SCOPE AND CONCERNS
Difference as Actuality and Diversity as Agenda: New Research, New Thinking, New Practices
Our natures may be taken as a departure point for understanding our differences. Sex, race and (dis)ability supply a biological or corporeal starting point for understanding the basis of our differences. But this is only the beginning. Difference is also self identified and socially ascribed. This is when the cultural accretions to our natures, and our social relations of difference, become so very manifest and critical. Dimensions of difference include: ethnicity/race (and indigenous, immigrant, minority and colonising positions), gender (and sexual orientation), socio-economic group, locale (global and regional) and (dis)ability. Here begins a list which, in these times quite sensitive to difference, all-too-easily becomes a glib litany. So what do we do to rise above the glibness and the sometimes justified accusations of 'political correctness'?
Diversity is the stuff of normative agendas, where difference becomes the basis of a program of action. Difference the insistent reality becomes diversity the agent of change. Many an historical and contemporary response to difference is hardly worthy of the name 'diversity'—racism, discrimination and systematic inequity. As a normative agenda and social program, diversity also stands in contradistinction to systems of exclusion, separation or assimilation.
The normative agenda of diversity has become all the more pressing as we enter a moment we might call total globalisation. This is the moment, which we may reach in the imminent future, when the global becomes the primary domain of action and representation of commerce, governance and personality. There have been other moments of globalisation, to be sure: a moment when gathering and hunting societies came to live across and speak about most of the earth's habitable lands; then a moment of farming, writing and the formation of societies on four continents so unequal that their rulers could afford to order buildings substantial enough to leave the ruins of 'civilisation'; then modern imperialism, industrialism and nationalism; and now, perhaps, a new moment?
If there is a new moment, it is one on which there is no place that cannot be reached in person by modern transport, in conversation through modern communications, in representation through modern media, or by products and services through modern markets. And because they can be reached, almost invariably they are reached.
The incipient fact of total globalisation brings with it a normative agenda for diversity: the agenda of globalism. This agenda plays itself through in the heartlands of the emerging world order—the heartlands of commerce, governance and personality. Here we find paradoxes at play across the world of differences: the paradox of convergence which fosters divergence and the paradox of universalisation which accentuates difference.
In the domain of production, distribution and exchange, diverse labour forces work in organisations that increasingly defy national borders and strive to take their capital and commodities to the ends of the earth. Far from the founding logic of industrialism (mass production, mass markets, the lowest common denominator logic of deskilled workforces and one-size-fits-all view of consumers), the new commerce talks of mass customisation, complementarities amongst the persons on diverse teams, catering to niche markets and staying close to customers in all their variability. We could go so far as to claim that a new systems logic might be emerging in this, a kind of 'productive diversity'. To make such a claim would be to go way beyond, or even dispense with, regimes of affirmative action and demographically defined regulatory compliance. It would also be to set an equity agenda for productive life, in which even minimalist approaches to diversity and incremental approaches to inequality are, as a general rule, an improvement on unreflective discrimination.
In the realm of civic life, local and national communities daily negotiate the differences resulting from immigration, refugee movement, settlement and indigenous claims to prior ownership and sovereignty. And at the same time, communities increasingly recognise and negotiate a plethora of other intersecting and sometimes contrary differences. Going beyond multiculturalism at the local and national level, it may be possible in this moment to create a kind of 'civic pluralism', a new way of living in community based on multiple layers of sovereignty and multiple citizenship. Not only does this transcend the old civic—the nation-state of more or less interchangeable identical individuals and its legitimating rhetoric of nationalism. It also promises to move beyond trivialising and marginalising forms of multiculturalism, and to address afresh the nature and forms of 'human rights'.
Difference sits deep in our consciousnesses, our epistemologies, our subjectivities and our means of production of meaning. No longer can we assume there to be a universal personality (normal or remediable), because the universal today is personalities emphatically in the plural (the range of our differences), and also in the multiple (the layered complexity of the differences within us—for every individual the unique intersection of attributes, the nature and sources of which may often be ascribed to groups and socialisation). This bit of gender, that bit of race, the other bit of socio economic group—this is the stuff of our personalities in the plural and the multiple. Together, these manifest themselves as the complexity of our dispositions, our sensibilities, our identities.
The Diversity Conference and The International Journal of Diversity in Organisations, Communities and Nations examine the realities of difference and diversity today, empirically and critically as well as optimistically and strategically. At a time of virulent reactions to difference and globalisation (ethnonationalism, racist backlash, parochialism and protectionism), there is a pressing need to reflect critically on the shape and the possibilities of the normative agendas of diversity and globalism. The Conference and the Journal are places for thinking and speaking about these pressing matters, and in ways that range from the 'big picture' and the theoretical, to the very practical and everyday business of negotiating difference and diversity in organisations, communities and civic life.