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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The neoliberal state and multiculturalism : the need for democratic accountability MacDonald , Fiona Lisa


This project outlines the existence of neoliberal multiculturalism and identifies the implications and limitations of its practice. Neoliberal multiculturalism involves the institutionalization of group autonomy by the state to download responsibility to jurisdictions that have historically lacked sufficient fiscal capacity and have been hampered by colonialism in the development of the political capacity necessary to fully meet the requirements entailed by the devolution. At the same time, this practice releases the formerly responsible jurisdiction from the political burden of the policy area(s) despite its continued influence and effect. As demonstrated by my analysis of the Indigenous child welfare devolution that has occurred recently in Manitoba, neoliberal multiculturalism therefore involves a certain kind of “privatization”—that is, it involves the appearance of state distance from said policy area. This practice problematizes the traceability of power and decision making while at the same time it co-opts and in many ways neutralizes demands from critics of the state by giving the appearance of state concession to these demands. In response to the dangers of neoliberal multiculturalism, I situate multiculturalism in a robustly political model of democratic multi-nationalism (characterized by both agonism and deliberation) in order to combat multiculturalism’s tendency simply to rationalize “privatization” and to enhance democratic accountability. My approach goes beyond dominant constructions of group autonomy through group rights by emphasizing that autonomy is a relational political practice rather than a resource distributed by a benevolent state. Building on my analysis of Indigenous autonomy and the unique challenges that it presents for traditional democratic practices, I outline a contextually sensitive, case-specific employment of what I term “democratic multi-nationalism”. This approach conceives of Indigenous issues as inherently political in nature, as opposed to culturally defined and constituted, and therefore better meets the challenges of the colonial legacy and context of deep difference in which Indigenous-state relations take place today.

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