Of Conceptual Haunts and Tacit Assumptions:
A Current Take on Multiculturalism

By Isabell May

On Jan­u­ary 9, 2014, Berndt Osten­dorf, Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of North Amer­i­can Cul­tur­al His­to­ry at the Ameri­ka-Insti­tut, Lud­wig-Max­i­m­il­ians-Uni­ver­sität München, gave a talk on “The Rise and Fall of Mul­ti­cul­tur­al The­o­ry and Prac­tice: The Ide­o­log­i­cal Con­tra­dic­tions of Belong­ing” in the Leuphana lec­ture series, “Maple Leaf & Stars and Stripes.”

Osten­dorf is a wide­ly pub­lished researcher on areas as diverse as the cul­tur­al his­to­ry of immi­gra­tion, the pol­i­tics of dif­fer­ence, mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, cre­oliza­tion and cir­cum­at­lantic dias­po­ras, Amer­i­can pop­u­lar cul­ture, the cul­ture indus­try, New Orleans, and Amer­i­can music. He is also a board mem­ber of the Rat für Migra­tion, a Ger­man migra­tion pol­i­cy think tank.

Besides his most recent pub­li­ca­tion, New Orleans, Cre­oliza­tion and all that Jazz, he has edit­ed var­i­ous vol­umes, includ­ing Icono­gra­phies of Pow­er: The Pol­i­tics and Poet­ics of Visu­al Rep­re­sen­ta­tion and Transna­tion­al Amer­i­ca: The Fad­ing of Bor­ders in the West­ern Hemi­sphere. He is cur­rent­ly com­plet­ing a mono­graph on the cul­tur­al his­to­ry of Amer­i­can music.

In his talk, Osten­dorf pro­vides a thor­ough his­tor­i­cal overview of the devel­op­ment of mul­ti­cul­tur­al the­o­ry and prac­tice from eth­nic plu­ral­ism to the wide­ly used term diver­si­ty. His exper­tise on this top­ic allows the audi­ence to gain insights not only into the con­tro­ver­sies sur­round­ing this term in the Unit­ed States but also into recent debates on these top­ics in Ger­many. Stress­ing that mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism is affect­ed by many tac­it assump­tions, he argues that the term is becom­ing a con­cep­tu­al haunt, i.e. lack­ing a clear def­i­n­i­tion and some­times con­vey­ing only con­flict­ing mean­ings. Con­se­quent­ly, it ren­ders polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al con­ver­sa­tions exceed­ing­ly difficult.

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