On Friday 25 January an audience of seventy-five people gathered in the EBC’s airy 2nd floor lecture theatre to hear a distinguished panel of speakers offer their thoughts on social cohesion in Britain, and on whether the idea of ‘multiculturalism’ which has underpinned much policy and practice in recent years has had its day. Critics of multiculturalism argue that it has impeded integration and increased tensions between different cultural groups. The first speaker, Prof. Ted Cantle of the iCoCo Foundation and the University of Nottingham, argued that a new vision – of interculturalism – was necessary, with more emphasis on transnational identities and on social cohesion. Prof. Ann Phoenix of the Institute of Education agreed, while also stressing our capacity for switching between identities across different sectors of life. Jamie Bartlett of the thinktank Demos reported on research into politics and community relations online, where exchanges between different groups seem to lead to greater polarisation. Jasvinder Sanghera of the national charity KarmaNirvana argued that multiculturalism’s tolerance of some cultural values had brought a failure to challenge oppressive practices such as forced marriage. David Aaronovitch of The Times advised careful use of the word ‘multiculturalism’, which has a multiplicity of definitions, and saw greater interaction between groups as the best way to promote social cohesion. The half-day event ended with a lively and rich discussion between audience and panellists.
The event was organised by Prof. Richards, chaired by Stephen Jukes, Dean of the Media School, and supported by the BU Public Engagement unit and the School’s Politics and Media Research Group. Thanks are also due to IT Services for their help with recording the proceedings, and to the BA Politics & Media students who provided invaluable assistance on the day. Another Media School event at the EBC dealing with a major socio-political issue, this one on the Leveson inquiry and the future of the media, is scheduled for Friday 8 February. The event was primarily a public engagement one, not an academic conference, and the audience included a good mix of people from local authorities, the voluntary sector and the police as well as BU academics and students from three Schools. It was also linked to a Media School research agenda on political extremism being pursued by Prof. Barry Richards and Dr. Roman Gerodimos: levels of extremist activity are linked inversely to those of cultural integration and social cohesion. And it was an example of how BU can create spaces for its own staff and students to engage in debates about key societal issues of the day. The videorecording of it will shortly be available on the BU YouTube channel.