2015: Volume 8, Issue 2, pp. 25-47
Multicultural Media in a Post-Multicultural Canada?
University of Waterloo, Canada
This paper addresses the post-multicultural challenges that confront the integrative logic of Canada’s multicultural media. Multicultural (or ethnic) media once complemented the integrative agenda of Canada’s official multiculturalism, but the drift toward a post-multicultural Canada points to the possibility of a post-multicultural media that capitalizes on the positive aspects of multicultural media. The argument is predicated on the following assumption: an evolving context that no longer is multicultural but increasingly transnational, multiversal, and post-ethnic exposes the shortcomings of a multicultural media when applied to the lived-realities of those who resent being boxed into ethnic silos that gloss over multiple connections and multidimensional crossings. According to this line of argument, both diversity governance and ethnic media must reinvent themselves along more post-multicultural lines to better engage the transnational challenges and multiversal demands of a post-multicultural turn. Time will tell if a post-multicultural media can incorporate the strengths of a multicultural media, yet move positively forward in capturing the nuances of complex diversities and diverse complexities. Evidence would suggest “yes”, and that a post-multicultural media may well represent an ideal that reflects and reinforces the new integrative realities of a post-ethnic Canada.
Keywords: Inclusivity; Integrative Governance; Multiversal; Multicultural Media; Post-Ethnic; Post-Multiculturalism; Post-Multicultural Media
Cet article aborde les défis du post-multiculturalisme se posant face à la logique intégrative des médias multiculturels du Canada. Autrefois, multiculturelles (ou ethniques) les médias complétaient l’ordre intégratif du multiculturalisme officiel au Canada, mais la dérive vers un Canada post-multiculturel nous dirige vers la possibilité d’un média post-multiculturel capitalisant sur les aspects positifs de médias multiculturels. L’argument de cet article repose sur l’hypothèse suivante: l’évolution du contexte qui n’est plus multiculturel, mais de plus en plus transnational, multiversel, et post-ethnique, expose les insuffisances d’un média multiculturel lorsqu’il est appliqué aux réalités vécues par ceux qui sont indignés d’être coincés dans des silos ethniques survolant plusieurs connexions et passages multidimensionnelles. Selon cet argument, à la fois la gouvernance de la diversité et les médias ethniques doivent se réinventer de manières plus multiculturelle afin de pour mieux engager les défis transnationaux ainsi que les demandes multiverselles présent dans le virage post-multiculturel. Le temps nous dira si un média post-multiculturelle pourra intégrer les atouts d’un média multiculturel, tout en arrivant, de façon positive, à capturer les nuances complexe de la diversité et des diverses complexités. Les preuves suggère que “oui”, et que les médias post-multiculturelle pourrait bien représenter un idéal qui reflète et renforce de nouvelles réalités d’intégration d’un Canada post-ethnique.
Mots-clés: Gouvernance intégrative; Inclusivité; Média post-multicultural; Médias multiculturelle; Multiversal; Post-ethnique; Post-multiculturalisme
Introduction: An Idea Whose Time Has Come
Canada is routinely defined as a principled multicultural society with a robust multicultural media sector of print, broadcast, and digital platforms. But Canada is rapidly evolving into a post-multicultural society of hyperdiversities, post-ethnic identities, multiversal realities, accelerated transmigrant linkages, and transnational affiliations. Such a transformational change raises the spectre of whether the multicultural media accompanying an official multiculturalism can cope with the new integrative challenges of a post-ethnic Canada. In the same way multicultural media worked in tandem with Canada’s official multiculturalism, post-multicultural media may better complement the changing and diverse demographics of Canadian society. This post-multicultural turn in engaging a diversity of diversities raises several key questions: what are multicultural (“ethnic”) media to do in a post-multicultural (post-ethnic) world of complex diversities? How relevant are multicultural media as instruments of information and integration in a post-ethnic world of diverse complexities? Does reference to a post-multicultural media establish a better lens for conceptualizing the challenges of a lived-integration within a post-ethnic Canada? Or do references to post-multiculturalism and post-multicultural media simply add another layer of complexity that disrupts rather than enlightens the prospect of living together with/in/through complex diversities (Fleras, 2015)?
This paper offers a positive assessment of the possibilities in store, yet contends that the principles and practices of Canada’s multicultural mediascape must reinvent themselves if they intend to flourish in a post-ethnic Canada. Or in the wording of one survey respondent in Lindgren’s (2013, May 28) online article, “As the current generation ages and dies, there will be less need for ethnic media as the new generations integrate more with the Canadian economy”. The paper is predicated on the assumption that the integrative realities of a hyperdiverse and transmigrant demographic will likely differ from those whose realities are informed by a bounded multiculturalism, European-style immigration patterns (a linear movement from point “a” to “b”), lived-ethnic communities, and ethnicity-infused lives and life-chances. A new analytic framework is proposed that advances the realities and complexities of a “reimagined integration” involving a complex interplay of homeland identity and ethnic roots with a negotiated Canadianness (Hiebert, 2015, August 19). The paper begins by analyzing official multiculturalism as an inclusive governance and principled framework for integrating diversity. A brief discussion of multicultural media follows next, and in the process demonstrates how the logic behind Canada’s multicultural media dovetails with Canada’s integrative multiculturalism. However, an emergent post-multicultural turn exposes the shortcomings of official multiculturalism as a one-size-fits-all governance model, which is at odds with an increasingly hyperdiverse, transmigrant, and post-ethnic Canada. The possibility and promise of a post-multicultural media is promoted instead; one that de-essentializes ethnicity by acknowledging the centrality of hybridity, translocality, and multiversality as a platform for content and connection. The paper concludes on a positive note: in a multiversal world of multiple attachments and splintered belongings, a post-multicultural (“post-ethnic”) media must build on—yet move positively beyond—multicultural (“ethnic”) media in addressing the complexities in a lived-integrative world of diverse-diversities.
Multiculturalism as Integrative Governance
Canada’s multicultural governance model originated in the hope of removing those exclusive notions of belonging and identity that relegated minorities and migrants to second class status. Introduction of a multicultural governance model was premised on an integration promise (Berry, 2014). Members of diverse ethnocultural groups would coexist with each other through a process of national integration—a kind of unity within diversity framework paralleled at the global level by the United Nations, where each nation-state member possesses a separate and distinctive seat at the table, yet everyone must abide by common rules (Ang, 2011). A mosaic metaphor informed the logic behind this “multi-cul-de-sac” model of multiculturalism (Mistry, 1995), with its attendant notion that (a) ethnic group membership defined individual identity; (b) every person was affiliated with an ethnocultural tradition, either by birth or by choice; (c) a commitment to protect and enhance ethnocultures as a path to integration; and (d) adherence to the tolerance principle of agreeing to disagree in securing an interethnic coexistence. Diversity was tolerated and respected, although acceptance came with “strings” attached, that is, central authorities monopolized the right to define what counts as differences, what differences count. Admittedly, fears of extremism or separation/isolation in the post-9/11 era have tightened the reins of a mosaic multiculturalism. The growing securitization of society alongside the militarization of its borders has reinforced the primacy of a bounded and managed multiculturalism for securing social cohesion and loyal citizenship (Ang, 2010). Despite these blowbacks in disciplining diversity along neo-assimilationist lines, there remains widespread agreement (at least in Canada) that the introduction of an official multiculturalism established a more inclusive and democratic governance model over what previously prevailed (Kymlicka, 2012).
Canada’s Official Multiculturalism
Canada’s official multiculturalism provides the quintessential governance model for integrating diversity without losing control of the agenda (Griffith, 2015; Jedwab, 2014; Rodríguez -García, 2012). Widely touted as the world’s most successful diversity management paradigm, an official multiculturalism is predicated on the seemingly counterintuitive principle that confidence in one’s identity facilitates integration (“a 2-way adjustment”) and inclusion (“non-exclusion”) provided, of course, an overarching framework is in place (Fleras, 2009; Heath, 2014, March 24). Shifts in emphasis, notwithstanding—ranging in focus from ethnicity to equity to civic to integrative (Fleras, 2012)—an official multiculturalism has never wavered from its central mission: to construct an inclusive Canada by facilitating the integration of migrants and minorities into the existing system. Three governance objectives prevail:
foster migrant integration/minority involvement through removal of discriminatory prejudices at individual and institutional levels;
promote a cohesive Canada without trampling on diversities in the process; and
advance a Canada-building by emphasizing commonalities and shared values such as liberal-universalism.
Canada’s multicultural model of diversity management endorses a commitment to an inclusive1 and integrated society. As an aspirational commitment, it focuses on forging a cohesive unity, primarily by (a) fostering intercultural/interfaith understanding through dialogue and interaction; (b) promoting shared values and civic pride in Canadian history and society; (c) encouraging a climate of acceptance for diversity; (d) respecting core democratic values and common citizenship; (e) supporting the creation of institutional responses to the needs of Canada’s diverse population; and (f) advancing equal opportunities for all Canadians through removal of discriminatory barriers (Biles, 2014; Hansen, 2014; Jedwab, 2014). An inclusive multiculturalism model also acknowledges the right of newcomers to become Canadian at their own pace provided, of course, they comply with the law of the land, respect people’s individual rights, subscribe to core constitutional values such as gender equality, and use their ethnicity as a basis for belonging and identifying with Canada. Finally, a multicultural commitment to remove prejudicial discrimination provides a reminder that an official multiculturalism is as much about modifying the mainstream (in terms of moving over and making public space) as about motivating the minority “other” to become Canadian.
Of course, no one is suggesting that an integrative multiculturalism is beyond reproach or above politics (Chazan et al., 2011). To the contrary, a commitment to integrate newcomers—by respecting differences, reflecting diversity, removing prejudice and discrimination, and creating more responsive institutions—may be interpreted as hegemonic (“control through consent”) in consequence, if not in intent. As might be expected of any state program in defence of dominant ideology, a managed multiculturalism neither extols power-sharing nor tolerates disruptions to the prevailing distribution of power or privilege (Fleras, 2014a). A “seeing-like-a-state” multiculturalism as a centrally planned social engineering project is directed at imposing order on those aspects of society deemed to be in need of regulation by simplifying the control of complex phenomena under a singular solution (Scott, 1999). Emphasis is also focused on advancing the commonality principle of liberal universalism, that is, our commonalities as morally autonomous individuals outweigh our group based differences for purposes of recognition and reward. Reference to multiculturalism as hegemony reinforces what many critics have long confirmed: Canada’s state multiculturalism constitutes a political act to achieve political goals in a politically expedient manner (e.g., Clarke, 2009; Peter, 1978).
Multicultural Media in a Multicultural Canada
The vibrancy of Canada’s multicultural mediascape is both acknowledged yet disputed (Huston, 2012; Lindgren, 2013, May 28; Melanson, 2015, August 12; Murray, 2009). In general, Canada’s multicultural media (also known as ethnic media, immigrant media, diasporic media, Aboriginal media, and third language media) embody the integrative logic behind an official multiculturalism, namely, to create an inclusive Canada by integrating migrants and minorities into the mainstream. Both multicultural media and the policy of multiculturalism commit to the principle of integration as a two-way process of mutual adjustment, in which all parties adjust and adapt, and vice versa. In light of their status as media by, for, and about migrants and minorities, multicultural media provide content that addresses the information needs of local and diasporic communities in a language they can relate to and in a culturally familiar idiom (Karim, 2012; Saras, 2012). For example:
Hundreds of ethnic newspapers publish on a daily, weekly, or monthly cycle, including some that are increasingly sophisticated in operation and quite capable of competing with the mainstream press (Huston, 2012; Lindgren, 2013, May 28). For instance, in the lead-up to the 2015 federal election, 13 ethnic papers existed in the five federal ridings encompassing Surrey, British Columbia, while ten ethnic papers flourished in the five ridings that comprise Brampton, Ontario. (Levitz, 2015, October 7). But things are not looking good for some longtime publications that ceased publications, including Canadian Jewish News and Corriere Canadese, as newer generations disengage from a traditional ethnicity and increasingly identify—as hyphens or hybrid—with “Canadianness” (e.g., Dominion Institute, 2007). And, like mainstream news media, ethnic media confront the same challenges: declining readership, shrinking advertising revenues, and competition from online media, which in effect, put pressure to reinvent themselves (Keung, 2013, May 18).
The number of licensed ethnic radio and television services has expanded as well, thereby strengthening immigrants’ sense of belonging with community-based programming often in their native language. Ethnic radio programming is present in most Canadian cities, ranging in scope from time slots at mainstream stations to ethnic radio stations in third languages. In contrast to the ethnic print media that are relatively free to roam as they please, however, ethnic broadcasting is a tightly micromanaged operation on grounds that the airwaves belong to the public and must serve public interests (Agrell, 2010, November 18).
Foreign based programs are also available, either through specialty cable channels or satellite television, thus reinforcing how multicultural media quickly adapt to new communication technologies for accessing often small and frequently scattered audiences (Karim, 2003). For example, a direct-to-consumer Internet television service called NexTV was established in 2008, carrying 150 channels for 12 different communities, including channels not even available on Canadian television (e.g., the Kontinental Hockey League of Russia), and beamed directly into customer’s homes without having to worry about bandwidth constraints or CRTC regulatory requirements (Agrell, 2010, November 18).
The emergence of the Internet as a viable media option and communication tool for Aboriginal peoples, as well as immigrant, racial, and ethnocultural groups should not be underestimated. Digital media and online technologies have given rise to de-territorialized platforms and translocal practices such as social networking that profoundly impact the identities and sense of belonging among dispersed subjects (Roth, 2014).
How do we account for the popularity of multicultural media? Consider how then Prime Minister Stephen Harper not only appointed multicultural news media as “the new mainstream media”, but also courted multicultural media with particular zeal, often working around the Ottawa press gallery through exclusive interviews and special briefings to journalists from multicultural media outlets (Lindgren, 2014).2 For migrants and minorities, the popularity of multicultural media is differently sourced. Multicultural media constitute spaces where community members can communicate interests, make claims, mobilize identities, and make sense of the world around them away from the constraints of mainstream media (Georgiou, 2014). They target a specific racialized, ethnic, or immigrant minority by providing information both community-based and culturally-sensitive as well as communication-responsive and situationally located within a transnational field of informational flows (Johansson & Battiston, 2014; Matsaganis, Katz & Bell-Rokeach, 2010). Multicultural media also constitute an information source about the homeland that taps into an immigrant’s longing for the “over there” as a precondition for fitting into the “in here” (Lin & Song, 2006). People pay attention to media that pay attention to them by offering “news they can use”, and this dedication to community service anchors the credibility and legitimacy of multicultural media.
In short, multicultural media as social capital are simultaneously reactive and proactive as well as outward and inward in function, structure, and process (Fleras, 2010). On the reactive side, multicultural media challenge the representational bias of mainstream media. Ethnic and racialized minorities resent their exclusion from the mainstream media as much as they dislike media distortions of their experiences and aspirations (Fleras & Kunz, 2001; Husband, 2005). Multicultural media produce positive images and alternative narratives consistent with the lived realities of migrants and minorities, in the process securing a respite from the constant barrage of stereotyping, miniaturizing, and omissions. Against this backdrop of negativity and the problematic, multicultural media proactively strive to celebrate minority successes, accomplishments, and aspirations deemed as un-newsworthy by mainstream media. As media by, for, and about migrants and minorities, multicultural media are more accessible than mainstream outlets for publicizing free services or fundraising events; a range of information about upcoming events and visits from overseas dignitaries; in depth stories about their communities; tip sheets for maneuvering one’s way through government bureaucracies and service agencies; advice on how to book a vacation or find legal representation; or a window to catch up on the latest cricket matches or rugby scores (Silverstone & Georgiou, 2005).
Multicultural media also play both an outward- and inward- looking role. Outwardly, multicultural media supply information of relevance and immediacy to the intended demographic, including how to navigate the labyrinth of a strange—and sometimes unsympathetic—new world. They offer local news of direct and immediate relevance to local communities, thereby serving as a vehicle with the potential to mobilize residents to act upon injustices perpetuated by the mainstream structures and biases (Lin & Song, 2006). This building of bridges with the outside world also establishes a window of opportunity for mainstream audiences to tap into the lived realities (from concerns to aspirations) of migrants and minorities. Inwardly, multicultural media serve as a marker of identity formation by reporting news of relevance to the community through a perspective and tone that resonates meaningfully for its members. Focusing on homeland news or events in the immigrants’ native language strengthens identities, heritage, and culture, especially since mainstream media tend to ignore minority issues or problematize them. The process of settling down, fitting in, and moving up is further bolstered when multicultural media provide the missing social and cultural context for understanding the complexities and challenges that confront newcomers’ social realities in a Canada not nearly as accommodative as it aspires to be.
Clearly, then, multicultural media constitute an expression of social capital in community building (bonding) and Canada building (bridging). In the process of fostering cultural maintenance and ethnic cohesion while assisting community members to integrate into Canada, multicultural media offer an alternative to mainstream media, although they would rarely qualify as “alternative media” because of their integrative rather than transformative logic (Karim, 2012). Communities are equipped with a voice to articulate their concerns and accomplishments to the wider public (affirmative), while a counterweight is forged that offsets the pro-whiteness of mainstream media (defensive). Multiculturalism has also proved to be a resilient accomplice in advancing the concept of a cohesive and inclusive Canada through the integration of migrants and minorities as full, equal, and participating members. The multidimensionality of multicultural media (bonding/bridging, affirmation/defensive) can be classified and analyzed along a reactive-proactive and outward-inward axis. The intersection of these continua at right angles to each other establishes an ideal-typical four cell table that reveals the complexities of multicultural media as social capital that construct buffers (inward+reactive), create bonds (inward+proactive), remove barriers (outward+reactive), and build bridges (outward+proactive) (Fleras, 2010).
Table 1: The Multidimensionality of Multicultural Media
INWARD FOCUS (bonding)
- Reaction to mainstream media negativity by offering a minority perspective
- Foster community pride/cohesion by celebrating positive achievements + homeland news
OUTWARD FOCUS (bridging)
- Counteract social injustices by promoting positive social change by levelling the playing field
- Forging civic participation for societal integration
The world at present is an untidy and unruly place. Societies are no longer the ordered jurisdictions of centralized planning and social engineering that many imagined them to be or what they themselves aspired to (Scott, 1998). To the contrary, they are complex and contested domains of identities, perspectives, and sites of actions, including multiple universes within universes (“multiverses”) that transcend borders and collapse notions of space into a kind of timeless immediacy (Latham, 2010). Not surprisingly, the governance challenge of managing diversity is fundamentally different at present than in the past because of the multi-layered complexities at play. Or to phrase it a bit differently, it is one thing to integrate diversity as a basis for living together differently under a bounded multiculturalism; it is quite another to engage with diverse-diversities in advancing a post-integrative model for a cooperative coexistence (Fleras, 2015). Systems and relations—once separate—are now interconnected and interdependent because of digital technologies, in the process rendering them more complex by definition, while making it more difficult to manage the unpredictable, control the surprising, and predict the unexpected (Sargut & McGrath, 2011). Policy responses to these governance channels have proven slow to materialize and is consequential: Ulrich Beck writes of the dangers that await those foolish enough to pour new diversity wine into old governance skins:
[O]ver the last decades the cultural, social, and political landscapes of diversity are changing radically, but we still use old maps to orient ourselves. In other words, my main thesis is: we do not even have the language through which contemporary superdiversity in the world can be described, conceptualized, understood, explained, and researched.
(Beck, 2011: 53, emphasis in original)
A multicultural approach to integrating diversity may have once symbolized a positive step forward in (a) incorporating historically marginalized migrants and newcomers as equals into the existing framework; (b) promoting the concept of respecting differences as grounds for good governance; (c) encouraging full and equal participation to foster social cohesion; (d) acknowledging the importance of accommodative institutions to ensure no one was excluded for reasons beyond their control; (e) securing the tolerance principle of agreeing to disagree in advancing a cooperative coexistence; and (f) capitalizing on the ethos of a specific historic period—namely, equality, respect, inclusion, integration, and unity in hopes of superimposing a shared “we” morality to displace a “them other” mentality (Hrushetska, 2013, March 28; Kymlicka, 2010). However, this commitment to integration under an official multiculturalism also has a downside (Chazan et al., 2011). For all its virtues and strengths, an official multiculturalism remains foundationally anchored in the constitutional order of a monocultural state that upholds a white Eurocentricity as the unmarked norm, a tacitly assumed standard for judging others, and an ideology in deference to a dominant ideology (Pinder, 2010). Moves to manage diversities under the banner of a one-size-fits-all integration creates a multiculturalism that tends to paper over differences, while reinforcing a racialized hierarchy that consolidates a Eurocentric whiteness at expense of the “other” (Latham, 2007/2008). Alternatively, a state multiculturalism may accentuate the diversity principle, albeit for purposes of divide and rule, yet backpedal on putting this principle into meaningful practice. The end result is the ascent of rigid identity politics in which aggrieved groups proclaim their specialness or victimhood by setting themselves apart from others in the competition for recognition and resources (Hrushetska, 2013, March 28).
The crisis informing an official multiculturalism also reflects developments largely beyond Canada’s control. Of particular note are patterns of transmigration and transnationalism that entail the unprecedented and diverse movement of people on a global scale (Castles, deHass & Miller, 2013; Fleras, 2014b). In a globalized world where 235 million people living outside their homeland and where technology transforms borders into paper-thin membranes, many are questioning the viability of a managed multiculturalism in a freewheeling yet networked global world of transbounded ties, transmigratory movements, transnational connections, and translocal identities (Adams, Macklin & Omidvar, 2014, May 21; Walton-Roberts, 2011). Too much of an official multiculturalism appears to be anchored in a dated view of ethnicity as essentialistic, bounded, and deterministic; immigration as a one-way linearity that severs all previous links; and identities as singular, static, and predictable. But a categorical multicultural inclusion that essentialized ethnocultures by reifying ethnic groups into hermetically sealed silos (either by intent or inadvertently) is cracking under the pressure of cramming new realities into old frameworks. Compounding the crisis is a proliferating hyperdiversity in those major urban regions whose “liquid” complexities supersede the conventional language of mosaic metaphors (Habacan, 2007, August). Canada’s urban centres are outgrowing both the “we-treat-everyone-the-same” model of multiculturalism and the language once used to describe a cookie-cutter approach to ethnocultural integration (Habacan, 2007, August; Sandercock, 2003; 2006). The challenge of differently integrating the more fluid and fragmented kaleidoscope of diversities-within-diversities in a multicultural Canada more attuned to emphasizing commonalities rather than differences is captured by Faisal Bhabha:
Controversies surrounding multiculturalism are neither unique to Canada nor new. However, the recent prominence, and growing hyper-consciousness of culture in the public realm, reveals the profound underlying social cleavages of our modern, multi-ethnic society. Members of minority cultures are increasingly demanding not only equality and non-discrimination when integrating into the dominant culture but also that their collective identity be made a matter of public importance and accommodation. Claims can be complex and confusing; distinctions between groups and individuals are often muddled. For instance, during the now infamous sharia controversy in Ontario, the most acute debate raged between different factions of the same minority community [namely “devout” Muslims vs. “silent majority” of moderate Muslims].
(Bhabha, 2009: 48)
In short, responses under a one-size-fits-all multiculturalism are now holding it back from addressing new governance challenges, largely because of the generality of the commitments to which it owes its existence (Hollinger, 2006). The integrative commitments that once flourished under a multicultural governance no longer resonate with meaning or legitimacy in a world of complex diversities and diverse complexities (Kymlicka, 2010). Doug Saunders writes of how second generation young Canadians dismiss an official multiculturalism as a demeaning and obsolete straightjacket when ethnicity is deployed to define personality:
This is the post-immigrant shift: For the first generation, multiculturalism was a way to feel part of the national whole; for the second, it often feels like a barrier to such inclusion. For this new comfortably inclusive Canada, we need a new vocabulary: More “multi”, less “culturalism”.
(Saunders, 2013, January 26, emphasis added)
Let us rephrase the hyperdiversity challenge differently: how relevant is a bounded and managed multiculturalism as a national governance framework (physically circumscribed, culturally specific, and spatially exclusive national identity) in a relatively unbounded and an increasingly uncontrollable world of transmigratory movements, translocal linkages, hyperdiverse identities, cosmopolitan yearnings, and deterritorialized belongings (Carruthers, 2013; Walton-Roberts, 2011)? Does it still make sense to talk about an integrative multiculturalism as a place-based governance model for integrating diversity when migrant notions of identity and belonging transcend a single national space to connect inter-spatially? It is time to move on to the next phase—post-multiculturalism—given how the limitations of a managed multiculturalism are increasingly transparent in attending to new challenges and novel complexities (Heath, 2014, March 24; Tunis 2010, October). A newer “post-ethnic” (“post-multicultural”) governance model of integration is proposed and is at odds with conventional notions of bounded ethnicities, group rights, deterministic communities of descent, essentializing cultures, and fixed identities (Fleras, 2015).
Towards a Post-Multicultural Turn
To say we live in provocative and perplexing times is (to borrow a phrase) a cliché of understated proportions. The spread, speed, and scale of peoples’ movement and the diversification of mobility on an unprecedented global scope elevates the management of complex diversities into a key 21st century challenge (Blommaert, 2015; Boccagni, 2015; Castles, deHaas & Miller, 2013; Rodríguez-García, 2012). The border-bleeding dynamics of transmigration and transnationalism are unsettling conventional notions of governance pertaining to national identity and societal unity. The crossing and connections of diasporic and transmigrant dynamics are prone to: (a) blur a defense of territorial boundaries; (b) encourage cross-border movements of migrants in search of safety or success; (c) undermine regimes of multicultural governance; (d) transform public space into a contested site; (e) coax identities away from a strict national focus; and (f) complicate the search for governance models that balance a respect for diversities without reneging on a sense of community, consensus, and commitment (Ang, 2010; Birt, 2007, May 25; Winter, 2014, January 16). Newcomers identify with multiple identities across national borders as they settle into their new homeland; they construct diasporic communities that offer solidarity, support, information, and identity; and they participate across multiple universes (“multiverses”) without necessarily dissolving attachment to the territorially defined sentiments of the host country (Pieterse, 2010). The interplay of these dynamics raises a rash of governance dilemmas around formulating a national framework that encompasses civic participation and meaningful belonging against the backdrop of splintered loyalties, multiple identities, and fragmented affiliations.
Put bluntly: more complex governance responses are required to address the “multiversal” challenge of different ways of accommodating a diversity-of-diversities. The hyperdiverse dynamics of a diversifying Canada no longer fit into metaphorical equivalent of a “multi-cul-de-sac” multiculturalism with its concomitant notions of a sticky mosaic of ethnocultures within the territorially bounded framework of a modern nation-state (Beck, 2011). Societies such as Canada are no longer simply diverse societies, despite a tendency for decision-makers to fixate on ethnicity as predetermined groups of predictable behaviours and uniform identities (Cherti & McNeil, 2012). More accurately, societies are “diversifyingly” complex and complexly diverse, and collectively this kaleidoscopic hyperdiversity exerts pressure for a new interpretive lens for understanding what is going on (Latham, 2010). Thus, cue post-multiculturalism, although there is no consensus regarding its meaning, status, or worth (Gozdecka, Ercan & Kmak, 2014; Kymlicka, 2010; Mansouri & Muraka, 2014; Pakulski, 2014). Part of the problem is whether the prefix “post” refers to a retreat from or rejection of the past? A “hybridic” synthesis of competing perspectives (past + present)? Or sequential advance that moves beyond the past—from pre to post—without necessarily abdicating it? No less problematic is the prospect of determining whether the prefix refers to something that already happened, is already happening, or should be happening if people had their way. Applied to this paper, the post in post-multiculturalism entails a sense of “engaging constructively” with multiculturalism rather than disassociating from it (Fleras & Spoonley, 1999). A post-multiculturalism is not the same as anti-multiculturalism; rather an ideological “turn” is proposed that utilizes the achievements of multiculturalism in search for new possibilities (e.g., Crouch, 2004). David Ley writes to this effect:
[A] post-multiculturalism is not a rejection of multiculturalism as much as it is a recognition that renewed energies are needed to create a global understanding of diversity across multiple contexts and locales that can be an asset, and not simply a set of problems in need of better judgement.
(Ley, 2005: 15)
A commitment to post-multiculturalism acknowledges the increasingly obvious: Canada is more than a multicultural social formation. Canada is increasingly a multiversal world of diverse diversities aligned along the cross-cutting and multidimensional lines of multiracial, multiclass, multigendered, multisexual, multilingual, multireligious, multigenerational, multihistorical, and multicitizenships that link together people’s place of settlement with their country of origin and membership in a co-dispersed community (Latham, 2010; Schiller & Caglar, 2013). According to Robert Latham (2007/2008), the word “multiverse” conveys the idea of multiple social universes, with a corresponding set of diverse perspectives, tacitly assumed premises, and lived realities. Differences in a multiverse do not just exist in one universe; more to the point, they prevail within and across many overlapping and intersecting multi-universes, resulting in a proliferation of fissions, fissures,and fusions. Fissions within migrant and minority communities are increasingly compounded by those intersecting axes of differentiation, distinction, and demands related to legal status, degrees of attachment and residence, religion, gender age, nationality, class, and so on (Vertovec, 2007). Fissures within migrant and minority communities reflect social cleavages, both temporary and permanent, due to internal politics, conflicting agendas, and variable socioeconomic statuses. And fusions:thanks in part to Canada’s vibrant immigration program, Canadian cities now exhibit the dynamics of hybridity, concludes Daniel Hiebert, a co-director of Vancouver’s Metropolis Project (New Canadians are . . ., 2011, March 5), namely, a robust hybrid of cultures, religions, homeland linkages, and sexual orientations as people renegotiate their multiple differences in/with/through everyday experiences (Wessendorf, 2014).
Pressure is mounting to create a new game with new rules for belonging in (not just to) society. Emphasis is focused on doing things differently, that is, by contesting and changing the rules that refer to the conventions instead of simply tweaking the conventions that inform the rules. A post-multicultural governance model is proposed that builds on, yet goes beyond, an inclusive multiculturalism, while securing an inclusivity framework for different ways of accommodating this diversified diversity. A post-multiculturalism not only constitutes a new discourse and imaginary for managing complex diversities, but it also possesses the potential to address the diverse complexities of people’s cultural comings and goings beyond fixed boundaries and permanent locales (Carruthers, 2013). A commitment to post-multiculturalism as a principled governance is better suited to address the realities of those (a) whose commitments and connections are transnational; (b) who reject the prospect of being boxed into a homogeneous and essentialized ethnic category preferring, instead, to visualize identity as a cultural web to be negotiated and navigated (Habacan, 2012); (c) whose lived-diversities are fluid, contested, multidimensional, and consistent with the intersecting and overlapping realities of a postmodern world of change, uncertainty, unpredictability, and contradiction (Gallent, 2008); (d) who want arrangements that can differently accommodate the accommodation of diverse diversities; (e) who insist their differences be framed as assets to nurture rather than deficits to control; and (f) who expect to engaged as valued contributors rather than managed as social problems. The following passage is instructive of an emerging post-migrant experience that neither severs ties with the home country nor passively assimilates into the host country, preferring, instead, to flourish in the ambivalence of such hybridity.
My Name is Sophie and I am Canadian. And what does that mean?
According to Canadian census, it means: I am third generation Canadian on my mother’s side and second generation Canadian on my father’s side. My maternal grandparents are Canadian and British. My paternal grandparents are Senegalese. My aunts and uncles come from Canada, Thailand, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast. I am Muslim by birth, my father is Muslim, and my mother is Roman Catholic. Our family celebrates Eid El-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, as well as, Christmas and Easter. I have multiple citizenships: British, Canadian, and Senegalese. I attend French primary and secondary schools and then went to university in English and French. At home I speak English with my mother and French with my father. I don’t remember which language I learned first . . . At the moment . . . I divide my time living between Abbotsford and Dubai, while working for three companies headquartered in Hong Kong, South Africa, and Guatemala. My taxes are paid on the amount of time I spend in each of my residences.
(Gaye, 2011: 2, emphasis in original)
To be sure, neither the liberal universalism (we are all the same) of an inclusive multiculturalism nor the “multiversal particularism” of a nascent post-multiculturalism should be framed as mutually exclusive principles for managing complex diversities or otherwise (de Latour & Balint, 2013). The interplay of their creative tensions should be positioned instead as starting points for re-negotiating a new post-multicultural governance model that embraces a diversity-of-diversities across various accommodation channels without relinquishing shared commonalities and convergent realities. A similar logic applies in re-energizing the relationship between an existing multicultural media and an emergent post-multicultural media.
Imagining Post-Multicultural Media: “My Name is Sophie and I am Canadian”
Is there much point in defending an ethnicity-based multicultural media when clearly Canada is no longer a multicultural society but a multiversally-inspired post-multicultural society? What would a post-multicultural media look like? What are the obstacles that must be surmounted when the seemingly simple diversities of the past give way to social, political, and cultural cleavages that intersect and compete for recognition; are imbricated with distributive demands; and embody a metaphor of simultaneity by way of multiple embeddedness, axis of differentiation, and intersectionality (Schiller & Caglar, 2013)? How should post-multicultural media reinvent themselves to take advantage of changing technology3 and a shifting audience that defines itself as more Canadian and less ethnic (Keung, 2013, May 18)? Admittedly, a critique of ethnicity is not intended to neglect the existence of ethnic communities or to downplay the importance of group identities, although variations in the act of choosing and claiming ethnicity subvert the salience of those binary terms such as mainstream/minority or Canadian/ethnic that continue to circulate (Ali, 2008). Rather, reference to ethnicity or ethnic identities as unstable constructs rejects the primacy of the ethnic group as the exclusive unit of analysis or primary determinant of people’s lives and life-chances (Cherti & McNeil, 2012; Schiller & Caglar, 2013). It also acknowledges the insufficiency of ethnocultural categorizations either as lived-reality or explanatory frameworks.
In short, a post-multicultural turn acknowledges ethnicity as but one component of a multidimensional identity, in contrast to a mosaic multiculturalism model that shackled people around their ethnicity and ancestry—regardless of their importance in formulating a person’s identity (Ang, 2011; Hollinger, 2006). Ethnic consumers were once targeted on the basis of where they came from (and how these origins predetermined their thoughts and actions); however, they are increasingly being marketed to on the basis of who they are now (Harris, 2013, October 25). For example, a 2013 survey by the Association for Canadian Studies (2013, May 7) found that only two percent of immigrants identify exclusively with their origin country, 17 percent as Canadian only, 24 percent as equally Canadian and their country of origin, and 32 percent as Canadian first, country of origin second. Another survey commissioned by the Dominion Institute (2007) found that second generation Canadians expressed a stronger sense of belonging to Canada and self-identification as Canadian than first generation Canadian immigrants or the general population. They were also less likely to say that ethnicity was very important to them (Gallant, 2008), despite the dangers of making such generalizations about this extremely diverse cohort (Boyd, 2008). Yes, ethnicity may inform their complex and dynamic identity across multiple cultural spaces. However, for those Canadians whose ethnicity is not all consuming as a dominant category of differentiation, it should neither define who they are nor tick-box them into an ethnic “multi-cul-de-sac” of strict cultural scripts (Malik, 2012, May 21; Wong, 2007/2008).
The concept of a post-multimultural media follows a similar script. The hyperdiversities associated with transmigration and multiversality puts the onus on post-ethnic media providers to customize content and calibrate delivery around the lived-realities of diverse-diversities (Berns-McGown, 2013, January 15; Blommaert, 2013; Collett & Petrovic, 2014; Vertovec, 2013; Wessendorf, 2014). At minimum, a post-multicultural media must (a) resist tendencies to overethnicize the site of people’s social identities; (b) discard groupist and immutable conceptions of ethnocultural differences; (c) upload ethnocultures as socially constructed and contested; (d) acknowledge the interplay of ethnicity with other devalued identity markers such as gender and class, and (e) address those disadvantages that intersect with other sectors of inequality and exclusion (e.g., Boccagni, 2015). A post-multicultural media must also acknowledge the growing tendency for second generation Canadians to construct new identities at the borders of traditional ethnicity and their lived-realities as racialized Canadians and members of a diasporic community (e.g., Oh, 2012). At best, a post-multicultural media must produce and transmit content that reflects and reinforces the lived-realities of migrants and minorities who thrive on a core post-ethnic principle: do not judge me because of my ethnicity, but never forget where I came from (Scheffer, 2011).
It remains to be seen if a post-multicultural media can commit to engaging Canada’s complex diversities and diverse complexities without abandoning the foundational principles of multicultural media. Just as multicultural media complemented the integrative logic of Canada’s official multiculturalism, so too will a post-multicultural media capitalize on a Canada that is no longer multicultural but hyperdiverse, multiversal, and post-ethnic. A post-multicultural media will continue to embrace the integrative (reactive/proactive, inward/outward) logic of multicultural media in terms of “constructing buffers”, “creating bonds”, “removing barriers”, and “building bridges”. A post-multicultural media will do so by in part constructing inter-ethnic boundaries that bypass the controlling gaze of mainstream media and local experiences as racialized other and by creating intra-ethnic boundaries that deviate from yet draw symbolically upon parental ethnicity to negotiate identity and counter dominant norms (e.g., Gillespie, 1995; Kobayashi, 2008; Oh, 2012). In other words, a multicultural media logic continues to inform a post-multicultural media, only the means and outcomes readjust to reflect the new integration realities of a post-ethnic Canada:
Table 2: The Multidimensionality of Post-Multicultural Media
INWARD FOCUS (bonding)
- From establishing a toehold to reframing dominant and parental narratives for new identities and belongings
- From a multicultural mosaic to a post-multicultural kaleidoscope by fostering intercultural dialogue and intercommunity connections
OUTWARD FOCUS (bridging)
- From “settling down” to “fitting in” and “moving up” in a post- Canada
- Negotiating links between traditional ethnicity and Canadian society
To date, there is no consensus and little in the way of a template for transforming this post-ethnic challenge into post-multicultural practice. The absence of a post-multicultural media model may rankle some, yet others recognize how such open-endedness provides potential for innovative possibilities. Moreover, it would be inaccurate to say that Canadians are cognizant of, committed to, or comfortable with the principle of post-multiculturalism, although it would be equally premature to discard the multicultural baby with the post-multicultural bathwater (Fleras, 2015). But one thing is certain: Ethnically-based multicultural media appear to be increasingly out of touch with the lived-realities of those who resent confinement in an ethnic silo that glosses over their multiplicity, connections, and crossings. They are unlikely to resonate with the everyday experiences of those second generation Canadians who commit to Canada on the basis of a negotiated “Canadianness” (Dominion Institute, 2007). Time will tell if a post-multicultural media can capitalize on the strengths of a multicultural media yet move positively forward in addressing the new integrative nuances of a post-ethnicity Canada.
1 This paper makes a distinction between inclusion and inclusivity as different models of inclusive(ness) or accommodation. Inclusion as integration involves the process of fitting people into the existing system on the assumption that no one should be excluded because of their differences. By contrast, inclusivity as integration entails a process of retrofitting the system to make it fit the needs and demands of diverse individuals—on grounds that everyone should be included precisely because of their differences.
2 Interesting to note that President Obama’s first interviews after his 2009 inauguration went to a Latino talk show host, a representative of the Black Enterprise magazine, and a Washington bureau chief of a Dubai-based Arab language network (Lindgren, 2014).
3 While a multicultural media in the pre-Internet era proved integrative by providing a link between the new and the old homes, both digital and online media undermine the credibility of any print or broadcast based multicultural media for news about back home (Lindgren, 2013, May 28). Even those multicultural media that have moved online are no less flummoxed: they cannot figure out how to generate revenue through Internet editions; competition with mainstream media for coverage of Canadian news is fierce; and local news coverage is proving expensive and time consuming to investigate (e.g., Melanson, 2015, August 12).
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About the Author
Augie Fleras is an Adjunct Professor of sociology at the University of Waterloo. Dr. Fleras has published extensively on the topic of media representations of minorities and diversity, in addition to numerous books and articles on race, ethnic, and Aboriginal relations in Canada and New Zealand; the politics of multiculturalism and immigration; and social inequality.
Citing this paper:
Fleras, Augie. (2015). Multicultural media in a post-multicultural Canada? Rethinking integration. Global Media Journal -- Canadian Edition, 8(2), 25-47.