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Multiculturalism, Non-Places and Culture: the biggest challenge

He has studied airports, motorways and shopping centres, places that look the same all over the world, calling them Non-Places: places with no real identity, which people pass through anonymously. Today the anthropologist Marc Augé describes the other side of the journey: the movements of those who have left their own homes, the paths of migrants who are obliged – and who oblige us – to encounter others.  “We should respect differences, but above all we should respect individuals”, he says, respect other cultures while defending not-negotiable values, such as equality between men and women. Known across the globe for his analyses of the modern world, Augé talks of the links between migration and terrorism, citing relocation and society’s anger against foreigners. At 80, he dreams of being able to placate this rage by strengthening the education system, in both the countries that migrants are leaving and those where they are arriving. What he sees, however, is a planet overflowing with too many people. Maybe, he admits, “one day we’ll find another planet, but today the one we have has too little space”.

Who is migrating?
The ideal migrant is an adventurer who has freed himself of all ties, liberated himself from the chains that keep him tied to one place. That’s different from the real-life migrant who leaves home and family driven by poverty, political oppression or the brain drain. Man has always been a migrant.
In what sense?
He was born in Africa, then migrated around most of the planet. If history is anything to go by, we are destined to conquer every corner of the planet. There is a natural expansion of societies. In that sense, colonisation was the logical consequence of voyages of discovery by the West.
Has the expansion now accelerated?
There is a dual phenomenon. On one hand, there is demographic pressure. The population of China today is the same as the population of the entire world at the start of the 20th century: that means there are too many of us. On the other hand, in a world where there is little space, migrants create new spaces, places of refuge.
Places of refuge, but also places on the margins?
Many migrants are alone and have to re-establish themselves somewhere. And they often have an unusual status, they have no documents. There are the official, accepted migrants, and then there are the clandestine ones. And in general, the places they encounter are not welcoming, partly because these places are the expression of a different identity.
Is the recession also to blame?
In France, for example, the idea that migrants are stealing our jobs is still common, even though it’s not true. Then there are relocations, and in this case it is factories that are moving, but the local population does not want to leave and follow them.
Could we say that there are two movements that do not coincide: that of the people and that of factories?
Today we have an overabundant chunk of the population that is unqualified: I don't see how we can solve this problem without making a heavy, across-the-board investment in education.

There are researchers like Latouche who imagine a world where the only migrants are explorers and journeys are limited, a world of independent communities and few interdependences. Do you think that is possible?
It’s an alternative idea of development, where every citizen is employed by their own community. It’s a different model of society and economy.
What kind of migrations might there be in the future: will we in the West be migrating eastwards to China?
The problem is that the Chinese are themselves emigrating. So where to go? Certainly France and Italy have once again become countries of emigration, towards Berlin among other places. But we are in a situation of structural imbalance. And in the end, that is the problem. There is a contradiction between our economic model and the demographic explosion.
And what is the solution?
I think we’re in a situation with no solution. I can imagine utopian solutions: across-the-board education for the entire planet. It’s clearly a utopia, but more achievable than some other utopias.
Meanwhile barriers are increasing and the Mediterranean has become a mass grave.
We talk about a world without frontiers, but the frontier is a threshold that can be crossed, whereas here there are barriers. Of course, it is difficult to welcome everybody. But walls are not the solution either. Because there are migrations within continents too. Not just the South-North routes, but also south-south movements, between African countries, and North-North routes, within Europe, towards Germany.
Some say we will migrate to other planets...
In space we have only explored our local area, with the Mars missions. We will probably be able to find an interplanetary escape route within our solar system, which is nothing much on a universal scale. But I think the only real solutions can be found through science and knowledge.

In the past, colonisation led to wars and disease. What do migrants bring with them today?
Today the problems are different. The Indians were massacred by European illnesses and violence, but now it is European doctors who are being repatriated with ebola. I still think that only a policy of education, in both the countries that people are leaving and those where they are arriving, can reduce this conflict.
Should we fight the fear of migration?
We should fight fear in general. But people are afraid for reasons that are not imaginary: inequality, poverty, the development model. The fear of migration is the most simple one, but it conceals more complex issues.
Is multiculturalism possible, or are we doomed to racism and suspicion of anyone different?
I don’t trust the expression “multicultural”. What does it mean? Does it mean that everyone retains their own culture and we tolerate each other? That would mean a closed system, but in fact it is cultural contact that keeps things moving.
What do you mean by contact?
We are no longer the keepers of justice and truth. But there are cultural models that should not be rejected, for instance we can’t reject the culture of men and women being equal.
How can we protect the culture of human rights?
I say we should respect differences, but above all we should respect individuals. And that is a principle, not an ideology. A principle that makes it possible to respect a person of any origin, but above all to respect any person.

Marc Augé 
French anthropologist Marc Augé was born in 1935 in Poitiers. His early research focused on West Africa. After years of fieldwork on African tribes, he decided to apply anthropological methods to contemporary French society. In 1995, he coined the term ‘non-places’ to define global spaces with no significance, in the book Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, followed in 1998 by An Anthropology for Contemporaneous Worlds. After studying the concept of places in a globalised world, he began investigating that of time. His latest works are Future (2012), The Anthropologist and the Global World (2013) and A Self-Ethnology: Time without Age (2014).

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