Legacies of Modernity and Colonialism in Schooling
3 Multiculturalism and the Domestication of Difference
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3Multiculturalism and the Domestication of Difference
In educational policy and research, culture is most often ascribed to Others and defined as a static, independent variable; cultural processes are frequently reduced to a single factor (race, gender, class, nation). This conceptualization of culture is a product of modernist binaries (White/Other, male/female, high income/low income) and the colonial notion that other cultures can be described, quantified, and captured. Schools typically organize cultures into distinct, homogenous groups, often depicted only through their visible manifestations (foods, clothing, language, music, holidays, or rituals). Common school assignments fit this conceptualization of culture, with discrete units of study on Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, or other ethnic groups, country reports, or international festivals where students bring a typical food and dress in traditional costumes. Cultural processes are, likewise, reduced to comparative summaries in “cultural proficiency” manuals that are intended to inform school policy and practice.
In contrast to the static, surface-level view of culture often found in schools, anthropologist Clifford Geertz argues that culture constitutes a symbolic code. Geertz describes culture as the webs of significance that individuals spin around themselves. Culture is constructed and transmitted through numerous symbol systems: language, gestures, fashion, art, consumption patterns, religion, science, and law, among many others. It cannot be reduced to a single variable or two, Rogoff argues; this destroys “the coherence among the constellation of features that make it useful to refer to cultural processes” (2003, p. 12). There is little consensus...
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