University of Cambridge > > Social Psychology Seminar Series (SPSS) > 'Has multiculturalism failed?' Challenging representations of difference in schools.

'Has multiculturalism failed?' Challenging representations of difference in schools.

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From discussions running in politics and the media around the world, it would seem that many agree that multiculturalism has failed – but this could be because of perceptions of increased racist hostilities and decreased cultural tolerance as much as perceptions of increased cultural tolerance, particularly towards Islamic values and practices. Part of the problem is that there is an array of competing definitions of multiculturalism. Rather than assume or impose one particular definition, it is essential for social policy and public debate to rest on a more in-depth knowledge of the different ways ‘ordinary people’ relate to multiculturalism in practice, in the context of their everyday lives. For these reasons, we should not assume a definition of multiculturalism, but rather seek to understand how people ‘in the everyday’ understand multiculturalism, how they talk about it and how they experience it. That is, we need is a Social Psychology of multiculturalism that highlights the relationship between identity and representations of difference and examines the possibilities for dialogue and engagement across assumed ‘differences’. It is important to examine social contexts where ideas and practices about multiculturalism are particularly salient and to assess how they promote or inhibit engagement and dialogue. In this paper we give examples of different practices in schools across England that relate to and sometimes challenge representations of difference and discourses on multiculturalism. These examples show that it is vital to investigate how wider social contexts shape the construction of social and cultural identities, and the systems of everyday knowledge in which they are rooted. We suggest that a social psychological approach to multiculturalism has much to offer to contemporary academic and political discussions by drawing attention to the lived realties of cultural diversity, the tensions that are associated with it and the ways in which differences are bridged in social encounters.

This talk is part of the Social Psychology Seminar Series (SPSS) series.

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