
increased connections have raised the issues of identity and
rights to the forefront in social movements, individual experiences,
and in public policy. His analysis is theoretical in that he considers
the nature of the individual and of culture; the meaning
of freedom, liberty, the good life; the connection between the
individual and culture, groups and society; and the nature of
society as a whole (see pp. 80-81). He sets this analysis in the
liberal tradition, one that is more clearly political
than sociological. At the same time, much of sociological analysis
can be considered to have emerged out of the liberal tradition,
either positively (Durkheim, Weber, Parsons) or in reaction to
some of the problems associated with liberalism (Marx). Kymlicka
develops an analysis that leads to policy implications
and to implications for the way that we look at ourselves and
others, and how we as individuals, and in groups and in society,
relate to each other. In societies that will be increasingly
diverse in terms of ethnicity in the next century, these are
especially important issues to consider.
Professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of Ottawa
and Research Director of the Canadian Centre for Philosophy and
Public Policy. Kymlicka's writings are philosophical, but are
also applied to current issues and debates. His Liberalism,
Community, and Culture analyses communitarian writers and
issues related to cultural membership. Kymlicka has written about
citizenship issues and multiculturalism for the federal government.
Among the other writers he discusses and uses are Rawls, Charles
Taylor, Walzer, and Sandel. Kymlicka's work appears to be in the
area of political theory, with his work being in the liberal tradition,
attempting to defend and expand the liberal view of rights, and
the individual and society.
The arguments in Multicultural Citizenship are clear and
well presented, with many Canadian examples - aboriginal peoples,
Quebec, immigrant groups, and multiculturalism. Kymlicka's carefully
reasoned arguments force the reader to rethink his or her approach
to issues related to minorities and group rights, and deal with
prejudice, misconception, and fuzzy thinking.
Click here to view the web page of Will Kymlicka. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Will Kymlicka received his B.A. in philosophy and politics from Queen's University in 1984, and his D.Phil in philosophy from Oxford University in 1987. Since then, he has had research fellowships at various universities in the United States (Princeton), Canada (Queen's; Toronto; Ottawa), and overseas (European University Institute). He is the author of three books published by Oxford University Press: Liberalism, Community, and Culture (1989), Contemporary Political Philosophy (1990), and Multicultural Citizenship (1995), which was awarded the Macpherson Prize by the Canadian Political Science Assocation, and the Bunche Award by the American Political Science Association. He is also the editor of Justice in Political Philosophy (Elgar, 1992), The Rights of Minority Cultures (Oxford, 1995), and Ethnicity and Group Rights (NYU, 1997). He is currently Visiting Professor of Philosophy at both the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, and coordinator of a SSHRC-funded research network on "Citizenship, Democracy and Identity in a Multiethnic State".
The CCPPP Project on Citizenship, Democracy and Ethnocultural Diversity
Professor Kymlicka edits and distributes a quarterly electronic newsletter updating recent developments in the field, of which eight issues have now been produced. The newsletter contains information about upcoming conferences, recent publications, journals, internet resources, and related research programs. The full text of the eight back-issues and other parts of the project can be viewed at the website of the Project on Citizenship, Democracy and Ethnocultural Diversity .
Selection of Book. I came across the book by chance, but
it appeared to be closely connected to some of the research that
I was working on. In 1992-3, I coordinated a research study of
fifty-five individuals who had arrived in Regina as refugees from
Southeast Asia, Central America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle
East. This study asked these people about a great variety of issues
related to their past, their arrival in Canada, their settlement,
and their views on a number of immigration and settlement related
issues. Among these were English language knowledge and acquisition,
labour force history, health related issues, and family and community
issues. The aim of the project was to determine some of the barriers
faced by these immigrants, with a view to improving the welcoming,
settlement, and integration process. This resulted in a report
Refugee Settlement and Integration in Regina, 1995. Note
that immigration and refugee arrivals are not great in number
in Saskatchewan, but are steady and non-negligible.
Among the issues that we asked these immigrants to comment on
was mutliculturalism. We asked the immigrants whether they were
aware of the policy of multiculturalism, and if so, "what
does multiculturalism mean to you." Thirty-four of the fifty-five
said that they were aware of multiculturalism and volunteered
a meaning for it. We had not analyzed these comments until the
summer of 1996. Christopher Fries, a Sociology honours student,
and I examined these comments in detail last summer and wrote
a paper "A 'Great' Large Family: Understandings of Multiculturalism
Among Newcomers to Canada," which we presented at the National
Symposium on Immigration and Integration in Winnipeg in October,
As part of this section of the course, we will look at the comments
and the issues raised in this paper. In the process of working
on the issue of multiculturalism, I came across Kymlicka's book
and found it useful. In addition, our Department had become part
of the Prairie Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration
and Integration, centred in Edmonton. Multiculturalism seemed
closely connected to research in this area.
Outline of Multicultural Citizenship
Cultural diversity has become a central feature of contemporary
society, and seems likely to become more so in the immediate future.
Increasing contact among societies as a result of improved communication
and transportation has made for population movements and population
change. Increased diversity in Canada is the result of changed
patterns of immigration, with many more people of colour immigrating
to Canada. Ethnocultural conflicts have become the main
type of political violence around the world - Yugoslavia, Rwanda,
Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Middle East, etc.
Political and social action of various ethnic/minority
groups have made their presence felt. In Canada, first nations
peoples have become more politically active and have demanded
that their requests be honoured. The issue of the relations between
Quebec and Canada have dominated much political discussion in
Canada in recent years. This raises the issue of rights
for individuals and groups who feel that they have not been equitably
or justly treated. What are these rights, how extensive are they,
and do they adhere to the group or just the individual? Finally,
government policy and programs have changed in an attempt
to deal with some of these demographic, social, and political
changes. Policies related to immigration, land claims, self-government,
language, and customs have all changed in recent years. The multicultural
policy of Canada is a notable example.
Multicultural and multiculturalism have been used in various
ways. One approach is to include the "perspectives of women,
minorities, and non-Western cultures in recognition of the increasingly
diverse character of life in modern Western societies." (The
Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism).
Viewed this way, all the social categories of Folbre could be
included. While Kymlicka's approach might be extended to include
all of these, his focus is on ethnocultural groups - ethnic
groups, national minorities, nations, and peoples. Part of the
next section will be to define and understand what these mean
- these are some of the most confusing aspects of contemporary
theory, partly because of the variety of meanings and the politically
charged atmosphere that is part of the discussion of these.
Liberal theory. Kymlicka sets his analysis firmly within
the tradition of liberalism. This is the political theoretical
counterpart of neoclassical economics. That is, liberalism looks
on the individual as autonomous and able to act. Emphasis is placed
on "individual freedom, whether defined as freedom from coercion,
as moral self-determination, or as the right to individual happiness"
(Seidman, p. 15). Tolerance and respect for the rights of others
are part of this, so that pluralism in social and political
affairs is a necessary feature of a liberal society. Freedom of
expression, freedom of conscience, freedom of association are
some of the rights that have typically been associated with liberalism
and liberal democracies. As a political philosophy, liberalism
has often been seen as "primarily concerned with the relationship
between the individual and the state, and with limiting state
intrusions on the liberties of citizens" (Kymlicka, Liberalism,
Individualism and individual rights are often viewed as
the defining characteristic of liberalism, so that there are minimal
or no group rights that are part of collectivities. All rights
adhere to the individual, and liberalism has often been criticized
for being excessively individualistic. In contrast, Kymlicka argues
that "liberalism also contains a broader account of the relationship
between the individual and society - and, in particular, of the
individual's membership in a community and a culture" (Kymlicka,
Liberalism, p. 1). It is this argument that Kymlicka pursues
in Multicultural Citizenship, and where he argues that
group rights are part of liberal thought. Group rights
can be viewed as admissible within liberalism and even necessary
for freedom and equality.
Kymlicka distinguishes two types of ethnocultural groups
- (i) national minorities in multination states
and (ii) ethnic groups in polyethnic states. A particular
state could be a combination of these, as is Canada. Most states
have aspects of each, although Canada is more clearly an example
of a country with at least two national minorities and many ethnic
National minorities are groups that have in common some
or all of history, community, territory, language, or culture.
Each of these is sometimes referred to as a nation, people,
or culture. Each of these may have become a minority involuntarily
through conquest, colonization, or expansion, or it could have
voluntarily agreed to enter a federation with one or more other
nations, peoples, or cultures. Kymlicka defines national minorities
in terms of culture, and argues that if these minorities wish
to retain their cultures, they should be recognized as distinct.
The group rights that may be associated with national minorities
are self-government rights or special representation
rights. While these have to be worked out on a case by case
basis, Kymlicka makes a strong case for these rights where national
minorities have a claim to be peoples or cultures. For Kymlicka
these are not temporary rights, but are rights that should be
recognized on a permanent basis, because these are inherent rights
of the national minority. Of course, these groups could decide
to secede, and this may be the best solution in some cases.
But in other cases, it may be possible to accommodate the rights
of national minorities through a combination of self-government
and special representation rights.
Polyethnic Rights. In contrast, Kymlicka argues that immigrant
groups are generally ethnic groups, and can be accorded what he
calls polyethnic rights in a polyethnic state. Kymlicka
notes that immigration is voluntary (he deals separately with
the issue of refugees) and argues that immigrants generally wish
to integrate into the society and culture that they enter.
At the same time, they may wish to retain some aspects of their
culture, and retention of these is especially important to them.
Among the rights that Kymlicka argues could be given to these
ethnic groups are policies related to ending racism and discrimination,
education, some types of affirmative action, exemption from some
rules which may violate religious practices, and public funding
of cultural practices.
Culture. Why such rights are so important to national minorities
and ethnic groups is outlined in Chapter 5 and is related to culture.
Kymlicka has many useful comments concerning the meaning of culture
and the importance of culture for individuals. The particular
culture that is discusses is societal culture, the history,
traditions, and conventions that go along with the society, and
the set of social practices and institutions that
are associated with the societal culture. Culture of origin provides
a basic resource for people, and integration into a new culture
is difficult for people. In these circumstances, it may be important
to strengthen the culture and provide protections for
various minority groups. But note that this leads in quite different
directions for national minorities than for immigrant ethnic groups.
That latter generally wish to integrate, the protections may not
need be permanent, and are often fairly limited. For national
minorities, the argument may lead in the direction of strengthening
their societal culture, as a permanent feature, with extensive
self-government rights. Kymlicka does not argue for self-government
rights for ethnic groups.
Problems. Kymlicka does not shy away from dealing with
problem cases and examples which do not fit his approach. He recognizes
that each group, or parts of groups, may require different types
of treatment. One example is African-Americans in the United
States - neither a voluntary immigrant group nor a national minority.
In general, African-Americans have desired integration and an
extension of full individual rights to them, rather than requesting
group rights. A second group that may not fit is refugees,
who leave their country and culture involuntarily, and may or
may not wish to enter the culture of the new country where they
find refuge. Some may wish to return to their country of origin,
others may become more similar to voluntary immigrants. Note though
that in the Regina Refugee Study, there were a number of refugees
for whom Canada did not seem to be the first choice, and who were
quite unhappy with their situation here.
Illiberal Cultures. A considerable part of the discussion
involves illiberal cultures and how liberals can deal with
them. These are cultures which limit the liberty of members and
where respect for individual freedom of choice is limited or nonexistent.
These could be national minorities or societal cultures that people
decide to leave when they become immigrants. Both groups may try
to maintain illiberal traditions in North America. Being a liberal,
Kymlicka does not agree with these traditions and practices, but
argues that if national minorities are to be self-governing, then
liberals cannot selectively intervene on some of these issues.
This is an important policy point, because some first nations
groups may argue that they should not be subject to the Charter
and to Canadian courts if they are to be truly self-governing.
For ethnic groups, maintaining such practices is inconsistent
with integration into a liberal society. For example, treatment
of girls and women within some cultures seems inappropriate -
customs like arranged marriage, female circumcision, etc. For
these groups, Kymlicka argues that internal restrictions
on group members be limited or nonexistent. He argues for external
protections for these groups, but that liberal rights should
exist for individuals within these groups.
Liberal Tradition. Kymlicka notes that the liberal tradition
is not exclusively individualistic, but that this exclusive focus
on individualism is of recent origin. He argues that all liberal
societies recognize group rights in some form - even the United
States, where liberal democracy is considered most dominant. There,
Kymlicka notes that the rights of aboriginal peoples and native
Hawaiians may differ from those of other Americans. One of the
ways that liberals considered groups to be important was through
recognition of the nation-state as the basic unit of society.
John Stuart Mill, one of the most consistently liberal political
theorists argued that a liberal system of self-rule would work
only if the population constituted a national group or
a single background. Nineteenth century liberals generally supported
assimilation of minority groups, colonization, and
The Marxist and socialist tradition in the nineteenth century
was little different, with the assumption that the great powers
- France, Britain, Germany - should be nation-states, but that
small nationalities should disappear. More recently socialists
have adopted a variety of different approaches, but many of these
have the same problem as noted by Folbre, they emphasize class
and the achievement of socialism over the cultural and national
issues. Many assume that these issues are part of ideology that
is used by the economically and politically powerful to divide
the weak and oppressed. As a result, the socialist tradition does
not have a strong theory of culture.
In Chapter 8, issues of tolerance within the liberal tradition
are addressed. By requiring freedom within and equality between
groups, Kymlicka's approach may fall into the same trap that
Mill and Marx did. Some have questioned on what basis liberal
emphases on individual rights could be forced on cultures that
do not have such a tradition. Kymlicka argues that liberals cannot
force such traditions on other countries, and should go easy on
attempting to enforce such individual rights in national minorities.
However, for ethnic groups that voluntarily come to a liberal,
democratic country, and who wish to integrate into such a society,
requiring recognition of individual rights in these groups does
not seem unreasonable. In fact, rights such as those in the Charter
may generally be supported by such immigrant, ethnic groups and
individuals in those groups.
Basis for group rights. As a basis for group rights, Kymlicka
makes two arguments. The equality argument is that some
minority rights actually increase equality, and that true equality
requires different treatment for different groups. The problem
is that depriving groups of rights such as language and access
to land may leave a group culturally disadvantaged, and
unable to fully participate in society. Examples include land
and fishing rights for aboriginal people, imposing few restrictions
on the minority but having an especially important impact on improving
the position of aboriginal people. Part of the argument here is
that the state cannot be culturally neutral, there is usually
an official language, has particular procedures used in
the exercise of power, and determines boundaries that my affect
representation for communities of interest. With respect to polyethnic
rights, holidays, work week scheduling, education, and public
symbols may all present problems for some ethnic groups.
Historical agreements such as treaties, terms of federation,
agreement concerning boundaries and use of language should be
recognized, especially for national minorities. This may create
problems for groups that never did cede control, and there the
equality argument would have to be used. Some difficult cases
such as the Hutterites may emerge here, where promises were made
many years ago, and where internal restrictions are severe. Note
that individuals in these groups do have the possibility of exit,
but when doing so may be severely disadvantaged culturally and
Cultural diversity is a third argument that is sometimes
used to argue for special minority rights. Kymlicka is generally
skeptical of these, arguing that national minority rights may
do little to increase diversity within the majority culture, and
could even reduce diversity. For example, it would seem that special
rights for Quebec might reduce cultural diversity in Western Canada.
The argument here is that one has to be clear concerning diversity
within a culture as opposed to diversity between cultures. For
the majority, increased cultural diversity is likely a positive
development, but this is diversity within the culture. This can
be achieved, and presently is occurring, by having more immigrant
groups integrate into the majority culture.
Note that group rights adhere not just to the national minority
or ethnic groups but may be part of the rights of individuals
in these groups. For example, special land rights for aboriginal
people may be part of the rights of the aboriginal group. But
hunting and fishing rights may be primarily important for individuals
in these groups. Similarly, allowing Sikhs to avoid wearing motorcycle
helmets is a special right that individual Sikhs may wish to exercise.
Representation is deal with in Chapter 7. This is a more
specifically political issue, in that the types of formal representation
and the types of groups represented in political bodies is discussed
Solidarity and social unity in the nation state. Chapter
9 deals with these issues, and may seem to be a pessimistic conclusion
to an otherwise optimistic approach. For ethnic groups, integration
is key, and many newcomers are among the most committed citizens.
In Canada, through multiculturalism, these newcomers are tolerant
of and welcome diversity, and seek to work to create a better
society. With respect to ethnocultural minorities, Kymlicka is
very optimistic in terms of creating a shared civic identity.
Where he is more pessimistic is with respect to national minorities.
While he supports group rights for these, he also recognizes that
these rights are inherently divisive, are not integrative, and
do not suport the same sense of shared civic identity. Kymlicka
does note though that as a liberal, if a group wishes to separate,
and members of the group consider that this improves their situation,
the liberal solution would be to permit or encourage separation.
Finally, Kymlicka notes that the shared identity associated
with the nation state may be difficult to develop in a multination,
polyethnic state like Canada. In fact, he refers to Canada as
having a situation of deep diversity, with diverse cultural
groups and diverse ways of belonging. He presents no magic solution
or national goals, but argues that we have to work at developing
the sense of shared identity if we want Canada to stay intact.
List of Some Possible Applications of Multicultural Citizenship
1. Practical Importance
2. Theoretical Importance
3. Specific Theoretical Issues
These notes were originally written for class on February 13, 1997. They were last edited on December 23, 1997.
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