Sociology Multiculturalism
Andrea Voyer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0167


In an increasingly global world with significant cross-border migration, societies inevitably contain people with different ethnic, cultural, and religious identities. In the context of the United States in particular, the presence of ethnic, cultural, and religious heterogeneity is more commonly referred to as diversity, while in most other contexts the mere presence of such heterogeneity is dubbed multiculturalism—the most general formulation of multiculturalism in sociology. However, multiculturalism is also an ideological position founded upon the claim that minority identities are important to the people who hold them, and that the identity groups they create will persist. Because identity and identity groups matter, they must be recognized and accommodated in social and political life. Generally speaking, the sociology of multiculturalism falls into six broad categories: the study of growing population diversity, commonly referred to as demographic multiculturalism; multicultural theory; multicultural policy; the impact of multiculturalism; the retreat from multiculturalism; and examination of multiculturalism as a cultural object. Due to its broad subject matter—recent and contemporary cultural diversity and the changes it has wrought in societies and nations—the study of multiculturalism is particularly interdisciplinary. The sociology of multiculturalism overlaps many other areas of research in sociology: migration and immigrant inclusion, national identity and citizenship, religious studies, and racial and ethnic studies, just to name a few. Multiculturalism is also a common subject in the fields of education, political science, philosophy, cultural studies, and history. This article focuses almost exclusively on work that is done in sociology and by sociologists. In addition, the sociology of multiculturalism is, most especially, an international field of research.

General Overviews

Several texts provide a good overview of the sociology of multiculturalism. General works on multiculturalism tend to include a cross-national comparative component and situate the author within different standpoints on multiculturalism. Koopmans 2013 is written from a more critical perspective on multiculturalism that is currently prevalent in the European context. Kivisto 2006 and Bloemraad and Wright 2014 strike a pro-multicultural stance more common among those positions based in traditional countries of immigration.

  • Bloemraad, Irene, and Matthew Wright. 2014. “Utter failure” or unity out of diversity? Debating and evaluating policies of multiculturalism. International Migration Review 48.s1: S292–S334.

    DOI: 10.1111/imre.12135

    In this thorough review article, Bloemraad and Wright take stock of the field of multiculturalism studies. They conclude that multiculturalism does assist with the integration of immigrants and that multicultural policies continue to develop and expand, even while the term multicultural is increasingly disparaged, particularly in Europe.

  • Kivisto, Peter. 2006. Multiculturalism in a global society. 2d ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    Kivisto provides a thorough introduction to modern multiculturalism. He decribes philosophies of identity, citizenship, and community that shape multicultural ideals. He presents case studies of multiculturalism in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, Germany, and France. This text provides an accessible introduction for both lay readers and students.

  • Koopmans, Ruud. 2013. Multiculturalism and immigration: A contested field in cross-national comparison. Annual Review of Sociology 39:147–169.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-soc-071312-145630

    Koopmans compares multicultural policies in different national contexts and reviews research on the impact of multicultural policies: He concludes that, while multiculturalism may increase political integration, research suggests that it hinders cultural and economic integration. Koopmans offers an account for cross-national national variation in the retreat from multiculturalism.

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