ACCEPT Pluralism - a research project

Toleration, Pluralism and Social Cohesion: Responding to the Challenges of the 21st Century


Do We Tolerate Diversity In Contemporary Europe?

Most people would assume that toleration is one of the enduring values of European liberalism and few would openly reject it. However, during the first years of the 21st century, Europe has been experiencing increasing tensions between national majorities and ethnic or religious minorities, particularly with marginalised Muslim communities, while xenophobia seems as rising across the continent. Media and political debates often voice doubts on the meaning, if any, of a multicultural approach and pose questions, such as how many do we actually fit in Europe?


How much and what kind of diversity can be accommodated within our liberal European societies? Should we accept, reject, tolerate or ignore, for instance, different religions in schools? Or should we allow, or even support, minorities engage collectively in politics and demand their rights? On the other hand, should we tolerate anti immigrant discourse and racist stereotypes to spread through the media, in our job environment, in the name of liberal tolerance? Have we become more or less tolerant towards diversity? Do we fear the ‘other’, or is the ‘other’ so different?


ACCEPT Pluralism

It is in this context that the ACCEPT PLURALISM project explores intolerance, tolerance and acceptance/respect of migrant and native minorities in European societies. ACCEPT PLURALISM has a special focus on investigating what tolerance means and how it is used in discourses to justify specific policies and practices. We also seek for answers: what needs to be done actually to proceed to more cohesive and tolerant societies, especially at a time when financial and economic insecurity rises dramatically and everything seems ‘out of control’.


The project brings together a wide range of European countries: notably western European states (Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, UK) with a long experience in receiving and incorporating immigrant minorities; ‘new’ migrant host countries (Greece, Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Ireland); central European countries that have recently joined the EU (Bulgaria, Romania, Poland) and Turkey, an associated state, all countries that mostly experience emigration rather than immigration but are also characterised by a significant variety of native minority populations. Our selected cases represent a variety of historical experiences of nation state formation, national identity understandings, and native minority challenges.


Reject, tolerate or accept?

In its basic form, tolerance means to refrain from objecting to something with which one does not agree, but it also implies a relationship of power; only majorities have the power to tolerate minorities. In some cases, contemporary expressions of cultural difference go ‘beyond’ toleration, as evident from the concerns and desires that underpin the social and political claims of minority groups. In other cases, we see a reversal in the opposite direction, towards intolerance. Toleration comes to be seen as the cause of pertinent social problems, a sign of weakness or confusion. A new principled intolerance is seen, paradoxically, as necessary to protect the rights of individuals, and the rights, values and the identity of the majority.


Taking into account all these, we put forward a new way of framing tolerance of ethnic, cultural and religious diversity suggesting that we need a wider concept, Accept, which includes toleration but also other forms of acceptance (and rejection) from which it is distinguished. There are three classes, we suggest, of how cultural difference can be debated, accepted or rejected: non toleration, toleration and acceptance/respect as equal and ‘normal.’


These three concepts allow us to explore the critical boundary issues in-between the refusal and the concession of tolerance and between toleration and more demanding responses such as of equality, respect or recognition.


Research and Findings

As for the empirical research, which is the main part of this project, researchers in each country investigate key events that have challenged on the one hand school life and on the other political life. So, first we examine, for instance, issues of school (de)segregation, the existence or not of religious schools, curriculum revisions and accommodation of diversity in everyday school life in general. Then, we look at the ways public policies exclude or support inclusion of minority rights and minority mobilisation in political life and to what extent xenophobic and racist discourse and actions are tolerated nowadays in European societies.


Bringing together empirical and theoretical findings over such a vital and contested issue, ACCEPT includes direct communication with and input from policy makers, civil society, political and media actors for the dissemination and exploitation of its findings, while at the same time produces academic reports and contributes in conferences and scholarly journals.


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