ABSTRACT Based on 24 months of fieldwork in Pakistan and Canada with Pakistani women who migrated for
work, this article examines the politics of multiculturalism and the construction of the “sanitized body.” I found two
contradictory strains of multicultural practice in Canada: on the one hand, the erasure of “difference” with regard to
immigrant bodies, on the other, the simultaneous recognition of that very difference. Public discourse in Canada on
multiculturalism describes a relinquishing of cultural imperialism and a celebration of “multiness” as demonstrated
by cultural festivals or other public celebrations, yet I found an imposition of a dominant culture through governmentfunded
settlement services that institute new ideals of bodily comportment on immigrants by teaching them how
to dress and act. This dual mode of interpellation puts immigrants in an impossible situation in which they must
sometimes suitably display their Otherness, and at other times efface their cultural difference. [multiculturalism,
immigration, labor, Toronto]
“Don’t show up smelling like foods that are foreign to
us.” This was the core curriculum (and moral imperative)
delivered to a room full of Pakistani, Indian, and
Bangladeshi women seeking work in the Greater Toronto
area.As the 15 participants in this government-fundedworkshop
stared back at their instructor, I wondered what these
women were supposed to be learning. Each had sat for
hours in the back of a local government-funded immigration
office—a tired,windowless room set aside to support immigrant
integration. The lesson plan the instructor delivered
seemed surprisingly off key for a workshop intended for
foreign-trained professionals—women with advanced levels
of education and undeniably valuable skill sets. Smelly
bodies? Really? The strangeness of it all was not lost on the
participants. One of the participants, Saima, remarked to
me later that, “it’s different back home. At home there’s
more importance stressed on qualifications.” And yet, during
this pedagogical effort at facilitating immigrant women’s
entrance into the workforce, each participant had been subjected
to intimate instructions: “make sure your clothes are
clean,” “don’t wear the shalwar cameeze,” and “don’t wear
headscarves.” It was a barrage of regulatory proscriptions
aimed at the immigrant body.
Political leaders and citizens alike in the United States,
Britain, France, Germany, and Canada (to name a few)
are currently undergoing struggles to understand the place
of minority culture within the politics of multiculturalism,
identity, and difference. In 2009 French President Nicholas
Sarkozy declared that the Islamic burqa is “not welcome,”
AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST, Vol. 114, No. 3, pp. 509–520, ISSN 0002-7294, online ISSN 1548-1433. c 2012 by the American Anthropological
Association. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2012.01449.x
while in October 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel
said that the attempt to build a multicultural society in
Germany “has utterly failed.” In contrast, Canada has long
been hailed as the premier success story of multicultural inclusion.
Nevertheless, in October 2010, an editorial in the
national newspaper the Globe and Mail (2010) argued that
multiculturalism should be “eradicated” from the national
vocabulary, and the discourse and practice should instead
focus on “the concept of citizenship.” Multiculturalism in
Canada, and elsewhere, has been under scrutiny as the most
effective means of nation building. In Toronto, the urban
center of Canada, half the population is foreign born (45.7
percent),1 and it is thus an important site for understanding
the daily practice and the intimate spaces in which multicultural
ideologies are negotiated. The contemporary Canadian
experience can be a representative moment from which to
understand the politics of multicultural states.
I conducted ethnographic research over 24 months in
Lahore and Karachi, Pakistan, and Toronto, Canada between
2001 and 2010 on the politics and practice of multiculturalism
in Toronto. I found two contradictory strains of multicultural
practice in Canada: on the one hand, the denial of
“difference” with regard to immigrant bodies, on the other,
the simultaneous recognition of that very difference. Contemporary
discourse in Canada on multiculturalism (through
sources ranging from media accounts to government policy)
describe a relinquishing of cultural imperialism and a celebration
of “multiness” as demonstrated by cultural festivals
or other public celebrations, yet I found an imposition of
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