Composite Culture, Multicultural Society

Updated on Jan 30, 2006 03:52 PM IST

The theme of the 17th World Book Fair is exploring composite culture in a multicultural society. Today, nearly all societies are multi-cultural ? they consist of people of distinct, diverse cultures, holding differing views regarding family, companionship.

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The theme of the 17th World Book Fair is exploring composite culture in a multicultural society.

Today, nearly all societies are multi-cultural – they consist of people of distinct, diverse cultures, holding differing views regarding family, companionship, the good life, values by which to live and die, and so on.

More and more countries are becoming culturally diverse, in part as a result of the globalising world, technological changes, migration etc. To the existing list of long-time multicultural countries such as India, USA, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Belgium, Algeria, China, the Caribbean islands, Mauritius, Malaysia, Fiji, Singapore, Lebanon, are being added Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland, Norway, Australia, Pakistan and large parts of Africa. Tomorrow, the entire world would become multicultural.

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Diversity poses some basic questions on a world scale, challenging social scientists, educationists and political leaders, among others. What is meant by diversity of cultures? How are societies and nations to deal with this diversity? What attitudes do are they to adopt towards it? How are culturally diverse people to live together? What sorts of a nation do the people living in it want, or should want? What is the relationship between a nation and culture? Does cultural identity determine national identity or rather does a nation have to have a single, defined cultural identity? How would a state deal with persons culturally different from the majority? Should the state, for example, have different laws for those having different cultural practices, for example, regarding marriage? Do nations have national values which can be imposed, by the state, on all its citizens? In other words, what should a nation do with its cultural diversity?

Should it follow the assimilation path of ending cultural diversity (i.e. the melting pot model) which is seen by the assimilationists as a threat to national unity and disruption, or, at least, a dilution of national culture? What are the basic assumptions or components of the assimilationist (or acculturist) position? What are its pitfalls? Is it desirable? Is it even workable? Assimilation even when it is not forcible, means moulding people of divergent cultures with a common pre-existing culture, which really means the dominant culture. Would that inevitably involve the use of force, legal or otherwise? And would it not breed discontent among minority cultures and therefore post a threat to national unity? How far can it be said that the assimilationist model has been discredited and finds few takers in today’s world?

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