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Affirmative Exclusion: Cultural Pluralism and the Rule of Custom in France

by Jean-Loup Amselle Cornell University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 184 pages
AU$67.00 NZ$69.57
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Jean-Loup Amselle explores the issue of multiculturalism by delving into the history of France’s confrontation with ethnic difference. Amselle analyzes France’s relationship to Egypt, Algeria, and Senegal to show how ideas about difference and assimilation played out in French colonial policies and how these same tensions continue to be problematic as France grapples with cultural pluralism.

Amselle’s book has timely and wide-ranging implications. Arguing against the “liberal communitarian state” as it exists in the United States, Amselle contends that an overemphasis on difference can lead to what he calls “affirmative exclusion”—the flip side of affirmative action. The recognition of a multiplicity of ethnic groups in France, he asserts, creates an environment that fosters racism. “Despite an outward appearance of generosity, supporters of French-style multiculturalism, by promoting ‘affirmative action,’ run the risk of creating as many difficulties as there are ‘target groups,’ which they have helped identify and hence produce.”

Calling on theories of racial difference devised by early anthropologists—most notably, Louis Faidherbe—and on the work of political philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Amselle makes historical and sociological sense of the debates over multiculturalism and the violence they engender. Toward a French Multiculturalism proposes directions for the future.
''Affirmative Exclusion is a provocative, well-documented, and highly readable book. Amselle argues that French national identity or history rests on apparently contradictory principles of universalism and relativism: a commitment, for example, both to natural rights and to the rights of peoples; to the assimilation of all citizens in a single national culture and to the management of difference by the nation-state. This book offers an extraordinarily stimulating encounter with an unfamiliar set of premises about cultural diversity, identity politics, and human rights and is exceptionally important in the American context for its power to unsettle and illuminate our own modes of thought more forcefully than any study directly treating the U.S. is likely to do.''-Susan Carol Rogers, New York University
Jean-Loup Amselle is Directeur d’etudes a l’ecole des Hautes etudes en Sciences Sociales and the author of many books, including Mestizo Logics: Anthropology of Identity in Africa and Elsewhere. Jane Marie Todd is the translator of five books published by Cornell, most recently What Ought I to Do? Morality in Kant and Levinas by Catherine Chalier.