Migration, Minorities, and Learning—Understanding Cultural and Social Differences in Education

  • Thomas Geisen
  • Zvi BekermanEmail author


The debate over the relevance of culture and its potential influence on the learning processes of minority and migrant groups is a long-standing tradition: On the one hand culture is seen as crucial for an understanding of migration and minority issues, while on the other, the focus on culture is seen as a hindrance which leads to processes of ‘culturalization’ and ‘ethnization’ through which social inequalities are made invisible. Most prominent is the high relevance which ‘culture’ is awarded in discussions of the so-called ‘clash of cultures’ thesis (Huntington 1997) or the ‘war of civilizations’ (Tibi 1995), which has been highly influential in social and political debates on migration and minorities, especially after the events of 9/11 in the USA. The relevance of culture for an understanding of migration and minority issues is under review because when critically approached it is shown to support essentializing processes. A call has also been made to instead focus upon ‘cultural’ differences, and to turn our attention towards structures of social inequality (cf. Dittrich and Radtke 1990; Juhasz and Mey 2003). Within this line of research ‘culture’ has been predominantly understood as being less relevant in the social sphere; an impression or result of social inequality but not its cause. Such perspectives promote an understanding of culture from a structuralist perspective, which is also directed against the politics and practices of multiculturalism as established since the late 1970s (Bekerman 2003) in different Western countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands (cf. Guiberneau and Rex 1999). This critique focuses on the essentializing effects of multiculturalism on so-called cultural groups, which are perceived as fixed and unchangeable. Anne Phillips, in her critic on multiculturalism, recommends avoiding the term ‘culture’ and suggests instead a ‘Multiculturalism without Culture’ (Phillips 2007). “When multiculturalism is represented as the accommodation of or negotiation with cultural communities or groups, this encourages us to view the world through the prism of separate and distinct cultures. (…) The individuals, in all their complexity, disappear from view” (Phillips 2007, p. 179). Instead, Phillips argues for a multiculturalism which does not support processes of reification and homogenization while being able to address cultural inequalities (Phillips 2007, p. 179).


Social Inequality Educational Setting Social Sphere Religious Minority Minority Member 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social WorkUniversity of Applied Sciences, Northwestern SwitzerlandOltenSwitzerland
  2. 2.School of Education, Melton CenterHebrew UniversityJerusalemIsrael

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