Gressgård, Randi (2010) Multicultural Dialogue: Dilemmas, Paradoxes, Conflicts. Oxford: Berghahn Books. 152 pp.

Bidragets oversatte titel: Gressgård, Randi (2010) Multicultural Dialogue: Dilemmas, Paradoxes, Conflicts. Oxford: Berghahn Books. 152 pp.

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftAnmeldelseForskning


This thought-provoking book is beneficial reading for those who are
interested in a deeper understanding of the dynamics of equality
and diversity, related to the division between “us” and the “others”.
The tragic events in Norway on 22 July 2011 involved bombing in
central Oslo and shooting spree at a political youth camp on the
island of Utøya by Anders Breivik– a right-wing fundamentalist with
a hatred for Norway’s left, multiculturalism and Muslims – which
resulted in the loss of 77 lives. These events involved a radical (mis)
understanding of multiculturalism as Breivik considered himself as a
modern-day crusader opposed to multiculturalism. In light of these
events, the book by Randi Gressgård is all the more relevant since it
comprehends the complexities of differences and explores solutions
for the problems involved.
Multicultural Dialogue is an interdisciplinary book combining
conceptualizations from the philosophy of science with ethnic
minority research and gender studies. The author takes issues
with universalist notions of equality and cultural relativist notions of
distinctiveness. The volume is a theoretical, philosophical delineation
of sensitive themes which are rather superficially treated in, for
example, the media. The book reflects the theorizing of globalization
as unfolding in the unstable tension between cultural homogenization
and cultural heterogenization, producing both continuities and
disjunctures in different domains (Appadurai, 1996). The book also
delineates the solution, named as critical theoretical intervention, to
the pivotal tension between granting of equal rights and recognizing
cultural distinctiveness. The solution endeavors to establish
viable alternative ways of perceiving the relationship between “us”
and the “others”, arguing in favor of communities based on nonidentitarian
difference, developed and maintained through open and
critical dialogue.
The point of departure for the book is the situation in Norway, a
culturally diverse nation, where the question of tolerance is central
to the much debated issues of diversity, ethnocentrism, and racial
discrimination towards migrants. Norwegian integration policy is
grounded in planned pluralism which includes respect to cultural
differences, but also involves cultural distinctions and prevailing
standards of “normality”. Some researchers, such as Alexandra
Ålund (1991), perceive this as culturalization of the “others”.
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Gressgård points out that French poststructuralists, among others
Foucault, have focused on the reductive opposition between “us”
and the “others”. She elucidates the ethnocentric fallacy by invocation
of metaphysics of purity, which refers to that which is absolutely
whole and devoid of pollution, and by introducing paradigmatic
examples from the Norwegian minority pupils context, where the
policy of inclusion paradoxically serves to exclude the pupils who
are to be included. The difference or impurity defined as that which
is “out of place”, in relation to the system of order, is a challenge to
the dominant order and must be managed in accordance with the
oppositional logic of the multicultural dilemma, subordinating the
“others” to the majority population.
Drawing on Dumont’s classical work on hierarchy, Gressgård
illustrates the internal exclusionary mechanisms in the Norwegian
society. She refers to a study that reveals how minorities who do not
share the values of the majority population are excluded (subordinated)
due to their deviance from the dominant normative standards.
Furthermore, she argues that people in Norway are thought of
not as individuals but as identical parts of society. Conflating the
modern and non-modern configurations, Gressgård convincingly
shows that the “others” are constituted as different and inferior, i.e.
as negative mirror images of “our” identity. For example, she argues
that in Unni Wikan’s book Towards a New Norwegian Underclass
(Wikan 1995) differences are ordered hierarchically based on
what is considered valuable, leading to judgment of the “others”
as second-class citizens. The “others” comprise the negation that
serves positive identity of the majority population. Gressgård also
argues for a conceptualization of heterogeneity perceived as an
opportunity rather than a threat.
The two last chapters of the book are useful for the readers who
are involved in the pragmatic side of the multicultural dynamics,
since the chapters deal with the consequences of heterogeneity and
with the creation of conditions for dialogs. Furthermore, Gressgård
discusses two types of heterogeneity: the unpresentable, which
means that “otherness” cannot be expressed in the existing idioms;
and the representable, which means that the “others” can have a
voice and difference can be expressed.
The author uses Lyotard’s core concept “differend” to delineate
an irresolvable conflict and to exemplify aptly the conflicts after the
11 September 2001 terror attack. We may ask whether the US, with
the support of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), actually
carried out a reprisal in attacking Afghanistan or whether the conflict
was irresolvable, given that it was not between two states, but between
a country and an international Muslim network.
The last chapter of the book focuses on how to establish multicultural
dialogue that breaks with the oppositional logic involving
assimilation and culturalization, or subordination, of the “others”.
Gressgård underlines the importance of a critical distance to one’s
own truth claims in terms of “moral performance” as practical
ethics. The elements of moral performance perception, judgment
and action imply noticing the welfare of the “others”; openness;
and altruistic emotions, such as empathy, compassion, caring and
sympathy. The author argues that there is a distance between the
subject and the addressee (“us” and the “others”), and imagination
temporarily suspends in the process of empathy. She uses another
Foucault-informed theorist, Falcon’s views on dominance to claim
that heterogeneity is to be prioritized. According to such thinking,
dominance occurs at the expense of a basic freedom and can lead
to “silencing” of the “other” and “forgetting”. Moreover, the author
emphasizes openness to the others’ view, instead of pseudo-openness
which entails continuous domination. Furthermore, Gressgård
emphasizes resistance that involves destablization of established
norms, including notions of “us” and the “others”. This implies
bringing together disparate energies, congruent to Spivak’s idea
of “strategic essentialism” in visible political interest and to Butler’s
strategy of “cultural translation” as part of the dialogical process.
The main message of the book is that we should avoid the risk
of assimilating the “others” through planned pluralism. On the other
hand, the book calls for developing new idioms, accepting differences
and appealing to the dominant cultural forms to recognize
that that there might be different ways of thinking and acting.
This book has an explicit message with societal significance,
though the reading is demanding and dense. Especially the large
number of philosophical argumentation that the book includes can
be difficult to follow for those who are not already familiar with these
complex theoretical conceptualizations. However, for those who
have the patience and some basic familiarity with these concepts,
reading the book can be a rewarding experience. The contents are
convincing, provocative, and at times also shocking – especially
some pragmatic examples. The invocation of such examples and the
philosophical argumentation reflects the author’s vast scholarship.
In the aftermath of the events of 22 July 2011 in central Oslo
and the island of Utøya, which shocked Norway and the world, I
hope that the message of the book would be formulated in much
simpler and easier form so that it could reach a broader group of
readers. Especially journalists, practitioners, and policy makers
would benefit of the ideas grounding the book, in order to establish
acceptance of heterogeneity and the “others” – not only in Norway
and Scandinavia but also in Europe and the globalized world!
TidsskriftJournal of Nordic Migration Research
Udgave nummer1
Sider (fra-til)95-96
Antal sider2
StatusUdgivet - 1 mar. 2012

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