Interculturalism debate: the need to move beyond binary discourses

Within the context of ever-increasing polarisation in our societies, intercultural dialogue has been proposed as a possible conduit towards diversity governance.

In a talk aimed at scrutinising current discourses within academia and among policy makers on the growing debate on interculturalism and multiculturalism, Professor Tariq Modood from University of Bristol said there was a need to move beyond the dichotomising debates of one concept over the other, rather, the distinctive strengths of both should be considered.

“There is a general dissatisfaction with multiculturalism from many political and intellectual sources … particularly as I say after 9/11, interculturalism emerges both as a critique of multiculturalism but also offers a pro-diversity perspective or alternative,” said Professor Modood.

In response to such criticisms, Professor Modood identifies five key concepts within multiculturalism difference, equality, ethno-religious groups, national identity, and dialogue.

In conversation with Professor Fethi Mansouri, Professor Modood delineated a key difference between the two, where multiculturalism was concerned with the macro-level and in reverse, interculturalism the micro.

“As I've argued in regard to the national, for instance, or the macro, the micro and the emphasis on micro and intercultural encounters is important but only if we don't think in either or terms. It's not a critique of multiculturalism, it's something we can add to the kind of multiculturalism that I've been developing.”

In Australia, there is not the same level of public criticism of multiculturalism as in European countries, where it is often proclaimed to have failed, yet there are many paradoxes said Professor Mansouri.

While, in Europe, multiculturalism is taken as an “utter failure” that is has produced “divisions and ghettoes” Australia is to some extents exempt for such narratives however, there are many paradoxes.

“One is that while multiculturalism is valued, and overall supported by the public, the but here is that there are growing concerns around issues of security, lack of integration in particular, racialised groups, speak no more than what is happening for our African communities, which are making headlines right left and centre.

“The second paradox is that while multiculturalism is becoming more interactive…many culturally and linguistically diverse Australians still feel this sense of incomplete acceptance into mainstream society,” said Professor Mansouri.

Furthermore, race was an important factor for Australian multiculturalism as it emerged in the same year the country abolished the ‘White Australia Policy’ as an alternative national-political framework.

The possibility of that multiculturalism needs to be revised in the light of the recognition that interculturalism has something to add at the micro level, is an idea Professor Modood would be enthusiastic to explore.

“Interculturalism ought to bring an additive not substitutive dimension to multiculturalism. It's not about the binary of one over the other, rather, it's about invoking the former as an interlocutor to the latter,” said Professor Modood.

Fethi Mansouri