INTERVIEW, EXCLUSIVELY FOR THE BRIDGE/ Anne-Marie Autissier: Culture, identities, integration

Agrégée de Lettres Modernes and PhD in Sociology, Anne-Marie Autissier is an emeritus lecturer authorized to supervise research at the Institute of European Studies of the University of Paris. She served as Vice-President for International Relations at Paris
8, from February 2017 to March 2018. She also worked as a consultant for various French and European organizations (European Cultural Foundation, European Commission, various
European artistic networks, French Ministry of Culture and Communication, French Institute, etc). She is author of several books, among which Europe and culture, a couple to reinvent? Essay on 50 years of European cultural cooperation. She is cobnducting a research project between India and the European Union on the articulation between policies and practices of diversity in cultural and artistic matters: multiculturalism versus
integration and diversity.

 First of all, thank you so much for having accepted to give this interview for The Bridge. Let’s start! What is, according to you, interculturalism in relation to multiculturalism?

 

Multiculturalism is in the political sphere, as interculturalism – much less used. Multiculturalism consists in accepting the coexistence, on the same territory, of people with different origins, different languages, different religions, and the law adapts to these situations. Interculturalism seeks what there is in common between people, whatever their differences: citizenship, separation of religion and state… As Professor Jean-Pierre Saez observed, interbreeding is the result of an intercultural process, but it is not the abolition of differences: it is rather the affirmation of a diversity reinvented by the secular multiplicity of encounters between cultures[1].

What are the advantages and shortcomings of the French model of integration and of the Anglo-Saxon multicultural model?

The French model always insisted on the individual – the ways of finding your way, of integrating yourself into a nation. The Anglo-Saxon model is based on communities. The French model was pointed out as an ‘assimilation’ model; the Anglo-Saxon model has been criticized for ‘laxity’. However, both failed. One of the reasons is that one cannot have a chance to be a citizen without being offered all the chances of integration: a decent work, a decent housing, equal opportunities for studies. In the seventies, Sweden tried a specific model of multiculturalism – teaching at school in the language of your country of origin, giving the opportunity to migrants for creating cultural associations. But it also failed because everyday problems were not solved.

What is the role of higher education in terms of respect for diversity in our multicultural societies?

Higher education did not bring important changes, neither in the UK, nor in France. Maybe in the UK it considered more the marginalized communities, by a system of quotas. In France, there were some outstanding experiences, like the one taken over by the Paris Institute of Political Studies: to receive youngsters from marginalized suburbs and to accept them as students, after an examination. It was a sort of Anglo-Saxon quota, even though it was not usually mentioned it as such.

Would you please explain something about your own experience of study in cities that have different cultural tradition? Do you think that the big city is the appropriate space for living in diversity, or is it that the city dwellers accept difference merely because of indifference, because, according to Georg Simmel, in a city we are all strangers?

 Yes, I think that cities are more tolerant, especially big cities. This does not mean that bumping on the street inspires into someone who is different more kindness. It’s a kind of indifference. What I know, out of my own experience, it is that more initiatives are taken and supported in big cities, by public authorities or by private sponsors. And some cities are more prepared: it is the case of Malmö (Sweden) and Saint-Denis (France). They have experienced the arrival of many foreigners for a long time and they had to face this reality. They helped newcomers to create associations, to organize their own festivals, to freely attend courses of language and to perform on some occasions. It is the topic of my most recent research.

What is Europe? In what sense can one talk about a European cultural identity?

Europe is a crossroad of identities and it should remain as such. The role of EU is not to build a one European culture, but to build all possible encounters between all European identities. European Union is a hub. Let us hope that it is a positive hub. This is European cultural identity. Generally speaking, and on the basis of some investigations, European identity will always be a secondary one: either because nations have perceived themselves as such for centuries, or because they just had the opportunity of recovering their national identity (Central and Eastern Europe).

 What is the importance of culture for the European integration?

For most people, culture is not a source for building new identities or belongings. First of all, because what we call “culture” has been inherited by them, since they were very young. Secondly, because this type of approach requires curiosity, a minimum of resources and intellectual predisposal. At this stage, experts and associations can be efficient to attract people, to give them reasons for being proud of themselves and to give migrants’ culture a chance to be taken into consideration.  However, let us be careful: only people who are confident with their own cultural background can welcome others. That is why education is so important.

[1] Anne-Marie Autissier ed. (2008) Dialogue(s) interculturel(s) en Europe. Regards croisés sur l’Année européenne du dialogue interculturel.