Multiculturalism is a complex and multifaceted concept. In day-to-day conversation, multiculturalism is most often used to describe either a demographic phenomenon – the racial, linguistic and religious diversification of societies – or a particular set of beliefs – that modern societies are better if they are more diverse and heterogeneous. Although scholars sometimes use the word multiculturalism in these two ways, they also use it to describe both a specific set of moral and ethical guidelines for modern societies and governments (i.e., a public philosophy) and a type of public policy.
This chapter provides an introduction to the scholarly use of the word multiculturalism. It begins by exploring multiculturalism as a public philosophy, and, in so doing, it describes multiculturalism’s two main intellectual traditions or what we might call multiculturalism’s two schools of thought. As this chapter will demonstrate, these schools of thought converge on certain key points but also differ in important respects.
The chapter then discusses three different ways in which modern liberal democratic states have deployed multiculturalism as a public philosophy in the design and implementation of diversity-oriented public policies. The chapter’s final section examines multiculturalism’s near and longer-term prospects as both a public policy and a public philosophy. In brief, while it is clear that liberal democracies still need a diversity-oriented public philosophy, it is unclear whether multiculturalism will and should continue to fulfill this role.