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Study Notes

Bhikhu Parekh (1935- )

AQA, Edexcel

Last updated 30 Dec 2018

Bhikhu Parekh is a political philosopher and Labour Lord. Born in India, Bhikhu Parekh is successful UK academic who has also served on a number of important committees, including the Commission for Racial Equality and the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, which he chaired.

The work of this committee, between 1998 and 2000 was published as a report, often known as the Parekh Report, which has been a central feature of debates about multiculturalism in the UK today. He has written extensively on multiculturalism, cultural diversity and identity.

The Parekh Report began with a number of key assumptions:

  1. that all people are of equal worth regardless of ethnicity, skin colour, sexual orientation, gender, etc;
  2. people are individuals and members of groups/communities and a liberal and multicultural society may sometimes need to balance the contrasting needs of individuals and communities;
  3. equality and difference are both important: equal treatment requires a full understanding of difference;
  4. it is important for societies to be cohesive and have a shared identity while also respecting and celebrating difference;
  5. human rights are paramount, but society must also respect deep moral differences and find ways to resolve inevitable conflict;
  6. racism, in any form, as no place in a decent society.

Crucially, Parekh rejects universalist liberalism – the individual is culturally embedded; it's important to treat people equally but always with sensitivity and understanding of cultural differences.

The Parekh Report made numerous policy recommendations to tackle racism, promote equality and diversity and improve society, but it is important to note that Parekh did not just promote multiculturalism because it would be good for minorities: he argues it is good for everyone and makes for a good society. Supporting the rights of minorities and really understanding diversity can be justified for the whole of society: cross-cultural dialogue can be transformative for majority and minority cultures, creating common citizenship. As such it is not a choice between diversity or integration but one is essential for the meaningful realisation of the other.

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