A policy recognizing, fostering or encouraging biculturalism typically emerges in countries that have emerged from a history of national or ethnic conflict in which neither side has gained complete victory. This condition usually arises as a consequence of settlement by colonists. Resulting conflicts may take place either between colonisers and indigenous peoples (as in Fiji) and/or between rival groups of colonisers (note the case of South Africa). A deliberate policy of biculturalism influences the structures and decisions of governments to ensure that they allocate political and economic power and influence equitably between people and/or groups identified with the opposite sides of the cultural divide.
Examples include the conflicts between Anglophone and Francophone Canadians, between Anglophone White South Africans and Boers, and between Tangata whenua or Māori and Tangata tiriti New Zealanders (i.e., settlers and their descendants whose rights to be in New Zealand derive from the Tiriti (or Treaty) of Waitangi 1840; they are sometimes called non-Māori; their ancestors trace to the Pacific (known as Pasifika), Asia (people from eastern Asia, including from Mongolia, China, Japan, Indo-China and the Philippines are usually referred to as Asians; those from the rest of Asia normally are associated with their country or region of origin within Asia), North and South America, Europe (known as Pākehā) and Africa.)
The term biculturalism was originally adopted in the Canadian context, most notably by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (1963–1969), which recommended that Canada become officially bilingual. Because the word "biculturalism" suggests, more or less explicitly, that only two cultures merit formal recognition, advocates of multiculturalism (for which it formed a precedent) may regard bicultural outlooks as inadequately progressive in comparison. This was the case in Canada were Ukrainian Canadians activists such as Jaroslav Rudnyckyj and Paul Yuzyk and other "third force" successfully pressured the Canadian government to adopt multiculturalism as official policy in 1971.
In the context of relations between the cultures of deafness and non-deafness, people find the word "biculturalism" less controversial because the distinction (between spoken language and sign language) commonly seems like a genuine binary distinction – transcending the distinctions between various spoken languages.
In the context of the United States of America, bicultural distinctions have traditionally existed between America and Mexico, and between the White and the African American population of the United States.
As different cases of biculturalism with some sort of formal recognition, note:
- Belgium, divided basically between speakers of French and of Dutch
- Vanuatu, formerly a condominion with both French and British politico-administrative traditions
- the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, retrospectively termed "The Commonwealth of Both Peoples"
- Switzerland, overwhelmingly German and French in language (though with recognition of Italian and Romansch)
- Paraguay, with a population 90% of which speaks Guaraní and 99% of which speaks Spanish
- New Zealand, where the Treaty of Waitangi (signed in 1840) is regarded as the basis of relationship between the Crown and Maori tribes; Te Reo Maori is an official language; and Maori have protected representation in Parliament through Maori electorates
- Bolzano South Tyrol, Italy 73.80% of the city's inhabitants speak Italian, 25.52% German and 0.68% Ladin
Biculturalism can also refer to individuals, refer to bicultural identity.