Neoliberal Multiculturalism and Western Exceptionalism: The Cultural Politics of the West

  • Sunera Thobani
Original Paper


The tradition of the west defines its modernity as a radical rupture with endless possibilities for egalitarian futures; yet western modernity was rooted in the genocide of indigenous populations, transatlantic racial slavery and colonialism. Moreover, as the war on terror demonstrates, racial/gender violence continues to be linked to the formation of western identity, culture and politics in the early twenty-first century. This paper examines how the histories of race and coloniality feature in the contemporary formation of the west, with a particular focus on US nationalism and Canadian multiculturalism. These nation-states are most often defined as antithetical, with the latter confirming that western society has transcended its originary racial/colonial politics. I begin with a brief discussion of the reformation of the west in the mid-twentieth century as the USA became the dominant western power. I then move to compare the contemporary national politics of the USA and Canada to highlight the divergence and convergence in their delineation of their identity and values. My study demonstrates that although the white supremacist discourse that presently constitutes US nationalism is at variance with the multiculturalism that shapes Canadian identity, these discourses can be defined as twin aspects of the racial/colonial politics that continue to give meaning to the idea of the west.


West Cultural politics Race Settler colonialism War on terror Muslims 


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Copyright information

© Fudan University 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Asian Studies and Social Justice InstituteUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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