Community Media Discussion – Interculturalism and Community Cohesion

This week in our Community Media Discussion, we’ll be chatting about how intercultural concepts of social inclusion may play a more profound role in dealing with deeper forms of marginalisation and discrimination. We’ll be considering how policies and practices associated with EDI – equality, diversity and inclusion – may themselves hinder social change, especially for people who are most often overlooked and ignored in society.

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Just because society is more culturally diverse, it does not mean that our living conditions are any more inclusive or socially cohesive. This is a point made by Kenan Malik in this week’s Observer, where he argues that while the “moral force of the demand for diversity comes from the fact that many groups – racial minorities, women, gay people and others – have historically faced discrimination and been excluded from positions of power and privilege,” we should nevertheless be mindful that we may actually be perpetuating other forms of pernicious and enduring social exclusion, principally those associated with social class.

If cultural diversity continues to be celebrated in and of itself, Malik argues, then we may not deal with any of the pressing structural issues that underpin inequality and social exclusion, and which have a deeper long-term detrimental consequence for many people’s ability to progress and flourish at all levels of society. Access to social and economic resources for a few, regardless of the social diversity of the people who control those resources, Malik suggest, will stymie access for the rest.

Regardless of the extent to which change is embodied by a culturally diverse economic elite, Malik argues, diversity should not automatically be equated with equity. According to Malik just because there is cultural diversity at the top f society, in our financial institutions, universities and schools, this is never likely to challenge or alter the embedded conditions and structures of social life that restrict and limit the life chances of the economically disadvantaged majority. Economic privilege is no longer easily equated with cultural homogeneity.

“The drive for greater diversity” Malik contends, has to be understood as a “push for greater equality and an attempt to dismantle barriers of exclusion.” This is not to say, though, that any dismantling of social barriers is mistaken, Malik argues, rather that we need to look at what cost the focus on diversity at the top of the economic ladder has in diverting us from dealing with the deeper rooted structural issues related to economic fairness and the socially democratic provision of shared social resources across the broadest spectrum of society. Diversity policies, Malik suggests, do not by themselves challenge inequality, but simply make inequality “fairer”.

According to Malik, then, while “most of those who advocate diversity policies do so because they abhor inequality,” we also need to recognise that in the “shift from ‘equality’ to ‘diversity’, the most marginalised have often been forgotten.” Malik suggests, most importantly, that socially progressive attention has “shifted from addressing the needs of working-class people from minority communities to providing better opportunities for middle-class professionals.” We see this most obviously in the explosion of bureaucracy associated with EDI – equality, diversity and inclusivity. Organisations are increasingly required to develop and oversee a plethora of policies and evaluation processes that require intense administration and management for the sake of the forms and processes themselves.

Many socially focussed organisations are obsessed with their policies but, arguably, make little difference to the circumstances of those people they seek to provide services for, and who are subject to these policies.

None of this discussion is new, however, and while the extremes of these debates are presently wrapped in political point-scoring and posturing, on both sides of the political spectrum, both Left and Right, anyone with a concern for a pragmatic social democratic settlement, whereby the structures of power in society are calculated to promote equitable access to resources – including media – will hopefully seek to understand how each part of the EDI triad intersects and interacts.

While recalling that diversity and inclusivity is not the same thing as equality, the question that is worth digging into, and which will be the focus of future discussion via Decentered Media, is just what is the purpose of the drive for greater equality, diversity and inclusivity, or at least the need to address inequality, the lack of diversity and the exclusivity of our media industries and civic culture? What public purpose is in play when we are seeking to make our media organisations and cultures more representative, easier to access, and more responsive to the lives of a wider range of people?

Someone who has been thinking about these issues for many years is Ted Cantle, who has published extensively on the problem of social cohesion in modern British society. Professor Cantle has advised the UK government about ways in which a practical sense of mutual identity and belonging either leads to a cohesive or an incohesive situation. Cantle argues that:

“While it is clear that diversity does have an impact on social solidarity, in the short term and as part of a transitional process, it is less clear whether this is transitional and whether the sense of alienation and the loss of democratic power can be rebalanced in the longer term. Can the institutions of government themselves adapt, will they facilitate or hinder more fluid identities, and will the new phenomenon of social media create new transnational relationships that transcend traditional power structures” (Cantle, 2012, p. 23).

Ted’s book, Interculturalism – The New Era of Cohesion and Diversity, examines the emergence of globalised and super-diverse identities that are changing the way that we experience our acquired sense of identity and belonging, both locally, nationally, and within our communities of identity. Ted raises the question of the failure of multiculturalism, and suggests that a practical focus on community cohesion would be more productive. Ted asks why segregation and integration matter if we are to foster functional societies, and to what extent an intercultural mindset is needed to help us understand and deal with the emergent concerns of a cohesive society based on dialogue.

Over the next six weeks or so, these topics will be explored in our weekly discussion, where the language and precepts of EDI will be examined in the context of a social purpose that is cohesive and integrated. Thinking about how media plays a role in fostering this intercultural approach to equality will be vital and, hopefully, a challenge to be enjoyed and savoured.

Cantle T. (2012) Interculturalism – The New Era of Cohesion and Diversity (Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke).


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