Multicultural Challenge: Volume 22


Table of contents

(14 chapters)
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Cultural pluralization – reinforced by immigration – has had major consequences for the political agenda in recent years in liberal democratic states. New types of tensions have arisen – new forms of social and cultural differentiation, and new patterns of inequality. The diversity also reshapes the frame of reference for traditional policy instruments employed by modern welfare states: new issues arise that are linked to rights, legitimacy, and policy measures of a general and targeted nature.

Despite its somewhat old-fashioned, functionalist air, “integration” is still the most popular way of conceptualizing the developing relationship between old European nation-states and their growing non-European, “ethnic” immigrant populations. It is also widely used to frame the advocacy of political means for dealing with the consequences of immigration in the post-World War II period. Many similar, difficult-to-define concepts can be used to describe the process of social change that occurs when immigrants are “integrated” into their new host society. But none occurs with the frequency or all-encompassing scope of the idea of integration across such a broad range of West European countries. This fact continues to decisively structure policy research and policy debate on these subjects in Europe.

Samuel Huntington’s vision in the early 1990s of a “clash of civilizations” struck a chord to such an extent that his core theme was reignited after the attacks of September 11th. International migration seems to be viewed as an issue that signifies this so-called clash (Bade & Bommes, 1996). Migration, culture, ethnicity and conflict have become linked. The result is that conflicts arising from migration are more likely to be seen as an outcome of the multiplication of different cultures within one country. Germany, the U.K., the Netherlands and Switzerland have all been described as multicultural societies and advised to pay attention to this “fact.” This has been combined with the view that even if there was no road to multiculturalism without social conflicts, there was also no viable alternative to tolerance as a device for the interaction of cultures (Leggewie, 1990).

“Multiculturalism” is a troubled concept, in a political as well as in a scholarly sense. What has triggered this paper is the authors’ experience of the hardships involved in understanding the power structures embedded in societies termed “multicultural”; we find ourselves equipped with a set of conceptual tools that are confusing, and with policy makers that compound that confusion. This presentation takes as its point of departure the tension engendered at the interface between popular democracy ground rules and minority rights, and turns in its second part to current political vocabulary in Norway. Thematically, the discussion moves from the intricacies of “cultural rights” to a closer look at the bias implicit in the benevolent phrase “fair terms of integration.” The suggestion is that hidden underneath the niceties, we find the unavoidable and seemingly unspeakable dilemmas of a welfare state confronted with non-economic, humanitarian principles. Let us be clear about one thing, however; the aim of this presentation is not to solve problems, but to face them.

This chapter is about non-western immigrants’ representation in elected assemblies in Norway and Denmark. Non-western immigrants are a small minority in these countries. That may be a difficult position since democracy is based on different forms of majority rule. Every democracy faces the dilemma of how to treat minorities. The checks on direct power from the majority vary from one country to another. One aspect is the electoral system, which may or may not have built-in mechanisms that defend minorities.

Three years’ uninterrupted, official residence in Denmark enfranchises all immigrants and refugees in Danish local elections. Not all exercise this right, however. Voter turnout for ethnic minorities in the Danish cities of Aarhus and Copenhagen varies significantly according to ethnic group, according to city, and according to gender. The most significant differences emerge because of the collective mobilization of some ethnic groups in the one city or the other. Most groups are also experiencing varying degrees of individual mobilization based on social integration in Danish society. In many ethnic groups, a specific mobilization of women is observed, and young women in particular have a relatively high voter turnout.

Scandinavian societies do not figure prominently as study objects in the international social science literature. To the extent they do, their analysis tends to revolve around one seemingly unavoidable concept, that of equality. There is much agreement among Scandinavia experts that if there is one cultural trait that recurs again and again in this part of the world it is what some have described as “the passion for equality” (Graubard, 1986). Many writers have suggested that the Nordic passion for equality springs from a peculiarly strong preoccupation with equity (rettferd). But this is not the only reason why: according to Hans Frederik Dahl (1984, p. 95) “[t]he Nordic equity ethos…appears to apply both to the political action of leveling out – making the rich pay, taxing the top – and, in a jealous comparison, of making sure that nobody overtakes and passes you in position or possessions.” Like Dahl, other Norwegians consider envy to be a central element in this quest for equality, a sort of Nordic “crab antics” (Wilson, 1973).1 Envy provides a plausible explanatory frame for the drive at leveling out – “making the rich pay, taxing the top” – a meaning the Norwegian term likhet does indeed encompass. But in addition to equality likhet also means similarity or sameness, a parity that does not necessarily have to do with equity and cannot always be described in terms of getting rid of (unfair) privileges. Earlier debates on the Norwegian notion of equality were often inconclusive because they failed to address this critical duality of meaning which lies at the core of the concept of likhet. To assume that likhet is only a matter of equality, and that it all boils down to envy is too simplistic. In this case, the question that needs to be addressed is: can envy account for the drive at cultural assimilation? Can it explain demands made by the masses to individuals who are neither richer nor more powerful? I am thinking for example of the kind of relations that have been observed between Norwegians and Saami in the Helgeland region (Henriksen, 1991). Here, Saamis’ claims to a different identity and a different experience are frequently met with the non-Saami majority’s counter-claim that there are no differences, cultural or otherwise, between the Saami and themselves. “When the Saami person insists that his or her identity is rooted in a Saami culture, s/he may be requested to specify what such differences consist of,” writes Henriksen (p. 410). This emphatic denial of difference is not perceived by Saami as an inclusionary device to integrate them within the warm embrace of a universal Norwegian Gemeinschaft. Rather, says Henriksen, they view it as “a lack of recognition by the encompassing Norwegian society of their cultural and social identities and their expression, and of what they perceive to be their legitimate rights” (p. 414); in other words, they view it as an attempt by the Norwegian majority to deny Saami their right to experience life in general and ethnic encounters in particular in a way that differs from the majority’s experience. When played out in relation to individuals and groups that are marginal, dominated, or simply in minority, the quest for likhet cannot be motivated by envy. Rather than “passion for equality,” therefore, it would be more accurate to describe this cultural trait as “antipathy for difference.” Such antipathy, I suggest, is grounded in a normative expectation of conformity in behavior, experience, and awareness, to an unquestioned cultural pattern embedded in, and structured by, daily practice, and with ramifications in all areas of social life. In this sense, equality (sometimes translated into Norwegian as likeverd, literally “equal worth,” but more commonly as likhet) rests on the fundamental requirement of cultural similarity (also known, as we have seen, as likhet): to be equal is first and foremost to be alike (see Gullestad, 1984, 1992). The opposite of likhet, ulikhet, can mean either difference or inequality. Most of the time it is conceptualized as both.2 Of course, the conceptual and sociological boundaries between equality and similarity are blurred everywhere, not only in Norwegian culture. Nor am I suggesting that Norwegian society is empirically devoid of inequality or that instances of anti-egalitarian behavior do not obtain in real life. Nonetheless, these empirical observations do not make the Norwegian normative discourse on equality-as-similarity any less real or any less compelling.

The establishment and implementation of a relatively strict immigration regime in Norway has taken place within a vocabulary of equality, humanity, social justice and decency. One aspect is an insistence on a “restricted and controlled” immigration in order to protect a state of equality in Norway and avoid the emergence of a new “underclass.” Another is the stress on Norway’s humanitarian traditions and the rich country’s responsibility towards people in need, also globally. A whole rhetoric has evolved where immigration politics appears as a matter of decency, somehow apart from the more pragmatic tug-of-wars affecting other fields of politics. On the one hand, a “restricted and controlled” immigration is necessary in order to protect certain moral qualities of Norwegian society. But on the other, immigration politics has also appeared as an indicator of the moral qualities of the Norwegian nation-state thus requiring “decent policies” in order not to threaten the image of a nation embodying such moral qualities.

During the last decade of the Twentieth Century the advanced North Atlantic economies performed in a markedly profitable way seen from the perspective of corporate business. This has neither led, however, to the impediment of a deepening social crisis, nor to the arrest of a crisis for liberal political values and norms of citizenship. On the contrary social exclusion was exacerbated, increasingly racialized and associated with immigrants and new visible ethnic minorities. A perhaps more conspicuous, but closely related, manifestation of this crisis of welfare and political values has, within the European Union, been the upturn of new nationalist, racist-populist political movements centered on the “problem of immigration.” This change of the political spectrum, brought about by the new right nationalist-populist upsurge, may eventually jeopardize the whole project of European integration, and the current tightening up of European regimes of both immigration and the societal incorporation of immigrants obviously reflects such worries. Simultaneously, however, influential employers, politicians and public servants have, time after time, cried out for the need for continued and increased large-scale import of low- as well as high-skilled migrant labor, seen as a remedy to Europe’s imminent “demographic crisis.”

The article discusses some general features of the dominant discourses of ethnicity and culture, their historical roots and relations to contemporary forms of multiculturalism. It compares different expressions of cultural belonging in European societies taking Sweden as an example. Departing from the complex meaning of culture the problems of essentialism inherent in concepts of culture and ethnicity are discussed. Sweden, as well as other European multiethnic societies, is undergoing a division along ethnic lines. Social inequalities tend to be understood in terms of cultural difference. Culture is usually connected with ethnicity and race and understood as pure, as an “essence,” as related to some original and eternal ethnic core. In this way important aspects of cultural dynamics in the multiethnic society, not least among young people, are left unobserved. What are usually not recognized are cultural crossings and the emergence of composite identities and their relations to social structure.

In 1983, in typically Parisian manner, J. F. Lyotard claimed that redistributive conflict had gone out of fashion, with the focus of postmodern conflict revolving increasingly less around issues of resource allocation. Contemporary societies were having to deal with le différend, with horizontal conflicts rooted in heterogeneous languages, instances, and rules. The concern and claims of one group could not be understood within the languages of the other (Belohradski, 1990; Lyotard, 1983).

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Comparative Social Research
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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