From institutional racism to community cohesion: The changing nature of racial discourse in Britain

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It is imperative that an appropriate balance is reached between three key principles: equality, diversity and social cohesion. In many countries across the world, however, there is a discernible move away from a concern for equality and diversity as the problem of order looms larger. I shall focus here on Britain in presenting my central thesis that there is a very real danger that a new nationalist discourse centred on community cohesion and integration is trouncing any duties on us to promote racial equality and respect cultural diversity. The paper comprises three sections. I shall firstly identify a radical hour when there was for the first time official recognition that institutional racism existed in British society and some urgency that this needed to be combated. I shall secondly highlight the fragility of such progressiveness and identify threats from the changing nature of racial discourse since 2001. Here, I shall highlight in particular how the prominence given to institutional racism, with the publication of the Macpherson report, was remarkably short lived and how multiculturalism has come under increasing attack, not least because of its purported threat to social cohesion. I shall finally offer some tentative proposals for a more positive way forward
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2008


  • Britishness
  • Community cohesion
  • Equality
  • Ethnicity
  • Institutional racism
  • Integration
  • Multiculturalism
  • Race


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