Sociology 304

Notes for February 3, 1998

Conclusion to Multicultural Citizenship

A. Contributions

1. Diversity and Contemporary Society. Focuses on a key aspect of contemporary society and provides a way of interpreting diversity. The argument is at the theoretical level, but the applications noted by Kymlicka are practical ones and are reasonable ways of interpreting and sorting through some of the current issues related to ethnicity, culture, nation, people, self-government, and distinctive society in North America.

2. Liberalism and Group Rights. Connects the traditions of "the priority of traditional ways of life and cultural identities ... [and] a liberal, legalistic perspective stressing the primacy of individual 'rights'" (Wolin, p. 135). Important arguments concerning traditional and contemporary liberalism. Revises and updates liberal tradition and makes it more applicable for contemporary societies.

3. Culture. Importance of culture for people. Resource and context of choice. Important for (i) freedom and individual choice and (ii) self-identity and belonging. The discussion is a contemporary sociological approach, although stated in more political form. While Kymlicka connects culture to rights, the important point for sociology is the definition of culture, the key role it plays, how it forms a basis for social and political structures, and what are the implications of culture for identity and social relationships. That is, culture is not only a part of the superstructure of society, but it has an independent basis for existence and it plays a key role in individual and group identity, and how these change over time and place.

4. National Minorities or Polyethnicity. Different situations and different rights that emerge from this. For example, distinguishes situation of Quebec or aboriginal peoples from that of Ukrainian or Chinese Canadians.

5. Multiculturalism. Kymlicka provides some strong arguments for multicultural policies and practices in ethnically diverse societies. How much these principles can be applied to other cultural groups that do not have an ethnic basis is not clear from his discussion.

B. Critique

1. Liberal Critique. Might argue that individual rights and freedoms are just that, and they do not extend to groups. In an extreme liberal approach, groups and societies might be regarded as not existing, with all that matters being the individual and individual happiness, choice, freedom, etc.

2. Conflict Critique. Kymlicka is primarily concerned with political rights, and these are largely a product of economic position. Highly stratified late capitalist societies have very great degrees of inequalities in wealth, income, and opportunities. Given the existence of these, the concern with individual and group rights is misplaced, and without greater economic equality, concern with individual or group rights is meaningless.

3. Problems of Definition. In the end, Kymlicka does not seem able to define people, nation, or ethnic group clearly, although he recognizes this as a difficulty and one that must be carefully considered with respect to each group. The nature of rights, self-determination, self-government, etc. are all questionable, although Kymlicka recognizes the difficulty of carefully defining these.

4. Illiberal Cultures. Kymlicka's comments on these seem incomplete. He does not seem to emphasize the ability or inability to exit from the group. This may be very important for members of immigrant and ethnic groups. If there is a great ability to exit, then the illiberalism may not be a matter of great concern, but if ability to exit is hampered or is difficult, then attempting to apply liberal or other ideals within the group may become important.

5. Social Unity. In the end, Kymlicka is somewhat pessimistic, although he may be realistic. This is not so much a criticism as a disappointment. If liberal ideals are important for individuals and groups, yet lead to situations where social unity cannot occur, so that divisiveness and conflict result, then the values of these liberal ideals become questionable. The critiques of Bibby, Bisoondath, and Peter Lamborn Wilson may not be adequately addressed.

6. Political and Historical Reality. Kymlicka makes a strong theoretical case that group rights are derived from individual rights, and he also argues for tolerance, respect, and rights for different cultural traditions. In practice though, it is not clear that history and current trends support this. Conflicts in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and the Middle East do not seem to support Kymlicka's approach, although the liberal tradition is not strong in each of these regions. For a test of the Kymlicka model, Canada and the United States, each with their strong tradition of liberalism, might provide better cases. In each of these, there is both strong support for and many questions about the model developed by Kymlicka.

7. Freedom and Self-Realization. Kymlicka argues that freedom means the capacity to act in accordance with and realize the terms of one's own cultural tradition, e.g. he notes that "societal cultures are important to people's freedoms" (p. 80). One problem with this may be that self-realization implies that I "flourish at the expense of other cultures, or by usurping their claims to autonomy" (Wolin, p. 138). Further, Wolin argues that national identity and democratic principles operate at cross purposes (Wolin, p. 141).


Wolin, Richard, "Democracy and 'Distinctive Status,'" Dissent, Winter, 1997, pp. 135-141.

See also the special Summer 1996 issue of Dissent on Embattled Minorities Around the Globe.

Review of Concepts, Terms, Arguments in Multicultural Citizenship

Midterm Examination - February 5, 1998.

Three sections with choice in each section.

Part 1. Short identification and definition of terms.

Part 2. Paragraph explanations of particular arguments of Kymlicka.

Part 3. Essay on one of newspaper articles.

Notes from February 3 class. Last edited on February 3, 1998.

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