Cultural pluralism

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This article is about the concept of cultural pluralism. For other uses of the term, see Pluralism (disambiguation).

Cultural pluralism is a term used when smaller groups within a larger society maintain their unique cultural identities, and their values and practices are accepted by the wider culture provided they are consistent with the laws and values of the wider society. Cultural pluralism is distinct from (though often confused with) multiculturalism. Multiculturalism lacks the requirement of a dominant culture. If the dominant culture is weakened, societies can easily pass from cultural pluralism into multiculturalism without any intentional steps being taken by that society.

A prominent example of pluralism is 20th Century United States, in which a dominant culture with strong elements of nationalism, a sporting culture, and an artistic culture contained also smaller groups with their own ethnic, religious, and cultural norms[citation needed]. In a pluralist culture, groups not only co-exist side by side, but also consider qualities of other groups as traits worth having in the dominant culture. Pluralistic societies place strong expectations of integration on members, rather than expectations of assimilation. The existence of such institutions and practices is possible if the cultural communities are accepted by the larger society in a pluralist culture and sometimes require the protection of the law. Often the acceptance of a culture may require that the new or minority culture remove some aspects of their culture which is incompatible with the laws or values of the dominant culture.

The idea of cultural pluralism in the United States has its roots in the transcendentalist movement and was developed by pragmatist philosophers such as William James and John Dewey, and later thinkers such as Horace Kallen and Randolph Bourne. One of the most famous articulations of cultural pluralistic ideas can be found in Bourne's 1916 essay "Trans-National America".[1] More recent advocates include moral and cultural anthropologist Richard Shweder.


  1. ^ Science Encyclopedia Cultural Pluralism Retrieved on May 31, 2007

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