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Rethinking culture and cultural : the politics of meaning-making Dhamoon, Rita


In North American contemporary political thought, theorists have increasingly turned their attention to questions of identity/difference. In particular, liberal multiculturalism has emerged as the dominant public and normative site to address such questions, specifically those related to claims of culture. I explore two key aspects of the theoretical and historical lacuna in liberal multiculturalism: a) how (through processes of signification) and b) why (as a result of arrangements of power) members of dominant and subordinated social groups are differentially located within specific socio-historical contexts. Through multidisciplinary critical approaches, I analyze liberal multiculturalism both broadly and specifically; this encompasses a critique of two of the leading liberal multicultural theories in the discourse — namely those of Will Kymlicka and Charles Taylor — and an assessment of culture as a central organizing concept. Overall, I explore how and why liberal multiculturalism does not fully grasp the complex terrain of identity/difference politics. At best, I contend, it only partially captures the complexity of issues at stake, and at worst it misunderstands, obscures, and erases multiple dimensions of this politics. This is, however, more than simply a project of criticism; it also a re-conceptualization of the way in which identity/difference politics should be theorized. Chiefly, I argue that a conceptual shift from culture to cultural has the potential to open up theoretical and political considerations closed off by liberal multiculturalism, especially those related to the constitution of identities, difference, non-difference and power. As such, in political theory what distinguishes this project from other critical analyses is not a revision of the culture concept but a shift to an alternate concept. The central contribution of this shift lies in radically repositioning the analytical focus away from the object of culture to the processes of meaning-making that constitute identities and relations. To illuminate the theoretical insights of the shift to cultural I explore a number of case studies. These focus on the processes that signify Deaf, transsexual, immigrant, and Indigenous women's identities. The cases demonstrate that the conceptual shift to cultural has the potential tp expand, interrogate, and complicate the study of identity/difference politics. The final chapter concludes by considering the political implications of the shift to cultural for liberal-democratic principles and practices.

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