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plural society

  Coined by the British economist and colonial administrator J.S. Furnivall on the basis of his experience in Southeast Asia, the term was originally applied to colonial societies in which an alien minority ruled over an indigenous majority (cf. colonialism). In his classic study of Burma and the Dutch East Indies, Furnivall used the term to describe those societies in which different sections of the community live side by side, but separately, within the same political unit: \'Each group holds by its own religion, its own culture and language, its own ideas and ways. As individuals they meet, but only in the market place, in buying and selling\' (Furnivall, 1948, pp. 304-5). Though now rather dated, the concept has since been applied to a variety of post-colonial societies in Africa and the Caribbean (Smith, 1965; Kuper and Smith, 1969; see post-colonialism). More recently, the term has been extended even more widely to encompass societies such as Britain, Canada and the United States which, in Furnivall\'s terms, have plural elements but are not strictly plural societies (Clarke et al., 1984). When used in this broader sense, most contemporary societies have some elements of pluralism and the term may lose its specificity in applying to colonial societies ruled by an ethnically distinct minority. The term has some affinities with liberal notions of multiculturalism in its acceptance of plurality as opposed to an insistence on assimilation. Like multiculturalism, however, it has been criticized for implying a degree of equality between different sections within such societies, obscuring the existence of deeply structured inequalities between them. (PAJ)

References Clarke, C.G., Ley, D. and Peach, C., eds, 1984: Geography and ethnic pluralism. London: Allen and Unwin. Furnivall, J.S. 1948: Colonial policy and practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kuper, L. and Smith, M.G., eds, 1969: Pluralism in Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press. Smith, M.G. 1965: The plural society in the British West Indies. Berkeley: University of California Press.



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