6.7.4 Pluralism and Identity

Pluralism is the term used in this book to refer to the features of a society that arise from the presence of multiple ethnic groups, where the term ‘ethnic’ encompasses racial, tribal, national, cultural and religious categorisations.  As described earlier (4.4.1), it is possible for many ethnic groups to live together harmoniously – but sometimes ethnicity becomes an important political issue, as outlined in the following sub-sections:

  • Immigration is a politically sensitive topic, requiring careful management (6.7.4.1). Immigrants need help to settle without overloading local public services, to avoid creating resentment.
  • Attention can be drawn to people’s ethnicity for political purposes, leading to ‘identity politics’ (6.7.4.2). The entire political system then becomes a vehicle for expressing conflict.
  • Immigrants can be pressurised to assimilate into the culture of the host country (6.7.4.3), but they may resent this and assert their separate identity in defiance of the host country.
  • They can be allowed to maintain their previous culture and live parallel lives – ‘multiculturalism’ (6.7.4.4) – though inevitably some groups will feel that they are discriminated against and this leads to tensions.
  • They can negotiate with the majority, to reach a mutually-acceptable compromise: ‘inclusivity’ (6.7.4.5). The majority need to accept some adjustments and the immigrants must make some effort to integrate.
  • It is possible for ethnic groups to be politically represented without making ethnicity a central feature of the political system (6.7.4.6). Formal consultation with recognised religious leaders can be helpful.
  • A sense of belonging to a political identity is desirable (6.7.4.7). If this consists of a sense of shared history and shared values, it can unify people – avoiding a divisive emphasis on race or religion.
  • Ethnic groups should be treated as politically equal (6.7.4.8). Governments should be explicitly tolerant of all religious groups, rather than trying to privilege a single group.
  • Education is crucially important in fostering inclusiveness (6.7.4.9). Every school should be required to teach an understanding of all the religious faiths.

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This is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/674a.htm