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Multiculturalism is seen in political thought as a strategy or response to cultural diversity and the focus of most theorists is immigrants belonging to religious or ethnic and other minorities. (Song Sarah, 2014). It is a means to address the problems of conflict and violence in a society with groups professing diverse cultural values. It is related to groups and the identity that comes from belonging to a group. In this essay, we shall consider the different notions, issues, and dimensions of multiculturalism. Drawing on Verkutyen's ideas we shall examine ways in which multiculturalism influences groups and group-identities, positive and negative aspects of the mixing of ethnic groups, search for identity in a multicultural environment, the role of tolerance in managing diversity and also the possibility of ensuring a harmonious co-existence of diverse cultural groups in society. Next, we shall discuss the findings of a study on intercultural experiences of a class of post-graduate students (Ippolito, 2007). It leads to the issue of cosmopolitanism and how cosmopolitan learning can help students understand the ways in which societies and identities are being transformed by cultural exchanges that have become necessary in the age of internationalization and globalization.
Supporters of multiculturalism argue that when the minorities are given the right to uphold their way of life, they are more amenable to identify with the society, fostering social cohesion. On the other hand, if the minority groups are made to assimilate with the majority culture, resentment may lead to negative feelings towards the wider society (Verkutyen, 2014 p 174).
Drawbacks of multiculturalism include an over-emphasis on cultural differences that can lead to inter-group conflicts that affect the unity and stability of society (p188). If the majority group is in favor of multiculturalism because it helps them to retain their status and emphasize cultural distinction, the minority group may develop a strong negative attitude towards them. However, when special privileges and facilities are granted to the minority groups, the natives feel that they are being discriminated against.
Verkuyten delineates the circumstances in which the different groups can develop feelings of animosity and suggests ways to overcome the problems, He suggests that efforts to develop a shared feeling of belonging among all groups ('we-ness'), can create a society that functions well (p 207). This can be achieved by promoting activities involving all groups. Mixing with each other is one of the ways suggested by psychologists to reduce social distance. However, prejudices, patronizing attitude, and speech, negative stereotyping by the majority group are some of the problems that hinder the process (p 212).
Generally, the idea of tolerance is advocated as a way to deal with issues of diversity. This is not entirely acceptable to supporters of cultural diversity (p238) for the reason that, it is too passive, and implies a condescending attitude of the majority group. It is not affirmative enough and is often used by politicians and majority groups as a moral high-ground to criticise the intolerance of minority group. Yet, tolerance is useful to counter to prejudice and helps to eliminate discrimination. If it is practiced in matters where there are strong feelings of bias, it can be a tool to get rid of deep-seated discriminatory ideas and foster self-control. Again, it is also important to set limits on tolerance especially when it impinges on one's freedom. Tolerating other people's beliefs and practices depend on many factors like sense of justice, moral and social considerations.