Forced Migration and Politics of Multiculturalism: Lack of Agency or Complacency?

  • Abstract:

    The nature of geopolitical structures during recent years has brought a new wave of migrants, asylum and nationality seekers to Europe, something that was not seen in previous cases of post-colonial migration. Politics of multiculturalism – claiming that minority cultures or ways of life are not sufficiently protected only by ensuring the individual rights of their members – try to manage these cultural, ethnic and religious diversities with special group rights or privileges. But claims justified by culture may oppose the individual rights established by States adhering to a liberal political model based on the recognition of individual rights; this opposition becomes especially evident where circumstances concern women and children, the most vulnerable members of these groups. This phenomenon increased the urgency to find an answer to the question posed in 1997 by feminist philosopher Susan Moller Okin: Is multiculturalism bad for women?. The politics associated with multiculturalism are often problematic for these so-called weakest members of minorities, for example, when considering the degree to which these members of a minority have agency – defined as the ability to act free of external constraints. It can be considered as a constraint any physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. This paper aims to identify the problematic nature of agency in circumstances where women and children use their culture to justify actions, within States adhering to a liberal political model based the recognition of individual rights. I will question the relationship between agency and coercion, examining how this changes in micro and macro contexts of deep inequality and how agency of the most vulnerable members is affected. I will also question to what extent the public policies of liberal States should consider issues affecting women. In a historical context where national and communitarian-identity concepts are increasingly strengthened, the debate on justice about gender and culture in pluralistic societies becomes very complex and requires a multi-faced analysis.