Individual Vulnerability and Cultural Transformation

Perhaps the most pressing problem in multicultural theory and practice today is the problem of individual vulnerability. Most interested theorists and multicultural states now accept the basic premise that some degree of state accommodation of minority cultural practice is required as a matter of justice. Debate then shifts to the best justifications for, and the appropriate extent of, such groupdifferentiated policy. Too often lost amid these discussions is the plight of vulnerable members of accommodated cultural groups: individuals subject to repression within their cultural groups, but who lose a critical aspect of their identities upon exit; individuals who would retain their cultural membership, but also their rights as individuals. It is not that the problem of individual cultural vulnerability goes unsolved because it goes unnoticed. Rather, the problem itself receives little prescriptive attention because most theorists who consider the problem consider it to be insoluble. In her valuable new book on multiculturalism, however, Ayelet Shachar takes the plight of vulnerable cultural group members, particularly women, as her primary focus. Further, she offers innovative legal-institutional prescriptions designed to permit the retention and simultaneous transformation of cultural identities. Yet, in Multicultural Jurisdictions, Shachar also underestimates the extent to which her legal model is derivative of extant theory and overestimates the efficacy of her own prescriptive design.