chapter  1
22 Pages

Ethnic diversity, political participation and representation: A theoretical framework


Over the past two decades, states have grown increasingly ethnically diverse. This has been a result of mass migration, of complex shifts in cultural identification, and of changes to state borders. In the case of the EU, we have also seen the emergence of a new regional form of sovereignty that has created both new citizens and new minorities. To be clear, this recent increase in ethnic diversity is related not only to movement across borders. Most countries in Europe trace their diversification back several decades, to the period between 1945 and 1973, when developments of mass industrialization and decolonization brought growing numbers of (initially male) foreign workers, followed by their family members.1 In Britain, for example, the broadest wave of non-white immigration arrived between 1951 and 1971 from commonwealth colonies in the Caribbean, the Indian subcontinent and Africa. In France, large-scale post-colonial immigration arrived in the 1960s and early 1970s, especially from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisa, as well as from former West African colonies of Senegal, Mali and Mauritania. In the Netherlands, the main flows came between 1945 and the early 1960s from the former Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and, from 1965 until its independence in 1975, from the Dutch Caribbean territory of Surinam. By 1973, most Western European countries had closed their doors to new migration, though family reunification continued. Scandinavian countries are somewhat distinctive, having experienced diversification largely through liberal policies of refugee acceptance in the 1980s and 1990s. For most countries in Europe, then, the very recent period of socio-demographic change has been propelled not by migration directly, but rather reflects a second-stage settlement and incorporation process. This process involves the development of community structures and ethnic consciousness, and the political emergence of second and third generations. As Castles and Miller note (1998: 79), ‘By the 1980s, colonial migrants and their descendants had become clearly visible social groups.’ The story is somewhat different in the former ‘settler societies’ such as Australia, Canada and the United States. Historically, immigration policies in these countries were linked to ‘nation-building’ strategies, and, while policies were restrictive and often racially defined, it was usually understood and accepted that immigrants would come to stay. This meant that naturalization policies were

typically liberal, and that immigrants were incorporated rapidly into the national fabric. Diversity was thus present from the start in these countries, though, as in Europe, the scope of that diversity expanded dramatically in the post-war period. In these countries, the shift towards large-scale non-white immigration was prompted by an era of civil rights advancements in the mid-1960s.2 Canada notably eliminated race-based distinctions in immigration policy between 1965 and 1967, and introduced a points system for the recruitment of skilled immigrants. This was followed by the introduction of a legislative framework for official multiculturalism in 1971. Australia had eliminated the last vestiges of its racist ‘White Australia’ policy by 1973, and introduced its own official multicultural policy in 1978. In addition, in the U.S., 1965 amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act that removed the discriminatory national-origins quota system were part and parcel of broad civil rights legislation during that period. These civil rights developments had two consequences for diversity in these countries. First, they led to rapid growth in non-European sources of migration. For example, the ‘visible minority’ share of the population of Canada grew from 5 to over 16 per cent between 1981 and 2006. Second, they ushered in a new normative disposition towards diversity, encouraging groups to express and celebrate their cultural identity. This normative shift helped create a more welcoming environment for diverse newcomers, and also influenced the identity consciousness of those minorities whose ancestors had arrived many generations before. Part of the change we are witnessing today thus comes not from migration directly but from the growing salience or ‘politicization’ of ethnicity. By this we mean primarily the emergence of ethnic minorities as political actors – as community activists, voters, candidates and, increasingly, as elected representatives – who at least to some extent express their ethnicity through their political projects. We have noted, for example, a broad trajectory towards increasing representation of minorities in local and national government across many liberal democracies (Anwar 2001; Bergh and Bjorklund 2003; Bird 2005; Black and Hicks 2006; Donovan 2007; Messina 2007; Norris and Lovenduski 1995; Saggar 2000; Studlar and Welch 1992; Togeby 2008; Wüst 2006). The causes of this are as yet unclear, and there appear to be important differences across countries in the timing of these developments, in channels of access for minority citizens to become candidates, in the policy focus and outcomes of minority representation, and in the nature of connections between minority representatives and minority communities. Nevertheless, there appears to be something driving these changes. We believe that changing patterns of electoral turnout and party choice among ethnic minority voters may be a key underlying factor. At a very basic level, increases in ethnic minority representation may reflect growing political engagement of minority citizens, and increasing responsiveness to these potential voters among political parties and candidates. Yet the ‘politicization’ of ethnicity can also refer to intensifying public debates about the management of ethnic diversity. In this latter vein, we have seen rising concern about states’ capacity to incorporate pluralism and maintain

social cohesion, such that all citizens feel a sense of trust and belonging and a willingness to engage in a system of mutual governance. Most notably, Robert Putnam (2007) has worried about the role of diversity in eroding civic ties and the bonds of trust that hold democratic societies together. In Europe, David Goodhart (2004) has lamented that multiculturalism has worn thin the sense of collective identity and reciprocity that undergirds the welfare state. And Samuel Huntington (2004: 32) has raised even broader concerns about deepening cultural divisions in the context of ‘the popularity in intellectual and political circles of the doctrines of multiculturalism and diversity’. Partly as a result of these debates, many countries in Europe are now retreating from multiculturalism. Indicative of this trend, the Council of Europe in its 2008 White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue noted that a major concern emerging from its consultation with member states was that ‘old approaches to the management of cultural diversity were no longer adequate’. In particular, it found a predominant belief among European states that ‘what had until recently been a preferred policy approach, conveyed in shorthand as ‘multiculturalism’, had been found inadequate’ (Council of Europe 2008: 5). We take these two developments – an apparent increase in minority participation and representation in democratic politics, but also growing concern about ‘failed’ policies of multiculturalism – as a puzzle that guides this book. To lay bare our hypothesis from the start, we suspect that political participation and political representation of minorities has less to do with formal policies of multiculturalism than is often assumed. While the effects of multicultural policy in terms of social and economic integration of minorities are now highly debated (e.g. Koopmans 2008; Kymlicka 1995, 1998), there has been a fair degree of scholarly consensus that multiculturalism has a positive impact on political integration. In an influential study based on paired comparisons of ethnic groups in Canada and the US, Irene Bloemraad argues that Canada’s multicultural policies produce higher levels of citizenship acquisition, political participation and electoral representation. She concludes: ‘the results seem clear: on average Canada has been doing better than the United States, in part because multiculturalism provides the symbolic and material resources needed to take out and exercise political membership’ (Bloemraad 2006: 236). The main thesis of her book is that the political incorporation of ethnic minorities and immigrants occurs through a process of ‘structured mobilization’, and that this is facilitated where governments provide symbolic and material support, notably through policies such as multiculturalism and newcomer settlement services. Bloemraad makes a fine case for this theory with respect to rates of naturalization and community organization. Yet when it comes to formal political participation and, most specifically, electoral representation, her findings seem doubtful. We do not dispute that multicultural policies may play some role. However, we suspect that this is but a small part in a complex system of factors, many of which have little or nothing to do with multiculturalism – for example, candidate nomination procedures, electoral rules, party systems, and campaign financing. Indeed, by Bloemraad’s own account, these latter factors appear at

least as important in explaining differences in minority representation between Canada and the United States (Bloemraad 2006: 202-14). Furthermore, it is possible that multicultural policies may have no effect at all on minority political representation in the absence of critical political structures, such as a competitive party system that serves to mobilize ethnic minority voters. This appears to be the case for municipal elections in Canada (Bird 2004). Equally, it may be possible to obtain significant minority electoral participation and representation even where state policies are highly antagonistic toward immigration and multiculturalism – as appears to be true in Denmark (Togeby 2008). Our purpose then is to explore closely, and in comparative fashion, the formal inclusion of immigrants and ethnic minorities in democratic politics. Specifically, we wish to understand the factors that explain differences in political participation and voter choice, and in the descriptive and substantive representation of immigrant and ethnic minorities both across and within states. We believe that this research agenda is an important one, especially in the current context of retreat from multiculturalism. For if it is the case that there are mechanisms other than multicultural policy that serve to enhance or reduce minority political incorporation, then it is crucial that we identify these and point to constructive adjustments that should be made.