Cultural capital and cultural diversity: some problems in Ghassan Hage's critique of cosmopolitan multiculturalism

Scott Brook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


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 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
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-520
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Australian Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


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