Public Lecture

Why Multiculturalism is Not Dead: Volker Heins Meets Asli Sevindim

© Lucas Wirl

Duisburg – 22 January 2014

The topic ‘multiculturalism’ is still provoking controversial debates in Germany and neighbouring countries. Following the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statement admitting the failure of integration in Germany, the discussion has intensified. Within this framework, Volker Heins and Asli Sevindim, both authors of pertinent books on multiculturalism as a theory and policy, discussed ideas and challenges in a public lecture on 22nd January 2014 which was organised by Käte Hamburger Kolleg / Centre for Global Cooperation Research.

Volker Heins began his lecture by outlining the main arguments for and against multiculturalism. Critics claim that multiculturalism essentializes and overemphasizes the internal homogeneity of cultures. Against this charge, Heins argued that we can coherently speak of distinct cultures without assuming that they cultures are homogeneous and uniform.

With regard to multiculturalism as a public policy, critics have maintained that multiculturalism has failed and that those who stick to its principles are naïve. Here Heins argued that the purpose of multiculturalism is the 'integration' of immigrants and minorities, whereby integration means the building of a sense of belonging among outsider groups with regard to society. Feelings of belonging signal mutual acceptance and are an indicator of participation in the economic and social life of society. Multiculturalism is successful if we can demonstrate a causal link between multicultural policies and the strengthening of a sense of belonging to the national political community among immigrants and minorities. Interestingly, Heins could present empirical data showing that countries open to multiculturalism (like Britain and Sweden) rank much higher in terms of integration of immigrants than countries which have never officially adopted multiculturalism (like France and Germany).

Heins concluded that multicultural integration, despite its slow progress, remains an attractive option for western as well as non-western democracies.

Following the lecture, Asli Sevindim’s comment added a more personal perspective of a German of Turkish descent. Sevindim stressed that the sense of belonging also implies a feeling of responsibility and willingness to participate. Largely agreeing with Volker Heins, she supported a contextual approach to the problems of a multicultural society: “to be able to live together in peace without a consensus”. Sevindim concluded her comment by pointing out major obstacles to multiculturalism that can be observed including in Germany and elsewhere: racism, prejudice and intolerance.

Dr Volker Heins is the head of the research unit 'Global Cultural Conflicts and Transcultural Cooperation' of the Käte Hamburger Kolleg / Centre for Global Cooperation Research in Duisburg and Professor of Political Sciences at the Ruhr-University Bochum. He is also the head of the 'Interkultur' Department at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities in Essen (KWI). In 2013 Volker Heins published the book 'Skandal der Vielfalt' (Campus Verlag).

Asli Sevindim holds MA degree in Political Sciences from the University of Duisburg-Essen. She is the first Turkish anchorman of the WDR channel´s “Aktuelle Stunde”.

The public lecture was chaired by Dr Mathieu Rousselin, Postdoc Fellow at Käte Hamburger Kolleg/ Centre for Global Cooperation Research.

Time: 14.15–15.45 h
Venue: Gallery Room, H2Office, Schifferstr. 196, 47059 Duisburg

Lecture by Volker Heins with Commentary by Asli Sevendim on Multiculturalism