Cultural Justice and the Demands of Equal Citizenship

The Parading Dispute in Northern Ireland

in Theoria
Author: Shane O'Neill
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Within the liberal academic mainstream, normative political theory has in recent years been struggling to come to terms with the increasingly forceful demands of cultural justice. It has become evident that if liberalism is to address in a constructive way political controversies associated with multiculturalism and particularly those conflicts related to deep ethnonational conflicts, then it will have to reframe its commitment to individual freedom. Controversies arising from the politics of cultural pluralism reveal the inadequacy of any normative framework that fails to acknowledge the inextricable connection between individual freedom and the recognition of particular group identities. Individual freedom is conditional on the cultural freedom of those groups to which a specific individual feels a strong affiliation or sense of belonging. A group is culturally free if its members can express and celebrate their distinctiveness without cost to their status as equal citizens. In most Western democracies at least, gay and lesbian citizens, for example, have achieved much in recent decades by securing cultural freedom through the public celebration of their difference. For most of the individuals involved this has been a liberating experience in terms of the recognition by others of their freedom and equality as citizens. This experience of freedom is to be contrasted with the experience of alienation that results when citizens are unjustly forced to choose between the expression of their cultural distinctiveness and the achievement of equal status as members of the political community.

Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

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