De vermeende kloof tussen culturen: Een sociologisch commentaar op een actueel debat

Erik Snel

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The discussion on integration in the Netherlands has shown a drastic change in recent years. Not only has the discussion clearly been hardening, it has also become more and more a cultural discussion. The focus no longer seems to be the unequal (socio-economic) position of minorities and migrants in Dutch society, but the alleged gap between cultures which is considered to be a threat to societal cohesion. This article argues that this new manner of thinking about the Netherlands and its migrants, is based upon a misconception. The article offers three important criticisms on the idea of clashing cultures in the Netherlands. Firstly, the advocates of this idea are inclined to show only a partial picture of the migrants' behavior and their larger cultural views. That picture is founded upon the most traditional groups of migrants that have come to the Netherlands, and less upon those that have achieved higher positions in the Dutch societal hierarchy. Secondly, the idea of clashing cultures is based upon a misconceived theoretical conception of culture. The idea of an unbridgeable gap between cultures, e.g. 'the' Dutch or western culture versus 'the' islamic culture, is embedded in a reified notion of culture. It suggests that migrants are being imprisoned by their cultural traditions which would prevent their integration into Dutch society. The article points out the shortcomings of this culturalistic view. Culture is not an immutable external force that determines the behavior of people, but a dynamic process that is being constantly redefined by interacting human beings. As far as cultural divergence or convergence is concerned, nothing can be said on the outcomes of this process in advance. Lastly, the article points out the unintended outcomes of the current call for assimilation. It is no coincidence that in the Netherlands we view the growth of ethnic-political movements as the Arabic European League (AEL) as we speak. Excessive emphasis on assimilation could very well lead to not reduced but instead heightened tensions, both between people (conflicts between radicals and moderates) and in individuals (feelings of alienation).
Original languageDutch
Pages (from-to)236-258
JournalSociologische gids
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • IR-60368
  • METIS-310975

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