Nordic Multiculturalism

2014-1-debating-multiculturalismA new book Debating Multiculturalism in the Nordic Welfare States (Palgrave 2013) grew out of collaboration originally started in 2010 at a conference at the University of Turku entitled Is There a Nordic Version of Multiculturalism? The essays are edited by Peter Kivisto and Östen Wahlbeck.

The Nordic countries’ robust welfare programs and, comparatively speaking, historically homogeneous populations, constitute an important research site for exploring how the politics of identity and recognition play out in societies committed to redistributive politics. Put simply, can the goals of the welfare state and those of multiculturalism coexist in harmony? Are they capable of being mutually reinforcing? Or will they inevitably be at loggerheads, operating in what amounts to a zero sum game: Redistribution at the expense of recognition and vice versa? This relationship is complex, and debates about multiculturalism and minority rights include both established minorities and recent immigrants. Immigrant integration policy is, however, the policy area where the tension between diversity and universalism has manifested itself most forcefully. Multicultural policies are the outcome of ongoing debate at state, regional and local levels. Thus, multiculturalism can vary between countries and different institutional spheres and localities. Nevertheless, the Nordic countries have many common features and societal similarities that make them useful for study in relation to each other. A common fundamental feature, of crucial importance for the implementation of multicultural policies, is the Nordic welfare state model.

This collection of essays suggests that multiculturalism – that is, recognition of diversity – is quite capable of fitting with the objectives of the Nordic welfare model. Rather than being defined in overly explicit ideological terms, multiculturalism has been tailored to the particularities of the specific countries. As the chapters in the book outline, multiculturalism has seldom been an end in itself, but a policy that that has been designed to support the societal integration of immigrants and ethnic minorities.

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