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Multiculturalism without Culture

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Anne Phillips|
Princeton University Press (11 July 2007)

Public opinion in recent years has soured on multiculturalism, due in large part to fears of radical Islam. In Multiculturalism without Culture, Anne Phillips contends that critics misrepresent culture as the explanation of everything individuals from minority and non-Western groups do. She puts forward a defence of multiculturalism that dispenses with notions of culture, instead placing individuals themselves at its core.

Multiculturalism has been blamed for encouraging the oppression of women--forced marriages, female genital cutting, school girls wearing the hijab. Many critics opportunistically deploy gender equality to justify the retreat from multiculturalism, hijacking the equality agenda to perpetuate cultural stereotypes. Phillips informs her argument with the feminist insistence on recognizing women as agents, and defends her position using an unusually broad range of literature, including political theory, philosophy, feminist theory, law, and anthropology. She argues that critics and proponents alike exaggerate the unity, distinctness, and intractability of cultures, thereby encouraging a perception of men and women as dupes constrained by cultural dictates.

Opponents of multiculturalism may think the argument against accommodating cultural difference is over and won, but they are wrong. Phillips believes multiculturalism still has an important role to play in achieving greater social equality. In this book, she offers a new way of addressing dilemmas of justice and equality in multiethnic, multicultural societies, intervening at this critical moment when so many Western countries are poised to abandon multiculturalism.

Anne Phillips is professor of political and gender theory at LSE. She is the author of The Politics of Presence and Which Equalities Matter?


'Much of the debate about the politics of diversity both within and between nations starts with an exaggerated view of the extent of cultural difference. In this sane and intelligent book, Anne Phillips offers a more realistic--and a more helpful--picture of the scale and significance of our disagreements.'
Kwame Anthony Appiah, Princeton University

'Anne Phillips shows how to forge a much-needed politics that combines the goal of gender equality with that of multicultural equality. She does this by avoiding a conception of culture that is static and monolithic. Phillips assumes crucially that minority cultural values are contextually variable and that minority group members are free moral agents, not cultural puppets. Her approach will elevate the dialogue over gender and culture to a creative new plateau of insight and understanding.'
Marilyn Friedman, Washington University

'Meticulously researched, pristinely crafted, intelligently and generously argued, Multiculturalism without Culture is the finest presentation yet of liberal democratic bafflement over culture and culturalism. One need not concur with Phillips's conclusions to reap illumination from this marvelous volume and to be buoyed by its renewal of a relentlessly antiracist and feminist democratic politics."--Wendy Brown, author of Regulating Aversion: tolerance in the age of identity and empire

'Multiculturalism without Culture is an important intervention into the debate on cultural difference and social policy. Anne Phillips does a great job of bringing together legal materials, philosophy, political theory, and legal theory to offer a new and nuanced normative theory for social justice in multicultural societies. Phillips believes culture is something more important than a lifestyle choice, but something less preordained than DNA. She zeroes in on a new problem and offers new solutions.'
Richard T Ford, author of Racial Culture

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