TRAMES 3, 2, 1998

John W. Berry. Social psychological costs and benefits of multiculturalism: A view from Canada

Queen’s University, Canada


Most countries are now culturally plural, with more than one ethnicity and language represented in their populations. And nation states usually have a policy (either explicit or implicit) towards their pluralism. Many attempt to forge some homogeneity through a process of assimilation, while others verge on breaking apart because of separation movements. Yet others seek to achieve mutual accommodation among the various cultural elements, through a process of integration. In this latter case, dominant and non-dominant populations agree to modify their behaviour and institutions so that all can find a secure place in a heterogeneous society. Since these policy developments and institutional changes involve new values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, psychologists have a central role to play. In Canada, the fundamental policy is to recognize the cultural and linguistic pluralism of the population, through legislation and programmes that attempt the integration of all peoples in a diverse society. National survey and local community studies have been undertaken to evaluate the level of acceptance and basic assumptions underlying these policy and programme initiatives. Results indicate a moderate level of support. Most people view the benefits of accommodating cultural diversity as outweighing the costs. Whether this policy approach, and research findings, are of use in other plural societies is an important issue, as more and more nation states grapple with questions about their own pluralism, and how best to manage it.

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