Plural society

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A plural society is defined by Fredrik Barth as a society combining ethnic contrasts: the economic interdependence of those groups, and their ecological specialization (i.e., use of different environmental resources by each ethnic group). The ecological interdependence, or the lack of competition, between ethnic groups may be based on the different activities in the same region or on long–term occupation of different regions in the same nation–state. In Barth’s view, ethnic boundaries are most enduring and stable when groups occupy different ecological niches; simply, they make their living in different ways and don’t compete. When different ethnic groups exploit the same ecological niche, the militarily more powerful group will normally replace the weaker one. However, if the weaker group is better able to use marginal environments, the two groups could also coexist. Ethnic boundaries, distinctions, and interdependence can be maintained given niche specialization, although specific cultural features of each group may change.

Defined by J S Furnivall as a medley of peoples - European, Chinese, Indian and native, who do mix but do not combine. Each group holds by its own religion, its own culture and language, its own ideas and ways. As individuals they meet, but only in the marketplace in buying and selling. There is a plural society, with different sections of the community living side by side, within the same political unit.

Plural Societies and Democratic Regimes[edit]

During research about plural societies, Asim Ejaz, Student of M.phil Political Science in Islamia university bahawalpur, Pakistan, presented his analytical summary about the book of Arend Lijphart, "democracy in plural societies" that it is so much difficult to achieve and stable democratic government in plural society. As Aristotle says about stable governing system that, “a state aims at being, as far as it can be, a society composed of equal & peers”. For the stability of democratic regimes, there must be social homogeneity and political consensus among the deep social divisions, and, there must be ended of political differences. There are, because, the factors that help in producing instability and breakdown of democracies. Arend Lijphart, therefore, used particular form of democracy, “Consociational Democracy”, which is, according to him, may be difficult but it is not at all impossible to achieve and maintain stable democratic government in plural societies.

Consociational democracy can be characterized by the cooperative attitude and behavior of the leaders of the different segments of the population. In other meanings, there will be elite cooperation. This model of Consociational democracy is both, normative and an empirical. In Austria, Belgium, Netherland and Switzerland, there are sharp political divisions, but due to Consoiciational democracy, there is existence of political stability. In Austria, political stability can be observed in the forms of Catholic-Socialist elite cooperation and grand coalition.

In non-Western countries, as Arend Lijphart highlights twin problems, and there are, sharp cleavages of various kind and political stability. For the successful democratic regimes in the third world, due to plural societies, Consociational democracy is based, also on normative model. A Plural society is a society, divided by segmental cleavages, and, political stability is characterized by system maintenance, legitimacy, civil order and effectiveness. Without these four elements, which are also interdependent, political stability cannot exist. According to Geberial Almond, there are four types of political systems;

1) Anglo-American Political System 2) Continental European Political System 3) Pre-Industrial Political System 4) Totalitarian Political System.

He says that Anglo-American and Continental European Political systems show democratic regimes. The Anglo-American political system is a homogenous and secular political system, while the Continental European political system is characterized by a fragmentation of political culture due to plural societies within European countries.

According to Geberial Almond, Separation of power doctrine is also concerned with political stability. He extends the idea of “separation of power” from three formal branches of government, executives and legislature, to informal political subcultures like parties, interest groups and the media of communication. He much more emphasizes on input structures than the output structures.

Duverger and Neumann argue that there is a close relationship between the number of parties and democratic stability, but a two party system not only seems to correspond to the nature of things because it can moderate better than multiparty systems. In other words, a two party system is the best aggregation. In Switzerland, there is a multiparty system, while in Austria, there is a two party system.

Arend Lijphart says that there are deep divisions between different segments of the population and absence of a unifying consensus in most of the Asian, African and South American countries like Guyana, Surinam and Trinidad. According to Cliffard Geertz, Communal attachment is called “primordial loyalties”, which may be based on language, religion, custom, region, race or assumed blood ties. Each communal group hold its assumed ties, therefore there is political instability and breakdown of democracy up until now.

He argues that due to political development, western countries have created homogeneity among their plural societies, as like idealize British society. But Geberial Almond says that, in Continental European political system, there is no secularism and political homogeneity, but there is cultural homogeneity. He argues that, non-western countries would become more comprehensive and less remote they use this continental type, which is based on a multi-racial (multi-national) society and lacking in strong consensus.

Furnivall says that democracy is achieved by the European countries with the help of Consociationalism, and, there is fulfillment of the requirements and demands of the divided societies through appropriate processes. On the other hand, in non-western countries, there is lack of strength in social will and social unity due to divided society, and, it is dangerous for both, the democracy and a considerable degree of political unity.

Consociational Democracy and the Segments of Plural Society[edit]

As Arend Lijhpart argues that there is constitutionalization for the segments of plural societies, and its better solution is consociational or semi-consociational democratic system. This system provides the facility of Mutual Veto regarding the decision making process on the specific issues within the country, to all the segments of society with equality. but Arend Lijhpart highlights Malaysia and Lebanon for its perfect example. In Lebanon, there are Shia's and Sunni's in the Muslim Segment while Christians are in the minority. Similarly in Malaysia, there are Chinese with local Communities.


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