Trinity College Dublin

Skip to main content.

Top Level TCD Links

The Translocation of culture: Migration, Community,
and the Force of Multiculturalism in History

Pnina Werbner


In his work on a Welsh border village, Ronald Frankenberg showed how cultural performances, from football to carnival, conferred agency on local actors and framed local conflicts. The present article extends these themes. It responds to invocations by politicians and policy makers of ‘community cohesion’ and the failure of communal leadership, following riots by young South Asians in northern British towns. Against the critique of self-segregating isolationism, the article traces the historical process of Pakistani migration and settlement in Britain, to argue that the dislocations and relocations of transnational migration generate two paradoxes of culture. The first is that in order to sink roots in a new country, transnational migrants in the modern world begin by setting themselves culturally and socially apart. They form encapsulated ‘communities’. Second, that within such communities culture can be conceived of as conflictual, open, hybridising and fluid, while nevertheless having a sentimental and morally compelling force. This stems from the fact, I propose, that culture is embodied in ritual and social exchange and performance, conferring agency and empowering different social actors: religious and secular, men, women and youth. Hence, against both defenders and critics of multiculturalism as a political and philosophical theory of social justice, the final part of the article argues for the need to theorise multiculturalism in history. In this view, rather than being fixed by liberal or socialist universal philosophical principles, multicultural citizenship must be grasped as changing and dialogical, inventive and responsive, a negotiated political order. The British Muslim diasporic struggle for recognition in the context of local racism and world international crises exemplifies this process.

Last updated 28 August 2014 by IIIS (Email).