This thought-provoking book is beneficial reading for those who are interested in a deeper understanding of the dynamics of equality and diversity, related to the division between “us” and the “others”. The tragic events in Norway on 22 July 2011 involved bombing in central Oslo and shooting spree at a political youth camp on the island of Utøya by Anders Breivik– a right-wing fundamentalist with a hatred for Norway’s left, multiculturalism and Muslims – which resulted in the loss of 77 lives. These events involved a radical (mis) understanding of multiculturalism as Breivik considered himself as a modern-day crusader opposed to multiculturalism. In light of these events, the book by Randi Gressgård is all the more relevant since it comprehends the complexities of differences and explores solutions for the problems involved. Multicultural Dialogue is an interdisciplinary book combining conceptualizations from the philosophy of science with ethnic minority research and gender studies. The author takes issues with universalist notions of equality and cultural relativist notions of distinctiveness. The volume is a theoretical, philosophical delineation of sensitive themes which are rather superficially treated in, for example, the media. The book reflects the theorizing of globalization as unfolding in the unstable tension between cultural homogenization and cultural heterogenization, producing both continuities and disjunctures in different domains (Appadurai, 1996). The book also delineates the solution, named as critical theoretical intervention, to the pivotal tension between granting of equal rights and recognizing cultural distinctiveness. The solution endeavors to establish viable alternative ways of perceiving the relationship between “us” and the “others”, arguing in favor of communities based on nonidentitarian difference, developed and maintained through open and critical dialogue. The point of departure for the book is the situation in Norway, a culturally diverse nation, where the question of tolerance is central to the much debated issues of diversity, ethnocentrism, and racial discrimination towards migrants. Norwegian integration policy is grounded in planned pluralism which includes respect to cultural differences, but also involves cultural distinctions and prevailing standards of “normality”. Some researchers, such as Alexandra Ålund (1991), perceive this as culturalization of the “others”. * E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org 95 Gressgård points out that French poststructuralists, among others Foucault, have focused on the reductive opposition between “us” and the “others”. She elucidates the ethnocentric fallacy by invocation of metaphysics of purity, which refers to that which is absolutely whole and devoid of pollution, and by introducing paradigmatic examples from the Norwegian minority pupils context, where the policy of inclusion paradoxically serves to exclude the pupils who are to be included. The difference or impurity defined as that which is “out of place”, in relation to the system of order, is a challenge to the dominant order and must be managed in accordance with the oppositional logic of the multicultural dilemma, subordinating the “others” to the majority population. Drawing on Dumont’s classical work on hierarchy, Gressgård illustrates the internal exclusionary mechanisms in the Norwegian society. She refers to a study that reveals how minorities who do not share the values of the majority population are excluded (subordinated) due to their deviance from the dominant normative standards. Furthermore, she argues that people in Norway are thought of not as individuals but as identical parts of society. Conflating the modern and non-modern configurations, Gressgård convincingly shows that the “others” are constituted as different and inferior, i.e. as negative mirror images of “our” identity. For example, she argues that in Unni Wikan’s book Towards a New Norwegian Underclass (Wikan 1995) differences are ordered hierarchically based on what is considered valuable, leading to judgment of the “others” as second-class citizens. The “others” comprise the negation that serves positive identity of the majority population. Gressgård also argues for a conceptualization of heterogeneity perceived as an opportunity rather than a threat. The two last chapters of the book are useful for the readers who are involved in the pragmatic side of the multicultural dynamics, since the chapters deal with the consequences of heterogeneity and with the creation of conditions for dialogs. Furthermore, Gressgård discusses two types of heterogeneity: the unpresentable, which means that “otherness” cannot be expressed in the existing idioms; and the representable, which means that the “others” can have a voice and difference can be expressed. The author uses Lyotard’s core concept “differend” to delineate an irresolvable conflict and to exemplify aptly the conflicts after the 11 September 2001 terror attack. We may ask whether the US, with the support of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), actually carried out a reprisal in attacking Afghanistan or whether the conflict was irresolvable, given that it was not between two states, but between a country and an international Muslim network. The last chapter of the book focuses on how to establish multicultural dialogue that breaks with the oppositional logic involving assimilation and culturalization, or subordination, of the “others”. Gressgård underlines the importance of a critical distance to one’s own truth claims in terms of “moral performance” as practical ethics. The elements of moral performance perception, judgment and action imply noticing the welfare of the “others”; openness; and altruistic emotions, such as empathy, compassion, caring and sympathy. The author argues that there is a distance between the subject and the addressee (“us” and the “others”), and imagination temporarily suspends in the process of empathy. She uses another Foucault-informed theorist, Falcon’s views on dominance to claim that heterogeneity is to be prioritized. According to such thinking, dominance occurs at the expense of a basic freedom and can lead to “silencing” of the “other” and “forgetting”. Moreover, the author emphasizes openness to the others’ view, instead of pseudo-openness which entails continuous domination. Furthermore, Gressgård emphasizes resistance that involves destablization of established norms, including notions of “us” and the “others”. This implies bringing together disparate energies, congruent to Spivak’s idea of “strategic essentialism” in visible political interest and to Butler’s strategy of “cultural translation” as part of the dialogical process. The main message of the book is that we should avoid the risk of assimilating the “others” through planned pluralism. On the other hand, the book calls for developing new idioms, accepting differences and appealing to the dominant cultural forms to recognize that that there might be different ways of thinking and acting. This book has an explicit message with societal significance, though the reading is demanding and dense. Especially the large number of philosophical argumentation that the book includes can be difficult to follow for those who are not already familiar with these complex theoretical conceptualizations. However, for those who have the patience and some basic familiarity with these concepts, reading the book can be a rewarding experience. The contents are convincing, provocative, and at times also shocking – especially some pragmatic examples. The invocation of such examples and the philosophical argumentation reflects the author’s vast scholarship. In the aftermath of the events of 22 July 2011 in central Oslo and the island of Utøya, which shocked Norway and the world, I hope that the message of the book would be formulated in much simpler and easier form so that it could reach a broader group of readers. Especially journalists, practitioners, and policy makers would benefit of the ideas grounding the book, in order to establish acceptance of heterogeneity and the “others” – not only in Norway and Scandinavia but also in Europe and the globalized world!
Journal book review
Journal of Nordic Migration Research, 2012, Vol 2, Issue 1, p. 95-96