Ted Cantle has been the author of a series of reports on Britain’s ability to deal with its growing diversity, beginning with his well-known inquiry into the causes of the race-related disturbances in northern England in 2001 (Cantle, 2001). He identified one of their main causes as being the ‘parallel lives’ led by different communities, or ‘living alongside each other but in separate spheres’. Having based much of his analysis on the problems arising when people ‘retreat into their own identity’, he has not been afraid to take on academic critics who have asserted that he underplayed the importance of poverty and discrimination as factors in those original disturbances (e.g. Harrison, Phillips, Chahal, Hunt, & Perry, 2005).
In fact, in his new book these earlier concepts, and their international counterparts in the work of writers such as Sen (2006) and Putnam (2007), are brought to the fore. The book reflects his recent spell as professor in charge of the Institute of Community Cohesion at CoventryUniversity. He uses it to launch a proposal that ‘interculturalism’ should replace what he sees as the discredited policies of ‘multiculturalism’.
The book has attracted some publicity. The Daily Telegraph predictably focussed on his attacks on single-group projects and ‘self-appointed’ community leaders (15 September 2012). But his argument is more nuanced and densely argued than that. His starting point is the relatively recent challenges posed by globalisation and super-diversity, both of which are wide sweeping trends.Multiculturalism, he argues, may have had good points but it fails to address these challenges. Politicians, too, are deluded, pretending they can hold back the tide of globalism and remain the dominant influence over populations who in reality often pay little attention. One (understandable) response to these changes is fear and insecurity, based on feelings that while government no longer shapes our lives and futures, it is also unclear who does. Blaming ‘others’ for this state of affairs is a natural response, as people retreat into identities with which they still feel comfortable. The challenge is how to move from the ‘we’ of the increasingly irrelevant nation state to a new ‘we’ based on a global community.
Cantle argues that while one response to globalisation has been the resurgence of the extreme right, there have also been positive signs. Not surprisingly, he sees one of these as being policies to promote community cohesion (of which he is an advocate), although he is critical that they have not gone far enough. He also points to the growth of mixed identity (notably in the form of mixed marriages or mixed-race children) as a positive factor (which, incidentally, are strongly evident in just-published UK census results). He says though that we have failed to update our policies on issues such as race equality to make them relevant to much more diverse societies.
He is critical, too, of academics who have been quick to condemn notions that Britain is ‘sleepwalking into segregation’ of its residential areas (notably Finney & Simpson, 2009). While he accepts that the evidence for segregation is less marked than in other countries in Europe or in the United States, he argues for a more nuanced approach that accepts that (for example) friendship networks still tend to reflect ethnic differences. He also says that conventional views about segregation, focussed on inner city areas, ignore de facto segregation of other kinds, such as gated communities and Gypsy and Traveller sites. He makes the point that the ‘mixed communities’ debate in the UK a few years ago was about income and tenure, and largely ignored ethnic mix (see Bailey, Haworth, Manzi, Paranagamage, & Roberts, 2006).
Slightly contradicting the book’s headline message, Cantle criticises David Cameron’s crude attack on ‘state multiculturalism’ in his speech in Munich in February 2011 that was followed by similar speeches by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy. Cameron blamed new communities for failing to integrate rather than seeing integration as a two-way process. In particular, Muslims were portrayed as a threat and the huge diversity between Muslim communities was ignored. Cantle points out the irony that the potential violence of Muslim groups received so much attention when it turned out (in August 2011) that unpredicted riots were to erupt in British housing estates, that had little or nothing to do with religion or race.
By talking about the ‘failure’ of multiculturalism we have therefore allowed people to develop the view that it is the simple presence of different cultures, especially Muslim ones, that poses a threat. Some have argued as a result that ‘multiculturalism’ is a concept that is now so debased as to be no longer worth defending. From its ashes we get the new term – ‘interculturalism’ – the focus of this book.
Although the argument is an important one, to me it has two weaknesses that must be addressed if it is to be taken forward. The first is that, while it is easy to develop a feel-good feeling about interculturalism, it is awfully difficult to pin down exactly what it means. It takes as its starting point the new diversity of societies, and the need to promote that as beneficial rather than a threat. This requires leadership both nationally and locally. As well as promoting a positive view of diversity, leadership is needed to tackle the tensions and conflicts that inevitably arise. Leaders would also promote openness, as some city leaders in Britain and elsewhere have successfully done (Perry, 2011). In contrast to multiculturalism, there would be more focus on fluid identities, of which ‘race’ is only one. While people need (for example) to know about their country’s history, they also need a vision of a shared society and to be equipped for a more globalised world, to have a more ‘cosmopolitan’ identity.
This is all well and good, but it left me with the feeling of having sucked the chocolate without finding the nut in the middle. Terms like multiculturalism and interculturalism may be the subject of academic debate, but can the differences be encapsulated in straightforward ways that enable them to be taken forward by policymakers? This is not a new problem – the debates about what ‘community cohesion’ and ‘integration’ meant in practice were also difficult – but it is a problem that must be faced if the new concept is to be adopted and policy moved on from those espoused by the European leaders mentioned above.
The second weakness is a related one. How would policies actually change? Is it possible to have more subtle policies than (for example) the target-driven ones on immigration that we have had for the last few years? How do we get policy-makers at different levels to sign up to an intercultural perspective, and how would this alter what they do? It might be expecting too much of an academic book to spell this out, but it does I think miss a trick in not recording more of the successful community-based initiatives which have developed over the last few years, on which there is evidence both from Britain and internationally (Housing and Migration Network, 2012; Turner, 2012). The author does make some proposals – like ending the favouritism towards faith-based schools – but stops well short of a broader programme.
Ted Cantle acknowledges that the climate is not an easy one, given the economic situation, the impact of austerity programmes and the rapid contraction of the voluntary sector on which much action to promote interculturalism would depend. For those of us working in this field, an optimistic vision based on interculturalism will be more convincing when it is linked to a programme to carry it forward, that realistically takes into account the current barriers to doing so and how we might overcome them. There is a need for a practical follow-up to a challenging and stimulating book.
Original post: International Journal of Housing Policy
Bailey, N., Haworth, A., Manzi, T., Paranagamage, P., & Roberts, M. (2006). Creating and sustaining mixed income communities. Coventry: Chartered Institute of Housing for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Cantle, T. (2001) Community cohesion: Report of the independent review team. London: Home Office.
Finney, N., & Simpson, L. (2009). Sleepwalking into segregation? – Challenging myths about race and immigration. Bristol: The Policy Press.
Harrison, M., Phillips, D., Chahal, K., Hunt, L., & Perry, J. (2005). Housing, ‘race’ and community cohesion. Coventry: Chartered Institute of Housing.
Housing and Migration Network. (2012). Housing and migration: A UK guide to issues and solutions. Coventry: Chartered Institute of Housing.
Perry, J. (2011). UK migration: The leadership role of housing providers. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Putnam, R. D. (2007). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Sen, A. (2006). Identity and violence: The illusion of destiny. New York: W. W. Norton.
Turner, K. (2012). Practice to policy: Lessons from local leadership on immigrant integration. Toronto: The Maytree Foundation.