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.

But listen for yourself!

Click here to see the full lecture.