Getting ready for the school year, I am reading Charles Taylor’s and Jurgen Habermas’s Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, and I’m finding it both boring and slow-going. Now Habermas usually is slow-going. But I can usually whip up some interest for most topics. This? I am not feeling it.
There’s part of me that feels like multiculturalism is much like the communitarian-libertarian divide–i.e., that it’s an academic industry at this point, largely unreconcilable. In practice, culture takes precedence in small matters (food) and power resolves the big questions (what and whose rights are observed and protected in a given context.)
There’s part of me that believes most of my students have grown up in a cosmopolitan, global world, and they hardly need this material. The other part of me sees a social backlash, listens to the blather about “special rights” and worries that we need to teach the material in order to arm our students with the proper vocabulary in order to engage in the debate in an intelligent manner.
One of my political philosopher friends noted that his advisor told him the field of multiculturalism was played out 1995. It’s clear that not all that much is written about the issue any more, with the field split: those who think recognition is paramount writing from that position, and those of us (myself included) who are liberals (with a small l) willing to dispense culture in the name of universal, basic rights, even if (like me) that position is held in fear and trembling.
What do you think?