“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself”
George Bernard Shaw Maxims for Revolutionists (1903)
The Oxford English Dictionary defines culture as “the customs, ideas, and social behaviour of a particular group of people”. Culture itself however is hard to define. Its meaning is unique for each circumstance and person. Indeed Western civilisation has often struggled to define a common culture. The western interpretation of history for example, being divided into ancient, medieval and modern periods does not describe the past of Asian, African and Islamic civilisations. (Bentley, 1996). One’s analysis of culture becomes even more complex when we look at the intersection of cultures. As globalisation shapes the world, diverse nations face the mixing of cultures, identities and traditions. One must shift their focus from a single culture to multiple cultures and their intersection. Ideas such as acculturation become more relevant. We are commonly seeing cultural features of various groups being exchanged altering both cultures but keeping each group distinct. (Johnson, 2011) We are living in a time of increasing human movement and migration. As state walls become porous under the change of globalisation, many states are seeing growing numbers of minority and ethnic cultures. Much of this cultural interaction and diversification has occurred during a period of peace and relative prosperity – yet to be tested in more adverse circumstances.
There is support from the wider population for such cultural integration with many now accepting that cultural diversity is an advantage to a nations social development and economic growth. (Mansouri & Ebanda de B’beri, 2014)Migration and cultural inclusion can have important benefits for a community: such as helping an economy meet labour market demands, supporting long term growth population growth and other economic purposes as well as advancing other ideological or political interests.
Whilst the post world war western world has expanded in an inclusionary direction, one must debate whether this trend is waning. (Triadafilopoulos 2013)The reaction to increased cultural interaction is not always positive and it can provoke backlash from those with different interests and priorities and even their own culture histories and perspectives. Thus whilst cultural diversity can enrich societies it can also bring out tribalistic features. (Verkuyten 2013) Such backlash is often accentuated by national security concerns, economic hardship and political exploitation. (Triadafilopoulos 2013)
One can easily deduce an increasing lack of support for cultural inclusion with the emergence of right wing European parties riding anti-immigrant sentiment as well as well political campaigns during Brexit and the Trump campaign utilising and fuelling anti immigrant sentiment. Indeed are we to believe ,as many European leaders have recently stated, that multiculturalism is dead? This rise in criticism against multiculturalism can be linked to a perceived threat to the pre existing power relations. (Mansouri & Ebanda de B’beri, 2014)
Whilst for majority groups multiculturalism implies giving space to the identity and needs of minority groups, this can be interpreted as a threat to their cultural position, status and collective identity. For minorities emphasis on multiculturalism opens the possibility of maintaining their unique culture and gaining higher status in a society. In this way multiculturalism can easily imply that the majority must change, whilst assimilation implies that the minorities must do the changing. Indeed in this regard multiculturalism can be seen as supporting outsiders and as leaving natives without support. (Verkuyten 2013) As both parties fear the reality of changing, a sense of ‘cultural inertia’ within a society can be created with groups only endorsing models that support their identity and position.
However in nations such as Australia where multiculturalism forms part of a national image and as the majority aim to preserve their national identity, this will inevitably mean a more positive support for multiculturalism. (Verkuyten 2013) Multiculturalism with its focus on peaceful coexistence of diverse cultures and the good of intercultural connection and focus on respect for all human beings will continue to be debated and even dismissed as a utopian view of a unrealistic world. (Mansouri & Ebanda de B’beri, 2014)
Australia is widely recognised as a multicultural society, a ‘classical country of immigration’. (Castles, 1992) Indeed, Australia is a nation ‘shaped by immigrants’ with cultural diversity being more or less part of the national self interest”. (Verkuyten 2013) Apart from Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, Australia’s more recent population can trace its origins back to immigrants. (Castles, 1992) Starting with the 1788 British colonization, Australia has seen countless waves of immigrants arrive and contribute to the unique fabric of the country. Indeed, in every decade since the end of WWII, Australia has seen the arrival of more than one million migrants, thus making Australia a diverse nation of many ethnicities and cultures.
In ‘The people of Australia’ 2014 , the Commonwealth Government of Australia reaffirmed its commitment to enhancing multiculturalism as a significant priority. The paper encouraged people to “maintain their ethnic culture” and stated that such diversity brought the country “a competitive edge in an increasingly globalized world”. Such policies aim to increase Australia’s degree of both social justness and economic efficiency.
As migrants come to Australia they find that indeed two cultures must be embraced: that of their own and that of those around them. According to John Berry, a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Queen’s University, psychological acculturation involves 2 changes: culture shedding and cultural learning. Shedding involves accidental or voluntary loss of cultural behaviours and values. Cultural learning involves accidental and or voluntary acquisition of cultural behaviours or values. Thus as new cultures develop within Australia and as cultures come together, a process of both shredding and learning must occur.
It is to be expected that minorities will seek to celebrate their own customs. Indeed many ethnic businesses are successful precisely because they do not fully assimilate into mainstream culture. (Liu & Louw, 2009) Migrants own interests dictate that to some extent they do not fully integrate. Whilst migrants may seek to assimilate with the culture of their new country, it can be the case that migrants remain trapped in ethnic enclaves as they depend on these co-ethnic networks for social capital. (Liu & Louw, 2009) Thus, migrants may keep ties with their ethnic origins which provide recourses and intangible assets such as values, knowledge and networks.
At the same time, for the countless migrants coming into Australia, cultural integration with the host country is vital. Running a business requires migrants to gain contact with the host cultural group as they need to acclimatize and expand their businesses. (Liu & Louw, 2009) Thus these ethnic groups must negotiate their identities in different contexts. Juggling between these cultural contexts, migrants must be able to cross cultural boundaries with ease. Donald Atkinson, a renown scholar known for his pioneering work in the area of multicultural counseling psychology, suggests that such behaviour can lead to acculturative stress, which occurs when the demands of a new language, culture, lifestyle and customs exceed the capacity of the immigrant to deal with them. It can thus be seen as imperative to allow migrants to balance their own cultures with the new to oppose dramatic changes. As stated by John Berry, integration must therefore involve double engagement. New cultures must be allowed to engage in maintaining heritage culture and at the same time participating in the larger society.
Supporting and promoting cultures has many social benefits. Indeed it highlights that a society values the importance of cultural diversity. Many proponents of multiculturalism stress its importance for social cohesion, stressing that embracing cultural differences is a prerequisite for the development of social cohesion and unity. (Verkuyten 2013) Assimilation with its focus solely on a majority groups, risks leading to minority members rejecting a society. There is also an argument that increased cross-cultural interaction increases a societies social capital, its networks and access to resources. For instance, a society can draw on more resources, learn more cultures and languages. People who engage in this multicultural system will thus do better than those who do not engage.
Promoting cross-cultural interaction must involve two phases. Firstly the society must celebrate its diversity and secondly it must create an environment in which each cultural group can express itself and contribute to the collective. Indeed Professor John Berry, suggests that in many countries the issues of diversity has been overemphasised but the issue of opening up everyone’s rights and opportunity to participate has been deemphasised. He suggests that what has made Canada successful in embracing multiculturalism where Europe has failed is that Canada has chosen to place emphasis on including each minority as opposed to just celebrating diversity.
It is important to create a sense of shared national identity across cultural groups. Without this, a society would degenerate into a collection of segmented cultural groups. (Verkuyten 2013) It is therefore important that individual cultures are celebrated and affirmed within a wider Australian context of national unity and common belonging.
Bentley 1996, ‘Cross-Cultural Interaction and Periodization in World History’, The American Historical Review
Castles 1992, ‘The Australia Model of Immigration and multiculturalism: Is It Applicable to Europe?’, The International Migration Review
Johnson 2011, Acculturation: Implication for Individuals, Families and Societies, Nova Science Publishers, Inc.
Liu & Louw 2009, ‘Cultural Translation and identity Performance: A Case of Chinese Business People in Australia’, The University of Queensland
Mansouri & Ebanda de B’beri 2014, ‘Global Perspectives on the Politics of Multiculturalism in the 21st Century’, Taylor and Francis
Triadafilopoulos 2013, ‘Becoming Multicultural’, UBC Press
Verkuyten 2013, ‘Identity and Cultural Diversity’, Taylor and Francis