Accounting for Change in Diverse Societies

The Hardware and Software of Pluralism

Publication Date: March 2017

Will Kymlicka

Will Kymlicka is the Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy at Queen’s University and a visiting professor in the Nationalism Studies program at the Central European University in Budapest. His research interests include democracy and diversity, in particular models of citizenship and social justice within multicultural societies. He is the author Multicultural Odysseys: Navigating the New International Politics of Diversity and Finding Our Way: Rethinking Ethnocultural Relations in Canada. He has also edited several volumes, his most recent being Multiculturalism and Minority Rights in the Arab World.

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”.

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