Introduction to Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship

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, 1995).

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.

Will Kymlicka

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 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, 1996.

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, p. 1).

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 groups.

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 imperialist expansion.

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 economically.

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 there.

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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