Unity through diversity? Assimilation, multiculturalism and the debate over what it means to be an American.
Description: In late 20th century America, multiculturalism emerged as a doctrine of equal respect and a popular ideological framework for resolving intergroup relations. Despite its dramatic presence, many sociologists conclude that the rather vigorous and often contentious academic inquiries into multiculturalism left us without a solid understanding of its significance. In this dissertation I examine survey and personal interview data to more clearly identify patterns of ideological support for multiculturalism or assimilation in the U.S. public and to isolate the motivations for their preferences. Findings based on the survey data indicate that, despite multiculturalism's symbol appeal, it does not seem to guide preferences in favor of or opposition to assimilation/multiculturalism among members of most groups. According to the quantitative data, support for intermarriage is one of the few variables that positively correlates with preferences for assimilation. The interview data indicate a strong tendency among many participants to conflate the meaning of multiculturalism and assimilation. Despite their stated aspirations, many self-identified multiculturalists do not favor cultural pluralism. Apparently a significant number of the interview participants use a synthesis of multiculturalism and assimilation to frame their preferences for social convergence within an assimilationist paradigm - a perspective that only marginally resembles multiculturalism's doctrine of equal respect. Contrary to the extant literature, patterns of support for multiculturalism among the interview participants indicate racial and ethnic cleavages and these patterns correspond to the U.S. social hierarchy. Because racial and ethnic meanings infused the multiculturalism debate with its energy, it is plausible that the subtleties of racial discourse mask common aspirations among racial and ethnic group members. In the last chapter, I employ Alba and Nee's recent theoretical reformulation of the concept of assimilation to explicate the findings of this dissertation.
Date: December 2005
Creator: George, Douglas F.
Partner: UNT Libraries