8.1.2 The Bristol School of Multiculturalism

Arjun Tremblay

Just as the Canadian School of the thought does, the Bristol School of Multiculturalism or “BSM” also views culture as critically important in shaping human existence (Levey, 2018, p. 205). But the BSM is also a response to one of the cornerstones of the Canadian school of thought: Will Kymlicka’s normative theory of liberal egalitarian multiculturalism. Table 8.3 below highlights the seven key differences identified by Varun Uberoi and Tariq Modood (2019) between the BSM and Kymlicka’s liberal egalitarian multiculturalism.

Table 8.3 The Two Schools of Thought Compared

Kymlicka’s Liberal Egalitarian Multiculturalism The Bristol School of Multiculturalism
Inspired by Canadian politics and by political events in Canada Inspired by British politics and by political events in Britain
Discusses three groups: polyethnic minorities, Indigenous peoples, and national minorities Focuses exclusively “on immigrants who become citizens and their descendants” (p. 960)
Individuals are ultimately more important than groups Individuals and groups are equally important
Does not address the issue of religious identities Religion and religious identities are central
Normative analysis based on “existing empirical evidence” (p. 962) Normative analysis combined with “extensive empirical research” (p. 961)
Developing a liberal theory of minority rights is the main focus Exploring national identity and conceptions of belonging is a key focus
Benefits of intercultural dialogue are not given that much importance Benefits of intercultural dialogue are seen to be of central importance

Source: Uberoi, V., & Modood, T. (2019). The emergence of the Bristol School of Multiculturalism. Ethnicities, 19(6), 955-970.

As a result of its focus on immigration and in light of its key differences with liberal egalitarian multiculturalism, the BSM has also developed a distinct set of tenets. Most notably, the BSM views modern states as a “community of communities” and contends that the principles of equality and fairness of treatment should apply not only to individuals but also to communities themselves. Since all groups are meant to be treated equally, the BSM eschews the distinction between majority and minority groups that is a central tenet of the Canadian school of thought. The BSM also views immigrant integration as the bare minimum that a polyethnic multiculturalism policy can achieve. Rather, the BSM’s “master principle … [is] the crucial importance of a sense of belonging in one’s society” (Levey, 2018, p. 209). In brief, the BSM’s version of multiculturalism views immigrants as active contributors to the re-conceptualization of national symbols and national myths.


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