Posted by: Trina | April 3, 2008

Diversity versus Pluralism

The move towards Diversity Management in Germany is still a slow and uphill climb. The positive part of this otherwise sobering fact is that it offers us the possibility to look at other countries and adapt their best practices, as well as learn from their mistakes.

An articles in The Washington Post by Eboo Patel called “Diversity and its Discontents” caught my eye this morning. It speaks about a special type of resistance that diversity encounters.

In his article, Patel discusses the findings published in a book by Robert Putnam called “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century“. In his research Putnam discovered a marked – and repeated – trend for more diverse communities to co-exist peacefully beside one another, but also for the individual family units to withdraw into themselves. This includes:

  • exhibiting less trust in local government, local authorities and to local media
  • less faith in their own ability to shape or change things
  • lower voter participation
  • lower expectations on the cooperation of others where communal problems are concerned (e.g. electrical outages, etc.)
  • lower probability that people will participate in community projects
  • residents have few friends and confidantes
  • residents perceive themselves as being less happy and as having a lower quality of life
  • residents watch more TV and view the television as their “most important source of entertainment”

Some people intepret these resistances as a sign of failure- a signal that diversity is something that simply isn’t meant to be. This could especially be true, I feel, in places like Germany, who are looking towards the USA and UK in order to draw parallels to future development in their own societies. Where the topic is just beginning to ignite serious dialogue struggles elsewhere can sometimes be misconstrued as proof positive that it’s a quixotic endeavour best left alone.

Others of us, however, realize that this resistance is simply part and parcel of the journey towards true diversity.

And beyond.

Because the ultimate goal isn’t really diversity, in my opinion. All diversity says – in the end – is that differing peoples learn to live together peacefully in close quarters. What many of us (including Patel) want, however, is the transcendence to “pluralism”; i. e. – as Patel so wonderfully put it – “…the “energetic engagement” of those differences with the purpose of creating not only positive bonds but also active social capital…”

(For a review of Putnam’s book – and another viewpoint – in German, please have a look at Thomas Pany’s article, “Sie ziehen sich zurück wie Schnecken“.)


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