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The Democratic Contradictions of Multiculturalism [Paperback]

by Jens-Martin Eriksen, Frederik Stjernfelt

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Book Description

March 1, 2012 0914386468 978-0914386469
What is multiculturalism? Is it every person s right in a democratic society to choose his or her religion and culture and to express criticism regardless of taboos and moralistic norms? Or is it, on the contrary, the right of cultures and religions to be protected from insult and to preserve themselves against change? In The Democratic Contradictions of Multiculturalism, Frederik Stjernfelt and Jens-Martin Eriksen examine these questions in relation to both the ideology and the reality of multiculturalism. The discussion covers a range of issues, including the Muhammad cartoons, laws against blasphemy, hijab, the Islamic ban on apostasy, and the limits of the freedom of religion.

Stjernfelt and Eriksen focus their investigation on a multicultural country and examine the implications of this controversial concept as it is applied to political reality. What do people regard as the advantages and disadvantages of multiculturalism? How does the legal system influence the life of the individual? In what way does multiculturalism lead to a new segregation of society with respect to gender, culture, and religion? How can one explain the democratic contradictions of multiculturalism when the system clashes with universal values and human rights?

In recent decades, the concept of culture has appeared on the political agenda with growing importance, to a point that "culture" has become a political ideology. How did that happen? Where does this specific concept of culture come from? What are its historical roots in anthropology, philosophy, and politics? In what way does "the cultural argument" influence our way of thinking when we adopt it, more or less unconsciously, in everyday debate?

The controversy over multiculturalism has changed the political front lines as well. Liberals and the left seem to defend the rights and respect of minority cultures, while conservatives and the nationalist right seem to stand guard for the majority national culture. But the question is: are these front lines for real? At the end of the day, do the conventional left and right really think in fundamentally different ways? Or do they simply represent variations on a bigoted understanding of what culture means?

The Democratic Contradictions of Multiculturalism is an erudite manifesto for freedom and a confrontation with any kind of attempt--be it left or right--to fence people within their cultures.

Editorial Reviews


"Eriksen and Stjernfelt have written a splendid and important book, honest and humane, but never sentimental;  in elevating the majority/minority debate to a higher level of reflection than usual, it points towards a society where it is a common future and not mythical pasts which provides the basis for solidarity and belonging."

--Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Professor of Anthropology, University of Oslo

"The Democratic Contradictions of Multiculturalism is a very important book in this day and age. It provides a thorough, systematic survey and analysis of contemporary versions and trends within multiculturalism, discloses its origins, and looks at its place in current politics, philosophy, and religion. A book not to be missed by anybody interested in the state of the world. That means, not to be missed by anybody."

--Vincent F. Hendricks, Professor of Formal Philosophy, University of Copenhagen and Columbia University

"In its 'soft' meaning multiculturalism is, according to these authors, quite compatible with the idea of democracy and liberal-democratic political culture. It concerns the freedom of an individual to choose culture, religion, worldview and identity that suits him/her, as long as that person does not represent an obstacle to freedom of others who also wish to affirm, or determine, themselves within their own individual rights, values, proclivities and norms. However, problems arise in the context of a 'hard' interpretation of multiculturalism seen as a system that advocates inviolability, and even sovereignty, of collective cultural rights. In other words, as Eriksen and Stjernfelt argue, this is a version of multiculturalism based on the holiness and immunity of different cultures as their collective rights."

--Milan Vukomanovic, "Hostages of Culturalism"

"What would a society be like in which the ideals of 'hard multiculturalism' are made real--a society in which communities may enforce their own mores and traditions on their members, may even mobilize their own police force and legal system? In this brilliant book, Jens-Martin Eriksen and Frederik Stjernfelt, well known for their studies of Bosnia and Serbia, explore from both an empirical and a theoretical point of view what happens when culture becomes a political ideology." --Barry Smith, Julian Park Professor of Philosophy, University at Buffalo

About the Author

Jens-Martin Eriksen is a Danish writer based in Geneva who has won several literary awards including the lifelong Grant of Honor from the Danish Endowment for the Arts.

Frederik Stjernfelt is a professor in cognitive semiotics and cultural studies at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. He is a member of the Danish Academy of Letters as well as the Royal Danish Academy of the Sciences.

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