Tuesday, November 09, 2004

thesis Conclusion

This Conclusion to the thesis is giving me a lot of trouble, so i'll sketch it out here, in the hope that:
a. it isn't stolen
b. if it is stolen it's because its so lucidly written that it can be.
c. someone can read and comment.

The National Cell.
The type of idea that i've gone for is an organic conceptualisation of the nation-state as a cell, divided internally by porous boundaries that delineate different types of group. the boundaries had to be porous because there is an undoubtable movement and identity change within nation-states, the example of migrants becoming citizens being an common example. what this illustration is supposed to suggest is a more 'dynamic' understanding of nation-states as containers for more than a single nation. as it is, a concept of single-nation, single-state is not only too simple, but belies the fact that there is no example of this anywhere in the world.
certainly, there are examples of countries that wish to be singular and homogeneous in this way, but there are no real examples.
what we have instead is a conventional wisdom that coherent and homogeneous nations will form out of the identity melanges that pass for nations in many sovereign states. i sought therefore to try and untangle the mess that is the presumption of eventual homogeneity in nation-states, by looking at the processes that both perpetuate nations, and that drive change/homogenisation (because homogenisation necessarily utilises change to achieve its ends, even if this means change on behalf of minorities).
the first thing to do was to better define 'the nation' itself. in doing so, i noticed that the concept has largely settled around a modernist definition provided by Gellner, Giddens, Hobsbawn, and especially Anderson, who see the nation as an imagined construct. but one that derives its base from a strong 'ethnic' link to a structural reinforcement in the state. consequently, 'the nation' is both traditional, modern and post-modern all at once. my purpose then was to gradually 'unpack' these layers.
the first to be said is that 'the nation', although all too frequently used as a shorthand for 'the citizens' [of a nation-state], actually comprises only a limited number of persons who could legitimately be called nationals. again, migrants, though they might be citizens, aren't authentically nationals. this means two things. first, you have formal nationality, meaning possession of a passport. second, you have informal nationality, meaning recognition by other nationals that you are an 'authentic'. the appropriate term for formal nationals is usually 'metic', a classical greek term meaning 'a partially franchised citizen'.
to justify this initial separation, i was required to look at the boundary that separates national from metic, and the processes that bring metics into the national fold. essentially, the boundary between the two, while as stated permeable, is the same for all non-nationals including the descendants of authentic nationals. ‘nation-building’ the process that both defines what a national is, and encourages the identification of individuals with this definition, is in operation to constantly ‘re-tether’ members of a nation-state to the nation itself.

certainly, it might be possible to consider this a ‘closed circuit’ of use only for internal nation-building (i.e. perpetuating the nation through descent). my need then was to demonstrate that such as closed circuit of nation-building is fallacious. firstly, I needed to illustrate the gradual transformation of a nation through historical time. what this means is that during intergenerational change the socio-cultural content of a nation gradually changes to accommodate new ideas and cultural practices. michael billig accomplishes this well with his idea of ‘banal nationalism’, in which the socio-cultural content of nations most often operate as a kind of ‘background’ noise for instrumental use by elites. modern nations are constantly recreated by their constituent nationals, and nation-building is most often a banal, unconsidered process of socialisation.

secondly, I considered the example of migrants. current liberal ideology argues that it is permissible for migrants to contribute politically to the terms of their assimilation into host communities (Kymlicka). justification being that as long as an introduced minority conforms to specific liberal standards within its own community, there is little reason to prohibit minority cultural practices. but in considering a practical instance of large-scale minority tolerance in this fashion, australia, it was obvious that nation-building itself can be influenced profoundly by the presence of migrants, if the majority is willing or required to do so. in the australian case, the nation changed profoundly under pressure from the migrant presence, especially in regard to the ‘white australia’ policy.

how and why this occurred was an important part of understanding nation-building itself, and centred on the concept of ‘policy community’ that was revealed during the discussion of migrant contributions to nation-building. when unpacking the concept of the nation, I argued that the boundary between ‘authentic’ national and metic represents a difference between the ‘majority nation’ and other societies that may exist within this majority nations sovereign borders. in trying to define the parameters of this policy community though, there appeared to be a large degree of ‘slippage’ between a ‘policy community’ and a habermasian public sphere.

it seems that by engaging with the majority nation over their right to maintain cultural continuity from their home nation-states, migrant communities established and maintained what nancy fraser calls ‘subaltern counterpublics’, or ‘minority public spheres’. operating out of the relatively liberal australian civil society, organisations within these migrant societies were able, with support from some majority nationals, to place enough pressure on policy elites to substantially influence the shape of immigration policy. consequently, while operating within their own minority sphere (and deriving their political positions from within these spheres), these organisations also represented the political will of the minority societies.

while initial demands for the structural perpetuation of migrant cultures (separate education institutions for example) were rejected, the unmolested cultural perpetuation of these groups was guaranteed. but, in the case of Australia, the need to include the cultural differences of migrant societies resulted in the necessary reappraisal of the relatively exclusive majority nationality itself, which was regarded as inappropriate considering the multi-ethnic content of the citizen population (and was proving something of an international embarrassment).

the situation the Australian migrant experience illustrates is that the boundary between majority nation and minority group (be it a society or community) is indeed permeable, but is not simply a site for the absorption of ‘nationals in waiting’, and is instead a site of social cultural and political engagement between the two. expanding on this idea became very important, and another example from the same country was highlighted.

whereas migrants only have a limited ability to make demands for their perpetuation, i.e. within liberal ideology they are limited to finding means to better integrate into the majority, indigenous people have a demand for social and cultural perpetuation that is based on the want to entrench their differences to the majority. in other words, indigenes more often than not demand that the immutability of their socio-cultural difference is respected. and this presents peculiar problems for the nation-state/nation-building model.

within the parameters of the liberal ideology that permits cultural diversification within a democracy, and using the arguments established during Australia’s transition to multiculturalism, migrants are using a practice called cultural pluralism, while indigenes are using a very similar practice called structural pluralism. the difference between the two being that the latter recognises the need of some minorities to establish and maintain organisational or institutional means to perpetuate their society. or more specifically, to establish structural means either within, or contiguous to majority institutions. cultural pluralism does not allow such an occurrence, instead encouraging minority difference to remain within the ‘private sphere’ (removing the obligation on the majority for support from the public purse for example).

interestingly, when discussing his model for the inclusion of ethnic or cultural minorities within liberal democracies, Kymlicka uses this cultural/structural distinction in reference to migrants and what he calls ‘national minorities’ (a label that includes indigenes).

what this means for this thesis is that Kymlicka was provided a good, liberal means to theorise and understand nation-states containing multiple identity groups. there are specific problems with Kymlicka's concept, but as a whole it appears workable if the ‘kinks’ are ironed out. firstly, it provides for socio-cultural mobility, in the sense of minority individuals ‘becoming’ majority nationals (because migrant communities can negotiate the terms of their integration in the majority). secondly, it provides for the perpetuation of immutable groups like indigenes, because it provides a liberal justification for their continuing existence (which necessarily implies the existence of a boundary between minority and majority). and thirdly, it provides for the national perpetuation of majority and minority, because Kymlicka recognises that ethnicity is not ‘static’, but is a social, and therefore dynamic phenomena.

using Kymlicka's theorisation of nationality and liberal nation-building, including the clarifications of the concepts I provide in Section One, deepens our ability to characterise the nation-state as an organic ‘cell’, in which differing parts interact within the overall boundary of the ‘cell wall’ the sovereign state. but to do so, it was necessary to expand on an idea only explored by Kymlicka in relation to his home country, Canada.

in Finding Our Way, Kymlicka discusses at length means to both justify and perpetuate the minority national status of the Quebecois. what distinguishes this case study from the example of indigenous people in Australia (and New Zealand for that matter) is that the latter do not have the territorial separation, nor the ability to form a state held by the Quebecois. but, this does not mean that structural pluralism cannot be utilised normatively in relation to incorporating indigenous societies into a liberal majority nation.

the trick in this instance is to ensure that the comprehensive intermixing of indigene and majority national that inevitably occurs does not contain an implicit necessity for the minority to assimilate socio-culturally (although structural assimilation is a given). to explain how this tricky situation plays out in practice, the two case studies of New Zealand and Australia discussed briefly in Part One were expanded upon in Part Two with specific reference to the structural incorporation of socio-cultural distinct indigenes.

what becomes apparent upon reading this Part of the thesis is that the most important factor determining the minority’s ability to self-perpetuate is the willingness of the majority to tolerate two factors, minority demands over what minority individuals consider matters of import to their societal culture, and minority reticence to fully assimilate into the majority in the long term.

if the majority considers that the minority is likely to assimilate in the long term, as is the case in Australia, there continues to be pressure placed on the minority societal culture that makes both minority nation-building and therefore perpetuation very difficult. in the Australian instance, this appears to be because the majority nation uses cultural pluralism to interpret minority demands, and not structural pluralism as is the case in New Zealand. in New Zealand the majority accepts that the boundary between Māori and majority is in fact an interface, and not merely a convenient and transient separation between the two groups.

in practice, this means that the majority is willing to tolerate and/or accept Māori demands about firstly the shape of the two groups interrelationship, and secondly about what is and is not a matter of import to the minority (such as minority language retention, a subject very much within the boundaries of minority concern). the situation envisaged then is of a constant engagement between the two groups along the shared interface. furthermore, this engagement also characterises the New Zealand situation, and exposes the tenuous position of Aboriginal people, who are most usually subject to more pressure to conform to majority standards.

it’s this last issue, engagement, that has been most thematic to this thesis. initial reading for the theoretical half of the project uncovered three authors in addition to Kymlicka who considered engagement or ‘negotiation’ to be important to understanding intercultural relations within nation-states. these authors, James Tully, Strange Multiplicity, William Connelly, The Ethos of Engagement, and PG McHugh, Partnership Perspectives, all argued in similar ways that engagement and relationship building were vital to maintaining a healthy multi-ethnic nation-state. as an argument, this stands in marked contrast to the more conventional versions of nation-building and nationalism that see ethnic diversity eventually disappearing under the weight of a natural ‘blending’ of a national population.

interestingly, this issue was also raised by several interviewees during the interview period and case study period of 1999 to 2001. what interviewees on both sides of the Tasman indicated, without prompting from the interviewer, was a preference for ‘engagement as dialogue’ with ‘mainstream’ (i.e. majority national) agencies and institutions with which they interacted on an almost daily basis. this preference stood in contrast to ‘engagement as following orders’ (i.e. merely delivering services that met majority expectations).

what interviewees expressed a preference for during this period was the ability to influence decisions that effected activities within what they considered to be ‘their’ area of expertise and/or interests. in the Waipareira and Ngwala cases for instance, which are both service providers, the groups wanted to have a save in the development of policy, to ensure that the expectation and demands contained therein served the interests of the minority to which they were targeted. key to understanding this demand though is that the groups in question did not demand control over such decisions, but merely to make an actual contribution, with the implication that it is indeed engagement that is desired.

in relation to the societal culture model, what this demand suggests (along with its reinforcement in the other two case studies), is that the model is useful in understanding the position of indigenes in Australia and New Zealand. this is especially the case in relation to Kymlicka's stipulation of minority self-defence and self-perpetuation. the most pressing concern raised by this potential applicability though is a contrast between the circumstances of Aboriginal people and Māori.

as stated earlier, Aboriginal people are constrained in their ability to self-perpetuate by the denial of structural pluralism. although they are able to engage with the majority, it is on very limited terms (usually simple procedures etc). this limiting of Aboriginal people is a strong vindication of Kymlicka's argument that particular types of minorities must be able to nation-build. furthermore, it also places emphasis on Kymlicka and other theorists who argue that engagement and dialogue between ethnic groups is the best way to manage socio-culturally diverse nation-states.

to conclude, Kymlicka's societal culture model is applicable to New Zealand and Australia, if specific failings are addressed, and if the context in which it is applied is conducive to minority nation-building.


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