The uses of diversity

Miguel Vale de Almeida (ISCTE, Lisbon)
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Short abstract:

Like 'culture', 'diversity' needs to be scrutinized and 'unpacked' by anthropologists. Discourses on the richness of cultural diversity should be analysed within a specific history and in the context of contemporary processes of migration, globalization and the reformulation of citizenship and sovereignty.

Long abstract:

Diversity has gained ascendancy among the central values of western societies. Both cultural and biological diversity have been extolled as an enriching legacy, or a precondition for unity: a unity which emerges from diversity. The notion of human and cultural diversity has been instrumental in imagining processes of supranational and international integration or 'unification' taking place on the level of global capitalism with its advanced diversification of products and consumers. The growing consensus that cultural diversity is an important asset has found its way into several documents, in particular those formulated by UNESCO such as the declaration Our Creative Diversity (1995) and Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001). An early document of this kind was The Declaration of European Identity from 1973 which proposed the notion of the European identity as the diversity of cultures. Anthropologists have been facing diversity since the beginning of social/cultural anthropology. It is not only on the supranational level that the notion of diversity has been instrumental, but also on the national level. Yet nation-statist mind-set still assumes that unity and homogeneity is preferable to diversity and difference, cultural monism to cultural plurality. The notion of diversity also draws some of its present meaning from visions of natural diversity, often overlapping ecological, regional and cultural diversities. At a higher level, diversity is also increasingly used as a rhetorical device in discourses on migration, ethnic pluralism, gender and sexuality, disability and so forth. Anthropologists should be able to analyze the tension between social and political calls for diversity and social and political calls for unity. Individual choices and rights often collide with calls for group recognition and definitions of what constitutes the units that, together, provide a 'diverse' environment.

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