Issue 4, January 2007 | Laksiri Jayasuriya

Integration in a Diverse Plural Society

According to the Prime Minister‘s advice to some members of the Islamic community in Australia, ‘fully integrating means accepting Australian values’. ‘Full integration’ was also defined primarily in terms of learning the English language and accepting the equality of men and women. Some have chided the Prime Minister’s critics like Dr Ameer Ali (Chair, Prime Minister’s Advisory Body, The Muslim Reference Group) for their ‘politically correct’ objections by pointing to Australia’s remarkably successful policy of accommodating waves of migrant settlers from Europe and Asia.

However, this successful integration of newcomers was due to the skilful management of post World War II policies of migrant settlement as an integral feature of the Australian welfare system now in disarray. This great Australian success story was not due to adopting the nebulous notion of ‘Australian values’, but rather an outcome of the sensible implementation of ‘Australian multiculturalism’ (a term coined by John Howard in 1996 and mow part of the Australian political lexicon). Importantly, this included an inclusionary model of citizenship which enabled the incorporation of immigrant settlers into the structures of the society as full and equal members without denying their right to be different. What is more, the legal status of citizenship, guaranteed to all new comers, not just civil and political rights, and procedural equality; but also equal access to social rights, especially in the form of the benefits of the Australian welfare state (Jayasuriya 1999).

It should be borne in mind that what Australia endorsed was a conditional multiculturalism in that it was subject to the acceptance of the governing Australian citizenship. Accordingly, all versions of multiculturalism from the Whitlam era have insisted that the endorsement of multiculturalism as a social ideal was subject to an acceptance of the basic structures of society. It was readily accepted that these included mutual respect of rights to express one’s views and values, and an overriding commitment to Australia. This form of Australian multiculturalism ensured a pluralistic understanding of integration as ‘social integration’, rather than a‘cultural integration’ whereas the latter places emphasis on the acceptance of the cultural values, beliefs, and sentiments. Social integration is linked more to the rights and duties linked to a common citizenship, a political as well as a social citizenship.

This view underlines the fact that western democracies which have sought to emulate an American or French model of a ‘nation state’, regard all citizens integrated into a common societal culture, i.e., one which involves a common language, social, and political institutions rather than a common religion or other personal life styles such as those derived from the ‘culture’ of the majority group. In other worlds, this view of a ‘common societal culture’ acknowledges that in a modern liberal and secular democracy, the culture of ‘life styles’ is pluralistic and accommodates different religious, and other social groups.

One major shortcoming of Australian citizenship is that unlike in other western democracies, the rights of citizenship are not constitutionally entrenched or built in as Statuary Acts such as those found in the Canadian Charter of Freedom of Rights or the European Convention of Human Rights recently adopted in Britain. Thus, in America, an American sense of identity is derived primarily from the loyalty to, and identity with, the Constitution which signifies what citizens share in common. In other words, a sense of identity and belonging does not rest on a shared set of cultural values. These civic republican sentiments are clearly evident in the political credo of Obama, the rising Black African Presidential aspirant in the USA (Tomasky, New York Book Review, Nov, 30, 2006).

What this signifies is that central to building a sense of identity of belonging and gaining social solidarity in settler societies like Australia, Canada, and United States, is adaptation to common social and political institutions, or, to use the language of Leader writer (The Australian) writing about sport as a ‘social superglue’, ‘the bond of tribalism is forged by a common interest, not shared space’; nor shared values. What matters is not shared values but shared identity derived from an acceptance of, and identification with, a common societal culture, i.e., a common set of social and political institutions. In this sense, for social solidarity the glue of a ‘common interest’ lies in defending a free and open liberal political order, emboldened by a sense of democratic citizenship framed with a charter of freedom of rights.

In this context, Robert Hughes, makes the pointed observation that the ‘civic virtues’ of the public and political culture enables multiculturalism to serve as a bulwark against cultural arrogance, chauvinism, and a tendency to universalize the particular. It is the civic culture which is central to any concept of ‘pluralistic integration’ in an evolving and dynamic, ethnically and culturally diverse society. This standpoint of a ‘civic multiculturalism’, enshrined in the recently adopted WA Charter on Multiculturalism and also the Victorian Multicultural Act affirms that integration of those from varied cultural backgrounds is achieved by ensuring them full and equal participation in all aspects of social and political life. What we all share and belong to is the public and political culture of the nation, its institutional culture, social and political practices, and inherent values – in short, membership of the political community (Jayasuriya 2005).

In sharp contrast, the proponents of a more cultural/ethnic multiculturalism maintain that ‘unity in diversity’ and a sense of an Australian identity requires integration into ‘core cultural values’, all derived from the core values of the anglo celtic cultural heritage. In the absence of a policy framework built around racial and cultural homogeneity such as in the heyday of White Australia, the proponents of this view strongly affirms the need for cultural assimilation. In short what this form of Australian multiculturalism does is to introduce notions of assimilationisim by the back door; and for this reason needs one to beware of the Emperor’s new clothes’!

However, social integration too is in need of refinement because it fails to take account of the pluralistic nature of contemporary society. Ethnic minority groups are now more complex due to social and demographic transformations in such factors as extensive interethnic marriage and the presence of second and third generations of ethnic origins. Ethnicity itself has become more fluid; for example, the second and third generations of ethnic origin are more likely to express a ‘symbolic ethnicity’, such as a nostalgia for their parents’ homeland rather than a desire for cultural maintenance. Ethnic identity is clearly not a reified fixed identity but one of ‘mixed’ identities operating in the political domain. This again, underscores the need for diverse plural democratic societies to have a common understanding and acceptance of the political dimension of a nation. This is fundamental to any sense of social solidarity, identity, and integration. In a pluralistic society, integration is  based on the unifying commonalities of the political nation, stemming from a common citizenship, rather than a cultural nation based on elusive shared values.

The Australian multiculturalism that evolved from Whitlam and Fraser through to Hawke and Keating, has been critical in the absorption of several waves of migrant settlers in the post World War II period. This model of multiculturalism has survived without any disruption of social solidarity for over three decades. The experience of settler societies like Canada and Australia clearly demonstrates that liberal political theorizing is able to accommodate diversity and pluralism in the polity without recourse to notions of assimilation of an earlier era. It is a mistaken belief that ‘assimilation’ – explicit or hidden – is a prerequisite for integration and maintaining social solidarity in a diverse and plural society.

The validity of this proposition can be tested by considering the attempts of some social theorists to account for the recent youth unrest in France. Like John Howard’s approach, in France too one of the main explanations of the social turmoil was that it was caused mostly by failure of young adults to integrate. Accordingly it was suggested that the ethnic and religious tensions on the French housing estates were exacerbated by the collapse in the processes of assimilation or ‘cultural integration’. On the contrary, there was conflicting evidence showing that these young settlers were quite adept in quickly absorbing the culture of the mainstream bourgeois youth of Paris. In this light, the French sociologist, Denis Duclos, in a perceptive piece on the state of the housing estates observes that ‘culture, especially in hard times, is not a top down process but may rise, phoenix like, from suffering’ (Le Monde Diplomatique Aug. 2006).

And, importantly, he goes on to argue that a genuine integration policy can succeed, among other considerations, only if there is ‘a radical shift in attitude and [a willingness to] discard any paternalism or unconscious denigration [and] acknowledging that the Other has a right to his or her place in a more unified world’. We need therefore, to reclaim the notion of a ‘pluralistic integration’ along the lines advocated by a former British Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins in the 1970s, as, ‘equal opportunity accompanied by cultural diversity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance’. Basically this is primarily a question of a liberal  citizenship guaranteeing full and   equal membership in the political community.

Therefore the challenge of pluralism, arising form diversity, is to discard the outmoded  identity politics of a culturalist multiculturalism  and acknowledging that ‘when a society is socially differentiated, then citizenship must be equally so’ (Phillips 1996). This quest for a ‘visible statement of separation and difference’, according to a Muslim leader in Britain, requires ‘a definition of an integrated society, not as assimilation in France’( quoted in Le Monde Diplomatique Nov 2006).but  as a model  of a multiculturalism incorporating ‘equality plus engagement; the very principles (civic values, fairness, equality and equitable participation) articulated in the  recently adopted  Charter on Multiculturalism of the WA Government

This Charter enshrines a radical view of a liberal citizenship which, while being firmly anchored to citizens/duties and equality, is not blind to particularity and difference. Citizenship, in this sense, has a bearing on the political nation, rather than the cultural nation,(advocated by proponents of shared values, such as John Howard) and acts as a powerful integrating factor. Accordingly, social solidarity, normally associated with culturally homogeneous societies, may equally be found in multicultural societies committed to a liberal multiculturalism . The  civic solidarity in a well ordered society with a common political culture. Derives from  the civic virtues in the public and political culture linked to a radical view of citizenship that serve to integrate and contribute to nation building.

L. Jayasuriya (1999) ‘Social Cohesion, Conflict, and National Identity’’, in L. Jayasuriya Immigration and Multiculturalism in Australia. School of Social Work and Social Administration, University of WA, Perth

L. Jayasuriya (2005) ‘Australian multiculturalism and politics of a new pluralism’. Dialogue 24 (1).

A. Phillip 91996) ‘Dealing with Difference: A Politics of Ideas or a Politics of Presence?’ In S. Benhabib (ed.), Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political. Princeton University Press.