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Multiculturalism and Democracy



One of the focal issues in contemporary political theory – and one of the pressing problems in contemporary politics – is the issue of ethnicity, group identity and the plurality of cultures within states or polities. More specifically multi-ethnicity and linguistic and/or cultural differences are problems in states or polities which strive towards or try to maintain democratic rule. Political liberalism (Cf. John Rawls, Brian Barry, and others) discards group identities, cultural, religious and language differences. Maybe the world would be a better place if religious, ethnic and other differences were not played out in the political sphere. In actual fact in quite a number of cases it is very hard to discard these (fundamental?) differences – stronger still, sometimes these differences are (made into) the very substance of political strife.

In this course we will focus on two related questions: (1) Does justice require that we allow for minority rights, i.e. group rights? If so, which rights for what kind of groups? (Cf. Will Kymlicka, Joseph Carens, and others). And (2) are these group rights to be considered a contribution to and to some extent the embodiment of democratic rule? Or are they, on the contrary, a detraction from (the ideal of) democratic rule?

In the first part of the course all students read the same material. Students are required to give short oral presentations or write short papers (800-1000 words) each week. In the second part of the course students are expected to choose a specific theme (and select and study concomitant literature), on which they brief their colleagues either in the form of short oral presentations or papers. An individual final paper (approximately 4000 words) is expected at the conclusion of this second part of the course.

Students are expected to have read Will Kymlicka’s Multicultural Citizenship before the first meeting.

Methods of Instruction

See course description

Study Material

Part I (Obligatory for all)

Kymlicka, W., Multicultural Citizenship. A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1995.

Lijphart, A., The Politics of Accommodation: Pluralism and Democracy in the Netherlands, 2nd ed., University of California Press, Berkeley 1975 (1st ed.1968).

Kukathas, Chandran, The Liberal Archipelago. A Theory of Diversity and Freedom, Oxford U.P., Oxford 2003.

Young, Iris Marion, “Justice and the Politics of Difference: A Critique of the Ideal of Universal Citizenship”, in: Robert E. Goodin & Philip Pettit (eds.), Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology, Blackwell, Oxford 1997,pp. 256-272.

Part II (Optional)

Kymlicka, Will & Magda Opalski (eds.), Can Liberal Pluralism be Exported? Western Political Theory and Ethnic Relations in Eastern Europe, Oxford U.P., Oxford 2001.

Carens, J., Culture, Citizenship, and Community. A Contextual Exploration of Justice as Evenhandedness, Oxford U.P., Oxford 2000.

Taylor, Ch., Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition, Princeton U.P., Princeton 1992.

Walzer, M., On Toleration, Yale U.P., New Haven 1997.

Young, I.M., Inclusion and Democracy, Oxford U.P., Oxford 2000.

Okin, Susan Moller, Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?, Pinceton U.P., Princeton 1999.

Shachar, Ayelet, Multiple Jurisdictions. Cultural Differences and Women’s Rights, Cambridge U.P., Cambridge 2001.

Miller, David, Citizenhip and National Identity, Polity Press, Cambridge 2000.

Mill, John Stuart, Considerations on Representative Government, (originally ublished 1861), many editions.

Barry, Brian, Culture and Equality. An Egalitarian Critique of Multiculturalism, Polity Press, Cambridge 2001.

Parekh, Bikhu, Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke 2006 (first published Palgrave, Basingstoke 2000).

Guéhenno, Jean-Marie, La fin de la démocratie, Flammarion, Paris 1993 (Het einde van de democratie, Lannoo Tielt 1994; The End of the Nation-State, University of Minnesota Press 1995)


Course participation, including oral presentation and short papers, and the final paper are equally important as far as grading for the course is concerned.


Monday 2 September until 16 December, 13.00-15.00 hrs in 1A24