Accounting for Change in Diverse Societies is a new publication series from the Global Centre for Pluralism. Focused on six world regions, each “change case” examines a specific moment in time when a county altered its approach to diversity, either expanding or eroding the foundations of inclusive citizenship. The aim of the series – which also features thematic overviews by leading global scholars - is to build global understanding of the sources of inclusion and exclusion in diverse societies and the pathways to pluralism.
This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of IDRC or its Board of Governors. This analysis was commissioned by the Global Centre for Pluralism to generate global dialogue about the drivers of pluralism. The specific views expressed herein are those of the author.
After independence, a widespread notion took route that Brazilians comprised a single “cosmic” race produced by significant mixing between indigenous peoples, former African slaves and European settlers. In practice, this belief ignored the very real discrimination experienced by Afro-Brazilians, which only in recent years has the state attempted to address through affirmative action policies. What factors account for this changed conversation around diversity in Brazil, and how have the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion changed? As “race” has become more central to debates over national identity, how have these debates affected inter-ethnic trust? What broader lessons can be gleaned from the malleability of Brazil’s self-identity and about the limits of such changed conversations for the lives of citizens?
Starting in the 1960s, Germany experienced a surge in immigration, predominantly from Turkey. These immigrants were essential to Germany’s economic growth, but the country was slow to recognize these migrants as citizens. Citizenship reforms introduced in 2000 have widened the terms of state membership, but fears over the “divided loyalties” of immigrants persist among many Germans. What has been the public conversation in Germany – among conservatives and liberals – as access to citizenship has expanded? What have been the catalysts for greater pluralism as well as the sources of resistance since Germany’s reunification?
At the end of British colonial rule in Malaysia, indigenous Malays comprised a majority but were often economically disadvantaged compared to Chinese and Indian migrants who had arrived prior to independence. In response, the Malay-majority government used its political dominance to introduce affirmative action policies to recognize the special position of “Bumiputera” peoples (Malays and other indigenous groups) and improve their economic standing. Introduced as a constitutional commitment, affirmative action has shaped Malaysian citizenship and democracy. What lessons can be drawn from this experience about the effectiveness of affirmative action as a policy remedy for horizontal inequalities? How has this choice effected pluralism in Malaysia?
Nigeria is one of Africa’s most diverse and deeply divided states. Ethnic and religious tensions stemming from the divide-and-rule practices of British colonialism have persisted for much of Nigeria’s modern history and have erupted in open conflict in several instances. Nigeria’s federal model has helped to mitigate violence to some extent and attempted to address the persistence of widespread inequalities. How effectively has the federal model functioned as a remedy for group-based “horizontal” inequalities and as mechanism for addressing group grievances? How has Nigerian federalism adapted to new challenges such as the rise of religious radicalization and its effects?
In Singapore, commitment to multiculturalism has been a central part of the country’s identity since independence. The top-down, four-ethnicity framework that Singapore adopted in the 1960s (Chinese-Malay-Indian-Other) has sought to maintain harmony among the city state’s different ethnic groups by defining Singapore as a multi-ethnic state, thus avoiding some of the pitfalls of majoritarian politics. How important a role has top-down social engineering played in Singapore’s form of multiculturalism? What distinguishes Singapore’s model from more liberal forms of multiculturalism?
Horizontal inequalities are inequalities among groups of people. This is to be contrasted with vertical inequality which is inequality among all the individuals in a society. Relevant group categories include, among others, race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender and age, with the relevance and importance of any category varying across societies. Horizontal inequalities are important above all because of their implications for justice and social stability. Large horizontal inequalities among groups are likely to undermine pluralism in a society, because they generate grievances between groups and disaffection; however, while reducing horizontal inequalities is a necessary condition for flourishing pluralist societies, by itself it is insufficient.
Watch Frances Stewart discuss the importance of group-based inequalities to understanding pluralism at the first Pluralism Advisory Group meeting in 2014.
The Hardware and Software of Pluralism
Successful pluralism requires both “hardware” and “software”. The hardware are institutions—such as constitutions, legislatures, courts, schools and the media—that define the legal and political space within which members of society act. The software are “cultural habits” or a “public mindset”, such as conceptions of national identity and historic narratives. These habits and mindsets shape our perceptions of who belongs and who contributes, and influence how we interact on an everyday basis with others. Both dimensions are critical and interdependent. Even the best-designed institutions will fail if citizens enter those institutional spaces with fearful or exclusionary attitudes. Institutional structures can be quickly subverted by rising strands of intolerance, or slowly subverted by enduring attitudes of indifference. Promoting pluralism therefore requires both “institution work” and “culture work”.
Watch Will Kymlicka discuss multiculturalism in Europe and Canada at the first Pluralism Forum in 2012.
Institutions—both state and civil society—are central to pluralism. They establish governance practices, define citizenship, accord individual and collective rights, and identify or enable the obligations of citizens. Through these means, institutions can be used to advance pluralism—for example, through affirmative action policies or more inclusive constitutions—but they can also be used to obstruct pluralism—for example, through bans on religious garments. An institution can contribute to pluralism only to the extent that a society’s cultural ideas, norms, values and practices support this outlook. As the “hardware” of pluralism, institutions require the right “software” to work.
Watch Jane Jenson discuss the building blocks of inclusive societies at the first Pluralism Advisory Group meeting in 2014.