Conceptual prospects of the comparative analysis of multicultural practices

UDC 130.2

Valentyna Sudakova
Doctor of Philosophical Sciences,
Institute for Cultural Research of the
National Academy of Arts of Ukraine, Kyiv

Volodymyr Sudakov
Doctor hab. of Sociology, professor,
Head of Department Shevchenko KNU, Kyiv

Abstract. This article analyzes the difficult conditions of application of multicultural policies in multicultural societies. The authors define the evolution of ideas and ideology of multiculturalism, considering the conceptual perspective of comparative studies of multicultural practices.

Keywords: multiculturalism, acculturation, cultural diffusion, assimilation, marginalization, identity, cultural conflict, cultural norms, peaceful co-existence.

Introduction. Today the controversial and even dangerous relationships among different countries of the contemporary global civilization determine the need of constant scientific attention from scholars who investigate the problematics of peaceful co-existence and of organization of peaceful social order.

The fundamental humanitarian idea of “eternal peaceˮ which was a dream of I. Kant, became the important cognitive principle in modern social sciences. But it is well-known that different attempts to realize this idea in the form of the specific peace-making policy demonstrate some difficulties because in the contemporary democratic societies

“each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others” [1, 60].

But existing deep economic, social and cultural inequalities among individuals and social groups are the real obstacles for effective protection of human rights and liberties. The global inequalities are also the factors which produce new social conflicts and wars among different states, racial and religion communities. So for modern scholars there is a challenge and an important task to create innovative global and regional peace-making projects.

The project of multiculturalism now is wide-spread and popular. Despite harsh criticism in recent years, this project has not lost its scientific significance. It is precisely because there are objective and subjective reasons for the finding of fact and the global awareness of the lack of alternative project which could enable to explain the ways of humanization of the contemporary global society.

The main purposes of this article are the identification of conceptual foundations of the multiculturalism phenomena and also to provide the comparative research of the current models of multicultural policies in modern societies. First of all, we have to underline that the theoretical background of the “multiculturalismˮ project has a long intellectual history. In the most general cognitive aspect, this project can be regarded asan applied part of the general theory of culture.

So the notion of culture is the basic concept which scholars use in their scientific researches. One convenient way to think about culture is to recognize that the people of every society have an array of tasks to perform and problems to solve.

All people must have ways of providing food, clothing, and shelter, ways of producing and caring for children, and ways of solving disputes b etween members. And most important, all people must have a way of making life orderly and predictable.

“Culture is the entire complex of ideas and material objects that the people of a society (or group) created and adopted for carrying out the necessary tasks of collective life” [2, 85].

As this definition suggests, cultures are human creations but, of cause, much of their culture people inherit from those who created it. In other words, every culture has its history. When children are born into a society they learn the elements of their culture, and they in turn pass them on, probably, in some modified form, to those who follow them.

Cultures, therefore, are also capable of change. The process of cultural dynamics is a total unity of different ways and forms of human behavior. Culture offers an explanation of individual and collective behavior in different societies and countries. From this conceptual perspective the notion “culture” reflects specific historical aspects of intercultural relations and communications.

“Historically, the word culture was closely linked in its use and meaning to the processes of colonization. In the 19th century, European anthropologists wrote detailed descriptions of the ways of life of “others”, generally characterizing non-European societies as less civilized, barbaric, “primitive”, as lacking “culture”. These colonial accounts treated European culture as the norm and constructed Europe as superior by using the alleged lack of “culture” of non-European societies as justification of colonization” [3, 3].

The cultural inequalities are important elements of social stratification process. And these cultural inequalities are the basis of cultural differentiation on “higher culture” and “low culture”.

“The categorization system that stratified groups based on having “culture” or not, with the assumption of the superiority of European culture, translated within European societies as “higher” and “low” culture. These in the elite class or ruling class, who had power, were educated in prestigious schools and were patrons of the arts such as literature, opera, and ballet, embodied higher culture.

Those in the working class who enjoyed activities such as popular theatre, Folk art, and “street” activities — and later movies and television — embodied low culture. We see remnants of these definitions of culture operating today. Today, the notion of culture continues to be used in some situations to stratified groups based on the kind of activities people engage in, reinforcing beliefs about superior or inferior cultures [3, 3–4].

The ontological inequalities of “higher culture” and “low culture” determine the social practices of modern multiculturalism. The ontological specifics of the multiculturalism phenomena try to explain not only the theory of culture but also two special theories of intercultural relations and communications — 1) the theory of acculturation and 2) the theory of cultural diffusion.

Advanced content of the acculturation theory is the fundamental justification possibilities of mutual positive influence of intercultural communications when all or part of the members of one culture (original culture) adopt the norms, values and traditions of another culture (dominant or host culture). The concept “acculturationˮ was introduced in 1880 by the scientific community of American anthropology.

This concept provoked great interest and, subsequently, the active researchers of cultural exchange and of cultural diversity. Innovative cultural studies by R. Redfield, R.Linton, A. Herskovits, W. Thomas were discovered the specific angle of “positive — negativeˮ effects of acculturation process which was defined as ”continuous fist-hand contact” between persons who presented the norms and the values of different cultures.

The modern theory of acculturation explains the ontological peculiarities of different basic models of intercultural communications: 1) assimilation model; 2) separation model; 3) integration model; 4) marginalization model [4, 401–410].

Today a lot of researchers and politicians believe that the best strategy of acculturation is full assimilation with the dominant culture. But in recent years scholars began to consider acculturation as the process of forming of multicultural identity and, therefore, new multicultural community.

The notion of “cultural diffusion” hardly be called purely theoretical concept. Rather, it has the features of a broader view on inter-ethnical relations. Ethnocultural diffusion — is the spread of ethnic cultures. The main result of cultural diffusion is the destruction of original ethnic cultures and thus ethnic groups loss their ethnic identity.

This fact is the ontological foundation of numerous ethnic conflicts. Diffusion may be recorded in the historical sense as final results, which identify the conflict character of the different cultural patterns [5, 48–49]. It also creates internal conflicts in ethno-cultural relations, for example, between youth and other age segments as carriers and guardians of traditional cultural norms. Now even the concept of ethnicity has become relative.

This is evidenced by the wide use of concepts such as “the Arab worldˮ, “Southern peopleˮ, “Islamic cultureˮ, “the nations of the Caucasusˮ, “Russian-speaking populationˮ, etc. The basic idea of multiculturalism, as we believe, consists of activities which enable to provide peaceful co-existence. The term “multiculturalism” has strong empirical sense because it describes the state of ethnic, cultural and religious diversity of the population in concrete countries.

The official status of this concept became in the 70s of the 20th century when it was recognized the negative character of the assimilation policy, which in reality was aimed at cultural homogenization. The model of multiculturalism involves the legitimacy of different forms of cultural differences (otherness) by the formula “integration without assimilationˮ, i.e. the possibility of co-existence in one country of cultural, religious and ethnic entities who are authorized to maintain their norms, values, customs and way of life, and their public presentation.

However, in purely political sense, according to this view, multiculturalism — is also a way to successful control and regulation multicultural mosaic with the help of social and legal mechanisms. But in the sociological theories of postmodern sociology we can find critical interpretations of multiculturalism. In particular, argumentation that the global “change the balance between I and Weˮ (N. Elias) determine the dominating influence of personalized social practices which are in the conflict opposition to collective identities.

The totalities of such practices, according to Z. Bauman, become ontological foundation of postmodern “individualized societies” as societies of “liquid modernity”. German sociologist U.Beck also supports such position:

«The phenomenon of multiculturalism is a product of fantastic imagination that cat, mouse and dog can eat from the same bowl. That is why the concept of multiculturalism poorly reflects the realities of competition and conflicts in intercultural communications and the latest contemporary processes of social development are associated with the trend of individualization.

The concept of “multiculturalismˮ is collective category, it focuses on a more or less homogeneous groups conceived as heterogeneous or homogeneous, but certainly those that are separated from each other and unite individuals… In this sense multiculturalism — the enemy of individualization. According to multiculturalism, the individual does not exist» [6, 350].

A similar point of view defends Ch.Taylor, who in his work «Multiculturalism and the “politics of recognition ˮ [7] also points to the incompatibility with the politics of multiculturalism with the recognition of cultural equality and individual dignity. In this work the scientist emphasizes the importance of overcoming the main illusion of American academic multiculturalists who deliberately ignore complex historical circumstances of existing global cultural inequalities.

He believes that categorical requirement to make favorable judgments regarding the equal value of other cultures demands that we already have standards by which we can make such judgments. However, our standards — are the standards of the North Atlantic civilization, so our judgments implicitly and unconsciously are oriented to identification of non-western cultures in categories of the western culture [7, 69].

S. Zhizhek also believes that the West (North Atlantic) cultural system produces universal democratic and tolerant human values. He argues that the ideal of peaceful co-existence is a manifestation of moral superiority of European culture. But in the global cultural context this superiority obtains the specific neutral multicultural sense which may be presented by the principle — “tolerance without understanding the others”.

This principle as principle of the postmodern politics of multiculturalism we can regard as the important instrument for “self-defenseˮ of cultural authentity in globalized social world [8]. In the last decade it has become evident that the qualification of multicultural practices and experience of mankind are away from abstract moral calls to provide global multiculturalism. In spite of that Ukraine is not a good example of realization of this new multicultural model, me can argue that the application of this model opens the possibilities to identify the state of intercultural relations in Ukraine and to create information for objective evaluations.

For example, in recent years the country has become a platform very tough confrontation and, first of all ethnic, but also cultural, ideological. psychological. Contemporary ideological conflict between Ukraine and Russian Federation is a cultural conflict (because ideology — a component of culture). And this conflict divides Ukrainian citizens into two large groups according to ideological formula of pseudo-social choice: “Ukraine is self-sufficient country” / “Ukraine is dependent from Russia”.

The usage of scientific information opens the possibilities to overcome false mass-ideological confronting stereotypes. So politics of multiculturalism in Ukraine will have chance to be more effective in pragmatic sense.


The concept of multiculturalism is not be defined as a scientific theory. But this concept has fundamental ideological basis because it reflects the importance of peaceful coexistence and non-violence in intercultural relations. The ontological specifics of the multiculturalism phenomena explain not only the theory of culture but also two special theories of intercultural relations and communications — 1) the theory of acculturation and 2) the theory of cultural diffusion.

The real politics of liberal (mosaic) model of multiculturalism found insufficient pragmatic effectiveness of this model. That is why the most promising model may be model of “pragmaticˮ multiculturalism which should be based on empirical evidence of the specialized sociological and cultural studies.

Personal and group expectations in multicultural contacts in Ukraine have opposite ideological dimensions which we have to overcome by providing the politics of “pragmatic” multiculturalism.


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