This paper critically examines some of the ways in which conceptions of interculturalism are being positively contrasted with multiculturalism, especially as political ideas. It argues that while some advocates of a political interculturalism wish to emphasise its positive qualities in terms of encouraging communication, recognising dynamic identities, promoting unity and critiquing illiberal cultural practices, each of these qualities too are important (on occasion foundational) features of multiculturalism. The paper begins with a broad introduction before exploring the provenance of multiculturalism as an intellectual tradition, with a view to assessing the extent to which its origins continue to shape its contemporary public ‘identity’. We adopt this line of enquiry to identify the extent to which some of the criticism of multiculturalism is rooted in an objection to earlier formulations that displayed precisely those elements deemed unsatisfactory when compared with interculturalism. Following this discussion, the paper moves on to four specific areas of comparison between multiculturalism and interculturalism. It concludes that until interculturalism as a political discourse is able to offer a distinct perspective, one that can speak to a variety of concerns emanating from complex identities and matters of equality and diversity in a more persuasive manner than at present, interculturalism cannot, intellectually at least, eclipse multiculturalism, and so should be considered as complementary to multiculturalism.
- SPAIS Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship