Colonial toleration and the political theory of British multiculturalism

Friday, 20 April 2012, 09:00 - 18:45
University of Oxford

Zaki Nahaboo presents a paper on 'colonial toleration and the political theory of British multiculturalism' in the panel on 'liberalism and cultural justice' chaired by Prof David Miller. The panel is part of the Inaugural Oxford Graduate Conference in Political Theory: Political Theory and the 'Liberal' Tradition, 19-20 April 2012, University of Oxford.

Paper abstract

In recent years John Locke has received significant attention with regards to his liberal thought as linked to practices of domination. This falls within two domains of enquiry: the first explores the relationship between justifications for American colonialism and liberal theory (Ivison, 2002, Losurdo, 2011); the second strand discusses Locke as founding a ‘governmentality of tolerance’ within 17th century England, resulting in a coextensive depoliticisation of privatised religious dissent and legitimation of civil jurisdiction (Brown, 2006).

The paper synthesises and steps beyond both approaches to Lockean domination. It begins by exploring how a discourse of toleration in England is reconstituted in the early American colonial setting. I shed light upon the uses of colonial toleration as creating a distinctive economy of the (in)tolerable in its revision of the content and interaction of the religious and civil for non-whites. In so doing, I argue that more pernicious forms of racialised domination and exclusion are coextensive with sites where the discourse of toleration itself remains absent (slavery and enclosure of land). I will then explicate that multicultural political theory, through the well-intentioned anti-racist works of Bhikhu Parekh (2000) and the Parekh Report, counter-intuitively bears traces of colonial toleration as it deals with Britain’s minoritized population. I find that the structure of colonial toleration, as enabling an exclusionary constitutive outside where the label of (in)tolerable is itself foreclosed, becomes reconstituted in British multiculturalist discourse of recognition. No longer is slavery legitimated through tolerance, but rather the constitutive outside to multiculturalist recognition is to be found in new forms of exclusion such as the differentiation of citizen from non-citizen.

Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism is funded by an European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant (Institutions, values, beliefs and behaviour ERC-AG-SH2).

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