What does the pluralistic society in the Netherlands look like?

The Netherlands is a pluralistic or multicultural society. About 24% of the inhabitants of the Netherlands come from foreign origins (CBS, 2019) and all these people bring a bit of culture with them.


Culture is the set of behaviors, opinions, values and norms in a society that people learn. Culture has three different dimensions (aspects):

  1. The ideal dimension about the values and ideas of the people from a culture, for example honesty, courage and freedom.
  2. The normative dimension about the norms and rules that apply in a culture, for example taking care of your family and developing yourself.
  3. The material dimension about the concrete content of the culture, for example how people talk to each other, what they eat and how they live.

Culture has several social functions:

  • Culture provides guidance, you know how to act.
  • It determines your identity. People need to know who they are in order to live.
  • Society is held together by culture. People understand each other.

Of course you are not born with culture in you. It is passed on to you through the socialization process. Everyone you interact with plays a role in this process. The influences you get from outside, for example from your friends, are called Fremdzwang. This does not happen openly, but rather hiddenly. Through the socialization process, the culture ultimately becomes ‘own’. This Selbstzwang or internalization ensures that you do things on your own, without anyone seeming to have told you to do so.


The Netherlands is a pluralistic society. People with and without a migration background live next to each other. Someone with a migration background is someone who himself and/or whose parents were born in another country. These people often have a different culture. The culture that is adhered to by most people without a migration background in the Netherlands is the dominant culture. In that culture, values such as equality, freedom, tolerance and respect are very important. These are based on the cultural right from the constitution. There is an I-culture in Dutch culture. The emphasis is on the individual. This is in contrast to non-Western cultures, where the group is more important. For example, they may find honor much more important.

But not everyone is the same within a culture. There are also subcultures. These groups deviate from the dominant culture on certain points. For example, youth cultures are different from those of their parents. And within these youth cultures there are also different groups. There is of course also a lot of variation between the cultures of people with a migration background, after all everyone has a different background.


People influence each other. Everyone is increasingly exposed to other cultures. This creates mutual cultural influence. This is called acculturation. It can take place within a generation, but also between different generations. Creolization or melting pot is the mixture of cultures that you see, for example, among young people. New (sub)cultures arise from this mixture. The first generation of immigrants (the people who came to the Netherlands themselves) often cling to their original culture. The second generation often does this less and there can be a confrontation between the I and the we culture. In many cases, the third generation considers preservation less important, but sometimes bases the ‘new’ culture on its original cultural characteristics. The Netherlands will probably not become a melting pot, but a salad bowl society. Everyone adapts a little, but there are always differences.


Does the ‘real’ Dutch culture still exist? This dominant culture is also constantly changing. On the one hand, you have people who believe that you can make a clear division between people with a migration background and people without a migration background. There are also people who don’t think so. There are so many subcultures that you can hardly draw a boundary.

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