Rethinking multiculturalist discourse with Indigenous and Continental

Troy Alan Richardson
Dept. of Education, Culture and Society, University of Utah
July, 2006


This dissertation is a philosophical inquiry into the conceptual foundations of multicultural education. It is primarily concerned with how multicultural education works to build relationships to Native peoples through the "rights" based language of democratic law and the descriptive categories of the social sciences. Through the investigation of its canonical texts, as well as related texts by Native peoples, this dissertation reveals the way "law" and "culture" become the privileged terms in the production of meaningful relations. This privilege, however, regularly works against the conceptual foundations which Native peoples themselves rely on to enter into meaningful relationships. It is argued here that the conceptual foundations privileged in the discourse of multicultural education provide an impoverished view for how students might be with others.

This dissertation provides alternative conceptualizations for respectful relationships in multicultural education drawing from the language of ethics and hospitality. To this end, it engages Continental philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, who suggests the ethical relation emerges in the maintenance of the difference of the Other, not the reduction of the Other to categories of law or science. It also engages Iroquois and other Native philosophies of hospitality according to the principle of sustainable relationships between humans and the natural world.