Relational Group Autonomy: Ethics of Care and the Multiculturalism Paradigm




In recent decades, group autonomy approaches to multiculturalism have gained legitimacy within both academic and policy circles. This article examines the centrality of group autonomy in the multiculturalism debate, particularly in the highly influential approach of Will Kymlicka. I argue that his response to the dilemmas of liberal-democratic multiculturalism relies on an underdeveloped conceptualization of group autonomy. Despite presumably good intentions, his narrow notion of cultural group autonomy obscures the requirements of minority group members' democratic capabilities and thereby works against the kind of transformative change that “accommodated” groups are seeking from the state. Although some critics (Young 1990; Benhabib 2002) have gone so far as to reject autonomy-based approaches to accommodation altogether (Young 1990, 251), I suggest that this position goes too far. In response, I offer an intermediary position between those that defend and those that reject an autonomy-based approach. Instead of fully rejecting autonomy as a guiding principle for multiculturalism, I develop an ethics of care approach to group autonomy based on relationality, which addresses the inadequacies of the dominant approach to multiculturalism. Such an account of group autonomy is a vital step toward reconciling multiculturalism with the necessary components of liberal-democratic citizenship.