When is it justified to securitise immigration?

A typical characteristic of contemporary immigration both in national and international contexts is its close relationship with security and politics of security. This has been true especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Since then, there have been numerous terrorist attacks in Europe, implemented by first and second generation immigrants, even asylum seekers, most in the name of Jihadism and Islamist extremism.

After the attacks in Paris and Brussels (2015, 2016), there have been many restrictions on immigration, national border checks and states of emergencies – and of course constant fears of further attacks. Actually, there is a general trend of restrictions particularly after severe terrorist attacks.

Furthermore, the connection between immigration and other types of security, for instance societal security, problems in integration and crime, has arisen to the fore in many states, where the number of immigrants is high or rapidly increasing. Meanwhile, the asylum system has become invariably interlinked with the phenomenon of “irregular” migration, terrorism, smuggling and trafficking. This connection is also one that has drawn a wide range of studies, theories and arguments within different academic fields.

Many of these arguments revolve around the concept of (de-)securitisation, which has also started to find resonance within elites outside the ivory towers of the academia.

Securitisation is about making some particular issue to reflect security concerns. If a particular issue is about security or not depends on constructing it in that way. Desecuritisation, then, refers to acts that aim at removing security aspects of a particular issue, thus leading to a situation where there is no threat or no general discourse of threat.

Securitisation is not only about making some matter a security issue, but making it a security issue in a way that is seen as illegitimate, extreme, immoral or otherwise wrong.(* In a way, securitisation is a rather incessant and inherent feature of the state rule, in its symbolic and practical struggle against “the other” and all things seen as threatening.

Unsurprisingly, in the case of immigration, securitisation is seen as an “indiscreet” and illegitimate practice of domination or exclusion by decision-makers and other elites towards immigrants. According to this view, it is ethically wrong as well as empirically unfounded to frame migration in security terms, either because, it is argued, there simply are no independent security threats concerning immigration (in other words, the matter is merely represented by political actors as such by selecting certain empirical evidence or political propaganda) or because securitisation as a policy practice is said to increase and exacerbate threats experienced by migrants themselves.

What needs to be done, according to liberal theorists, then, is to de-securitise, both analytically and as a political practice: to remove the security aspects of immigration and to shift the focus from the state and its antagonistic objectives concerning “itself” and its citizens to the rights of immigrants and other “others”.

Desecuritising implies that the threat issue is taken back to the realm of ”normal” politics – which sees immigration more neutrally, without any big controversies, merely in terms of integration and ”our” responses. Almost unnoticeably, the focus is shifted from our security to their rights and our obligations to safeguard those rights.

In some parts of the liberal, critical and/or left-leaning scholarship, the obsession with (de-)securitisation has been that substantial that there has been no discussion or understanding of actual security – that taking place in the real world – but exclusively of the (wrong kind of) rhetorics, speech-acts and policy restrictions generated by populist decision-makers, evil police, border officials, selfish security professionals and other wrong-headed  elites. Assuming that humanitarian immigration could really be a security threat is then seen as a myth and “deeply ironic”.

In other words, it is taken as a self-evident premise that there is no real independent security element in immigration, but that all is constructed, more or less for self-interested and xenophobic reasons, thus intervening in otherwise neutral and unproblematic human mobility.

Given the actualised events and negative phenomena connected to immigration throughout the Western world – and how people feel about it – this kind of ideological obscuration is, I suggest, shameful. In addition, it greatly decreases the overall plausibility of the securitisation thesis, no matter how essential its general concern is.

In any case, this is what the liberal academia is – even in 2016 – busy of accomplishing, more and more hiding behind overly abstract and linguistically complex understandings of ”mobility”, ”rights”and ”morality”, detached from any concrete aspects of human life and its realistic aspirations.

Although securitisation is mostly seen as a practice of state apparatuses, it is often seemed to derive from the conception and attitudes of the public. For more realistic audiences, it appears understandable that perceived threats to the security of native population are increasing, as there have been (and continues to be) fundamental changes in the societies and cultures of Western states produced by immigration, besides those events of extreme violence – many of which still ignored and disdained by political elites. To the annoyance of tolerant liberals, the process of transforming nation-states into multicultural diverse communities is far from painless, if possible at all.

More importantly, according to more realistic studies, perceived failings of state institutions and elites to protect citizens from attacks and security threats are likely to be undermining general confidence in state institutions and decision-makers. Again, many liberals disdain these public feelings and anxieties and merely present the emotions of fear and anger as somehow distorted and “populist” – either as expressions of self-interest or irrationality, and as unintentionally supporting the endeavour of “bad guys”, that is terrorists. It may be even forbidden to describe fear and anxiety. Instead, we just need to go on and be brave. Go on and be brave.

On the other hand, given that states have now so fundamentally failed to deliver policy objectives on safeguarding the populations from terrorist attacks by people of immigrant-origin, it might be reasonable to ask, if there ever was actual securitisation at all, outside the plain discourses of various actors. Actually, it seems, states were not securitising enough. 

I hear no apologies from those insisting that securitisation was extreme, pointless and harmful.

Similarly, liberal approaches tend to think that citizens of Western states only oppose mass immigration, if they themselves feel somehow unsatisfied or threatened, in their irrational fear of the different, the alien. For them, opposing mass immigration merely signals deficits in those opposing, not something in the phenomenon itself – and hence, opposition is actually a fallacy of misunderstanding individuals. This view has many pathways, but one important stems from the common anti-state or anti-community bias of contemporary social sciences:

As long as it is assumed that there are no explicit values attached to a particular state, its culture, population, history and identity besides its instrumental and “humanist” values, there is no way to understand that someone might want to defend it, even in case there is no additional existential threat associated with its transformation.

The fact that the state’s most basic function is to protect and defend its citizens – instead of safeguarding rights of everybody else – should not make it captive in the analyses of immigration. Moreover, it should not be the case that all negative observations of immigration are deemed to become acts of securitisation or some other vicious “-isation”.

All in all, isn’t the present situation with recurring attacks and other immigration related problems in Europe too severe to let idealism alone control it?

If not, what has to happen in order it to be severe enough? How many attacks? How many victims?

How much fear, until it is justified to tell that immigration threatens the security of Europe? Or, more bluntly, that it has actually already destroyed a great symbolic part of it.


*) The threat of extreme right, neo-nazis or Soldiers of Odin is never illegitimate in this sense. It might perhaps be extreme or exaggerated, but never an object in need of desecuritisation.

Illegal immigration as a human rights issue

It is estimated that the number of third-country nationals illegally staying in the EU vary between 5 and 14 million. In Finland, there are approximately 4000 illegal immigrants. The border of acceptable and legal fluctuates and is easily reformulated by limiting, restricting and regulating state policies. While also a technical issue, even small shifts in legal frameworks and practices are liable to have significant impacts on the construction of immigration in general. The EU is particularly strong to determine the frames of admissible immigration. The asymmetries inside the EU are notable and the main reason for the dual formulation of the immigration regime.

The EU’s ’comprehensive migration policy’ has taken illegal immigration as one of its main targets. The separation between legal and illegal is also one of the most crucial and sensitive matters concerning migration in many European and other Western states more generally. It has been an important issue in policy-making and public debate over the last three decades, but gained particular importance on the EU agenda only after the Amsterdam Treaty in 1999. While immigration politics of states is far from a matter of straightforward entailments of morality – except at their rhetorical level – even seemingly minimal ’reconsiderations’ have wide repercussions for the actual (non-)occurrences of humanitarianism and human rights.

However, not all states are pursuing more restrictive policies. For instance in Finland, there have been strong demands to grant illegal immigrants access to public health care. The issue is not framed as concerning the legal/illegal dichotomy by its proponents, but as one concerning basic human and fundamental rights. If those not entitled to a legal status may take advantage of benefits and services generally directed at legal migrants (and citizens), the division between legality and illegality shifts. The more willing the state is to see the immigration question as a human rights issue (and the more inclusive and generous its welfare system is), the more irrelevant the actual division between legal and illegal becomes. The fuzzy ”illegal” only comes to mean the conceptual detail of not being legal, which of course is the aim of the “Nobody is illegal” advocacy front. Human rights, as their story goes, do not recognise artificial groups but only human beings. States, who for the foreseeable future are the only capable actors of safeguarding those rights, then act inhumanely when they pursue policies based on this basic difference.

But human rights are flexible, they belong to the otherside as well. Their universal appeal is evident in the case of controlling immigration, especially in the EU, too. For instance, the Schengen system has severe problems particularly because of illegal immigration – officially these are argued to be undesirable side effects of the principle of free movement. Even in this case, the EU has made a virtue out of necessity, as the principle of removal and detention of undesirables has turned normative in itself, as illegal immigrants shall be returned “in a humane manner and with full respect for their fundamental rights and dignity.” The Qualification Directive goes to the heart of the Geneva Convention and aims to combine its scope with subsidiary protection – that is to say, humanitarian but non-refugee-based issues defined particularly in the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention Against Torture. In short, one of the main harmonising functions is to cut ’asylum shopping’ and to avoid the phenomena of ’refugees in orbit’ inside the Union – illegal and irregular immigration in other words. While the rationale is first and foremost to control, the matter is framed in terms of immigrants’ rights, human rights and humanitarianism.

The construction of illegal immigration as a human rights issue is also evident in relation to trafficking and smuggling:

The Communication [of the Commission] frames solutions to irregular migration in humanitarian terms, associating irregular migration with human smuggling, human trafficking and exploitation and justifying measures against irregular migration as ultimately being in the interest of irregular migrants. (Kraler & Rogoz 2011, 21.)

It has also been stated that the EU has to control illegal immigration because “the countries of origin [of illegal immigrants] suffer badly from the brain drain” (EuropeAid 2008) caused by the emigration of illegal immigrants. Of course, this is absurd in relation to the EU’s desire for highly educated immigrants who certainly cause a brain drain effect, contrary to illegal immigrants who rarely have any education. But human rights don’t know what absurdity is.

In general, there is a tendency to muddle the distinction between involuntary trafficking and immigration through illegal assistance (smuggling) both at the level of the EU and in Finland. Trafficking is rare in Finland, while smuggling is remarkably widespread everywhere – it is much more common to arrive with some kind of illegal assistance than without. Smuggling is something the immigrant agrees and for which he usually pays, while trafficking is coerced. While they share similar features, especially in relation to organised crime, their victimhoods are notably different – violated innocents versus illegal immigrants.

It is rather easy to get an impression that the amount of policies and programmes designed to fight against human trafficking (especially of women and children) and other severe forms of being both illegal and a victim, as well as the intensity of public discourses surrounding them, are disproportionate in relation to the scope of the problem, especially in Northern Europe, while abuses in the labour market, both in relation to individuals and the overall system, deserve much less attention and are mainly treated more inconspicuously by state bureaucracies. As with many other issues concerning illegal immigration, also this matter needs much more clarification and research. It is highly sensitive and thus even more prone to emotional lobbying than other immigration-related issues. Human rights love emotional commitment.

The discourse of human rights in the issue of legals/illegals could never be so strong, if it wasn’t backed by economic matters. Capitalist global markets and neoliberal states really do not care if newcomers are “illegal” or good fits in some other way. As the prevailing motive for immigration is nowadays economic – thus the deviation from the political motive of refugees – there is a deep but unequal interconnection between immigrants and rich states. Illegal immigration is officially rejected but tacitly accepted – it goes with the same effort as legal humanitarian immigration and also benefits same actors, moral crusaders, politicians and firms seeking cheap labour. Persons without legal conditions may live (and work) within foggy social structures for years – as do many legal immigrants who have failed to integrate into the broader society. States and economies mostly care about the hierarchy of immigrants – that is, their relational differences. Some are poor drifters, some highly educated cosmopolitans, most something between. Their exact status is often important only officially – and morally.

Here, it is easy to see the parallel goals of states, businesses and activists despite the fact that their motives and ideals differ fundamentally.

Strange bedfellows make human rights blossom.

(And all other nice things, too.)

From multiculturalism to diversity: some critical remarks

Work in progress, not for citing.

As a concept, diversity is one of the most ideal-loaded and obscure terms of contemporary politics and one that attracts more and more theory. Diversity politics takes the existence of human differences of any kind as a starting point both empirically (as a necessary fact) and prescriptively (as a value worth promoting). It does not refer to any specific type of being different, although ethnicity, religion, culture and sexual preference are its common objects. Western states, non-governmental and international organizations, among others, claim to embrace diversity. In addition, there is a rise of diversity talk at all levels of government and administration in the EU – ‘unity in diversity’ is being recurrently celebrated in the EU’s official political discourse. It maintains that diversity is not only possible, but advantageous for the community and its members. (Kraus 2012.) Promoting the process of diversification requires that various alleged flaws of biased statism and nationalism are balanced and corrected.

Thus, diversity politics refers to recognizing and organizing ‘differences’ at the level of liberal state and society according to a specific idea of the normative goodness of diversity/differences as such (Modood 2007; Parekh 2000; Rex 2000). Diversity politics is the second round of idealization: starting from ‘difference’, the first round of transforming liberal and statist presumptions into more ’inclusive’ ones, it continues to the level where it takes differences for granted and reflects instead what to ‘do’ with the whole bunch of them.

The scholarly side of diversity politics is a burgeoning area of literature extending from fairly rationally formulated ideas to radical moral critique.1 According to Cooper (2004: 5), diversity politics is intellectually situated “at the confluence of several currents that include liberalism, communitarianism, poststructuralism, post-Marxism, feminism, postcolonialism and queer.” In relation to immigration, the discourse of diversity acts as a moral remedy against homogeneity, nationalism, racism and violence. According to Lentin and Titley (2008: 11):

As a form of benevolent teleology, [diversity politics] promises a tentative yet perhaps final recognition of the inescapability of difference, and a corrective to the pronounced historical tendency of European nation-states to deny heterogeneity through the insistent production of imagined homogeneity.

Diversity is at the center of both actual politics and political theory and “there are good reasons for assuming that it will remain there for quite a while” (Kraus 2012: 6; see also Meer and Modood 2012.) Or, as Vertovec (2012: 309) has put it, “[diversity] has been institutionalized, internationalized and internalized – and is here to stay in one form or another.” The success of diversity is sustained by various formulations deriving from a cursory but fundamentally powerful idea that “differences express themselves freely” (Hardt and Negri 2005: 101). Apparently, the assertion is incorrect, taken the remarkable efforts that are needed to propagate the idea of diversity in the first place.

On the other hand, the concept of diversity could not be that forceful if it was only constituted in the way left-liberal ideologies and academic sects traditionally constituted the concept of difference (Freeden 1998: 512-513). In practices of states, diversity has been subsumed into centre-rightist and market-orientated discourse and bureaucratic practice, although its scholarly connotations still refer almost exclusively to leftist critical and feminist domains.

Ashes of liberal multiculturalism

At a more practical level, diversity politics encompasses various immigration, minority and integration discourses and policies, as well as more general ideas of constructing and reconstructing communities. It concerns both expressing values and designing and implementing policies. As celebrating pluralism and diversity, promoting tolerance, respect and equality and resisting discrimination, it is basically parallel to many principles of multiculturalism (Kelly 2007). However, we can find a few explanations why diversity has much replaced multiculturalism both in theory and politics.

First, as an ideological stance and a descriptive fact of contemporary societies, multiculturalism is so eclectic and disputed that it has to be defined over and over again when used either theoretically or politically, or the both at the same time (Solomos and Schuster 2003). Primarily, this is not a problem of the concept of multiculturalism itself or any other concept whatsoever, but of the wider research community, which exploits and abuses concepts which once may have been of analytical (and political) relevance and coins new ones. Politics, for its part, exacerbates this, as it has a natural tendency to eviscerate concepts in order to use them easily but seductively enough. Conceptual quarrels are efficient in dimming the meaningful focus of studies, especially when concepts and their use (discourses) are regarded as the most substantive area of scholarship in the first place.

Second, multiculturalism is originally based on organizing, literally, different cultures and thus ignores, at least theoretically if not practically, other bases of difference (cf. Song 2007: 4-8). While the category of culture is undoubtedly relevant in immigration more generally, it is neither sufficient nor the most important one. As Vertovec (2010) argues, multiculturalism does not take into account the country of origin of immigrants, channels of migration, their transnational engagement or loyalties. More importantly, it does not take into account the socio-economic class of arriving migrants. Furthermore, at the realm of state policy the dividing line between legal and illegal immigrants is getting more important, both in relation to immigration in general and immigrants as human beings in particular (Triandafyllidou 2010). This crucial split is out of the focus of multiculturalism, which is more preoccupied to reflect how the society should be organized once ‘differences’ are already in. Eventually, multiculturalism is simply not multi enough, taken the growing domain of diversities and subsequent rights claims beyond the terrain of culture.

Third, multiculturalism as an official policy has provoked hostility in many European countries and is nowadays often replaced with other integration and accommodation policies, designed, for example, to improve societal cohesion and solve problems of isolation and personal vulnerability (Modood 2007; Vertovec and Wessendorf 2010). The objection has occurred through two interrelated paths, public debate and official policies. Public discourses and opinions vary from country to country and reflect views on immigration and minorities in general (Coenders, Lubbers and Scheepers 2013), but the broad sentiment is turning more negative, officially subscribed or not (McLaren 2012; Vertovec and Wessendorf 2010). Distancing from the inflammable ‘M-word’ has become common among vocal political actors (Vertovec and Wessendorf 2010). The backlash in the official policies of the UK, for instance, has become even more pronounced, as “borders need to be reclaimed” to ensure “hard-headed selection of genuinely talented individuals based on our national interest” (Cameron 2011). Instead the ‘D-word’, it seems, is conceptually, politically and normatively much more resilient to unfavorable real-world influences – but preserves the dominant normative idea.

For states, there are two different paths away from ’old-fashioned’ multiculturalism. The first option is to make immigration more difficult in general by increasing and strengthening controlling and regulating mechanisms. This has happened recently in many European countries (Joppke 2004, 2012). The second way, pursued often in tandem with the former, is to direct immigration and immigrant policies away from multiculturalist to other integration types. This has occurred both in classical multicultural states, such as Britain, and in inclusive welfare states, such as Sweden (Joppke 2004; Schierup and Ålund 2011). The change in concepts and general guidelines serves as a political response either to alleged failures of multiculturalism or to frightening election results, in which anti-immigrant and populist parties have gained strength. Then, the official relevance of multiculturalism has diminished at the same time as challenges of the globalizing world and its diverse societies have proliferated and intensified. Of course, no immigration model can succeed or fail as a mere concept, but the substance of policies and their context is more at issue (Lenard 2012). Nevertheless, the flexibility of concepts is politically highly advantageous.

Theoretically, traditional multiculturalism has transformed into more human-centered, emphasizing individualistic, identity-based and fluid determinants of belonging, in contrast to communitarian, group-based and more fixed perceptions of past years. Multiculturalism was accused of holding an essentialist image of human identity, for instance because it assumes the context of communities (and states) to be crucial (Mason 2007). Its top-down focus has shifted into a fundamental and ‘critical’ understanding of the significance of bottom-up-approaches, micro-practices, visibilities and the supremacy of ‘everyday’ as meaningful instances of proper diversity. Multiculturalism is thus far too large, coercive and state-centered as compared to more autonomous diversity.

Diversity politics is often based on an overall critique of liberalism and its restricted notion of subject and community. Academic discussion, once strongly adhered to Anglo-American and specifically Canadian-Australian multiculturalism, is nowadays more continental and abstract, concentrating on multiple spaces of difference and diversity, contexts of power shifts and symbolic agency.

In general, diversity politics blends cosmopolitanism and humanitarianism with multiculturalism. Morally universal and empirically diverse agents, detached from states, are derived from cosmopolitanism envisioning unbounded diversity. Cosmopolitanism asserts the value of free and facile movement between actual existing communities, both as an essential right in itself and as a means to obtain higher equality and justice. (Caney 2006.) Humanitarianism is applied for articulations of a rights-based humanized subject and a progressive duty-based role for states and international and global institutions in recognizing, organizing and safeguarding the value of diversity. Finally, multiculturalism contributes the celebration of diversity and values of tolerance, non-discrimination and ‘dialogue’. What still has an impact on the specific substance of intellectual diversity politics, is its reflection with liberalism: some perspectives are merely echoing mainstream liberal trajectories while others, increasingly, are abandoning these altogether and instead build on critical and poststructural positions. (See, for example, Cooper 2004; Horton 2003; Kelly 2007; Lentin and Titley 2008; Mason 2007; Modood 2007; Parekh 2000; Phillips 2007; Vertovec 2010; Vincent 2003.)

As official state policies, also theory is replete with new concepts ranging from ‘critical multiculturalism’ via ‘interculturalism’ to ‘diversity’. While theorists are often strongly committed to one particular concept over another, there are definitely more similarities than any significant differences between the versions. They are updated or revised versions of some forms of ideas traditionally called as ‘multiculturalism’. Some perspectives reflect the critique targeted against multiculturalism and subsequently claim to ‘learn’ from its failures (Meer and Modood 2011). Others contend that their new concept is not “a disguised — form of multiculturalism” (Bouchard 2011: 438), but nonetheless identify its key features generally in an identical manner. Differences are merely semantic. While correcting unworkable hypotheses and redefining theories is of course not forbidden but recommended, this remark should be read as a critique as well.

First, it is a critique against the idea that a choice of concepts could carry theories or (meaningful) policies. It does not make any difference what concept is used if our ‘results’ derive from a predetermined set of normative ideas and thoughts of what should be. Conceptual creations are not bringing forth any valid portrayal of reality or its actual transformation, but merely intervene into self-made discursive territories. As there are no systematic means to assess the value of subjective machineries of meta-discourses, such as diversity, the interpretation is endless. The bibliometric ballooning of diversity tells more about research fields themselves than improves our understanding of the outside reality, no matter how cautiously defined. Conceptual fine-tuning should follow analytical thought, not foreground and drive entire perspectives, which just affirm and ‘perform’ their predetermined and privileged beliefs.

Second, it is also a critique toward the incessant construction of ‘essentialist traps’ believed to threaten us practically everywhere we see ‘difference’ (Benhabib 2004; Kraus 2012; Mason 2007; Modood 2007; Phillips 2007). The trap warns that only by inventing more inclusive, sensitive and critical concepts and frameworks we are able to eschew it. As this is eventually impossible, the more tangible result is that we end up studying merely non-generalizable ‘accidents’ or echoing a priori political and righteous arguments as academic, or often, both. In the meantime, many relevant issues remain secondary – or are totally absent within the academic discussion.

The legitimation of indeterminacy

The ‘fact’ of present-day diversity contains, presupposes and depends upon elements which are non-empirical, normative, even intellectual products (Lentin and Titley 2008). The differences between its philosophical, ideological and political forms are obscure and intentionally made irrelevant, at the same time as individual and societal ‘emotions’ are blended. Its normative and political quiddity obfuscates both its analytical thrust and administrative and policy prospects. Despite it has evolved into a “diffuse, indeed maddeningly spongy and imprecise, discursive field” (Hall 2001, cited in Vertovec 2010), its use and applications are proliferating.

Ideas of humanitarianism and diversity have greatly converged and the confluence of theory and politics is noteworthy in both. This indeterminacy of essence and ethico-political relevancy have been legitimated as a necessary response to the transformation of the world into more complex and uncertain. The process is reciprocal, as the ‘diverse world’ appears such particularly when there is no ordering between various claims, judgments and domains, no strategies to put preferences for aspirations in order, but when political and normative issues are treated in an equal fashion as if they deserve the same commitment – in other words, when there is no clear and binding human choice (Chandler 2013). The idea is detached from politics as a realm of undertaking action and decisions. Political decisions, traditionally, are the ones that are supposed to curtail the detriments caused by various ‘complexities’, not be ruled out by them. Furthermore, because there is no ‘truth’ in the complexity, various presentations of the society – in and by politics, media, research and other powerful communication – become more significant and pronounced. The more complex the issue is, the less people can access it directly, but instead have to lean on different presentations and interpretations. This is likely to increase the power of righteous politics, whose ultimate significance rests more on pathos than logos in an Aristotelian sense. The authority of conveyors of the discourse derives always more from transcendental than epistemic sources.

Diversity politics takes distance from traditional multiculturalism and is ‘post-multicultural’ in the sense that it combines diversity with more conformity and ‘fuses’ conflicting agendas (Vertovec 2010). It can reconcile with recent restrictions on immigration and ‘intolerant’ election results and retain its legitimacy (for example, Scheffer 2011). It is capable of transcending the previous collisions between liberalism and multiculturalism both in theory and politics – either through abstraction or by sliding into a technical conception of politics. Therefore, it seems, not only theory but also politics is about discourses, adjusting concepts and phrases, only occasionally obtruding into any deeper level of implementing.

Discourses then get institutionalized in every-day practices, political strategies, plans of action and rhetorical guidelines of policies. They strengthen one another and constitute further ‘ideas’, gradually forming an evolving foundation of ‘diversity’. The previous formal level of multiculturalist policies has shifted into a more informal and social level of diversity, which is far more difficult to ’access’ and thus to evaluate. Most importantly, diversity politics engulfs any real-world adversities and dissents without collapsing itself; it cannot fail in a way multiculturalism has (perhaps) failed. Because there are no expressed goals or targets beyond its ambition as a whole, there are no unintended consequences either.

The discourse of diversity is overly stretchy and arbitrary. The structure itself seems to be the main impetus for its development. Words and ideas carry the whole fabric, as the connection with the ‘real’ is secondary. They derive from and lean against a variety of other concepts and discourses, which are used to strengthen the ideal core both descriptively and normatively, in different cases and contexts (see Freeden 1998). It is difficult, if not impossible, to get out of the discourse – it determines theoretical, methodological, normative and empirical insights. Most importantly, there is no clear boundary between the essence of theoretical discussion and political programs on diversity.

To be effective in the political realm of the state practice, the normative principles resonating in the abstracted and indeterminate concepts need to be rationalized. Multiple adjacent concepts and related interpretations can be used to justify and dilute the normative overload of the fundamental principle. Diversity has become mainstreamed both in market language and in economic discourses of efficiency and discipline by the state.2 Western labor markets are in need of either high-skilled or low-paid ‘diversities’ (Joppke 2012). The widened scope of ideal discourses is self-serving in the sense that disagreeing, even ultimately contrasting, sides can be merged, seemingly but sufficiently, inside the same normative enterprise. “Its melange of multiculturalist assumptions, management philosophies and individualist diagnoses and solutions” (Lentin and Titley 2008: 21) is indeed diversity’s most significant, yet absurd, strength – and this has more to do with the external world than the internal (ir-)rationalities of the idea itself.

Hence, flexible discourses may occupy any position endorsed by ethico-political or rationalized outlooks. Diversity politics and neoliberal rationalities of economy, for instance, are interdependent in their shared content of detachment and free identity. The former derives many of its identity claims from the broken connection between citizens and states, while the latter uses the same reserve to emphasize the utility of freely accumulating capital and global arbitrage. Both explicitly or implicitly allude to universal features of humans (consumers) and their free-flowing rights (to buy). Statist assumptions are an anathema to both.


Diversity is approached and criticized here as a theoretical and political idea, which carries much more discursive than tangible relevance. However, this should not be interpreted as if it is only hot air or jargon. First of all, as discussed, it is in a notably prominent position within the intellectual and academic sphere. Furthermore, within politics, the discursive terrain also defines and constitutes limits and bounds of the liberal state in its ‘making of morality’. It is necessary to understand that the causal properties of even ‘false’ beliefs may be significant, even if we did not regard these spongy ideas as ideologies. If beautiful words, they are, in all likelihood, powerful political words. Those controlling the doxa of political thought in some context undeniably exert notable influence on action; although unlikely that kind of influence the thought itself is prescribing.

The descriptive and explanatory role of diversity could be properly discovered only through self-critical research taking the extra-discursive realm into account – that is, by marginalizing its reading as ‘ethics’ and instead forcing it to become the object of more conventional analysis. If we are to critically examine and understand politics, actors who exploit these discourses have to be taken into a close scrutiny. It is relevant to ask what determines the outward capacity, aspiration and power of these ideas – because, as demonstrated, it cannot be their intrinsic functionality, neither as motivational nor instrumental conceptions. Finally, it is much safer to take any idea of moral progress with a grain, both generally and in analytical terms: we need to be skeptical about politics in the first place. If our scholarly (or political) motivation is more realist and critical than transformative and utopian, this seems as the basic starting level of making any further assumptions.


Work in progress, not for citing.


1 Theoretically somewhat related terms are ‘politics of difference’ (Young 1990), ‘politics of recognition’ (Taylor 1994) and even ‘identity politics’ in some of its outlooks (for example, Eisenberg and Kymlicka 2011). Also ‘politics of belonging’ (Yuval-Davis 2011) share many similar characteristics with diversity politics.

2 Recently, the increasing popularity of ‘resilience’ points to the same direction, see Chandler 2013. The relationship between diversity and resilience is mutually validating, as with greater diversity, it appears, there comes an increased ability to survive and flourish, that is better resilience.