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Amartya Sen’s Identity Pluralism Applied to Will Kymlicka’s Liberal Multiculturalism

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Multicultural theory pays surprisingly little attention to the plurality of identity. In addition, there is still dissatisfaction with Will Kymlicka’s distinction between polyethnic groups and national minorities and the rights they deserve, as well as continued criticism of liberal multiculturalism more broadly. I revisit this distinction based on Amartya Sen’s recent effort to introduce the notion of identity pluralism into liberal debates. In Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 2006), Sen stresses the importance of maintaining political stability through individuals’ plural identities mainly in relation to religious divides and global conflict. Sen’s theory is criticised for being too abstract, but I interpret these abstract ideas to criticise Kymlicka’s distinction between polyethnic groups and national minorities and strengthen liberal multiculturalism. I argue that the notion of identity pluralism implies that a state must promote multicultural ‘participation rights’ for all minority identities, rather than ‘accommodation rights’ for polyethnic groups and ‘self-government rights’ for national minorities as Kymlicka contends. Consequently, regions like Quebec, Flanders and Catalonia would not merit the level of autonomy they currently enjoy, and Scotland should not be granted independence from the United Kingdom.

Affiliations: 1: Researcher, De Groene Amsterdammer, Amsterdam, The Netherlands


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