Equalitarian & Inequalitarian Pluralism

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
Can a society be considered pluralistic if they still have a dominant culture? This lesson looks at two different types of pluralistic societies, equalitarian and inequalitarian pluralism, and explores how they function.

Embracing Pluralism

Every day Jasmine went to school excited about what she would learn, the games she would play with friends at recess, even what the school would serve for lunch. She liked every aspect of school life. Jasmine enjoyed school because it took her away from the strict atmosphere in her home for a few hours. Her mother was a member of a religious sect that believed in separatism. She had even mentioned to Jasmine that Jasmine would be home schooled after the present term was over.

In school, Jasmine learned about different cultures and how they should be treated equally. She was glad that her family was able to live their individual religious beliefs and still remain a part of the larger culture. However, she was worried. She saw that the pluralism extant in the overall culture could be damaged by pockets of unequal treatment. What would happen if an accepting culture turned into one that sought to absorb everyone in its beliefs? She thought that maybe her mother would be interested in differences between what her social studies teacher called equalitarian pluralism versus inequalitarian pluralism.

What Is Pluralism?

Many different belief systems and cultures exist within most societies. When the overall culture embraces the individual cultures, it is said to be pluralistic. Thus, pluralism can be defined as maintaining many socially and culturally distinct elements within a society. In modern thought, there are four qualities of pluralism. It is:

  • A commitment to diversity.
  • Creating a dialogue so that differences are understood.
  • Demonstrating differences by showcasing them to the society.
  • Actively engaging across line of difference.

These four elements are meant to produce a society that not only contains different components, but embraces each of those equally.

Equalitarian and Inequalitarian

The issue is that in any cultural context, there are going to be two general groupings of members. One group will actively embrace the different elements within their society (equalitarian pluralism) and others who will see pluralism as degrading the national culture (inequalitarian pluralism). Understanding these competing views is crucial to obtaining a rounded comprehension of how pluralism affects societies.

Neither system is completely positive or negative, but equalitarian pluralism seeks a more overt positive outcome for all people. In this system, all ethnic groups are provided an equal status within the country. This means that multiculturalism and language differences are honored. Some countries even allow some amount of self-government in historically held lands.

The reality of inequalitarian pluralism is nationalism. A society may welcome people from disparate cultural backgrounds, but this type of pluralism creates pockets of cultures that are dominated by the national culture. Often the dominate group uses the subordinate groups as menial labor and does not allow them to aspire to better occupational or economic positions.

Examples of Equality and Inequality

Throughout history, both of these systems have been a reality. However, the historic trend has primarily been inequalitarian. Recently, though, there have been some good examples of equalitarian pluralism.

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