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Queen's University

Multiculturalism Policies in Contemporary Democracies

Definitions and Data

Our MCP Index measures the presence or absence of a range of multiculturalism policies (MCPs) at three points in time - 1980, 2000 and 2010 – across 21 Western democracies. There is no universally-accepted definition of a “multiculturalism policy”, and no hard and fast line that would sharply distinguish MCPs from closely related policy fields, such as anti-discrimination policies, citizenship policies and integration policies. Any list of MCPs is likely, therefore, to be controversial, and perhaps arbitrary at the edges.

However, we believe that the policies we have identified are consistent with the most common usages of the term in both public as well as scholarly debate, and provide a useful basis for investigating the competing claims about the social effects of MCPs, and about their evolution over time. We start from the premise that all 21 of the countries in our sample are Western liberal-democracies, and as such provide certain fundamental civil and political rights to all citizens on non-discriminatory basis. They differ, however, in the extent to which they go beyond the non-discriminatory protection of traditional individual rights of citizenship to also provide some additional form of public recognition, support or accommodation for ethnocultural minorities to maintain and express their distinct identities and practices. It is this additional level of recognition, support and accommodation that we seek to measure with our MCP Index. Each of our policy indicators is intended to capture a policy dimension where liberal-democratic states faced a choice about whether or not to take a multicultural turn and to become more accommodating and supportive of minorities.

Since MCPs are intended to recognize, support or accommodate diversity, it is almost inevitable that different types of groups will seek different kinds of MCPs. Newly-arrived immigrants are likely to seek different forms of support or accommodation than indigenous peoples living on their ancestral lands. For the purposes of this Index, we have focused on three types of groups that are found in many Western democracies: immigrant-origin ethnic groups, historic national minorities, and indigenous peoples. For each of these groups, the Index identifies a range of policies that are characteristic or emblematic of the “multicultural turn” over the past forty years. The Index lists eight such policies for immigrant groups (such as multicultural education); six such policies for national minorities (such as official language status); and nine such policies for indigenous peoples (such as land claims). In our summative rankings for countries, we have weighed these policies equally. Other researchers may wish to add adjust the Index, subtracting policies from the list or weighting specific policies differently, in light of their own definition of “multiculturalism policy”. But we believe that our Index captures the essential issues that characterize the multicultural turn in public policy, and that the scores accorded to our 21 countries accurately reflect.

For each type of group, we have produced a booklet that contains (a) definitions of these policies and our rules for scoring individual countries; (b) a table which indicates how each country scored in relation to each policy in 1980, 2000 and 2010; and (c) a detailed chronology of policy evolution in each country which provides the evidence underpinning our scores.

To read or download these booklets:


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