The Multiculturalism vs. Integration Debate in Great Britain

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

18 Pages, Grade: 1,6


List of Contents

1) Introduction

2) Definition of Multiculturalism and Integration

3) Main Governmental Multiculturalism Policies

4) Lively discussions in Great Britain about Multiculturalism
4.1 A controversial speech by Trevor Phillips
4.2 Facts about multiculturalism in the UK
4.3 Reactions towards Trevor Phillips speech

5) Conclusion

6) Bibliography and Sources

1) Introduction

Many people across country boarders are familiar with the debate “Multiculturalism vs. Integration”. It is a topic about which TV and newspapers love to report because it is so highly controversial and seems to concern so many watchers and readers. Every ones in a while there is a new wave which pushes the topic on the agenda. Important commentators then tell their opinions about it. But the debate often disappears quickly when the first excitement is over.

This paper focuses on the multiculturalism vs. integration debate in Great Britain which was aggravated by a speech held by Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), in spring 2004. At first it is necessary to give definitions of the rather vague terms “multiculturalism” and “integration”. That will be done in chapter two.

Chapter three then introduces four main governmental policies in dealing with multiculturalism and takes a look at their theoretical backgrounds.

The main part of this paper, chapter four, deals with the lively multiculturalism vs. integration debate in Great Britain. After the major points of Phillips’ speech are presented it is important to give some general facts about multiculturalism in the UK in order to give the discussion a solid basis. There have been plenty of reactions towards Phillips’ speech. Supporters and opponents of his theses have publicly underlined their statements in manifold opportunities. It is not possible to hear them all. Therefore only a relatively small but hopefully well-balanced selection can be given.

Finally some own thoughts and ideas will be presented in the conclusion. Unfortunately most of them can only be causes for thoughts because they again lead to a much wider topic which would be part of a new paper.

2) Definition of Multiculturalism and Integration

Multiculturalism and Integration are terms which do not provide a scientifically undisputable definition. Dealing with the problems and debates concerning the topic one finds many descriptions of what can be meant – partly very individual statements. This proofs that the terms and also the concepts behind them are very vague, which does not make it easy to talk about them.

Multiculturalism is “the doctrine that several different cultures (rather than one national culture) can co-exist peacefully and equitably in a single country.”[1] The “Thesaurus” also gives the antonym of multiculturalism which is according to the dictionary “nationalism”, defined as “the doctrine that your national culture and interests are superior to any other.”[2] Definitions like the one in the “Thesaurus” are quite frequent. Multiculturalism is often seen as cultural pluralism describing the equal coexistence of many cultures in a locality, without any culture dominating the region. But the term refers to more than just the condition of a society.

It can also mean a certain kind of public policy with an approach for managing cultural diversity in a multiethnic society and thereby officially stressing mutual respect and tolerance for cultural differences within a country’s boarders. The policy definition of multiculturalism rather deals with an active procedure of how to behave in order to achieve a multicultural society or what to do in order to guarantee best living together in an already existing multicultural society. It not only passively describes a condition, as the first kind of definition does.

A third possible use of the term is more enclosed than the others. Some people talk about multiculturalism and only refer to specific districts within mostly big cities, where different cultures live side by side on a small sized (in comparison to a whole country) area.

What is important to state for the use of multiculturalism in this paper is that its main element is the equal coexistence of different cultures without one culture having the right to dominate the others, as the least common denominator of a multitude of approaches.

There are similar difficulties in defining integration. Some definitions are very close to what is actually meant by multiculturalism as the one by Sir Bernhard Crick who said that “Integration is the co-existence of communities and unimpeded movement between them, it is not assimilation.”[3] In his view of integration there is only little difference between what is usually understood by multiculturalism. Crick (born in 1929) is a British political theorist and was an advisor to Labour Party in the 1980s. He was among others responsible for the UK citizenship test. His very liberal definition of integration is not taken as a basic of this paper.

Integration is better defined as the necessity to “become fully a member of a community, rather than remaining in a separate (esp. racial) group.”[4] There is an important difference between integration and assimilation. The latter is the more radical term demanding to become similar to a society through complete adjustment. Integration on the other hand leaves more space for individuality. Through integration into a society it is not only the immigrant who changes. To a certain extend he also changes the society through his individual influence on it. So integration qualitatively stands between multiculturalism and assimilation.

In this paper it is seen as a process of adapting into a community through accepting its rules but not through completely surrendering one’s own background. The difficult question, that can be argued about, is to what extend one has to assimilate or is allowed to keep his or her own cultural background.

3) Main Governmental Multiculturalism Policies

There are basically four main governmental policies in dealing with immigrants and mainstream cultural groups. They will be presented in hierarchical order – from the strictest to the most tolerant.

1) Monoculturalism:

The monoculturalism approach is closely linked to what is often called nationalism. Thus immigrants are supposed to assimilate completely to the existing mainstream culture. The national culture absorbs other joining cultures without the slightest need to change itself. Monoculturalism is the most radical concept being favoured in times of extreme nationalism. Nevertheless it remains a theoretical concept because a hundred percent assimilation of every single individual is not possible. Even in totalitarian dictatorships with a strong centralistic adjustment and a maximum amount of control there still remains space for groups protesting against mainstream views and rules.

2) Leading culture policy:

The term leading culture has been developed in Germany (but is as such also used in Great Britain) by the orientalist Bassam Tibi. He is a professor for International Politics at the University of Göttingen and is himself a Moslem. Tibi was born in Damaskus in 1944 and is considered to have an unbiased view of Islam.[5] Professor Tibi wrote a famous book, called “Europe with no identity” in which he states that communities within a country can have their own identities but at the same time have to support the core concepts of the culture on which the society is based. So he does differentiate between cultures and grants the historically grown leading culture a higher status than newly emerging ones.

According to Tibi the core cultural concepts in Western societies are democracy, separation of church and state, the enlightenment and the civil society.[6] Discussions about the term leading culture show, that some people count much more to it than only those very basic concepts. It very fast becomes a term similarly vague as identity.

Melting Pot:

The so called Melting Pot policy is the traditional view of the United States of America. It means that all the immigrants with different cultural backgrounds are mixed and merged without state intervention. In that concept there is no leading culture but a country’s culture develops through mixture of different existing cultures. In theory immigrants can maintain their cultural backgrounds and also become for instance Americans because Americanism is determined partly through them. There is a change of both – of society and of immigrants because they intermingle.

The metaphor of the Melting Pot was first mentioned in American literature by Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur in his Letter from an American Farmer, which was published in 1782. It pictorially stands for a big pot in which different ingredients (= people of different cultures and religions) are put into. The ingredients are then mixed and combined so that they lose their discrete identities and become a final uniform product (= the new culture), which is different from the original input.

3) Multiculturalism:

A policy pursuing a multicultural society allows immigrants to completely preserve their cultures. Many different cultures are supposed to interact peacefully within one nation. Multiculturalism has also been described with the help of metaphors such as a “cultural mosaic” or the “salad bowl”. The latter symbolizes cultures through different vegetables which are thrown into a bowl but do not intermingle. They all have equal rights and exist peacefully next to each other.

Multiculturalism is the official policy of Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.[7] Such a multicultural policy includes for instance the following measures:


[1], 20. July 2006, 12:56

[2] ebd., 20. July 2006, 13:00

[3], 20 July, 13:25

[4] „Integrate“, in: Cowie, A. P. (ed.): Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (= Oxford University Press), Oxford 1989, p. 651

[5] More information about Bassam Tibi can be found on his homepage at

[6] The question at that point is whether those concepts are cultural values or only agreed rules – independent from cultural background.

[7] Although it is very controversially debated about whether that policy has failed or is still the right one.

Excerpt out of 18 pages


The Multiculturalism vs. Integration Debate in Great Britain
University of Hannover  (Philosophische Fakultät)
Seminar: National Identity and its Representations in Modern British Culture
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Multiculturalism, Integration, Debate, Great, Britain, Seminar, National, Identity, Representations, Modern, British, Culture
Quote paper
Joachim von Meien (Author), 2006, The Multiculturalism vs. Integration Debate in Great Britain, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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