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:
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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’
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