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Conflict, difference and solidarity: theories of multiculturalism in an Asian context

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posted on 2023-01-18, 18:08 authored by Azam Golam
Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Legal Studies, School of Social Sciences and Communications, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora.

Liberal multiculturalism, as a political theory, has been developed to overcome the inadequacies of classical liberalism in doing justice to minority groups and their members in a liberal society. Contrary to more traditional forms of liberalism, the multicultural approach to citizenship recognizes citizens as members of distinct ethnic, religious and cultural communities and allows them to enjoy group-differentiated rights in addition to ordinary citizenship rights. It claims that group rights are consistent with liberal principles of individualism, toleration and equality. Kymlicka emphasizes the contribution that secure membership of a cultural community makes to the autonomy of individuals. Galston in his theory of liberal multiculturalism emphasizes the importance to individuals of having the freedom to express their ideas of the good through group membership and being able to live in a society that tolerates difference. From a political perspective, Lijphart advocates a theory of consociational power-sharing among groups as a means for overcoming conflict and oppression of minorities while ensuring that each community can maintain the traditions that member’s value. Liberal multicultural theories and consociationalism were designed to manage conflict and overcome disadvantages of minorities in the context of Western societies. In this thesis these theories are examined in the context of three non-Western countries: Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, with the purpose of determining whether they can be applied to these societies as a means for managing conflict and overcoming group oppression. I argue that the theories are not adequate to achieve these goals in the countries concerned. Kymlicka’s liberal multiculturalism is not tenable in these countries because the liberal values that he uses to justify multiculturalism are not widely held. Galston’s multiculturalism allows for the existence of non-liberal groups but it does not offer a political means of resolving conflicts. Consociationalism is not likely to provide a solution to conflict in countries where intolerance and sectarian violence is prevalent. I develop a theory of multiculturalism for these countries that does not depend on a commitment by their citizens to liberal values. Using Galston’s ideas about building mutuality and toleration and Lijphart’s consociational approach to conflict management I argue that peaceful and just relations between groups are possible in these countries.


Center or Department

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. School of Social Sciences and Communications. Department of Politics, Philosophy and Legal Studies.

Thesis type

  • Ph. D.

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


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