Interculturalism: A Responds to Diversity in International Society

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Author: Amelia Litania

Globalization is bringing about a new paradigm of super-diversity which is resulting in all societies becoming more culturally diverse. Interculturalism, as a new model which responds to this increasing diversity, rejects all forms of discrimination based on differences, instead embracing reciprocity and accommodation. Interculturalism theory is characterized by integration, cohesion, and intercultural dialogue. Compared to multiculturalism theory, interculturalism theory discusses how to make a society more cohesive and accommodate people from different cultures. Interculturalism features a stronger sense of whole. Therefore, usually in intercultural education, intercultural competence is highlighted in order to catalyze dialogue between people from different groups. However as a political ideas, one can not forget that positive qualities in terms of encouraging communication, recognising dynamic identities, promoting unity and critiquing illiberal cultural practices, each of these qualities too are important features of multiculturalism. With these two being compared, questions emerge if interculturalism is an ‘updated version’ of multiculturalism? If so, what is being ‘updated’? If not, in what ways interculturalism different, substantively or not, from multiculturalism? With a specific focus on the political, I try to evaluate in which conceptions of interculturalism are being positively contrasted with multiculturalism.

The Emerging of Interculturalism in Response of Diversity

The term ‘multiculturalism’ emerged in the 1960s and 1970s in countries like Canada and Australia, and to a lesser extent in Britain and the USA. In the writings of Ted Cantle (2012), he argues that interculturalism is the new era of cohesion and diversity. This perspective comes from his observation in 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. 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 then proposed that ‘interculturalism’ should replace what he sees as the discredited policies of ‘multiculturalism.’

Still in the context of Britain’s diversity, response to multiculturalism comes shortly after David Cameron’s appearance in 2011. 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 Nicolas Sarkozy (BBC, 2011). Many people see his action was to blame 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. The impact comes later when the potential violence of Muslim groups received so much attention as 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 (The Guardian, 2011).

According to Cantle, 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. However, I see that multiculturalism is not entirely no longer worth defending. To balance Cantle perspective, multiculturalism according to Moodod is a situation ‘‘when new groups enter a society, there has to be some education and refinement of …sensitivities in the light of changing circumstances and the specific vulnerabilities of new entrants’’ (2006: 61). This statement about multiculturalism is also support by Castle which emphasized advocacy of the right of minority and specifically ‘‘cultural maintenance and community formation, linking these to social equality and protection from discrimination.”

Interculturalism: Can It Be Achieved?

Interculturalism is considered as less ‘groupist’ and culture-bound society. It means that interculturalism want to achieve a more synthesised and interactive communities which build from a deep sharing of differences of culture and experience with each personal identities that go beyond nations or simplified ethnicities. Writing from the Quebec context, Gagnon and Iacovino (2007) are one example of authors who contrast interculturalism positively with multiculturalism. The interesting aspect is that they do so in a way that relies upon a formulation of groups, and by arguing that Quebec has developed a distinctive intercultural political approach to diversity that is explicitly in opposition to Federal Canadian multiculturalism.

According to Gagnon and Iacovino, there are five stages how interculturalism can be achieve. First, there should be a public space and identity that is not only about individual constitution or legal rights. Second, this public space is shared and counterbalance other identities that citizen values. Third, this public space should be created by participation, interaction, debate and common endeavour. Fourth, this public space is not culture-less but nor is it merely the ‘majority culture’, all can participate in its synthesis and evolution and while it has an inescapable historical character, it is always being remade and ought to be remade to include new groups. Fifth and finally, such a public space and so an object to which immigrants need to have identification with and integrate into and should seek to maintain as a nation.

In conclusion, interculturalism is not an update for multiculturalism. That is to say that while advocates of interculturalism wish to emphasise its positive qualities in terms of encouraging communication, recognising dynamic identities, promoting unity and reducing discrimination, each of these qualities already feature (and are on occasion foundational) to multiculturalism too. Moreover, multiculturalism presently surpasses interculturalism as a political orientation that is able to recognise that social life consists of individuals and groups, and that both need to be provided for in the formal and informal distribution of powers, as well as reflected in an ethical conception of citizenship, and not just an instrumental one. At the end, interculturalism as a political discourse is able to offer another perspective as a response to diversity and seek to that go beyond nations or simplified ethnicities.


Cantle, T. (2008) Community Cohesion: A New Framework for Race and Diversity, London: Palgrave Macmillan

“State multiculturalism has failed, says David Cameron”, accessed on 01 February 2018 on

UK riots: Birmingham’s Muslims and Sikhs debate response to tragedy, accessed on 01 February 2018 on

Castells, M. (2006) ‘Globalisation and identity: a comparative perspective’, Trans Contemporary Culture, 1 November. Barcelona: VEGAP.


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