Immigrant cultures are routinely posed as threats to national culture. Particular understandings of immigrant and national cultures underlie cultural politics. Culturalism—conceiving cultures as reified, static, and homogeneous across bounded groups—imbues these understandings. Representations of immigrant and national culture are mutually constituted in policies, state institutions, the media, and everyday perceptions surrounding key categories such as borders, illegality, and the law. Furthermore, coupled with a popular or commonsense structural-functionalism that sees all cultural values and practices as inherently interlinked, many modes of cultural politics are contextually stimulated by anxieties about cultural loss. At critical junctures, certain representations gain powerful roles in cultural politics through synecdoche, when specific symbols stand for an integrated set of cultural attributes. Examples include Muslim head scarves in France and the “ground zero mosque” in the United States. Anthropologists can usefully mitigate culturalism and contribute to public debates by promoting more processual and distributive understandings of culture.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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