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Journal of Australian Studies 32:4 (December 2008); 509-20

Cultural capital and cultural diversity: some problems in


Ghassan Hage’s account of cosmopolitan multiculturalism

Scott Brook

Abstract

Ghassan Hage’s account of Australian ‘cosmopolitan multiculturalism’ provided

an exemplary class critique of multiculturalism policy under the labor Hawke-

Keating governments (1983-1996), one which highlighted the fault lines along

which a popular backlash against multiculturalism later developed. However,

upon closer inspection the theoretical and ethnographic work behind the ‘cosmo-

multiculturalist’ thesis appears seriously flawed. This article revisits Hage’s mid-

1990s ethnography on Vietnamese restaurants in Cabramatta, a suburb in

Sydney’s south-west that has a significant number of Indo-Chinese residents and

businesses and is promoted by local government as ‘Australia’s most

multicultural suburb’. It argues Hage’s ethnography not only distorts the causality

of local tourism, but is unable to appreciate the mixed governmental rationales

that underpin local planning and the active participation of migrant associations in

this process. Furthermore, it is argued Hage’s notion of ‘cosmopolitan capital’ is

insufficiently Bourdieusian as it assumes the domination effects of cultural capital

are due to the commodity relations it enables, rather than being a consequence

of its unequal distribution and (therefore) its capacity to realise class-specific

1
social advantages. A brief review of one recent attempt to operationalise Hage’s

critique in Australian broadcasting policy further supports the conclusion that the

‘cosmo-multiculturalist’ thesis as it currently stands has limited value as an

explanatory tool and point of policy intervention.

Australian Multiculturalism after Labor


In Ghassan Hage’s various critiques of Australian multiculturalism the term

‘multiculturalism’ slides across levels of analysis, reflecting not only the different

domains of government policy in which questions of an ethnically diverse polity

are at stake, but also the different methodologies Hage has employed. Moving

between ethnographies based on participant observation and interviews, to

textual analysis of the rhetoric of media commentators, academics, politicians

and policy documents, Hage’s work is a strong example of cultural criticism; a

genre whose mix of ethical and political engagement, diverse intellectual

resources and popular pedagogy often sustains the role of public intellectual.1

Despite this eclecticism a central and arguably defining feature of Hage’s

methodology has been that questions of cultural diversity, whether at the level of

policy or ‘everyday practice’, are approached in relation to questions of class.

Hage regularly achieves this by constructing two sites of multicultural practice—

one working class, the other middle class—that are taken as exemplary of two

1
Ghassan Hage is currently listed at number eighteen on the Australian Public Intellectuals (API) Network
‘Top Forty’ list. Available on-line at http://www.api-network.com/main/index.php?apply=&webpage=
default&cID=16&PHPSESSID=&menuID=50 [Accessed 1/6/2008]

2
competing policy priorities. For instance, in the book chapter ‘The class

aesthetics of global multiculturalism’ Hage contrasts an aestheticised global

multiculturalism of the mobile professional and managerial classes, against the

localised, nation-State orientated multiculturalism of working class migrants.2

Expressed as a conflict of competing ethical imperatives, we might say the

multiculturalism of cultural desire is here pitted against the multiculturalism of

cultural survival. For a book with the subtitle ‘searching for hope in a shrinking

society’, and a rhetorical style that strongly testifies to this ambition, the prospect

in this chapter is rather gloomy. As an aestheticised global multiculturalism of

cosmopolitan consumption replaces the multiculturalism of migrants’ rights vis-a-

vis the nation state, Hage argues, the value of a culturally diverse polity from the

point of view of government is reduced to place-marketing. Vocalising the

agenda of ‘global multiculturalism’ thus, Hage writes;

[E]very government around the world can be heard begging,

‘Please come here Mr Transcendental Capital, please invest here in my

very multicultural zoo-like city, where all kinds of safe and

domesticated otherness is available for consumption. […]

I can provide your multicultural workers with the […] grooviest coffee

shops you can imagine, equipped with the latest Italian coffee-

machines, the best baristas and the best macchiatos. I will

offer them the most culturally diverse culinary scene possible[.’]3

2
Ghassan Hage, Against Paranoid Nationalism: Searching for hope in a shrinking society, Pluto Press,
Annandale, NSW, 2003, 108-19.
3
Hage, Against Paranoid Nationalism: Searching for hope in a shrinking society, 110-11

3
Although clearly polemical, Hage’s argument is anticipated by empirical research

from the mid-1990s on Australian state-sponsored policies of multiculturalism

under the Hawke and Keating governments (1983-1996). Refusing to accept

Labor’s policies and programs of multiculturalism at face value—ie. in terms of a

narrative of developmental progress in which enlightened values of inclusive

diversity finally triumph over policies of assimilation and racially selective

migration—Hage sought to highlight the less benign motives behind the pick-up

of the term by a government committed to wide scale economic reform. Taking

his cue from the use of the term ‘cosmopolitanism’ interchangeably with

‘multiculturalism’ in the 1988 federal government report, Immigration: a

Commitment to Australia, otherwise known as the Fitzgerald Inquiry4, and

drawing on his earlier critique of the settler-colonial inheritances of multicultural

policy as a continuing governmental discourse for managing non-Anglo-Celtic

communities, or ‘zoology’5, Hage coined the neologism ‘cosmo-multiculturalism’

to describe a policy moment in which Australians where inculcated within a

celebratory and consumer relation to signifiers of ethnic authenticity. Unlike the

earlier welfare policy moment of the 1970s,6 ‘cosmo-multiculturalism’ under the

late Hawke and Keating Labor governments had little to do with the needs of an

ethnically diverse polity, and even less with the symbolic work of ‘home building’

4
Ghassan Hage, ‘Anglo-Celtics Today: Cosmo-multiculturalism and the phase of the fading phallus’,
Communal/Plural, no. 4, 1996, 41-77, 63. Ghassan Hage, ‘At home in the entrails of the west’ in Helen
Grace, Ghassan Hage, Leslie Johnson, Julie Langsworth and Michael Symonds Home/world: Space,
community and marginality in Sydney’s west, Pluto Press, Annandale, NSW, 99-153, 150-51n33.
5
Ghassan Hage, ‘Republicanism, Multiculturalism, Zoology’, Communal/Plural, no. 2, 1994, 113-37.
6
Hage, Against Paranoid Nationalism: Searching for hope in a shrinking society, 58-60.

4
in migrant communities, but rather centralised a middle-class tourist subject for

whom public displays of taste for ethnic difference evidence a form of

‘cosmopolitan capital’, a subset of cultural capital.7 Drawing on the critique of

cultural taste developed by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu,8 Hage suggested that

the function of a cultivated taste for ethnic diversity resided in the cosmo-

multiculturalist’s public display of social distance, or ‘distinction’, from those who

lack such ‘good taste’, and that such class practices could be redeemed as

representing the national interest. Although his ethnographic work in various

suburbs of Sydney focused on the consumption of ethnic cuisine, this thesis was

not limited to food. It could include fashion, travel, music, film—in fact any activity

in which a consumer seeks an experience of authentic ethnic difference.

Considered loosely as a policy moment, ‘cosmo-multiculturalism’

represented a more radical embrace of cultural difference than the earlier welfare

policy moment, yet it put this embrace in the service of a new national self-image

and a new national economy. Hage’s account therefore dovetailed well with the

policy contexts of both the 1989 Garnaut Report, Australia and the Northeast

Asian Ascendancy,9 as well as the touting of international and domestic tourism

during the 1980s as a solution to what Australian’s were being taught was their

7
Hage, ‘Anglo-Celtics Today: Cosmo-multiculturalism and the phase of the fading phallus’, 64.
8
Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, translated by Richard Nice,
Harvard University Press, Cambridge & Massachusetts, 1984.
9
Ross Garnaut, Australia and the Northeast Asian Ascendancy: Report to the Prime Minister and the
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Commonwealth Government of Australia, Canberra, 1989.

5
vulnerable national economy; a moment Graham Turner has described as the

‘improbable enclosure of tourism within a national commercial project’.10

In retrospect it is clear Hage’s account provided a strong account of what

went wrong with the image of multiculturalism. If the yoking together of

multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism enabled relations between Anglo-Celtic

and non-Anglo-Celtic Australians that were seriously patronising, Hage

demonstrated how this move simultaneously provided the terms on which

multiculturalism might be popularly perceived as ‘elitist’. Of course, Hage wasn’t

alone in drawing attention to this. Sociologist Nancy Viviani would write in 1996

that ‘[t]he stress on cultural diversity at the expense of the concern with equality

[…] helped fuel the backlash against multiculturalism’.11 Hage’s account,

however, provided a history and theory of the public spaces in which such elitism

was performed. During the 1980s and 1990s there was no shortage of articulate

liberal critics of popular anti-multiculturalism in the Australian media who were

willing to testify how cultural diversity was good for the nation, and how culturally

backward opponents of multiculturalism were: yet few of these critics paused to

consider how their rhetoric merged multiculturalism with globalisation, the forms

of class power their own position signaled in the media, or how their own morally

exemplary performances helped fuel popular resentments against ‘multicultural

10
Graeme Turner, Making it National: Nationalism and Popular Australian Culture, Allen & Unwin,
Sydney, 1994, 111.
11
Nancy Viviani, The Indochinese in Australia 1975-1995: From Burnt Boats to Barbecues, Oxford
University Press, Oxford, 1996, 148.

6
elites’ that culminated in a spectacular backlash, as Meaghan Morris has

suggested.12

If Hage’s thesis on cosmopolitan multiculturalism has become an efficient

means of accounting for the demise of bipartisan support for multiculturalism

during this period, then I want to suggest its utility for policy is less

straightforward. However, before considering the way in which Hage’s account

has been negotiated in an example of recent cultural policy, I want to focus in

detail on Hage’s ethnography on cosmopolitan visitors to the suburb of

Cabramatta.13 This fieldwork was a key exhibit in the development of the ‘cosmo-

multiculturalism thesis’, one that sought to show how government policy was

thoroughly aligned with middle-class practices of social distinction. Although

Hage’s account of these visitors as seekers of cosmopolitan distinction is entirely

plausible, I suggest it is under-developed is so far as Hage’s research does not

demonstrate how such practices accumulate social advantages that are

unavailable to those who lack cosmopolitan capital, but focuses instead on the

point of exchange between cosmopolitan tourists and their hosts. This relation is

presented as being between ‘consumers’ and ‘feeders’ of cultural difference, a

situation in which the value of ethnic culture shifts from being a source of ‘home-

building’ for migrant communities, to that of a commodity for non-migrant

Australians.14 Hage’s fieldwork is further problematic in so far as it does not

consider the well documented fact that local government in Cabramatta has

12
Meaghan Morris, ‘`Please explain?’ ignorance, poverty and the past’, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies,1:2,
2000, 219-32.
13
Hage, ‘At home in the entrails of the west’.

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drawn upon Indochinese cultural identity as a resource in numerous tourism-

orientated projects in cultural and urban planning, projects that have involved a

range of stakeholders in pursuit of an equally diverse number of goals. I suggest

Hage’s complete exclusion of any reference to this history of policy development

implies not only a ‘moral resistance’ to the notion that culture might form such a

resource, but an inability to appreciate the more mundane and routine objectives

of those government programs for which questions of an ethnically diverse polity

are at stake. In the face of this, Hage’s research on the pursuit of cosmopolitan

capital in Cabramatta appears not so much orientated by the goal of

demonstrating its role in the reproduction of social advantages by and for a

specific social class; rather, it appears to be orientated by the goal of

demonstrating a commodity relation in which ‘culture’ is alienated from its morally

superior function of ‘home-building’. To this end, I argue, Hage’s, applied theory

of ‘cosmopolitan capital’ is distinctly different to Bourdieu’s theory of cultural

capital.15

In search of the cosmo-multiculturalists

Cabramatta is a suburb with high levels of ethnic and linguistic diversity in the

Local Government Area of Fairfield in Sydney’s south west. Cabramatta also has

a significant concentration of Indochinese Australian residents, community

organisations and businesses whose presence has been rendered publicly

14
Hage, ‘At home in the entrails of the west’, 140.

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visible due to both regular moral panics in the media during the 1980s and 1990s

associated with drugs and ‘Asian gangs’, as well as vigorous urban tourism

initiatives since the 1980s which continue today with the promotional tag:

‘Discover Cabramatta: A Taste of Asia’. Fairfield City Council invests a great deal

of effort in promoting the cultural diversity of the area, and boasts Cabramatta on

its website as ‘the most multicultural suburb in Australia’.16

In Hage’s discussion of his fieldwork Cabramatta functions as a mediating

point between the middle-class, consumerist and predominantly Anglo-Celtic

multiculturalism of inner city Sydney, and the multiculturalism of everyday

migrant home-making in Sydney’s western and south-western suburbs.17 Playing

these two lived relations to cultural diversity off against each other—one

cosmopolitan, the other migrant; one centred on cultural consumption, the other

on cultural maintenance—Hage used his research on Cabramatta’s Vietnamese

restaurants to show how inner-city cosmo-multiculturalists don’t simply denigrate

the south-western suburbs as less ‘multicultural’ (read: cosmopolitan) than they

are, despite the fact that more migrant Australians live there, but also, and even

more perversely, travel to the south-western suburbs to enjoy ‘authentic’ ethnic

cuisine. In the case of Cabramatta, the interviews were with local restaurant

patrons, patrons who traveled to Cabramatta from Sydney’s inner suburbs for its

15
I should point out my comments are restricted to a reading of the notion of ‘cosmopolitan capital’ and do
not attempt to cover Hage’s much broader concept of ‘national capital’ as developed in White Nation:
Fantasies of White supremacy in a multicultural society, Pluto Press, Annandale NSW, 1998.
16
Fairfield City Council, http://wwwfairfield.nsw.gov.au [Accessed 1/6/2008].
17
Hage, ‘At home in the entrails of the west’.

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perceived authentic Vietnamese cuisine, as well as the staff and owners of the

Vietnamese restaurants studied.

Hage’s account however is problematic for two reasons. The first is

empirical. The Cabramatta fieldwork was limited to interviews concerning the

behaviour and interactions of restaurant customers and their hosts and therefore

didn’t consider the history of urban planning and municipal promotion in Fairfield,

nor the distinct local rationales for these projects. This leads to a serious error in

Hage’s account of the history of local tourism and the agency of local businesses

and community organisations in this process. Although Hage acknowledges the

tactics of Vietnamese restaurant owners in attracting their cosmopolitan patrons,

the development of Cabramatta as a tourist destination is represented as an

effect of the desire of tourist-consumers, rather than the managed result of town

planning. Hage argues ‘Cabramatta is not cosmo-multicultural by design …

Cabramatta, like any good ‘Third World’ tourist spot outside of the touristic circuit,

was ‘discovered’ by the adventurers of the centre playing the colonial explorer

game.’18 However, apart from the claims made by the Cabramatta culinary

tourists he interviews, Hage puts forward no evidence of this. Furthermore, his

conclusion is in stark contrast to the history of Cabramatta tourism presented by

cultural geographer Kevin Dunn.19 Dunn notes that from the late 1980s domestic

18
Hage, ‘At home in the entrails of the west’, 143.
19
Kevin M. Dunn, ‘The Vietnamese concentration in Cabramatta: site of avoidance and deprivation, or
island of adjustment and participation?’, Australian Geographical Studies 31:2, 1993; 228-45. Kevin M.
Dunn, ‘Rethinking ethnic concentration: the case of Cabramatta, Sydney’, Urban Studies, 35:3, March
1998, 503-25. Kevin M. Dunn, ‘Using cultural geography to engage contested constructions of ethnicity
and citizenship in Sydney’, Social & Cultural Geography, 4:2, 2003, 153-65.

10
tourism has been touted by a range of local agents as a way of combining a

positive image campaign with local economic development, as well as a form of

‘place-making’ that has significance for local migrant communities.20 Such place-

making projects have been founded on the hope that negative press associating

the area with crime and drugs21—which Cabramatta locals, reportedly, regarded

as a significant contributor to the local drug trade through attracting heroin

users22—will be replaced by tourists and shoppers.

In the mid-1980s local businesses and cultural associations formed the

Cabramatta Pai Lau Beautification Association which from 1986 onwards was

responsible for organising annual Lunar New Year festivities. This group

organised the construction of the Pai Lau gateway—the centerpiece of Freedom

Plaza in Cabramatta’s central business district—as well as numerous stone

sculptures of animals from the Chinese zodiac. Freedom Plaza in the heart of

Cabramatta’s CBD incorporates multiple functions, including street-beautification,

community-based heritage, tourist attraction, and most recently, CCT

surveillance. Completed in 1989 and funded by numerous business and

community groups both locally and throughout New South Wales, including

Chinese, Vietnamese, Lao and Khmer community associations, and the

government of Taiwan, the heritage listed Pai Lau gateway was built—according

to Fairfield’s heritage audio tour—‘as a symbol of harmony and multiculturalism’,

20
Dunn, ‘Rethinking ethnic concentration: the case of Cabramatta, Sydney’.
21
Peter Teo, ‘Racism in the news: a critical discourse analysis of news reporting in two Australian news
papers’, Discourse and Society, 11:1, 2000, 7-49.
22
Christopher Kremmer, ‘Generation V’, Sydney Morning Herald, 30 April 2005.

11
and, above all, as ‘a monument to democracy and freedom.’23 Bold letters spell

out the words ‘liberty’ and ‘democracy’ in Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer, Lao and

English. The regional political significance of these words is deliberate. The tour

notes the gate was also designed to challenge popular perceptions that Chinese

and Indochinese refugees had come to Australia as economic refugees. In the

early 1990s Dunn interviewed many of the office bearers of the Pai Lau

association and notes they

revealed an awareness of the strategic nature of these icons.

The secretary of the Association commented that they were overt

attempts to compete with Chinatown in inner Sydney, and that these

were public relations and tourism-orientated initiatives.24

Such urban developments accompanied the Cabramatta Tourist Association’s

promotion of Cabramatta during the late 1980s with pamphlets and bumper

stickers with titles such as ‘Visit the new face of Cabramatta’, and slogans such

as ‘Cabramatta: where East meets West’. 1990s tourism initiatives pursued or

supported by Fairfield City Council have included commissioned documentaries,

virtual tours on compact disc, and food tours. Dunn notes that ‘[l]ike the

beautification works, these public relations initiatives have a ring of Orientalism

23
'Tune in to Fairfield: a multicultural driving tour’, produced by Fairfield City Council in partnership with
the Migration Heritage Centre and Premier’s Department NSW. Audio tour notes available at
http://www.fairfieldcity.nsw.gov.au/default.asp?iDocID=6771&iNavCatID=213&iSubCatID=2258
[Accessed 5/10/2007]
24
Dunn, ‘Using cultural geography to engage contested constructions of ethnicity and citizenship in
Sydney’, 160.

12
about them, constructing the suburb as the ‘Exotic East’’. 25 He also suggests that

however much economically motivated, these ‘‘positive stereotypes’ were

strategic political devices in the representational battles faced by these

communities’.26 Dunn also notes, however, that there were many agents and

agendas involved, and that the Asia-themed promotions of Cabramatta were

often pursued by Fairfield City Council beyond the initiatives of community

groups and associations.27

I do not draw attention to this history in order to claim such urban and

cultural planning projects have been successful in terms of their objectives, or

that the effects of such ‘orientalist’ strategies are benign. However, I do suggest

they too constitute the field in which cosmopolitan practices are played-out, and

that their local policy rationales cannot be read-off from the broader cosmo-

multiculturalist thesis. In ignoring the role of tourism in urban planning, Hage

overlooks the specific context in which local tourism was touted as a solution to a

range of problems, and, therefore, the extra-economic uses to which ‘culture’

was being put. While these are not the immediate topic of Hage’s ethnography,

their complete exclusion from Hage’s account does suggest a substantial

resistance to the notion ‘migrant culture’ might be linked to the commodity

relations of tourism. For his part, Dunn’s research sought to develop a case

against governmental migrant resettlement policies that pathologised ethnic

25
Dunn, ‘Using cultural geography to engage contested constructions of ethnicity and citizenship in
Sydney’, 160.
26
Dunn, ‘Using cultural geography to engage contested constructions of ethnicity and citizenship in
Sydney’, 160.
27
Dunn, ‘Rethinking ethnic concentration: the case of Cabramatta, Sydney’, 13.

13
concentrations, policies which Dunn shows had during the 1980s developed

migrant dispersion programs in order to assuage popular majority fears of

unassimilated ethnic ‘ghettos’. Dunn’s work sought to produce empirical evidence

that sites of ethnic concentration, such as Cabramatta, were beneficial to migrant

resettlement and by no means prevented migrant communities from broader

social participation, including, crucially, economic participation.28

That Hage cannot consider tourism affirmatively relates to a second and

far more serious problem, which concerns his use of the concept of cultural

capital. For unlike Pierre Bourdieu’s account, Hage does not leave room for

thinking cosmopolitan cultural capital affirmatively. For Hage, cosmopolitan

capital (which he also glosses as ‘touristic capital’29) is problematic in and of itself

as it sustains a market for ethnic culture. According to Bourdieu’s most

programmatic statement, embodied cultural capital at a basic level is an index of

a person’s capacities that have been built-up by various forms of implicit and

explicit training, beginning with the family, extending through education and into

the domain of everyday consumption.30 Such capacities might reflect highly

institutionalised practices—such as the ability to play a musical instrument—or

more subtle forms of ‘sensibility’, such as knowing what to talk about across a

wide range of social contexts. Cultural capital brings advantages to its holders as

it is the basis of further acquisition of cultural capital (for instance, through the

28
Dunn, ‘The Vietnamese concentration in Cabramatta: site of avoidance and deprivation, or island of
adjustment and participation?’.
29
Hage, ‘At home in the entrails of the west’, 101.
30
Pierre Bourdieu, ‘The Forms of Capital’, in John G. Richardson (ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research
for the Sociology of Education, New York, Greenwood Press, 1986, 241-258.

14
education system) and can also be ‘converted’ into symbolic capital (recognition),

social capital (social contacts and networks) and economic capital (financial

capital). And it is because cultural capital is unequally distributed that it can cater

for games of distinction that assist in the reproduction of social class. To follow

Bourdieu, however, would be to maintain the possibility that cultural capital can

be, and in the words of Tony Bennett, ‘withdrawn from the ‘game of distinction’’,

through an intervention in its distribution.31 For Bourdieu this was best achieved

through state education. To give an example: that some Australians might use

their capacity to appreciate ‘high’ cultural forms to produce social distance from

people from other social classes who do not have this capacity was not to be

countered by overturning the scales of cultural legitimacy upon which they were

erected (so that, for instance, arts funding bodies might regard Heavy Metal

music as equally worthy of funding as chamber music). Rather, for Bourdieu, this

situation was to be addressed by expanding public education so that everyone

might possess the means of appropriating those ‘cultural fields’, such as classical

music, that had achieved ‘aesthetic autonomy’ and thereby could support the

cultivated practice of disinterested taste. Of course, Bourdieu’s solution raises its

own problems, not least concerning its assumptions concerning the universal

value of European aesthetic culture.32 In any case, Hage’s use of cultural capital

31
Tony Bennett, ‘Cultural Capital and Inequality: Refining the Policy Calculus’, Cultural Trends, 15:2/3,
2006, 239-44, 240.
32
My reading of Bourdieu here has been greatly assisted by Tony Bennett’s recent essay that dispels the
myth that Bourdieu was a cultural relativist. See Tony Bennett, ‘The historical universal: the role of
cultural value in the historical sociology of Pierre Bourdieu’, The British Journal of Sociology 56:1, 2005,
141-64.

15
here is clearly different from Bourdieu’s. It does not attempt to clear a space in

which to consider how the class-specific practices of cosmopolitans are an index

of unequally distributed capacities that could be inculcated in the general

population, as a form of multicultural citizenship education in schools, for

example. Rather, Hage stakes out opposition to the idea that multicultural policy

might work with the kinds of market exchanges that permit the cosmopolitan’s

tourist itinerary in the first place. Furthermore, it is not that economic exchanges

are insufficient as a means of mediating the process by which the general

population experiences itself as a culturally diverse polity (which is a plausible

critique of those forms of neo-liberal ideology that aspire to delete any role for

government beyond economic management). Rather, Hage takes up the far less

negotiable position that economic exchanges fundamentally compromise cultural

diversity policy through sustaining relations between ‘consumers’ and ‘feeders’ of

cultural difference.33

Let me summarise the argument so far. I am not here contesting Hage’s

research that shows cosmopolitan visitors to Cabramatta make claims to social

distinction, nor that their imagined experience of ‘discovering’ Cabramatta is

central to these claims. These research findings can both be upheld. I am

suggesting Hage’s research on cosmopolitan capital is insufficiently Bourdieusian

as it (1) does not demonstrate the domination effects of these claims to

distinction, which would require research on the forms of social advantage that

accrue to holders of cosmopolitan capital on the basis of these claims, and (2)

33
Hage, ‘At home in the entrails of the west’, 140.

16
cannot consider cosmopolitan capital neutrally as a capacity that only becomes a

source of distinction due to its unequal distribution. For Hage, ‘cosmopolitan

capital’ is not problematic because it delivers social advantages to its holders that

are unavailable to others due to its restricted circulation (which Hage’s research

does not seek to demonstrate); rather, ‘cosmopolitan capital’ is problematic

because it reproduces a market relation between cosmopolitan consumers and

ethnic feeders (which Hage’s research does demonstrate), a relation in which

‘culture’ becomes a commodity at the expense of its more morally acceptable

function of ‘home-building’.34

Considered as a form of ‘tourism critique’, Hage’s account hence becomes

an easy target for a classic study in tourism studies, namely Dean MacCannell’s

The Tourist: a new theory of the leisure class.35 For MacCannell, the modern

tourist is a deeply ambivalent figure. While their attempt to experience authentic

34
I must thank an anonymous reader of an earlier version of this paper for both an extended critical
response to my discussion of Cabramatta tourism and a spirited defence of Hage’s research there. These
have encouraged me to clarify the limits of my argument and more fully acknowledge those findings of
Hage’s research that are outside its scope. However, this reader emphasised a central objection that I cannot
accept; namely, that I rely on secondary sources and report no ethnographic findings of my own. Of course,
it is beyond dispute that fieldwork is crucial to the advance of research on cultural diversity and cultural
capital. However, as a criterion by which to assess the worthiness of contributions to debates in this area,
this criticism would imply methodological discussions have no validity of their own and/or can only be
broached when the speaker has cultivated the authority that comes with fieldwork. This not only diminishes
the possibility research might be accumulative and divided between specialised functions, but appears to
attribute a special status to ethnography as of higher cognitive value than those more bureau-based (dare I
say ‘bureaucratic’) modes of intellectual work, such as paying close attention to the details of published
reports and applied methodology, as well as raising questions of how research findings are coordinated
with the action of government agencies.
35
Dean MacCannell, The Tourist: a new theory of the Leisure Class, Schocken Books, New York, 1989,
[1976].

17
difference places them at the vanguard of many of the negative effects of

Modernity, the motivation for this quest is not an appetite for social distinction,

but rather the quintessentially Modern need to recuperate the disorientating and

alienating experience of limitless social differentiation for a sense of the world as

fundamentally explicable. In this the tourist’s search for knowledge both

prefigures the social sciences, including anthropology, as well as holds out the

potential that the practices of tourism can be redeployed as ‘community

planning’. It is for this reason MacCannell claims ‘[t]he modern critique of tourists

[ie. ‘anti-tourism’] is not an analytic reflection on the problem of tourism—it is part

of the problem.’36 Indeed, the only way of interrupting the touristic desire for

authenticity is to stop regarding tourism as an inauthentic relation that needs to

be transcended. MacCannell’s argument here would focus on how Hage’s

technique of contrasting the tourist’s experience of commoditised cultural

difference with the domestic scene of migrant homemaking is itself anticipated by

the very same desire for authenticity, and the very same desire to escape the

scene of social planning, that motivates the cosmopolitans he studies.

Accordingly, one can hear a nascent form of Hage’s critique in the statements of

one Cabramatta restaurant customer he quotes. A professional from inner

Sydney who was interviewed for the research on why he travelled to Cabramatta

for its restaurants, states;

I would like to see perhaps a lot less meat in traditionally non-meat

cultures such as Indian and Japanese, so that instead of presenting

36
MacCannell, The Tourist: a new theory of the Leisure Class, 10.

18
us with Australianised food they actually present the real food, and I’d

like to see it divorced from the concept of multiculturalism a little more

and presented as a community activity by ethnic communities feeding

themselves rather than as something that Australians can cash in on.

Exploited labour as making food for us.37

Here we can see the cosmo-multiculturalist in all their glory; freely providing the

anthropologist with their wish-list of authentic ethnic cuisine. This statement is

clearly strong evidence in support of Hage’s account. Regarding the second half

of the quotation however, we also have to consider the possibility that this

interviewee would entirely agree with Hage’s thesis on cosmo-multiculturalism

and in fact shares the value Hage places on those forms of migrant home-

making that are not orientated towards the Other in a commercial exchange

(‘exploited labour’) or associated with a government policy (‘multiculturalism’).

Indeed, I’m not sure it’s possible here to separate Hage’s moral critique from that

of the interviewed subject, except for the fact that the interviewee is speaking in

the context of being asked to reflect on their tastes in restaurant cuisine, and

Hage, the anthropologist-critic, is not.

Cosmopolitanism and cultural policy

Of course, there is nothing wrong about opposing the use of ‘culture’ as an

economic resource on grounds of moral or political principle. However, the

practical limitation of this position is that it cannot appreciate the mixed agendas

37
Hage, ‘At home in the entrails of the west’, 140. Emphasis added.

19
and domains of local government, such as urban and cultural planning, which

routinely factor in the priorities of local economies and are fairly impervious to

reflex condemnations of this. Opposition to the idea ‘culture’ might be viewed as

a resource not only prevents critics from attending to the details of governmental

reform or identifying points where engagement is possible, but also detracts

attention from the varied agendas of non-government agents who make use of

this terrain. Given this, it would appear to restrict discussion to a mode of political

critique whose main rhetorical effect would be moral denunciation.

A neat conclusion here would be to suggest, following Ian Hunter, that the

practical site of application for Hage’s critique would be the classroom, where the

idea and ideal of culture as a ‘whole way of life’ works as a pedagogic tool

through which students might problematise their relations to cultural diversity as

a form of ethical training.38 Considered thus, the instrumental value of Hage’s

critique of cosmo-multiculturalism would be pedagogic rather than cognitive in so

far as it enables the moral value of different uses of culture to be played-off

against one another.39 However a recent attempt to operationalise Hage’s

38
Ian Hunter, Culture and Government: the emergence of literary education, Macmillan, London, 1988.
39
It is hard to avoid being persuaded by Hunter’s historical account of the exemplary role of cultural
critique even if the sarcasm that often accompanied this argument detracted from Hunter’s claim to
appreciate those mundane and routine aspects of the teaching apparatus that are overlooked by overly
‘profound’ approaches. John Frow has noted the discrepancy between Hunter’s ‘in principle’ assumption of
the validity of critique as a pedagogically orientated mode of ethical self-formation and his tendency to
speak of it as ‘narcissistic, dilettantish and therefore trivial’. See his ‘Rationalization and the Public
Sphere’, Meanjin, 51:3, 1992, 505-16, 513. The significance of multiculturalism for curriculum
development at all levels of the education system can hardly be overstated and constitutes a highly
dispersed field of policy development with its own distinctive and enduring rationales. The dissemination
of Hage’s work in this field is clearly outside the scope of this article.

20
critique in a policy context makes such a conclusion unsustainable. In 2002

Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) published Living Diversity:

Australia’s Multicultural Future40, the report of a questionnaire that surveyed a

national sample group, five non-English speaking background groups (Filipino,

Greek, Somalis, Vietnamese and Lebanese) and an Aboriginal sample group. 41

SBS’s charter requires the public broadcaster to reflect the cultural and linguistic

diversity of Australia and the research was commissioned by the SBS Board to

address several questions relating to general attitudes towards cultural diversity,

‘diversity in everyday life’ (such as interacting with people from diverse

backgrounds), and media consumption, with a focus on generational changes

amongst non-English speaking background migrant groups and ‘long time

Australians’. ‘Long time Australians’ were a majority subgroup of the national

sample defined as fourth-generation (or more) Australians. This group were

predominantly Anglo-Celtic, but not exclusively so.

In his contribution to the report, ‘People Mixing: Everyday Diversity in

Work and Play’, Greg Noble introduces the term ‘everyday cosmopolitanism’ to

signal a positive difference from both the ‘elite cosmopolitanism’ Hage had

proposed on one side, and ‘cultural insularity’ on the other. ‘Everyday

cosmopolitanism’, which is glossed as ‘an openness to cultural diversity, a

40
Ien Ang, Jeffrey E. Brand, Greg Noble and Derek Wilding, Living Diversity: Australia’s Multicultural
Future, Special Broadcasting Service Corporation (SBS), Artarmon, NSW, 2002.
41
The National sample group (1437 respondents) included both ‘long time Australians’ and 1st generation
migrant Australians. The other sample group sizes were as follows; 406 Filipinos: 401 Greeks: 400
Lebanese: 401 Somalis: 400 Vietnamese: and 56 Aboriginal people. All respondents were above the age of

21
practical relation to the plurality of cultures, a willingness to engage with others’42

is to be encouraged: indeed, a key finding of the chapter is that ‘Australians from

all backgrounds experience everyday cosmopolitanism’ and that this ‘helps

explain the generally positive views towards Australia’s multiculturalism and

cultural diversity which this Report describes’.43 However, the chapter does cite

Hage’s cosmopolitan multiculturalism, glossed (after Hage) as a ‘multiculturalism

without migrants’, as a plausible explanation for those long time Australians the

report identifies as enjoying culturally diverse food, yet having ‘relatively little

direct intercultural contact’.44 Here, the fact that ‘culinary cosmopolitanism’ is

‘very much a mainstream practice’, (with 72% of the national sample saying they

‘enjoy eating food from other countries’45) becomes a site of potential concern.

While long-time Australians are more likely to enjoy the cultural variety

of foods in Australia, this is evidence for the ‘multiculturalism without

migrants’ Hage (1997) describes: that is, people who consume exotic

differences but have relatively little direct intercultural contact.46

However, there are three strong reasons why this conclusion is

contestable in relation to the data that is presented. First, the report notes it is

‘statistically logical for ethnic minorities to experience greater intercultural

16 at the time of the survey. For more information on the sample groups see Ang et al, Living Diversity:
Australia’s Multicultural Future, 67-74.
42
Ang et al, Living Diversity: Australia’s Multicultural Future, 34.
43
Ang et al, Living Diversity: Australia’s Multicultural Future, 6.
44
Ang et al, Living Diversity: Australia’s Multicultural Future, 37.
45
Ang et al, Living Diversity: Australia’s Multicultural Future, 40.
46
Ang et al, Living Diversity: Australia’s Multicultural Future, 37. The reference is to Hage, ‘At home in
the entrails of the west’.

22
workplace contact with people of other cultural backgrounds than members of the

English-speaking background majority’.47 This is one factor that would contribute

to ‘long time Australians’ having a substantially lower measure of culturally

diverse social interaction. Second, the report also suggests that the reason

ethnic minorities are less inclined to value culturally diverse foods compared to

long time Australians may be because, for ethnic minorities, eating food from

one’s own culture plays an important role in the migration process.48 Third,

Hage’s ‘multiculturalism without migrants’ thesis refers to practices that enable

cosmopolitan distinction, not simply any form of consumption that involves

culturally diverse content. Yet the survey instrument cited by the report does not

refer to conspicuous forms of cosmopolitan practice—such as eating in

restaurants that serve food from a different country than your own, owning

cookbooks about foods that come from other countries, or searching for

ingredients in grocery stores that specialize in such foods. What it refers to is the

far more ubiquitous category of ‘enjoying foods from other cultures’. 49 What the

finding most likely indicates is that with the advent of increasingly globalised

industries of food production and distribution and the rise of powerful new forms

of food marketing, different types of cuisine have become available to the general

population and acceptable to those sections of the population who do not have a

traditional, inherited relation to such foods. What this might be taken to suggest is

that the opportunity to access a range of culturally diverse food (from

47
Ang et al, Living Diversity: Australia’s Multicultural Future, 30.
48
Ang et al, Living Diversity: Australia’s Multicultural Future, 31.

23
supermarkets, fast-food franchises and convenience stores no less than

restaurants) far exceeds, for long time Australians, the opportunity to socially

interact with people from different cultural backgrounds.

This situation is hardly evidence of the ‘multiculturalism without migrants’

Hage diagnoses, if by this we mean the pursuit of cosmopolitan distinction. This

is further supported by the fact that the more problematic sub-population of ‘long

time Australians’ the report identifies consists of those who lack cosmopolitanism

and to whom SBS should target their services; namely ‘older groups and those

with lower levels of education’.50

Although I think it is correct to be skeptical that Hage’s argument holds

any explanatory import here, as the report suggests, what it clearly does do is act

as a ‘critical signpost’ for policy discussion. It flags a possible relation to

government subsidised culture that the agent behind the report (SBS) might

monitor in future. Given that a national survey undertaken in the mid-1990s

demonstrated that a taste for watching Australia’s two public television

broadcasters correlated positively with both higher incomes and occupations

requiring tertiary qualifications, it makes sense for this policy document to

signpost the nexus of class and cosmopolitanism as something to be concerned

about.51 However, the signpost works because it is detached from Hage’s moral

49
Ang et al, Living Diversity: Australia’s Multicultural Future 31. This measure is also referred to in the
text as ‘enjoying food from other countries’. (p. 30).
50
Ang et al, Living Diversity: Australia’s Multicultural Future, 38.
51
Tony Bennett, Michael Emmison and John Frow, Accounting for Tastes: Australian Everyday Cultures,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 234-35.

24
position. As we might expect, the proposed policy solution to the disjunction

between ‘enjoying foods from different cultures’ and low level of ‘intercultural

contact’ in the long time Australian population is that SBS should consider

focusing its efforts on older and less well educated ‘long time Australians’. Just

as the report introduces the notion of ‘everyday cosmopolitanism’ as a way to

reconceive the field of practices around cultural diversity as non-elitist, it then

identifies the group in which ‘cosmopolitan capital’ needs to be built-up.

Whatever we might think about cosmopolitanism as a lived ethical relation,

acknowledging it may also be economically and politically productive for

particular migrant groups (as in the case of cultural tourism) or a resource

capable of building up nationally valued ethical capacities in citizens (as in the

case of public broadcasting policy) allows us to take it seriously as a means of

‘distributing hope’, as Hage calls for. This isn’t to eclipse a commitment to equity-

orientated government programs that address the needs of migrant communities,

nor to argue against a principled appeal for the maintenance of such programs.

And it certainly isn’t to suggest that the pursuit of cosmopolitan capital by certain

groups who may thereby secure class-based advantages is not a cause for

potential concern and further research. It is simply to say a commitment to

multiculturalism (and its critique) is not well served by refusing to consider

‘culture’ as a resource that is managed for a range of purposes and effects.

25