The concept of multiculturalism has no clear-cut definition due to its varied perceptions within the scholarly, political and social spheres. Critics of multiculturalism perceive it to be the other side of racism. However, scientific discovery that the human DNA and race have no connection turned the debate towards culture and ethnicity as the underlying philosophies within which multiculturalism is conceived.
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As a result, a number of key elements of multiculturalism emerged including the history, demographic as well as politics of multicultural communities. These are analyzed against multiculturalism in Italy. The Italian culture is unique and diverse, and despite showing similarities with the American and the Haitians cultures, there is strong evidence of ideological differences amongst these cultures.
The term multiculturalism has been the subject of debate from scholars, sociologists, politicians, and other professionals. From this debate, several issues have emerged and they need to be put in perspective. The purpose of highlighting these issues is two fold: to help shape the conceptualization of the term multiculturalism and to shape the ideological perspectives for this essay.
To begin with, the term multiculturalism has a historical perceptive. The concept of multiculturalism emerged in the 1980s, beginning with the public school curriculum. Curriculum experts noted that at the time, the curriculum then was too Eurocentric and gender biased.
It ignored the interests of women and people of color. This led to questions being asked about the pervasiveness of the white man’s culture in other spheres of life such as religion, governance, and social stratification, among others. As such, sociologists started viewing the social demographics along the multicultural perspective. Additionally, science discovered that the human DNA has no influence on race.
Consequently, categorization of the human race shifted focus from racism to culture and ethnicity. Thirdly, multiculturalism has a strong political orientation. People tend to develop a political identity depending on one’s social category; race, culture, and religion.
Identity politics also tend to manifest itself within a country’s social cultural stratification, with notable power struggles between the various cultural groups. In view of this, the political class usually develops policies that encourage a cross cultural tolerance since creation a common culture is usually elusive (Jay, 2011).
Jay’s (2011) assertions are analyzed with respect to the Italian scenario. Italy has progressively become a desirable destination for immigrants. As a result, an increasing number of people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds have settled in Italy.
While immigration can be attributed to a number of factors, the open door policy of the 1980s takes much credit. People of different cultural and ethnic orientation from countries such as Morocco, Spain, Britain, Tunisia, Libya, Albania, Germany, and France make part of the larger Italian multicultural society.
According to statistics done at the beginning of the 21st century, one in every nineteen Italians is an immigrant. This shows that the total immigrant population is slightly above 5% of the entire population. Geographically, the distribution of immigrants across Italy is slightly uneven.
This is facilitated by the fact that most of the immigrants prefer to settle in northern Italy for economic reasons. Consequently, more than 61% of the immigrants have settled in the northern parts of the country where jobs opportunities are most likely to be found.
Only 12% of the immigrants are live in the southern parts of the country. The central, eastern and western regions of the country hold the remaining percentage. Additionally, the immigrants are quite young with about 70% of them ranging from 14 to 44 years (Dimitrova, 2008). The demographic distribution of immigrants also varies depending on the country of origin.
Currently, immigrants from eastern European countries are among the fastest rising, with a majority of them settling in the northern parts of the country. It is worth noting that the immigrants experience difficulties in trying to integrate with the mainstream social cultural setup (Barański, 2001). These multicultural dynamics complicates the Italian multicultural society.
Due to the rising number of people from different ethnicities and cultures in Italy, the Italian society is increasingly becoming multicultural. As explained earlier, the immigrants have not seamlessly integrated into the mainstream Italian social cultural setup.
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Additionally, cultural diversity portrays one of the historical social problems faced by Italy’s acceptance of people of different ethnic and cultural background. This has also been one of the characteristics of the Italian national identity.
Regardless of the rejection of other cultures by native Italians, the social demographic organization has experienced significant change over the years. A careful evaluation of social demographic composition of students within the Italian elementary schools reveal that only 50 % of the students are native Italians, with the other 50 % made up of immigrant children.
Most of these children are receiving education in multicultural setting and as such, usually have a problem in the formation of a cultural identity. This phenomenon continues to add to the cultural identity dilemma that Italy faces (Orton and Parati, 2007).
These trends and statistics are a wider reflection of the composition of the larger Italian society. Additionally, the increase in the number of immigrants and the number of second and third generation Italians is diluting the ancient romantic identify that is historically identified as the ideal Italian culture. This is possibly the reason why Barański (2001) argues that the native Italian is increasingly feeling isolated in his own country.
The trends within Italians schools with regard to multiculturalism, the emerging feeling of isolationism and the increasing multi-ethnicity within the Italian society means that the political class needs to take drastic action to stem negative attitudes towards people of different cultures.
Scholars and curriculum developers in Italy are emphatic on the need to develop a curriculum that addresses the recent social cultural challenge. As such, the Italian curriculum is designed to address the issue of social and cultural inclusivity. The Italian education system also started changing its curriculum content in the 1960s, placing a lot of emphasis on the rights of the individual.
The effects of such an education system are currently experienced in the wider social economic landscape, where people of various cultures are increasingly gaining influence and acceptance (Garner, 1999). On the other hand, cultural inclusion is dependent on the prevailing political inclination of the ruling class.
The rightwing politicians frown on immigration and multiculturalism while the centre left politicians adopt a more accommodating approach to the Italian changing cultural landscape. As such, the centre lefts have passed numerous policies such as ‘Leg. Decree 286/1998,’ which gives legal backing to the concept of multiculturalism.
Under this law, immigrants are assured of equal opportunities in basic education, social welfare services, and access to quality healthcare as do the native Italian do. While ‘Leg. Decree 286/1998’ has a more national outlook, local authorities especially those in the northern parts of the country adopt laws that encourage cross cultural communication and integration (Guild and Minderhoud, 2006). These laws have however done little to stem the deep rooted objection to multiculturalism.
White (2007) explains that the Italians’ romantic culture has been corrupted due to the influence from a variety of issues, among them multiculturalism. The essence of the community which has historically been the hallmark of the Italian society, has gradually been wiped out by the opening up of the cultural space in the last one century.
White (2007) asserts that the Italian culture is distinctively romantic. Italian romanticism is evident in the Italian way of life and is characterized by the sense of community, integrity, sincerity, candid honesty, openness, personal pride, hard work and ingenuity.
Additionally, Italians also have a strong connection with nature and the powers within the natural world. This connection is depicted by the Italian art. The native Italian culture requires that the individual possesses strong personal traits such as honesty, integrity, candidness as well as being in touch with ones personal appearance.
As such, the Italians community is composed of strong individuals, who are aware of their individual worth. However, as White (2007) concludes, the modern Italian culture has lost its Italianness as these romantic cultural identities are have been corrupted by influences of alien individualism.
White (2007) mentions that individualism and a strong sense of individual identity puts the Italian culture Vis a Vis the American culture. Like the Italian culture, the American culture is largely diverse. Individualism and a sense of individual rights are pervasive within the American culture.
While these seem like overt similarities, the cultural ideologies that inform individualism within these two cultures vary significantly. While individualism is influenced by a sense personal liberty and the need for personal space within the American society, within the Italian culture, individualism is influenced by a sense of being in touch with ones personal appearance (Marsden, 1990; White, 2007).
In the Italian culture, the sense of personal space is conspicuously absent. Close interpersonal ties tend to be informed by a long history of community amongst the Italians. Yet, the emphasis on community and the strong cultural connection with the natural world alludes to linkages between the Italian culture and other major world cultures such as the Haitian culture.
While the Italian cultural connection with the natural world is as a result of its romantic ideals, the Haitians’ love for nature has a more spiritual dimension (Largey, 2006; White, 2007). As such, despite the seemingly overt similarities between these three cultures, the underlying ideologies reveal that stark cultural differences.
The Italian culture has largely lost its sense of romanticism. This can be attributed to the rise of multiculturalism within the Italian society. The native Italian cultural orientation promotes certain character traits such as honesty, candidness, integrity, sincerity, openness among others.
These traits seem to be corrupted by the effects of multiculturalism. As such, the native Italian feels like a foreigner in his own land. This seems to be the reason why popular right wing political establishment opposes the influx of people of different cultures into the country. Nonetheless, multiculturalism in Italy will be subject to debate in the foreseeable future.
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Largey, M. (2006). Vodou nation: Haitian art music and cultural nationalism. London: University of Chicago Press.
Marsden, M. (1990). Religion and American culture. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
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