Redefining the Mainstream: Local Government, Inclusive Communities

The Second National Conference on Reconciliation, Multiculturalism, Immigration and Human Rights


Alexander Kouttab
Member of the Australian Arabic Council and the Palestinian Human Rights Campaign

Re-reading Multiculturalism; Towards a New Politics of the Margin

In Australia, multiculturalism exists as a state-sponsored policy of minority management and inclusion, one that is promoted as integral to the project of 's ingle-nation-building'. This is a project whose historical precedents span both Federation and the assimilationist policies of White Australia.
In this paper, I want to foreground some of the current critical re-readings of multiculturalism taken up by younger Arabic community representatives and activists.
Our approach centers on a re-examination of the radical differences and historical similarities that exist between multiculturalism, as an attempt to redefine Australia's national cultural identity, and earlier efforts to construct the nation around the normative 'ideals' and preservation of racial and cultural exclusivity.
It requires recognising that the history and politics of race played out in earlier tropes of the nation, provides the historical context within which minority spaces in Australia came to be differentially defined and demarcated through a series of discriminatory practices that worked to reinforce national borders of inclusion and exclusion.
Under multiculturalism, these minority spaces are recoded and made inclusive under the sign of 'cultural diversity'. It is a move in which 'difference' is both reified and aestheticised in a series of homogeneous cultural stereotypes and seen as an intrinsic property of culture.
Our approach has been to re-articulate minority spaces as much more the product of those political and economic policies and social practices that traditionally bore out Australia's anxieties over racial and cultural differences in its attempts to construct a uniquely Australian national identity. Difference here, is seen as relational rather than confined within separate groups.
This is not to suggest that multiculturalism is redundant, but rather intended as a way to open up the space for a new politics and a renewed determination to make multiculturalism real and workable in community relations.

Alexander Kouttab is a member of the Australian Arabic Council and the Palestinian Human Rights campaign. He has written extensively on issues facing the Arabic community in Australia, the continuing Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and on questions of Palestinian identity and resistance. He has also spoken at a number of community events.

Presentation Type
30 min. Paper

Equipment Requirements:


Deakin Woolstores Campus, Geelong Waterfront
30 November - 1 December 2001