Sociological Background to Issues in Multicultural Citizenship

Issues related to ethnicity, ethnic minorities, race and race relations, nations and national minorities, cultural pluralism, identity and difference are major sociological topic areas, at least in North American sociology. Along with class and sex, issues related to race and ethnicity often seem to be the dominant topics of contemporary sociology. In contrast, these were not major parts of classical sociological theory as it developed in Europe, in the writings of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim. Ethnic relations did play a greater role in some of the developments in North American sociology, in particular in the approaches of Robert Park and other Chicago school sociologists. Some of the Canadian sociologists influenced by the Chicago school developed theories of ethnic change and persistence. In the first half of this century, within Canada there were several studies of immigrants, immigrant life, ethnic settlements, and integration that were forerunners of a Canadian sociological approach.

The fact that theories of ethnicity and integration were limited in European sociology but more common in North America shows how social science theory does emerge out of the society that social scientists experience and observe. That is, theories of society do not come just from abstract reason or from reasoning detached from society. Such reasoning is important, but must be guided by what does occur in society.

Europe had relatively limited immigration and much emigration in the nineteenth century, and the political agenda was preoccupied with building and strengthening the new nation states like France, Germany, and Italy, making them into relatively uniform national units. Much of the social science analysis that emerged in Europe in the nineteenth century reflected this approach - assuming a nation state with a uniform language and a relatively homogeneous population in terms of ethnicity. In contrast, the North American experience was one of immigration, displacement of aboriginal people, and creation of a new society. While the social sciences were not well developed in North America, one of the issues that came to the fore here was ethnicity, ethnic settlement, conditions of life of different ethnic groups, and urban ethnic life. Out of this emerged various theoretical approaches that reflected some of the experiences in different parts of North America.

Kymlicka examines some of these issues in section 1 of Chapter 4, pp. 50-57, although he focuses on the development of liberal political thought, not sociological thought. Kymlicka notes that nineteenth century liberals were concerned with national minority rights (p. 51), perhaps since Europe had so many multination states and many national minorities in these states. But much of nineteenth century liberal political thought assumed a common national identity (p. 53), with great nations viewed as carriers of civilization and progress, and small national groups looked on as backward. Writers such as Mill thought that "there should only be one official culture." (p. 54). Other writers took the opposite approach of defense of the multination state. In general though, the dominant view was that the single culture was advantageous and superior, and should be exported to the colonies. The problem was that the liberal political institutions that emerged in Britain often did work well in the colonies (p. 54).

This section of the notes examines the approach taken in the classical European sociological approaches of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim. The analyses of the Chicago school and some early Canadian sociological developments are then discussed. There are a number of other approaches to these issues which are not examined here - for example, African-American experiences and racism.

1. Marx and Engels were very aware of issues related to nations and nationalism, but ethnic and national issues were not integral parts of their theoretical model of capitalism and the exploitation associated with it. Their model of capitalism and class conflict was based on production and the exploitation of labour within the productive process. Ethnic loyalties and divisions were irrelevant to this model because the main division within society for Marx was that of class - a propertyless proletariat confronting a property owning bourgeoisie, with the latter exploiting the former. The development of this new economic system in Britain and then in the rest of Europe, the contradictions associated with it, and the new forms of social organization that resulted, dominated much of nineteenth century sociological analysis. The new society resulting from capitalism was what Marx and Engels analyzed.

In addition, the Marxian view of history tended to downgrade the importance of such divisions. (i) Capitalism tended to erase earlier ethnic divisions and created a relatively homogeneous working class - the capitalist system of economic organization operated much the same wherever it emerged. (ii) Further, in the Marxian view, historical progress through industrialization would lead to the end of small nationalities such as the Welsh and the Slavs, as the greater nations would industrialize and incorporate these minorities into industrial capitalism.

Kymlicka deals with minority rights in the socialist tradition in section 5 of Chapter 4, pp. 69-74, noting that "socialists have traditionally felt hostile toward minority rights" (p. 69). Note at the bottom of page 69, Kymlicka's description of the large nations that Marx and Engels tended to support and the small national groups that they did not consider viable as nations.

In the view of Marx and Engels, the bourgeoisie of the larger nations would unify a territory, incorporate smaller national groups into the nation state, and build a national economy. They seemed to have few regrets over this occurring. In some ways, they may have viewed the development of the new nation states, each under the direction of its new bourgeoisie as a progressive part of history, leading to the quicker development of industrial capitalism. This would heighten the contradictions within the capitalist system and quicken the road to socialism. Marx and Engels looked on the working class as the creator of socialism, and viewed the contradiction between the working class and the bourgeoisie as primary in the struggle for socialism, with national conflicts not being as important in the struggle for socialism. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels stated that "the working men have no country."

Finally, with respect to colonies, Marx and Engels tended to look on capitalism (i) as destroying the earlier mode of production in the colonies (although noting the negative effects on the people in these colonies), (ii) as having an impulse to expand to obtain raw materials and markets, and (iii) as progressive in the sense of incorporating more regions into the capitalist system and thereby furthering the conditions that would lead to the development of socialism.

While Marx and Engels sometimes considered struggles for independence and national liberation to be important, and deserving of the support of socialists, these struggles were not the main political or social feature that interested them. They were more concerned with how conditions could be created whereby socialism could emerge.

Later Marxists and socialists spent more time developing theories of nationalism, although most of these theories have not found their way into sociology. Socialists in the late nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries were involved in political movements in Europe and had to face the issue of nationalism, national oppression, and self-determination. These socialists were involved in actual political movements and had to concern themselves with practical politics. These socialists were aware of the dual nature of nationalism - progressive or reactionary - and this was part of their analysis. Socialists attempted to analyze and work with nationalist political movements and to emphasize the connections between national and class oppression, supporting national political movements to the extent that they supported the working class and helped to create greater equality. At least until World War I, most of these socialists attempted to argue against patriotism, national chauvinism, and imperialism.

During much of this century, socialists and communists around the world have played a major role in supporting national independence movements. In China, throughout Africa, and in many other countries such as Cuba, political activists in the Marxian tradition played a key role in attacking colonialism and imperialism, and in organizing and fighting for national independence. In doing so, independence and socialism were often linked. While this was achieved in only some countries - China, Vietnam, Cuba - Marxian ideas and communist activists were often crucial to these movements in both ideological and organizational terms.

Much of this support is understandable given the concern that the Marxian tradition has with exploitation and oppression. Often ethnic and national oppression is associated with class oppression, in that an oppressed ethnic minority is not just the subject of discrimination or unequal treatment, but this same minority is often exploited economically by the more powerful and dominant group. Socialists and communists have usually attempted to show how ethnic oppression is rooted in economic exploitation. This means that class struggle may be necessary to overcome ethnic inequality. While the situation and arguments may not always be so straightforward, there has been a tendency on the part of the Marxian approach to treat ethnic inequality as rooted in class exploitation. From a sociological viewpoint, this approach has both its advantages and disadvantages. Theories of ethnicity, ethnic identity, and ethnic inequality that ignore class may miss some of their essential features. At the same time, Marxian and socialist approaches to these issues have sometimes ignored important aspects of ethnic identity. Quoting Garth Stevenson, Kymlicka notes "The left has always been suspicious that cultural criteria-whether they be religious, linguistic, ethnic or simply geographic-are devices exploited by the economically powerful to divide people" (p. 71).

Notes on Marx and Engels based on Tom Bottomore et. al., editors, A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1983). See nation and colonialism entries. Also see Horace B. Davis, Nationalism and Socialism: Marxist and Labor Theories of Nationalism to 1917 (New York, Monthly Review Press, 1967).

2. Durkheim also paid little explicit attention to these issues, perhaps because he was writing in France, a country with a single nationality, although also having different regional "peoples." Writing about many of the same issues that concerned Marx and other nineteenth century analysts - changes in society resulting from industrial capitalism - Durkheim was concerned that there could be social disorder and loss of community values. In contrast to Marx's focus on the factors that cause conflict and change (exploitation and class), Durkheim instead looked for the conditions that would help create social order, social cohesion, and social solidarity in an industrial society.

Durkheim was concerned about the decline of tradition and religion, and the loss of moral values that resulted from the growth of individualism and the "disintegration of the roots of stability and authority" as individuals were dislocated from traditional associations and communities (Driedger, p. 18). He argued that in traditional societies, social solidarity was achieved through similarity of condition, creating similar values and holding society together through what he termed mechanical solidarity.

As societies developed, Durkheim noted that people become different, but it is dependence on each other, requiring the labour and products created by others, and recognition of difference as a normal feature of society that creates a new set of common values. Durkheim was generally optimistic that these would hold the new industrial society together through what he termed organic solidarity. Since we need the products of each other's labour, and are tolerant of differences resulting from the different occupations and ways of life of others, the social recognition and acceptance of these differences help to create this new organic form of social solidarity.

While strong tendencies toward organic solidarity existed in industrial society, Durkheim recognized that the loss of norms and values resulting from a decline in religion might disconnect the individual from society. He termed this condition anomie, a condition of normlessness or rootlessness. Durkheim does not consider ethnicity or ethnic identity as one of the factors that might help to connect the individual to society. Like Marx, he grounded his analysis in the labour force, arguing that professional and occupational associations would emerge. These associations would help provide the necessary buffer or link between individuals and the larger society, "reinforcing sense of membership in society" (Driedger, p. 19).

Durkheim cannot be considered to be a theorist of ethnicity, but his emphasis on difference, recognition of difference, and organic solidarity might be used to argue for cultural pluralism or multiculturalism. In the latter, the connection between the individual and society is cultural, rather than based on occupation. Leo Driedger notes that in Canada, ethnicity might be "one focal point of values, norms, authority, and solidarity" (p. 19) that connect the individual and society. When discussing rights and culture, Kymlicka makes a similar point, noting how important culture is for individuals, providing a sense of belonging, dignity, and self-respect, and providing options - the boundaries of the imaginable (Kymlicka, p. 89). It can be argued that ethnocultural institutions and practices promote "a sense of belonging and relationships of mutual recognition and mutual responsibility" (Kymlicka, p. 90, quoting Tamir). Also note that religion and family are often strongly connected with ethnicity and ethnic identity, and to the extent that these are integrating forms of solidarity (in Durkheim's sense), then ethnic identity may be more integrative than divisive.

Note: References and notes on Durkheim partly based on L. Driedger, The Ethnic Factor: Identity in Diversity (Toronto, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1989), pp. 17-22 and Multi-Ethnic Canada: Identities and Inequalities (Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 14-17. Note that many chapters in these two books by Driedger are practically identical, although they have different titles, publication dates, and publishers.

3. Weber did pay more attention to ethnicity and culture, and in one essay in Economy and Society examines race, tribe, volk, biological heredity, tradition, and cultural traits, and introduces the notion of "ethnic group" (p. 18). One of Weber's aims was to identify characteristics that might lead to the establishment of a group, that is a set of people who exhibit some common form of social action. For Weber, it was social action that was sociologically important. The mere identification and classification of a set of individuals as having a certain ethnic or racial background might not mean much in terms of social action and interaction. It was when the individuals (i) developed a belief in a common ethnicity or (ii) formed social circles on the basis of this common background that ethnicity could became sociologically meaningful. Then a sense of common action, ethnic honour, and ethnic identity could develop, and this can lead the group to distinguish themselves from others and form ties with each other. If this develops, then Weber might term this an ethnic group, more than just a set of people with a supposedly common ethnic background.

For Weber, almost any characteristic might form the basis for such ethnic identity and ethnic group - the characteristic might be superficial characteristics such as race or "common descent" (Driedger, p. 14) or "any cultural trait, no matter how superficial, can serve as a starting point for the familiar tendency to monopolistic closure" (Driedger, p. 17). He notes that "race creates a 'group' only when it is subjectively perceived as a common trait" (Driedger, p. 14) and that this is when joint action, probably political, occurs or where there is antagonism toward another group. Often this action is associated with antipathy towards those who are not considered members of such a group, and "persons who are externally different are simply despised irrespective of what they accomplish or what they are" (Driedger, p. 14). Today we call this stereotyping and this can be associated with discrimination and unequal treatment of those who are considered different.

Weber's definition of ethnic group is an important one for contemporary sociology:

The belief in group affinity, regardless of whether it has any objective foundation, can have important consequences especially for the formation of a political community. We shall call "ethnic groups" those human groups that entertain a subjective belief in their common descent because of similarities of physical type or of custom or both, or because of the memories of colonization and migration; this belief must be important for the propagation of group formation; conversely, it does not matter whether or not an objective blood relationship exists. ... Ethnic membership does not constitute a group; it only facilitates group formation of any kind, particularly in the political sphere. On the other hand, it is primarily the political community, no matter how artificially organized, that inspires the belief in common ethnicity (Driedger, p. 18).

While there are quite different approaches to defining ethnicity and ethnic group in contemporary sociology, one of the approaches derives from Weber. This can be seen in the definitions of Gordon and Dahefsky.

Weber makes further comments about tribe, nation, volk, and nationality, and also notes that if exact sociological terms were defined, the notion of "ethnic group" would dissolve. That is, it is not the common descent, language, or physical type that is the real basis for the "group" but the social action that emerges from common perceptions of this.

What is important about Weber's approach is that he shows (i) how important social action is in defining what an ethnic group is, and (ii) how any factor related to race, tradition, or cultural practice may become identified by the group as an essential aspect of their heritage. Weber does not minimize the importance of these in the eyes of the group members, but he does note that sociologists must submit each cultural or ethnic claim to careful sociological investigation.

As an aside, Weber notes a set of views among French Canadians that appear to have changed considerably since Weber's time:

The loyalty of the French Canadians toward the English polity is today determined above all by the deep antipathy against the economic and social structure, and the way of life, of the neighbouring United States; hence membership in the Dominion of Canada appears as a guarantee of their own traditions (p. 26).

References to Weber are from Leo Driedger, Ethnic Canada: Identities and Inequalities (Toronto, Copp Clark Pitman, 1987), pp. 14-27.

4. Chicago School. The assimilation model, whereby immigrants lose their ethnic culture and merge into the dominant culture, is what is usually associated with the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago, established in 1892 as the first sociology department in North America. The Chicago school studied urban sociology and community, and given the large numbers of immigrants to the United States, it is no surprise that this included the study of race and ethnic relations. In The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology, assimilation is described as

a unidimensional, one-way process, by which outsiders relinquished their own culture in favor of that of the dominant society. From Nicholas Abercrombie, Stephen Hill and Bryan S. Turner, The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1984), p. 22.

During the latter of the nineteenth and early part of this century, Chicago was a rapidly expanding industrial city with immigrants from many parts of Europe, some from western Europe (Ireland, Scandinavia), but even more from the newer source countries in Central and Eastern Europe - Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Greece, etc. The immigrants arrived poor and became labourers in meat-packing, steel, machine tools, railroads, construction, and other industries that expanded rapidly in Chicago. Chicago sociologists in the 1920s and 1930s were concerned with social reform and the poverty, crime, and housing problems of Chicago of this period certainly gave them an ample laboratory. At the same time, the positive effects of industrial expansion were apparent, creating the possibility for large numbers of the immigrants to improve their lives and neighbourhoods. One way in which immigrants and their children integrated into life in the United States was to participate whole heartedly in the new culture, laying aside their earlier culture and practices, and becoming assimilated into the dominant United States culture. While not all immigrants took this route, and while assimilation had many aspects to it, the idea of assimilation and the melting pot were characterized by a loss of all aspects of ethnic identity and the adoption of the language, practices, and forms of behaviour of the dominant United States culture.

The Chicago sociologists were not just social observers and reformers, they were also theorists and considered themselves to be scientific. They developed theoretical approaches that have been dominant in much of the study of ethnic and minority relations in the United States. Their approach was also influential in the development of Canadian sociology (see next section).

Robert Park (1864-1944) is the best known Chicago school sociologist. Park looked on society and urban processes as dynamic, whereby ethnic and racial groups would assimilate into the mainstream American culture and society. Park's assimilation cycle had two routes: (i) least resistance - contact, accommodation, fusion; or (ii) resistance - conflict, competition, accommodation, fusion. "Whereas the latter route could take longer and could entail considerable resistance on the part of the immigrant, the end result would be the same - loss of a distinctive ethnic identity. The new culture and values would emerge" (p. 38). Park's idea was that regardless of origin, immigrants to America wished to participate in the new society, enjoying its freedoms and benefits, and abandon their old cultural practices and ideas. The assimilation approach is dynamic, explains what happened to considerable numbers of immigrants, and is often connected to the melting-pot theory. While not all immigrants to the United States took this route, enough did that there could be a certain credibility to this theoretical approach. In Canada, we often consider assimilation and the melting-pot to characterize United States immigrant experiences and pluralism and multiculturalism to characterize Canadian immigrant experiences.

An alternative approach that was developed by other Chicago school theorists could be called immigrant reorganization. This was developed by W. I. Thomas (1863-1947), co-author with Florian Znaniecki of the five volume study The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. This work showed the types of issues and problems faced by Polish families who came to America. Thomas and Znaniecki emphasized the importance of language and religion for these immigrants, the economic struggles they faced, and the networks of solidarity that they established in America. At the same time, change did have to occur in the lives of these immigrants and the research documented the adjustments and changes that these Polish immigrants went through.

Urban change eventually forced the Polish immigrants to reorganize their attitudes, values, and ethnic organization to be more in tune with the new urban environment. Those immigrants who refused to change often lost contact with their children; those who adapted and reorganized retained some of their past tradition and adopted new elements selectively (p. 24).

Driedger describes Thomas's views as being similar to a modified pluralist approach, arguing that cultural differences should not be ignored or suppressed, and noting how some aspects of culture are important for ethnic solidarity and identity (p. 26).

While other approaches emerged in the United States, theories from the Chicago school dominated the studies of ethnicity and race relations for many years. More recently, studies of racism, ethnic inequality, and various pluralist or multicultural approaches have become more common in the United States, and there has been a recognition that the assimilation model has not characterized the situation of many individuals and groups.

Notes for this section on the Chicago school come from L. Driedger, The Ethnic Factor: Identity in Diversity, pp. 22-44.

5. Canadian sociology was relatively undeveloped until the 1960s, with few departments of sociology and only 32 sociologists in Canadian universities in 1956. The field expanded rapidly, so there were 917 sociologists twenty years later, with sociology departments in most Canadian universities. Given this relatively late development, it is no surprise that there was not a well developed set of sociological approaches to the study of ethnicity and ethnic relations in Canada.

At the same time, there were a number of studies of ethnicity in Canada in the first half of the century that can be considered sociological in nature. The Canadian studies emerge out of the experiences of Canadians and the history of Canada - (i) no single dominant group but recognition of the French and English as the two founding groups, (ii) First Nations peoples as the original society and population of Canada, and (iii) the immigration and settlement patterns of immigrants to Canada. In addition, the influence of the Chicago school approaches were felt in some of these early studies.

Some of the studies in the early part of the century were very negative toward immigrants, with Oriental and Italian immigrants being considered as deviant. J. S. Woodsworth's Stranger Within Our Gates (1909) was a pioneering sociological study of poor, mostly Eastern European immigrants in Prairie cities. While it had many stereotypes, Woodsworth's study was a study of the poor working and living conditions of ordinary immigrants and argued that they should be treated better. There were also scattered other studies of immigrant life, often concerned with social reform or with education policy (what language should schooling be in). These early studies were not theoretical, but were oriented toward dealing with practical issues related to immigration and settlement.

In the 1930s and 1940s, several Canadians who studied in Chicago returned to Canada to practice sociology. Chicago school students such as Charles Dawson, Everett Hughes and Horace Miner came to the McGill sociology department in the 1930s and investigated French-English relationships in Quebec, using a fieldwork approach. Hughes and Miner had to reject the Park assimilation model, and found that industrial capitalism did not create a single culture, but that the two cultures co-existed side by side, sometimes in conflict. Other studies from McGill examined the situation of urban immigrants in Montreal.

In the Canadian Frontiers of Settlement series, in Group Settlement: Ethnic Communities in Western Canada, Charles Dawson studied five groups in Western Canada - Doukhobours, Mennonites, Mormons, German Catholics, and French Canadians. These were mostly rural groups, often settled in blocks, and less resistant to change than the Park assimilation model predicted. Their group settlement and separation from other ethnic settlements allowed some of these immigrants to continue speaking their own language and continue many of their traditional practices. In some cases, such as the Mennonites in Manitoba, they were even allowed to have schooling in their own language, at least for a number of years. Dawson found many elements of ethnic persistence at the same time as outside forces pressured these groups to "adjust and readjust their economic, community, and educational life considerably" (Driedger, pp. 236-7). Again, Driedger considers this to be a modified pluralism approach, or a predecessor of such a model.

Notes on this section from L. Driedger, The Ethnic Factor: Identity in Diversity and Dirk Hoerder, "Ethnic Studies in Canada from the 1880s to 1962: A Historiographical Perspective and Critique, Canadian Ethnic Studies, XXVI, No. 1, 1994).

These limited references show that Canadian sociology did not emphasize the study of ethnicity, but that there were several important studies of ethnic groups in Canada between 1900 and 1960. The situation changed in the 1960s, when there were considerably more studies of ethnicity, and the study of ethnic relations became a major part of Canadian sociology. Since the 1960s, Canadian sociologists have been in forefront of studies related to ethnicity, assisting in designing public policy, and being involved with immigrant and ethnic groups. In the section on multiculturalism some of these ideas will be examined. "Multicultural" and "multiculturalism" appear to be Canadian terms originally, although they are now widely adopted within sociology around the world.

Notes from January 15 and 20, 1998 classes. Last edited on January 15, 1998.

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