« Well-tempered multiculturalism »
Adapted from Alexis Nouss, Plaidoyer pour un monde métis, Paris : Textuel, 2005
Multiculturalism is undeniably a conceptual and discursive success story since it has been able to replace the old-fashioned humanism on a new stage called post-modernism and to revamp its message of tolerance.However, this very success has to be questioned and the notion of multiculturalism should be located within a wider framework, namely ‘cultural pluralism’. It would be wrong to mistake
one for the other given that cultural pluralism takes different forms, the three main ones being multiculturalism, interculturalism and transculturalism. Futhermore, there are different brands of multiculturalism which are not carrying a similar semantic and political value, e.g. conservative multiculturalism, environnemental multiculturalism, left-wing multiculturalism, liberal multiculturalism, essentialist multiculturalism, state multiculturalism, Benetton multiculturalism, ‘World music’ multiculturalism…
A more neutral definition will claim that multiculturalism is a concept which describes a social setting (be it urban, regional, national or supranational) in which different communities are in contact, no matter what their importance and/or hierarchical positions are. Big scale examples are the Roman Empire, the Habsburg Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the ancient African kingdoms or, nowadays, the Western states.
Interculturalism calls for a different conceptual approach. It designates at both individual and collective levels the dynamics of encounter and of exchange as well as of clash and of rejection which occur when two communities or more are in contact. Intercultural potentials are dependant of the social, economical, and political conditions of the host society and rely on its cultural tradition. Democracy, by instance, does not receive the same definition in, say,France and China. Interculturalism is not a policy one could impose. A good example is the limited success of multiple languages teaching programmes in schools due to the prevalent belief in the virtues of monoculturalism for social harmony. Multiculturalism, thus, describes a social reality and interculturalism a mode of functioning operating in its midst. Problems begin when they are transformed into governmental programmes.
Transculturalism, lastly, should be used to name the common adoption of cultural forms by different communities in a given society. Unlike the two previous notions, transculturalism supposes the willingness of actors to play a role on the sociocultural stage. It could also bedefined as an ethical drive. As such, it should be considered as the ultimate goal of a welltempered multiculturalism.
(Adapted from Alexis Nouss, Plaidoyer pour un monde métis, Paris : Textuel, 2005)
Prof Alexis Nuselovici (Nouss)
European Languages, Translation and Politics