Replacing "race": historicising the "culture" in multiculturalism

Lentin, Alana (2005) Replacing "race": historicising the "culture" in multiculturalism. Patterns of Prejudice, 39 (4). pp. 379-396. ISSN 0031322X

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Lentin sets out to unravel the history of the discourse of culturalism in the post-Second World War period. Culture is now almost universally used to categorize distinct human groups and to refer to the differences between them. As the liberal acceptance of multiculturalism as a recipe for contemporary living affirms, the use of culture as a viable conceptualization of human difference often goes unchallenged in present-day scholarship. Lentin focuses on how the concept of ‘culture’ came to replace the language of ‘race’ in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Looking at the history of the ‘UNESCO tradition’ of anti-racism, she shows how racial categorizations were replaced by cultural distinctions as a means of explaining human difference. Whereas ‘race’ was seen as irrevocably invoking the superiority of some human groups over others, culture was assumed by anti-racist scholars on both sides of the Atlantic to imply a positive celebration of difference while allowing for the possibility for progress among groups once considered ‘primitive’. Lentin argues that such a shift, on which the western discourse of anti-racism is grounded, by merely replacing ‘race’ with ‘culture’, fails to expunge the ranking of humanity implied by theories of ‘race’. The essentialization of ‘cultures’ inherent within this cultural relativism is carried through into multicultural approaches to education, policymaking and activism that fail to include the dominant group in their schematization of contemporary social and political relations. Furthermore, the failure of culturalist approaches to counter racism effectively has been attributed to the purported identity politics of ‘minority groups’. Contrary to the notion that culture has come to pervade politics due to a bottom-up call from the marginalized for greater recognition of their cultural ‘authenticity’, Lentin shows how culturalism originated within the anti-racist elite and has resulted in the depoliticization of anti-racism of the racism's actual targets.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Sociology
Depositing User: Alana Lentin
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 19:30
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2012 11:10
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