Ideologies and Realities

Increasingly, I wonder if any of us knows what multiculturalism means. Surely one of the sadder aspects of the recent history of academic culture wars must be the tendency for some to transform the term multiculturalism into an automatic epithet of opprobrium and for others to transform it into an automatic seal of approval. For critics, an endorsement of multiculturalism necessarily signals a nefarious political agenda; for supporters, it necessarily signals a certificate of good intentions. Those on both sides who allow themselves to be drawn into these self-serving characterizations are effectively capitulating to the premises of “reader response” criticism, or standpoint theory, according to which the meaning of a term such as multiculturalism depends exclusively upon the perspective of the individual. To be sure, the participants do not see it this way, but they are too deeply invested in defending their positions to appreciate a dispassionate view. In this respect, at least, the contending parties implicitly accede to the conviction that multiculturalism refers to an ideology rather than to a society, form of government, economy, coherent religious or intellectual system, or even a culture.

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