Dissertation Abstracts

Multicultural Subjects, Multicultural Spaces: Change and Continuity in Conversion

Author: Sealy, Thomas , thomas.sealy@bristol.ac.uk
Department: Sociology
University: University of Bristol, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Professor Tariq Modood and Dr Therese O'Toole
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: multiculturalism , identity/subjectivity , converts/reverts to Islam , narrative
Areas of Research: Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations , Religion


In Britain, multiculturalism has centred on the inclusion of ethnic minorities in democratic citizenship, particularly in the face of structural discrimination, with a particular focus on the position of Muslims. The historic trajectory of the debates have been linked with immigration and produced an ambivalence and ambiguity of ‘immigrant’ and ‘citizen’. This ambivalence underpins the separation and exclusion of an ‘other’, conceived as foreign in values and beliefs, of the periphery in relation to a ‘we’ of the centre into which they should be integrated.

The work of cultural theorists such as Stuart Hall and Barnor Hesse has shown how in Britain, as a result of the dismantling of the empire and this change in the visible constitution of the country, certain ideas have been transrupted, notably those of ‘race’, ‘ethnicity’, understandings of culture and the supposed universalism and guaranteed equality (as a result of purportedly being ‘beyond culture’) of the liberal state (Hall, 2000; Hesse, 2000). In an attempt to get beyond national and ethno-cultural identities hybridization has been suggested, although too often it has not done enough to move beyond the idea of centre and periphery, and therefore to problematize the reticulated nature of people’s identifications, and, therefore, their place in the ‘nation’ and what the ‘nation’ therefore might be and mean.

British converts to Islam fall outside these debates in a number of ways and offer a clear example of the need to reorient analysis firmly into living in rather than with diversity (Antonsich, 2014). Research shows increasing numbers of converts (Brice, 2010) yet few sociological studies exist that problematize existing conceptions of identity and groups (for example, see Zebiri, 2008; Suleiman, 2013, 2015). From a liberal-secular viewpoint they can be seen to be crossing the integration gap in the ‘wrong’ direction, and have, as a result, been ‘re-racialized’ as ‘other’ (Moosavi, 2015). Indeed, the position of converts in relation to both discrimination from majority and minority positions, as well as their ‘bridging’ between these is unique (Brice, 2010; van Nieuwkerk, 2006; Roald, 2004; Zebiri, 2008). From a multicultural viewpoint they offer a distinct perspective on the inclusion of minorities, challenging discourses on religion and culture and the making of identities in national as well as minority terms, and what minority might mean as it has been associated with more prescribed forms of heritage and ethnicity. They introduce a counter-hegemonic, perspective on religion as ‘an ethnic feature of Britain… in terms of [its] personal, social and political salience and significance’ (Modood, 2010: 9). They offer a clear need to reconsider aspects of ‘the challenge of the diversification in the nature of migration’ (Modood, 2015: 17), even as it is posed as post-migration, and a review of how we think about multiculturalism on these terms, and certainly what is meant by integration, while also pointing to the indelible relevance of multiculturalism as ‘a politics of equal and just citizenship that bases itself on the right to be ‘different’ within a democratic political community’ (Werbner, 2012, 200).