THE social strategy dubbed “multiculturalism”, in which it is alleged that different cultures are encouraged to live separate lives, apart from mainstream society, has been severely criticised by politicians and analysts. But a new book by researchers at the University of Huddersfield takes a different view.
Drawing on some 20 years of research in the “M62 corridor”, they have published a book that challenges the widely-held assumption that in the North of England multiculturalism has been a failure. On the contrary, they claim, it has had many successes.
Titled Race, Space and Multiculturalism in Northern England, the book is authored by Professor Paul Thomas, Dr Shamim Miah and Professor Pete Sanderson, of the University’s School of Education and Professional Development. Although based on long-term projects by the three researchers, it is published just as societies on both sides of the Atlantic are taking a long, hard look at issues of race.
This makes the book especially timely, said Professor Thomas, who has had a long-term interest in the issue of multiculturalism and how it is understood in the North of England. Dr Miah and Professor Sanderson have also been researching the subject for many years, and the three men pooled their findings when they collaborated on the new book.
“The idea that multiculturalism is not only problematic but also that it is not working has been referred to a lot by politicians,” said Professor Thomas. “Quite often they reach for examples from the North of England, specific controversies or they namecheck particular towns such as Bradford or Oldham that are seen as symbolic.
Professor Thomas and his co-authors believe that arguments in relation to the North of England show no understanding of how migrant integration and assimilation happen, nor the longevity of the process.
“That’s why we refer back to previous experiences such as Irish migration to the North in the 19th century and later waves of Jewish and Eastern European settlers, as well as primarily looking at the experience of post-war migration. We are comparing these and saying that it takes a long time for migration and assimilation to settle down.”
The authors of the new book also believe that critics of multiculturalism in the North often have little sense of economic and social changes, particularly de-industrialisation and how it has led to less secure and less well-paid employment.
“If there are racially-segregated communities, they are often portrayed as communities having chosen to live separately,” continued Professor Thomas. “But our argument is that it is about damage to economic prospects and a real lack of choice about being able to move on in housing markets.”
He is critical of a widespread “lack of historical perspective” about the realities of integration and now awareness of how economic pressures have made processes of integration more difficult.
Professor Thomas argues the need for much greater investment and regeneration.
“In many ways racial tensions and segregations in many parts of the North and periodic flare-ups can be seen as symptomatic of economic problems,” he said. “But there is also a real need for more community infrastructure and in work that helps communities come together and promotes dialogue and understanding.
“There are misportrayals of multiculturalism and great exaggerations about its power and its potential to influence things. There are much greater forces that determine what can happen and what cannot happen.”