To Diversify or Not

Seems multiculturalism isn't what it's all cracked up to be. Or is the science on it faulty? Probably a bit of both. This is an interesting article below based on some research that hasn't been released yet, which is part of the problem. My comments spread throughout:

Diversity's Dark Side
By John Luik, 11 Sep 2007

For at least the last twenty years the cultural and political elites of the United States have championed the cause of multiculturalism by claiming that diversity was something that made all of us better.

Well, I can think if many ways diversity has made me better, and I don't need any "political elite" telling me either. It's a challenging, though, for sure. It requires work and flexibility and a hugely open mind, but I think it's worth it in the long run. We need to understand how others think and communicate and make decisions, so we are less inclined to drop so many bombs on people. History demonstrates that humans really don't have a good record in this respect over the past 10,000 years or so. We over react a bit too much. I had hoped that diversity would teach us to not overreact so much. Perhaps I'm wrong as this article certainly suggests. I have my doubts, though.

Little effort was ever made to define precisely just what was meant by diversity, difference or most crucially "better." Nor was there any significant research that provided empirical support for the claim that multiculturalism and diversity translated into better people, better communities, better organizations and businesses or a better country.

I'm not sure about the hard core science involved, but I suspect that there is more of it than this article suggests. Also, just based on personal experience I'd have to say that diversity is better. It's certainly more interesting! :)

But now a considerable amount of solid evidence about multiculturalism is in, and it suggests that far from something positive, it is a corroding and corrupting influence on just about everything that it comes in contact with, from social capital, trust, and community spirit to altruism, volunteering, friendship and even happiness.

Wow. That's overkill to say the very least, eh? It's difficult for me to take that paragraph seriously. "A corroding and corrupting influence on just about everything ..." I doubt it. I grew up in New York and lived in Boston and San Francisco. All three of those regions of the US are quite diverse, and there's no way I'd describe those areas using the above paragraph to the exclusion of all else. It's just too extreme. There are big problems, sure, but how about balancing at least some of this out?

That's the startling conclusion from Harvard's Robert Putnam best known as the author of Bowling Alone. According to Putnam a variety of research from the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe

I have no clue who this guy is and I've never read Bowling Alone. Haven't bowled in years. Also, this "variety of research" he talks about ... nothing about India? China? Korea? Japan? And is he saying that Australia represents Asia? And does "Europe" represent Western Europe or both East and West? How about South America? Africa? It's a big world out there.

shows that ethnic diversity is associated with lower social trust, lower "investment in public goods," less reciprocity, and less willingness to contribute to the community. In workplace situations diversity is associated with "lower group cohesion, lower satisfaction and higher turnover."

I wonder if he studied more monolithic societies to juxtapose the two?

Putnam's own research in the United States, confirms this international picture.

How could research in the United States confirm an international picture and leave out most of the world? That makes no sense.

In the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey carried out in 41 US communities ranging from Bismarck, North Dakota to Boston and involving 30,000 individuals, Putnam found that the "more ethnically diverse the people we live around, the less we trust them." This translates into nine particularly troubling behaviors, including reduced confidence in government and in one's ability to influence politics, reduced voter registration and interest in social change, lowered expectations about the willingness of others to work together cooperatively, less charitable giving and volunteering, fewer close friends, a reduced quality of life and more time spent watching television. Indeed, one could hardly come up with a list of behaviors more likely to undermine democratic society.

Sure, I see some of these things in the US, no question, but I wouldn't describe the US (or any other relatively diverse society) that way. It's just part of the picture. And, by the way, I see many of these very same problems right here in good ol' monolithic Japan. And it's very obvious, too.

But the consequences of the multicultural diversity extend beyond its effect on social and community engagement. For instance,  criminologists have found that effective community policing is much more difficult in areas with increased ethnic diversity.

[Of course it is open to defenders of multiculturalism to argue that Putnam's findings are skewed by the fact that poverty, crime and diversity are themselves interconnected, making causal conclusions difficult. But Putnam's research show that even in comparing equally poor and equally crime-infested neighbourhoods the outcome is the same "greater ethnic diversity is associated with less trust in neighbours."]

This is one area that I'd love to explore more. There's far less violent crime here in Japan than there was when I lived in the US. And I feel safer, too. But there is plenty of other types of crime, though..

Putnam's findings should not come as a surprise. For instance, studies from business, which has been one of diversity's greatest champions, have shown that diversity produced few if any positive effects on business performance. One major study even concluded
that industry should move beyond trying to build a business case for the benefits of diversity and multiculturalism, since there was no empirical evidence to support such a case.

In part this is due to the fact that homogeneous teams tend to outperform diverse groups because diverse groups often suffer from communication and process problems. As psychologists Katherine Williams and Charles O'Reilly have noted "The preponderance of empirical evidence suggests that diversity is most likely to impede group functioning."

I experience this here in Japan all the time. However, I'd rather we mix in teams and reduce our productivity a bit than have monolithic teams separated by a total ignorance of other cultures and ways of doing business. We have to work together eventually, right? I mean, sooner or later, teams will butt heads and cross paths, right? Also, after an initial period of confusion, I can point to a growing number of instances where productivity has increased as a result of the diversity I'm experiencing. Also, when you talk about teams, you have to separate "culture" from "language" issues. They are related, sure, but if there is a unifying language then the culture differences are much more easily overcome. Working across language barriers are gigantic, though, and that only serves to exacerbate any cultural differences.

As a champion of multicultural diversity, Putnam finds his results disturbing and he has been reluctant to publish them. The only place to find them is in a speech reprinted in the academic journal Scandinavian Political Studies. And even there the data is not provided, only summarized. Putnam told the Financial Times that he "had delayed publishing his results until he could develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity."

He needs to publish his data and study so it can all be critically analyzed. And I think he needs to publish his stuff before going to the press, too. Very interesting issue, though. I can go back and forth on some of it.

More here: New Scientist Mistrust rises with social diversity and Times Online People in ethnically diverse area ‘less trusting of others’

Update: It seems this article I'm commenting on is wrong on multiple levels, especially the assertion that the study hadn't been published. That's unfortunate and does a disservice to Robert Putnam's work, as have my comments. It's amazing how easily you can be led the wrong way when you have little context, my goodness. Putnam's study can be found here. If you are interested in this subject, give it a read. It's long and detailed and utterly fascinating. I love the distinction Putnam draws between the diversity challenges experienced in the short to mid term and the mid to long term. I'll have to read this thing a few more times and then blog about it again.

Putnam concludes: "[M]y hunch is that at the end we shall see that the challenge is best met not by making 'them' like 'us', but rather by creating a new, more capacious sense of 'we', a reconstruction of diversity that does not bleach out ethnic specificities, but creates overarching identities that ensure that those specificities do not trigger the allergic, 'hunker down' reaction." -- Robert Putnam

My study was actually published months ago, and the data themselves were released six years ago, along with full notification to the press and my academic peers. Don't believe everything you read in the press and cyberspace. You can actually read my study (about which you have been badly misled)at

Posted by Robert Putnam on September 14, 2007 at 11:36 PM JST #

Wow. That's beautiful. I'm reading it right now. I looked but couldn't find it, so I obviously didn't look hard enough and trusted the statements of an article when I had little context. I should have known better. Sorry. I'll look forward to updating my blog because what I've read so far is fascinating.

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on September 15, 2007 at 02:37 AM JST #

When I was stationed in Japan from 1993 to 1995 in Yokosuka, we used to say that any crime that happened to you was from an American. I have to say, when I lived there I never feared for myself or anyone else I cared about. Didn't matter when or where they were, I flet them safe, with the exception of Ueno Park (but there is a specific reason I say that.) Yet, here in the US where we live in a nice upper class neighborhood in Tampa, I am afraid to let my kids ride their bikes around the block. Go figure!

Posted by David Meyer on September 15, 2007 at 05:04 AM JST #

David ... I agree, of course, but I'm not sure why, which is strange to me. Also, I'm still missing much of what's going on at this point, so every day surprises me. Japan seems remarkably open and advanced in many ways, but totally and absolutely closed and backward in others. In fact, I'm finding that divide totally jarring at this point. I love that I feel safer, but I also feel invisible. Again, that's strange for me, but my wife is, well, right at home, and my kid will certainly grow up Japanese so she'll be fine. Everything is different for me, though. :) I read Robert Putnam's study -- the actual study, not the garbage press on it -- and I can surely see some of my experiences expressed in his text. I have a very interesting life now! :)

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on September 15, 2007 at 09:16 AM JST #

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