Exemptions for whom? On the relevant focus of egalitarian concern

Res Publica 15 (3):269-287 (2009)
Granting differential treatment is often considered a way of placing some groups in a better position in order to maintain or improve their cultural, economic, health-related or other conditions, and to address persistent inequalities. Critics of multiculturalism have pointed out the tension between protection for groups and protection for group members. The ‘rule-and-exemption’ approach has generally been conceived as more resistant to such criticism insofar as exemptions are not conceded to minorities or ethical and religious groups as such, but to individuals who are part of those groups. However, I show that when a government grants an exemption, it inevitably provides a definition of the relevant group in question, and the tendency is to take cultural membership as ‘given’ or as defined by group spokespersons. I discuss some problems related to these definitions and defend instead a definition based on shared group interests.
Keywords Multiculturalism  Rule and exemption  Equality  Differential treatment
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