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Posted by on Jun 30, 2007 in At TMV | 8 comments

The Other Side of Diversity

My thoughts on Robert Putnam’s new study, claiming that living in diverse locations exerts significant negative effects on people over the near- to mid-term (albeit harms that are reversed in the long-term).

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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • domajot

    The drawing apart effect struck a chord with something from my personal experience.

    Being an immingrant, I’ve lived in both the samaller circle of people from the same country and the larger US society. There is a strong feeling of comfort, even relief to be with people of the same background. There is no need to explain insider jokes, food preferences, war time experiences or foibles of adjusting to a new country. A similar background explains much wordlessly.

    While equally close fiends with different backgrounds are cherished, there is always that one layer of instant recognition and ‘knowing’ that is missing. It feels lonely sometimes without the comfort of sameness.

    Could this play a part in what the study found?

  • C Stanley

    The full text of the Putnam’s publication is available here:

    I don’t think he ever says what you infer: that in the long run all of the distrust just washes out. Instead, it seems to me that he’s saying that certain steps can ameliorate the distrust over the long term while other steps would tend to aggravate or propagate it. He points out the two opposing theories, the conflict hypothesis vs. the contact hypothesis (the first is that in heterogeneous societies there is conflict because of perceived competition for limited resources, while the second is that people who have more contact with other ethnic/racial groups will develop more tolerance, respect and comfort with people that are perceived to be ‘different’.)

    He does say that these two hypothesis don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but he points to specific policy and intervention which would prevent that and his remedies are more along the lines of assimilation than multiculturalism. He speaks of the heterogeneous groups needing to develop new identities, for example; that would imply that the whole community identity needs to take precedence over the subgroup racial/ethnic identities:
    In the medium to long run, on the other hand, successful immigrant societies create new forms of social solidarity and dampen the negative effects of diversity by constructing new, more encompassing identities. Thus, the central challenge for modern, diversifying societies is to create a new, broader sense of ‘we’.

    Putnam describes the two different types of relationships you mention as “bonding relationships” and “bridging relationships”, and implies that both can be healthy and necessary. Interesting stuff, I think.

  • domajot

    “Thus, the central challenge for modern, diversifying societies is to create a new, broader sense of ‘we’.
    If that’s the challenge, then we’re in for large doses of failure, IMO.
    In comparison to other countries, it’s my observation that a sense of ‘we’ is exactly what Americans are lacking. Our ‘we’ consists pretty much of like-minded and similarly empowered sectors and individuals.. Inclusivess in our mind set of how we view our country and/or society is not widely noticeable.

    I wasn’t able to access the Internet files on Putnam, so my reactions are only to other’s comments.
    I get a strong, sense, however that it’s much too early to draw wide coxlusions. If one study of a certain kind were sufficiently inssructive on any subject, then this would be a definite first in the annals of analyzing and grappling with problem solving.

    As it is, we are at risk of entreching destructive conditions as the inevitable status-quo.

    BTW, the bonding of same background people I described did not, in my experence, extend to a perception of ‘we’ as being limited to it. If an issue concerns a broader sector, the ‘we’ expands accordingly, even if sometimes grudgingly. The deciding factor, I suspect, is a graceful acceptance of majority opinion and recognition that any group is only one part of the whole.

  • Elrod

    This study really isn’t surprising at all. We are tribal beings by nature. As a Jew I know full well the temptation to ghettoize oneself among fellow Jews, especially when living in a decidedly non-Jewish area. Living in a heavily Evangelical Christian area in East Tennessee, I know I feel a greater sense of comfort when I’m around other non-evangelicals; I don’t have to worry about feeling uncomfortable as they tell me “the Lord” plays such an active part in their lives. But ultimately I have to learn to look beyond those differences, just as they have to accept the fact that most people who don’t publicly proclaim their religiosity are perfectly good and decent people. The adjustment is difficult and it’s no wonder that people become less socially interactive when confronted with opposing cultural norms. It takes effort, and sometimes it’s exhausting.

    But for children the effect is very different. They don’t grow up with the same tribal assumptions that we do. They date interracially, interreligiously, interculturally and don’t think twice about it. Yesterday I was at the 4th of July festival here in Alcoa, TN and noticed tons of interracial groups of high schoolers. There’s simply no way that the grandparents of these kids interracted this way. Included in the mix were Asian and Hispanic kids. The kids interact because they share the basic experience of growing up in America, regardless of prior tribal connections. We could all learn from them.

  • Orson Buggeigh

    Good post, David. I took a quick look at the Robert Putnam study, and have essentially the same conclusions as C Stanley. but I think Elrod’s last paragraph brings me back to my great-grandparents rather nicely – the sense of being an American was the overwhelming unifying feature then. If we can do the same thing to todays’ school children, all well and good – but I think it will work best if this is a move children take because they see it as a positive thing they want to do, not as something they are being coerced to do by governmental fiat. But that unifying feature of being an American in the 1890 – 1914 period also had a strong element of self-actualization. People in America valued the person who worked hard to advance himself. I think we can reclaim that if we try, and we may be able to become, without trying – more ethnically and gender diverse in the process.

  • domajot

    Orson said:
    “People in America valued the person who worked hard to advance himself. ”

    This is romanticizing the past to the point of creating a past that never was. Many of the pople who worked hard to advance themselves were simply excluded from the process or were not allowed to advance anywhere much above the bottom of the barrel.

    We can have different ideas about how to deal with inequality, but part of the disucsssion should not be a made for the Internet movie of pretense.

  • Orson Buggeigh


    I think you are wrong. We will have to agree to disagree. But, I would simply point out that one reason I think we canmake a claim that hard work succeeded (and perhaps still succeeds) is this: With all its faults, America has represented an opportunity to people. Why are they still coming, illegally much of the time? Because they can do better for themselves here than they can do at home in their old homeland.

  • domajot

    Orson said:
    “With all its faults, America has represented an opportunity to people. Why are they still coming,”

    I agree.
    However, it’s troublesome that you don’t question the purpose of economic success. Economic success is necessary in order to enable other values to emerge. When it becomes an end itself, it kills other values and puts a dead end sign on the evolution of the human spirit.

    People waited for hours yesterday to buy an expensive new phone toy. CNN was reporting the ‘horror’ (quote) stories of those who needed to wait another 3-4 hours to activate the phone.

    Consumerism has become the opium for the masses. In the frenzy to get stuff, we forget the empty soul within Who cares about justice for the beggar on the sidewalk, when greed can be gratified?

    The Chinese were on to something, when they lit on the Yin and Yang understanding of life.
    Long term success for any individual or society depends on a balance between the body and the soul, betwwen the ‘me’ and the ‘we’ , between aggression and cowardice, between submission and assertion, and so on.

    That, in a nutshell, is why you and I can never agree.
    I see no balance in your opinion of how individuals
    have, do or should interact. The values you embrace are so absolutist that they can only accomodate those in power positions. That sort of attitude invites perpetual power struggles and animosity. Unless, of course, you dope the masses with enough ‘stuff’ so that they no longer care about liberty and justice for ALL, and all that other quiant nonsense.

    Without balance, we have only two choices:
    self-destruction by kilingl the body or
    self-deatruction by killing the soul.;

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