Multiculturalism in a Global Society

Peter Kivisto
Blackwell Publishers: Oxford
0631221948 (pb); 063122193X (hb)
£14.99; $26.95 (pb); £50.00; $61.95 (hb)
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Front CoverWith this book, Peter Kivisto, professor of sociology at Augustana College in Illinois, sets out to chart the largely unexplored landscapes of modern multiculturalism and transnationalism. He ties together theoretical and conceptual ideas on the various phenomena of disembedding and time-space- compression with down-to-earth case studies of three settler states and three European states.

With current sociology and anthropology running the risk of losing themselves in vague concepts like ethnicity or ethnoscapes, the title of this study at first seems to join this trend-after all it employs three concepts that range among the most abused and blurred notions: multiculturalism, global and society. Far from it! Kivisto's approach is sober, while not too dry and fortunately begins with putting the concepts straight.

In the first chapter, he differentiates the global notion of ethnicity and arrives at three core concepts: ethnic group, race, and nation. The first means the objective and subjective identification with an involuntary group while race should be considered a special case of ethnicity in which biological differences are socially elevated to become social categories. Finally, nation builds on collective memory and invented traditions and assumes autonomy, indivisibility, homogeneity, and natural boundaries as well as shared culture, history, and descent.

At present, ethnicity gains prominence in the wake of globalization and the disembedding of social relations through time-space-compression. This yields new phenomena like stateless nations, ethno-nationalism, and an increased number of people migrating all over the world. All those trends contradict various sociological theories in which modernization and universal values replace the more traditional and tribal ones (Parsons) or capitalism leads to universal classes and dissolves ethnic affiliations (Marx).

At the same time, assimilation theories that pronounce the notion of a melting pot seem to have shipwrecked as well. This leads to the question if the more "time-space-distanciated" notions of multiculturalism and civic integration or the economic, political and cultural transnationalization could be more fruitful in light of a global society. Is the idea of coexisting national and transnational structures and a more syncretistic notion of ethnicity the key to understanding modern society?

The traditional settler-states USA, Canada, and Australia are the subject of chapters two and three. These cases are then compared to postcolonial Britain, Germany, and France in chapters four and five. Kivisto gives very much detail on the different national trajectories of migratory movements and regulation of immigration. All in all, three different constellations can be distinguished: on the multicultural end of the spectrum are Australia and Canada -- the only countries examined that are considering multiculturalism as an applicable political option. While this paradigm has a remarkable history of several decades in Canada, Australia changed its orientation from "white Australia" to tolerance and civic assimilation within only a decade.

The USA and Britain are situated at the middle of the scale. These countries emphasize cultural heritage and both share the goal of assimilating immigrants. Although multiculturalism is on the rise in public opinion, they did not yet adopt this paradigm as an official state-sponsored program. France shares this position with regard to its notion of republican nationalism, but on the other hand is still committed to the modern project. In this respect it resembles Germany, which is on the far end of the scale, where blood ties form the basis of fusing ethnic and national identity.

Because of the valuable theoretical clarifications and the wealth of empirical evidence on migration, ethnic identity and nationalism, this book gives a comprehensible introduction on these subject matters. The final chapter tries to arrive at a conclusion, but, maybe because of the extensive amount of data, cannot give satisfactory answers to the questions raised in the beginning. The fact that Kivisto closes with a list of questions should not be considered a failure, but rather a starting-point for future excursions into this fascinating field of study.

Benedikt Kohler
Technische Universeit Munchen