Ethnic Tensions with Multiculturalism

There can be ethnic tensions with multiculturalism, in which different groups lead parallel lives and have little contact with each other

Multiculturalism encourages each ethnic group to mind its own business and not quarrel with others.  Its proponents argue that people will inevitably want to express their ethnicity, because it forms a major component of their identity, and that it is their human right to do so.  In practice, multiculturalist policies have led to problems:

●  An undue emphasis upon differences between groups creates exclusionary reactions and weakens social cohesion.  Sniderman and Hagendoorn’s study of attitudes in Holland for example, in a book When Ways of Life Collide, showed that:

“Sharing a common identity builds support for inclusion; bringing differences of ethnic and religious identity to the fore evokes the very exclusionary reactions it is meant to avoid.” [p.  135]

●  There can be ethnic tensions with multiculturalism in the form of groups living separately in large aggregations.  They become increasingly isolated from the rest of society and mutual ignorance becomes a problem.  For example, although British pluralism has been broadly peaceful, some flashpoints in the north of England have been associated with physical segregation and “a series of parallel lives”.  As the Cantle Report on Social Cohesion observed:

“There is little wonder that the ignorance about each other’s communities can easily grow into fear; especially where this is exploited by extremist groups determined to undermine community harmony and foster divisions”. [Chap. 2, para 2.3]

In summary, multiculturalism increases the likelihood of tensions with identity politics (



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6744.htm.