Monday, March 2, 2009

Multicultural and multinational groups

In a recent article, Caron and Laforest (2009) argue that in spite of multiculturalism being more and more on the public agenda, Stephen Harper's understanding of multicultural Canada seems to be molded on the monistic nation-state ideal. The authors introduce the distinction between multicultural and multinational states, where multicultural refers to acknowledging various (ethnic) cultures within the same state, while multinational refers to acknolwedging various national cultures within the same state. So what's the difference between ethnic groups and nations? Following Will Kymlicka's discussion, national cultures are:

associated with substate/minority nationalisms, that is "a regionally concentrated group that conceives of itself as a nation within a larger state (like Scotland in Great Britain or Catalonia in Spain) and mobilizes behind nationalist political parties to achieve recognition of its nationhood, either in the form of an indepdent state or through territorial autonomy within the larger state"." (p. 28).

What interests me in this discussion, as always, is how the nation is being defined, who defines it and on whose behalf.

1. How the nation is being defined: First, I always had this huge problem with the idea of a 'regionally concentrated group' - Exactly what does that mean? To take Quebec only, the population in this region includes various ethnic groups. How are we to think of these people, as eternally an 'Other' to the 'proper' inhabitants of the region? Or maybe it's just my vision: maybe the Quebec nation is not one premised on ethnic differences, but on something else - but then what legitimizes this claim for being a 'group'? What are those features that make people a group/ a nation, in this case? What are the reasons/ values/ features for drawing the line of inclusion in/ exclusion from the 'nation'?

2. Who defines the nation/ group? Is it academics? Is it politicians? Based on what do they draw the boundaries of inclusion/ exclusion? I find it interesting that it is this macro talk, this big-picture-big-labels type of discourse that effectively erases those who do not mobilize behind the national agenda, those who (although members of the ethnic group) might not necessarily care too much or bother with such things or- why not - oppose the whole nationalist apparatus. All of this diversity of opinions, of views disappears - we no longer see it. We see the 'group' mobilizing for 'national' recognition.

3. On whose behalf? I think the inclusion/ exclusion mechanism works to create the subjects of this nation: if you are not part of the 'nation', then you are probably not interpellated by it - and therefore you are not part of it. It is a very circular process within which we are being forced to recognize ourselves - to think of ourselves- as members of the group, and thus we feel compelled by its political agendas.

* * *

That people and leaders may find a powerful ally in nationalism to legitimize their claims, requests or simply their recognition is quite obvious. Yet, just because something is empowering, it doesn't mean that it is morally unproblematic. Or that it derives from some intrinsic features of the group (as opposed, say, to being constructed by political and economic interests). I'm finding I have the same resistance to the ideology of 'race' and 'gender': the more one strives for the recognition of her legitimacy on the basis of one's difference, the more one exposes herself to being objectified by that difference. And this increases the gap between 'Us' and "Them", between our ethics/ morality and theirs, between our interests/ values/ cultures and theirs.

I wonder how you, reader, see this?

Caron, J.F., Laforest, G. (2009) "Canada and Multinational Federalism: From the Spirit of 1982 to Stephen Harper's Open Federalism," Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 15(1): 27-55

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