The precarious endurance of multiculturalism: comparing policy approaches in Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands and South Australia

Author: Adam Ridley

Ridley, Adam, 2021 The precarious endurance of multiculturalism: comparing policy approaches in Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands and South Australia, Flinders University, College of Medicine and Public Health

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In light of the backlash against multiculturalism, it is important to understand the features of successful policy approaches promoting multiculturalism. This thesis compares and evaluates the policy success of immigrant multiculturalism from 2007-2017 in four case studies: Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands and South Australia. The way multiculturalism is normatively understood and operationalised into public policy is examined for each case. Following this, the thesis considers factors that contribute to, or undermine, policy success. This study situates itself within scholarly debates about multiculturalism by developing the ‘REC Framework’, which disaggregates and operationalises the policy objectives of multiculturalism: reducing racial discrimination (R), providing equal opportunity (E) and facilitating mutual cultural accommodation (C). The ‘REC Framework’ is innovatively integrated with Marsh and McConnell’s (2010) three-dimensions heuristic for assessing policy success: political, programmatic and process success. The comparative case study draws upon qualitative data from semi-structured elite interviews with policy actors, and triangulates this data against material including policy documentation, reports, political speeches and grey literature. By combining this evidence with the REC Framework and the three-dimensions heuristic, this thesis presents a unique mechanism for making proximate judgements about the policy success of multiculturalism in each case.

The findings from the Swedish case challenge a common media trope that Sweden has become a ‘multicultural dystopia’. Instead, Sweden remains committed to multicultural principles embedded in the Swedish constitution. In the UK, the analysis found that the issue of race equality has slipped down the policymaking agenda. However, a commitment to multiculturalism through the innovative equality duty does remain. In contrast, it seems that multiculturalism and ‘two-way integration’ have been abandoned in the Netherlands, supplanted by assimilation masquerading as integration. Finally, South Australian policy efforts can be characterised as ‘quiet multiculturalism’, due to a longstanding bipartisan commitment entrenching multiculturalism as the political norm. However, concerns arise about the impact of mainstreaming multiple ‘diversities’ together, such as gender or disability with cultural background.

The thesis presents five key findings that help explain the level of policy success for multiculturalism. First, a common characteristic of political success was tacit and explicit bipartisanship between major political parties. Second, the impact of radical-right parties on multiculturalism varied from case to case, ranging from the electorally popular Sweden Democrats and Dutch Party for Freedom, to the limited parliamentary power of Australia’s One Nation and the United Kingdom Independence Party. Third, programmatic success did not require explicit justifications framed by the rhetoric of multiculturalism, which has been largely abandoned in the European cases. Fourth, consolidated efforts to combat racial discrimination are best undertaken through explicit strategies in supportive institutional and legislative contexts. For example, the UK has the proactive equality duty, in contrast to the reliance upon reactive, complaint-based mechanisms in other cases. While Sweden lacks a national human rights institution, protections against racial discrimination are constitutionally enshrined. Fifth, the mainstreaming of governance and polices promoting multiculturalism and integration poses a potential barrier to process success. The thesis concludes with a series of practical recommendations for policy actors.

Keywords: multiculturalism, integration, immigration, comparative politics, policy success, cultural rights, access and equity

Subject: Policy and Administration thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Medicine and Public Health
Supervisor: Anna Ziersch