The downside of diversity
August 7, 2007 6:11 AM   Subscribe

The downside of diversity. A Harvard political scientist finds that diversity hurts civic life. What happens when a liberal scholar unearths an inconvenient truth?
posted by srboisvert (81 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Causation/correlation? And the real tragedy is that this study will be used as 'proof' for all sorts of bullshit agendas...
posted by tmcw at 6:16 AM on August 7, 2007 [6 favorites]

Putnam has drawn scorn for stepping out of the role of dispassionate researcher. "You're just supposed to tell your peers what you found," says John Leo, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. "I don't expect academics to fret about these matters."

That's just classic. "Thanks for the data, geek. We'll take it from here."
posted by Armitage Shanks at 6:22 AM on August 7, 2007 [4 favorites]

I suppose there could be biological or behavioral elements to trust (or lack thereof) in diverse communities. Have there been serious studies in this area that go beyond correlation?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:23 AM on August 7, 2007

The article seems to imply as much:
Diversity, it shows, makes us uncomfortable -- but discomfort, it turns out, isn't always a bad thing. Unease with differences helps explain why teams of engineers from different cultures may be ideally suited to solve a vexing problem. Culture clashes can produce a dynamic give-and-take, generating a solution that may have eluded a group of people with more similar backgrounds and approaches. At the same time, though, Putnam's work adds to a growing body of research indicating that more diverse populations seem to extend themselves less on behalf of collective needs and goals.
posted by lodurr at 6:26 AM on August 7, 2007

More about Putnam here. More on the study in question here.
posted by srboisvert at 6:26 AM on August 7, 2007

I'll add that these results are unsurprising in the extreme. But they are also extremely vulnerable to selective reading. For example, the focus of this FPP and the article in general is the lack of investment in the community where "diversity" is 'high'. Tossed aside as curiosities are asides on the tendency of diverse groups to produce more novel solutions.

Diversity in society is a fact of life; the issue is not whether or not we want it, it's how we deal with it -- how we leverage its strengths and ameliorate its pitfalls.
posted by lodurr at 6:29 AM on August 7, 2007 [4 favorites]

Can't wait until THIS catches on and gets quoted by every concerned "civic-minded" cracker on my mom's side of the family.
posted by hermitosis at 6:30 AM on August 7, 2007 [5 favorites]

tmcw: The professor is pro-diversity, and spent several years looking for a way to avoid having his studies rip the guts out of his beliefs. I guess in his desperation he forgot the standard correlation-isn't-causation mantra that the masses apply to any study that they don't like the implications of.

Or maybe he didn't forget the mantra, maybe that was one of the first things he sought controls against. Maybe the sky is blue.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:32 AM on August 7, 2007

I don't know that he's 'pro-diversity' -- my impression has been that he's more 'pro-engagement.'
posted by lodurr at 6:33 AM on August 7, 2007

I don't think it comes as any surprise that people would prefer to live near others who are like them. I'd like to see, though, the demographics of the "diverse" and "non-diverse" neighborhoods. It seems to me that, given the innate preference for homogeneity, those with the means would live in "non-diverse" neighborhoods, while those living in "diverse" neighborhoods are often there because they can't afford the option. If I'm living somewhere surrounded by people who I don't see as part of my in-group, how likely am I to participate in civic life? Then, of course, there is the economic argument: if you're struggling economically, you've just got less time and energy to spend on the community.

Of course, I haven't read the actual study, and I'm sure there is lots more detail there. As everyone has said, there's enormous potential for this to be misread, and it's interesting to see it published at all. The link srboisvert posted above doesn't work for me; does anyone know where the article is published?
posted by uncleozzy at 6:40 AM on August 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Well, here's the thing, and by all means correct me if I'm wrong or too simplistic: People like to be with other people who are similar to them. As far as I can tell, that's a universal truth, so let's assume that as a general rule people (whether consciously or otherwise) select friends who are maximally similar to themselves.

Complications arise when you realize that there are so many different criteria by which you can judge how similar a person is to you. Ones that come immediately to mind are skin color, age, gender, sexual orientation, economic class, religion, political views and hobbies and interests, and there are countless others.

Now things get really confusing. You see, people weight the importance of these criteria differently, depending on which they believe to be most relevant or influential to their own identities. For some people, a matching skin color or ethnic origin is enough to find common ground. I'd rank political views much more highly, and would have difficulty befriending someone whose views diverged extremely from mine, even if we shared recreational interests.

In fewer words, people want to be around similar people, but disagree on what makes someone similar or dissimilar.

No wonder it's all so confusing.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:40 AM on August 7, 2007 [8 favorites]

Define "diversity". The article (and of course conservatives will willingly follow along) uses it in two senses without realizing it.

We can have physical diversity (and I'm including sex, gender, etc all in there too) and we can have goal-oriented (what a terrible term) diversity. Two people who have the same color skin but different agendas will not work together well, while two people of different skin colors but the same agenda probably will.

There is going to be a lot of geographic overlap of the two kinds of diversity. For instance, in areas where everyone is physically very similar, they also likely come from similar backgrounds and would probably have similar agendas. (Though see liberals vs conservatives for a counterexample.) In areas where people are physically dissimilar, they are likely from different backgrounds and have different agendas.

The study indicates that if we want to increase civic involvement we need to decrease diversity. But what kind? Killing the brown people is going to be problematic. So instead, how about we get together with them to come up with an agenda we can all agree on?

The glib, conservative reading is like saying "my monoculture of tomato plants does poorly when I introduce cutworms, therefore monocultures are good." Instead, how about introducing other species of tomato and plants that, with the tomato, fight common enemies?
posted by DU at 6:42 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Having not spent years of my life studying this, I'll propose a kind of civic "Uncanny Valley" system - diversity does build civic strength, but there is a point at which more and more people start to stick to their "own kind", and community then becomes more fragmented by diversity, along lines of class/culture/race/religion/whatever.

But maybe even that's too optimistic. It strikes me that far and away the strongest communities I can think of in a civic sense, are extremely homogeneous.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:42 AM on August 7, 2007

For those who wish to read the flippin' article...
posted by jonp72 at 6:42 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

How is this at all surprising? Many people are subtly racist and this influences how open they are in a community shared by groups of people they have a conscious or subconscious aversion to. There is a slime trail of implications in this research that lead to the validation of self-segregation. I don't believe that Putnam himself intended for it to be so, but I can see the conservatives salivating over this already, ready to reinforce the racial attitudes of their constituents that allow this dynamic to exist.

Of course this is true. It's a necessary consequence of mixing groups of people that haven't all started off in this country in the same position of privilege. We are new enough, as a country, that time hasn't yet cured this imbalances. Of course, time only does so when a policy is in place to allow it. This study seems like it will only encourage the opposite.
posted by invitapriore at 6:43 AM on August 7, 2007

This is pretty much common sense. David Goodhart wrote on a similar topic (race and the welfare state) few years ago.

All you have to do is look at crucial institutions (law enforcement, military, etc) to see why diversity is harmful unless all are united toward some common end. If you join the military, your uniqueness needs to be beaten out of you. This doesn't mean everyone needs to be an automaton, only after the same goal.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 6:44 AM on August 7, 2007

more diverse populations seem to extend themselves less on behalf of collective needs and goals.

duh. Correlate these diverse populations with population size.

In the city, one sends mail at the post office. In small towns, one goes to their post office. What's different about those two sentences? Ownership!

It is an attitude thing I discovered. In small towns, one recognizes that the public facilities belong to one's self, as a member of the community. In big cities, that stuff is all run by the government. Maybe you don't even see yourself as a member of anything you'd call a 'community'. Or, if you do, it's some much smaller subset of the city population.

If one wanted to dig in to such issues, I'd suggest taking a close look at things like co-op apartment buildings, where you find both diversity and something like community. I suspect you'll arrive at rather different conclusions, but I'm guessing.
posted by Goofyy at 6:49 AM on August 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

those with the means would live in "non-diverse" neighborhoods, while those living in "diverse" neighborhoods are often there because they can't afford the option.
...Then, of course, there is the economic argument: if you're struggling economically, you've just got less time and energy to spend on the community.

This doesn't ring true to me - some of the most civic all-in-this-together communities have been united by their economic struggle.
Or, in the case of tight-knit communities like the Amish, they're united by things other than poverty, but they're certainly not wealthy.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:50 AM on August 7, 2007

By the way, I've skimmed the actual Putnam article, and the accusations that he's some horrified liberal trying to suppress his own results just don't hold water for me.

Here's the paragraph from Putnam's article with the "meat" of the study:

"In this article, I wish to make three broad points:

• Ethnic diversity will increase substantially in virtually all modern societies over the next several decades, in part because of immigration. Increased immigration and diversity are not only inevitable, but over the long run they are also desirable. Ethnic diversity is, on balance, an important social
asset, as the history of my own country [the United States] demonstrates.

• In the short to medium run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital. In support of this provocative claim I wish to adduce some new evidence, drawn primarily from the United States. In order to elaborate on the details of this new evidence, this portion of my article is longer and more technical than my discussion of the other two core claims, but all three are equally important.

• 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's conservative critics are only focusing on the short- term effects that Putnam has found to the exclusion of the long-term effects that he has focused on. Evidence for the long-term development of "a new, broader sense of we" can be found in organizations as traditional as the United States military (which went from interracial fraggings in the Vietnam era to an organization that epitomizes race-blind meritocracy and exhibits some of the highest rates of interracial marriage in any occupation) to conservative churches (from Sunday at 11AM as the most segregated hour of the week to evangelical megachurches with multiracial congregations), not simply more liberal, cosmopolitan areas. Yes, ethnic diversity leads to a short-term deficit in social capital, but the long-term effects compensate for it with increased cultural and economic dynamism, as well as the development of new forms of solidarity that cross ethnic lines.
posted by jonp72 at 6:53 AM on August 7, 2007 [5 favorites]

In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings.

Growing pains. My mother is Irish Catholic and grew up in an almost entirely Irish Catholic neighborhood. I grew up in the suburbs with other white people; different ethnicities and religions, but still white. My kids are growing up in the same suburb but now have latino friends and Lebanese neighbors. I'm not saying racial harmony will occur in the next generation or two, but as we become more diverse, those of us used to borrowing sugar and going to church with hundreds of dopplegangers will have to adjust to the fact that there are other types of people out there. We trust them less because they're different. Every generation forward, they'll become less and less different so that eventually (cue angelic chanting and crepuscular rays) we'll see black, white and yellow people no more differently than we see blondes, brunettes and redheads. Does my preferring brunettes over blondes make me prejudiced towards the fair-haired [NOT BLONDIST]? No, and we will one day see each other the same way.

Wow, I'm usually much less hopeful for humanity than this. Somebody switched my coffee, I know it.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 6:57 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Goofyy: I suspect you'll arrive at rather different conclusions, but I'm guessing.

Look at Putnam's other work, and you'll find him exploring just the questions you pose. He's not some flash in the pan pundit; he's a serious researcher, who's been at this a long time.
posted by lodurr at 6:58 AM on August 7, 2007

Well, let's assume the "worst"-- that people in neighborhoods that are diverse in age, income, and ethnicity are much less likely to give money, volunteer, all that good stuff.

What's the proper policy response? To encourage more homogeneous neighborhoods? To encourage more diverse college and high school communities, to ameliorate the negative effects of diversity down the line?

I don't see how this data obviously helps or hurts either side in the culture wars, assuming that the culture wars are Homogeneity Enthusiasts vs. Diversity Advocates.
posted by ibmcginty at 7:03 AM on August 7, 2007

For those who wish to read the flippin' article...

Thanks... lunchtime reading.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:03 AM on August 7, 2007

I live in a small, very diverse city in upstate New York. I moved there a few years ago. This article is interesting because it basically affirms what I've been observing. That being the "hunkering down" of the residents. There are poor whites mixed with poor blacks and everone is racist. Except for the NYC/SanFranciso/Seatle transplants (myself included), drawn to this city in part because of its diversity. The strongest neighborhoods are comprised of these transplants, embedded within the "turtles", and who are quite homogenous in their beleifs. There is more than a little frustration among the transplants as they attempt to organize and agitate for improvements to their civic environment.
posted by recurve at 7:13 AM on August 7, 2007

I grew up in Columbia, MD a city of over 50,000 within 30 minutes of Wash DC and Baltimore - it is extremely diverse not only along ethnic lines but economic. Yet, it is extremely civic minded and successful as a community. The key is, it is a planed city, everything was worked out from the start with a plan. Not sure what this says, except that diversity is not the only or even determining factor.
posted by stbalbach at 7:21 AM on August 7, 2007

Thank you Mr. Putnam Captain Obvious.
posted by tadellin at 7:21 AM on August 7, 2007

The guy said he corrected for 30 variables, or something like that.

I wonder what would have turned up if he'd tried doing this study in Brazil or Puerto Rico or other countries with lots and lots of racial mixing. I doubt he would come to the same conclusions.
posted by delmoi at 7:33 AM on August 7, 2007

Well, Duh

I don't think anybody is saying that diversity is a magic bullet that makes everything easy. Of course its more difficult to get to know people who aren't like you. Of course there will be more barriers to overcome in a diverse neighborhood.

Its like saying that higher eduction is stupid because it costs so much and students tend to have higher amounts of stress.
posted by jpdoane at 7:34 AM on August 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Trumpeting "diversity" is done not because people want to encourage it for its own sake, but because, given the reality of the fact that we live in a diverse country, we want to force everyone to learn how to work together and recognize our common goals because of the very fact that, left to our own devices, civic life will break down, otherwise.
posted by deanc at 7:37 AM on August 7, 2007 [3 favorites]

Distinguishing correlation from causation is pretty much the whole point of the social sciences. You can distinguish them by using regression analysis to control for other factors. From the article:
After releasing the initial results in 2001, Putnam says he spent time "kicking the tires really hard" to be sure the study had it right. Putnam realized, for instance, that more diverse communities tended to be larger, have greater income ranges, higher crime rates, and more mobility among their residents -- all factors that could depress social capital independent of any impact ethnic diversity might have.

"People would say, 'I bet you forgot about X,'" Putnam says of the string of suggestions from colleagues. "There were 20 or 30 X's."

But even after statistically taking them all into account, the connection remained strong: Higher diversity meant lower social capital.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:41 AM on August 7, 2007

What, another Bell Curve?
posted by nofundy at 7:49 AM on August 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Having spent a couple of years studying social capital and ethnic and religious diversity, I must say that these results and the interpretation of them, is not without controversy.

For one, Putnam used particular measures of social capital (certain forms of civic, religious, political, workplace, and informal engagement) that are associated with how people used to build communities. Yes, it is true that some of these measures have declined substantially since the 1950's, but what is to say they haven't been replaced? Maybe people don't hang out at the post office anymore, but they do engage in Metafilter Meetups. Maybe they bowl less often but golf much more. Maybe they send way fewer letters, but way more emails, containing more family photos than they would have otherwise. Just because certain measures have declined doesn't necessarily mean the phenomenon of social capital has declined, it may just mean that we build and express social capital in different ways.

On the finding that diversity is correlated with decreased social capital - my supervisor just wrote a book on this (and I assisted) which is currently in publication. Look for "The Cold Keeps us Warm" by Abdolmohammad Kazemipur in a few months (or years... publication can be extremely slow). The main finding of that book is that perhaps it isn't ethnic diversity that decreases social capital, it is ethnic diversity combined with residential segregation. In general, Canada is less segregated than the US and shows a positive relationship between social capital and ethnic diversity. More diverse Canadian cities have more social capital. The only exception to the trend is the city of Montreal, which is notoriously segregated. When Montreal is taken out as an outlier, the positive trend is strengthened further.

Trust is the lubricant that enables social capital - if you don't trust a group, you aren't going to vote for a member of that group, volunteer with an organization that includes or benefits that group, or allow your child to date a member. In heterogeneous but segregated communities, each ethnic enclave works sort of as a small, homogeneous community. Within the (for example) Lebanese community, Lebanese people have high engagement with each other but since they have little interaction with non-Lebanese people they are suspicious of outsiders. If an ethnic community does not interact with non co-ethnics, they have no experience to base trust on, and they remain insular. Time alone may or may not change this - I suspect not. In heterogeneous but not segregated communities, people have interaction with non-coethnics every day. They can build friendships, learn about other groups, and develop the sort of trust that is prerequisite for social capital. A related theory to these ideas is contact theory (Gordon Allport) - intergroup contact leads to reduced intergroup conflict.

So, why does ethnic diversity affect social capital differently in Canada than in the US? Good question, and one that we are still working on. It might have something to do with Canada's official Multiculturalism policy. What we need now is similar studies from other countries with different ways of addressing diversity.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:53 AM on August 7, 2007 [8 favorites]

I wonder what would have turned up if he'd tried doing this study in Brazil or Puerto Rico or other countries with lots and lots of racial mixing. I doubt he would come to the same conclusions.

Why? What different factors would be at play in those places?

If I think of anecdotal accounts of life in highly diverse cities, like London or Hong Kong or Paris or NYC, they're filled with examples of solidarity and commitment that's stronger within the cultural community than without it -- and that's really just another way of phrasing these results, people commit more strongly within their cultural community than they do within the larger, civic-state community. They're more culturally than civically aware.

That we can think of anecdotal exceptions, also, doesn't invalidate the observation. All it does is demonstrate that the problem can be overcome. Which is a good thing.

So, seriously, what would make you think Rio or Sao Paolo would be different?
posted by lodurr at 7:56 AM on August 7, 2007

Distinguishing correlation from causation is pretty much the whole point of the social sciences. You can distinguish them by using regression analysis to control for other factors.

No, regression still only gives you correlation. Its advantage is that it can give you the correlation between x and y controlling for a, b, and c. In this case, there might be something about low-social-capital communities that attracts more diverse populations.

The only way to attack causality in this kind of study is through a web of connected predictions and empirical tests. I haven't read the article yet, but here we have the big picture: diversity and social capital are related. To get a causal story that diversity causes low social capital, you need to make a bunch more predictions that would only happen if the causality flows in that direction. If you see the vast majority of these predictions, then the world is highly consistent with your causal story. Ideally, you want to make predictions that also distinguish between your causal story and likely counterarguments.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:07 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


As a country shaped by immigration and slavery much in the way the US have, The way Brazilians look at race is FAR different than the US. There is a notion of pan-Brazilian identity regardless of skin color that is far stronger than in the US - Brazil never had miscegenation law and the level of racial mixing is much much higher.

I'm confuxed by your choice of cities above: Hong Kong, while a world city, is overwhelmingly Han Chinese (90-95%). The notion of French identity to the exclusion of non ethnic-French.
posted by jare2003 at 8:09 AM on August 7, 2007

arcticwoman: Having spent a couple of years studying social capital and ethnic and religious diversity, I must say that these results and the interpretation of them, is not without controversy. [...]

These are interesting observations, but I'm unclear on whether you disagree with the findings or you believe that you and your supervisor can describe means to overcome the phenomena described (e.g., geographic integration).

Based on what you're saying so far -- I'd love to hear you say more -- it sounds as though you may be seeing the emergence of a new identity that transcends cultural identity. As I understand Putnam's thinking, that's entirely consistent with his ideas.
posted by lodurr at 8:11 AM on August 7, 2007

Jare2003: Pick some other cities, then. I picked London and NYC (in which I'll include the boroughs); I'll sub LA. Anybody know Melbourne or Sydney well enough to speak to them? How about Singapore -- does anything interesting happen to cultural identity there?

As for pan-Brazilian identity and racism, that's great. But that assumes that "diversity" is all about race. What about class? (Remembering that income is not the sole or even the most important marker for class.)
posted by lodurr at 8:15 AM on August 7, 2007

Given Putnam's points and evidence, how about this argument:
  1. The flow toward diversity is largely inevitable.
  2. It has negatives in the short run, which Conservatives love to emphasize.
  3. It has many more positives in the long run, which Conservatives wish to ignore.
  4. -------------------------
  5. Therefore, Conservative emphasis on the short term bad will only cause an elongation of the period of misery, making them to blame for any increase in the bad beyond that of what would happen without their selfish meddling.
See? Isn't that better?
posted by mystyk at 8:24 AM on August 7, 2007

we have been able to discover no significant interactive effects between economic inequality and ethnic diversity – that is, our core finding that diversity produces hunkering is equally true both in communities with great economic disparities and in those that are relatively egalitarian. Economic inequality is very important, but it does not appear to cause, amplify or obscure the apparent effects of ethnic diversity on social capital.
page 20 of the article

Call me a Marxist, but the ills he's citing are largely economic. The most diverse communities are also generally poorer. Affluent neighborhoods don't tend to have recent immigrants in them, and don't have representation of African-Americans analogous to the general population. Poverty definitely lends itself to less community involvement.

In a poor neighborhood, there's going to be just what the study is looking for. Poor people have to worry about their basic needs, and they're generally uneducated, so they don't volunteer and they don't vote.

In a neighborhood of varied incomes, there's going to be just what the study is looking for. Same ills as stated above for the poor people, and the affluent people are going to be largely put off by the boorish behavior of a subset of the poor people, so they won't be involved in the community either.

What I can't find in the study is an assessment of well-to-do communities with some diversity. Surely they exist, don't they?
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:28 AM on August 7, 2007

lodurr: You are right, I am not disagreeing with Putnam I'm just not completely agreeing with him either. He is the first to admit that his focus is the US, and in general the US results are similar to the results of some other countries, but not to Canada. I think it is important to understand why. As many people above (and Putnam himself) have said - increasing ethnic diversity is happening whether or not we think it is a social good - if some countries are having a better go of making the transition, we need to figure out how. And fast.

It is possible that in some places ethnic identity is fading to a different kind of identity. On that point it's worth noting that the survey question in the Canadian Census asking ethnic background includes the typical categories of "French" "German" "Laotian" etc, but also includes "Canadian" and "Canadien/Canadienne." I'm struggling right now to remember what direction the trends were in, but I seem to remember that in English speaking Canada, those who chose "Canadian" had lower trust than those who chose "German" or whatever, but in French Canada, those who chose "Canadien/Canadienne) had higher trust than those who just chose "French" or whatever. I'll have to double check that, though.

I don't know how to get rid of segregation. I've done a lot of reading on the desegregation movement in the US starting in 1957 and it is pretty obvious that it was a rocky transition. School bussing programs certainly didn't work. Interestingly, places which desegregated quickly, all in one burst did MUCH better (less violence, more complete desegregation) than places which tried to ease people into it. When people thought that they didn't have a choice, they accepted desegregation better, but when they saw it coming from a long way off - they fought.

Whew! Well, I've got to go to work now, so this is the last you'll hear from me for awhile. My email's in my profile though.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:30 AM on August 7, 2007

I'd like to see this study correlated or at least compared with the work of Felton Earls on collective efficacy of neighborhoods.

My neighborhood is struggling with, ahem, diversity. My parents are from Chicago, but I grew up in Wisconsin. My city was very nearly Ivory Soap white in the 1960 census. (Ironically, a century earlier it was an abolitionist hotbed, ran a slave-catcher out of town, sent more men to the Civil War than any other part of the state, and even spawned the first African-American heart surgeon.) Since then (in part due to a fair housing ordinance that my mother helped pass) things have changed considerably, and the safe streets of my neighborhood are now gang-infested and drug deals take place in view of the front window.

My dad, bless his idealist soul, keeps telling people that "the problem is race". This is somewhat hilarious. The drug house across the street is a few white women and several black men. I'm not sure they have what can be described as a problem with race, or any kind of diversity based on skin color. They work together on the common goal of ... selling drugs (this crew, mostly to teenagers).

In trying to organize the community, I have also definitely encountered the problem of the turtles. Half of the drug deals take place next door from the house where these guys live, on the front lawn of the superb Italianate house that is directly across the street. The people there don't seem to want to engage with this problem at all. Granted they have other problems like a sick child but it's almost like ignoring the problem is preferable to acknowledging it.

My dad keeps suggesting that everything could be magically solved if we got a "nice" middle-class black couple in the neighborhood, or the police hired a black officer (they've actually been trying unsuccessfully to recruit up to five, for almost a decade). Somehow I don't think that will affect whether or not criminals do crimes, although it may affect how some of the "redneck" Irish-Americans who still live in the neighborhood talk, a little.
posted by dhartung at 8:35 AM on August 7, 2007

And lodurr, the results would be completely different in different cities. Various ethnic groups have different histories with each other, countries have different policies towards how to treat ethnic groups and their interests, economic diversity also differs geographically, world events change how people see themselves and others, and who they define as "other." Yes we are all people, our shit all stinks, but people in different societies act and think differently. As I have decribed, ethnic relations are different in Canada compared to the US, imagine how much more different they would be between Cuba and Rwanda, or any other countries/cities you could name.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:36 AM on August 7, 2007

In this case, there might be something about low-social-capital communities that attracts more diverse populations.

The only way to attack causality in this kind of study is through a web of connected predictions and empirical tests.

I have not RTFA either, so I can't comment on how rigorously the direction of causality was established.

However, the mechanism of diverse populations trusting each other less is intuitive and easy to imagine. If we accept that factors like income and city size have been accounted for, I don't see how low social capital in an area could possibly attract more diverse people to live there. Do you?

Occam's Razor would seem to lend support to the premise of the article.
posted by designbot at 8:48 AM on August 7, 2007

Mayor Curley: Poverty definitely lends itself to less community involvement.

Does it? I suppose that depends on how you define 'community involvement.' I'd argue the opposite.
posted by lodurr at 8:56 AM on August 7, 2007

I think the differences between Canada and the U.S., and perhaps some other countries and the U.S., might be attributable (at least in part) to the creation of a national or cultural identity that crosses ethnic and "racial"* lines.

In the U.S., we seem to have a difficulty in constructing such an identity. For whatever reason, many people, particularly new immigrants, identify primarily by their country of origin and only secondarily as Americans, or perhaps not at all. (I think 'not at all' is probably more common among people who are in the U.S. for purely economic reasons and do not plan to stay permanently.) This is the "hyphenated American" issue that is so popular with Conservatives, and I don't think it should be blithely ignored. (However, I don't think it's new, and I think anti-immigrant sentiment has been far stronger in the past than it currently is, and has been dealt with successfully.)

Trust seems to me as something that is built out of understanding. I can trust someone, only if I understand them. People trust each other in small, homogeneous communities, because they are similar enough to each other so that it's easy to understand others' motives. In a more diverse community, that isn't always the case, and this leads to distrust. When people have common goals, they understand each other, and thus trust is built. Obviously, it's difficult to understand someone when you can't communicate with them, which is why I'm not surprised if linguistically segregated communities are some of the least trusting (that's been my personal experience, anyway).

I think the biggest thing we can do in this country is realize that the creation of a national identity isn't a bad thing; nationalism is admittedly problematic when it leads to misunderstandings between countries, but I think that's outweighed by the benefits of a national identity in promoting inclusivity and trust within a country.

* I use the term "racial" in reference to the concept as it is commonly used, as a social construct; I do not believe that "races" exist in any biological sense.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:11 AM on August 7, 2007

The most diverse communities are also generally poorer.

Actually that is not true. Most poor neighborhoods breakdown almost exactly on racial and ethnic and religious lines.
posted by tkchrist at 9:33 AM on August 7, 2007

I live in Queens, NY, which, according to the Census, is the most diverse county in the USA.

Let me share a little slice of daily life here:

I go to the corner store to buy some soda. Spanish-owned. Your classic bodega-mart. The counter girl is very flirty and friendly. She turns an everyday commercial transaction into something warm and fun. I pay for my stuff and leave.

A couple of minutes later, on the way home, I encounter a Muslim woman in full hijab-style dress. Everything is covered except for a little slit around the eyes.

We are walking in opposite direction, heading towards each other. She takes one look at me and immediately drops her head. She directs her eyes to the sidewalk and doesn't look up until she's well past me.

I was thinking about the contrast as I walked home and wondered: "What would those two women talk about if you put them together in a room for ten minutes? Would they be able to find any kind of common ground?"
posted by jason's_planet at 9:45 AM on August 7, 2007

diversity hurts civic life

Canada's such a ghetto! I -- wait, sorry. My mistake.
posted by kmennie at 9:45 AM on August 7, 2007

c'mon. no one ever said civic engagement was easy. multicultural communities do show the way against the racial divisions that defined the United States until about 30 years ago. But geographic proximity does not a multicultural society make.
posted by eustatic at 9:47 AM on August 7, 2007

I think we're having a disconnect here about what constitutes a "diverse community."

Given a city with a high proportional representation by people of 5 ethnic or cultural identities, we could say that the city is "diverse."

But if the city is broken up into 5 neighborhoods, with 90% of the population for each neighborhood being one ethnic group, do we say that the city is diverse? We have that usage in evidence, here, and I think that would be covered under Putnam's usage (corrections, please).

So we need to be specific with examples: Is the community diverse, or is the city diverse? They're not interchangeable entitities.
posted by lodurr at 9:54 AM on August 7, 2007

Canada's such a ghetto! I -- wait, sorry. My mistake.

Been to Winnipeg lately? Kidding. I ♥ Friendly Manitoba.
posted by MikeMc at 10:02 AM on August 7, 2007

This seems the sensational other side of a coin we'd rather not have to talk about:

Xenophobia and bigotry make people afraid of diversity and distrustful of their neighbors where it exists.

So instead an author sells more books for touting some 'unconvential wisdom,' and the talking heads gnash away.
posted by coolhappysteve at 10:03 AM on August 7, 2007

It's difficult to comment without having read the actual study (as has been noted several times above) but I've a few issues with how Putnam is defining diversity here.

"People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to 'hunker down' -- that is, to pull in like a turtle," Putnam writes.

I suspect that many of the ethnically diverse settings he studied are neighborhoods in transition. Areas in which an economically less powerful minority is being supplanted by a more affluent group.

In my hometown of Chicago, it's common to see newly constructed condo units - occupied by wealthy, white families - alongside smaller homes that are part of the old, oftentimes ethnic, neighborhood. The result is a temporary racial diversity rather than a truly diverse community.

The lack of engagement Putnam notices, then, has less to do with ethnic/racial diversity and everything to do with economic and class differences. If we were to administer his survey to ethnically diverse communities that are economically homogenous (I realize such communities might be difficult to find) I suspect civic engagement, trust and voting patterns would be very different.
posted by aladfar at 10:19 AM on August 7, 2007

What I can't find in the study is an assessment of well-to-do communities with some diversity. Surely they exist, don't they?

I'd love to see this study, too. Because of brain-drain immigration of skilled engineers and medical folks from India, China, Korea, Pakistan, etc, my admittedly affluent hometown of Irvine, Calif., has gone from the whitest-of-whitebread communities to one of the most diverse suburbs I've ever heard of. Surfer kids on skateboards rub shoulders with groups of Sri Lankans playing cricket.

I think it's awesome. But anecdotally, I see the community disconnect Putnam is talking about, too. They city has changed quite a bit in the last 20 years, but whether that's because of diversity or the sheer population increase is another question.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:41 AM on August 7, 2007

Also, there can never be a discussion about diversity without mentioning this place.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 10:42 AM on August 7, 2007

In the U.S., we seem to have a difficulty in constructing such an identity. For whatever reason, many people, particularly new immigrants, identify primarily by their country of origin and only secondarily as Americans... This is the "hyphenated American" issue that is so popular with Conservatives, and I don't think it should be blithely ignored.

Let me explain some of this attitude-- it comes from the attitude from these communities that the things that are associated with "American" are negative-- materialism, commercialism, lack of community, laziness, etc. -- many of which are symptoms of a greater disconnect within communities that Putnam was trying to get at in "bowling alone."

At the same time, it always seemed to me to be urban areas that tried to "bootstrap" feelings of identity by hiring "community organizers" and building "community centers" -- things which, when I was growing up in my suburb, were completely unknown. Insofar as anyone needed a "center" to gather at, the local public school served that purpose, as did the church hall for the various different church communities that people were members of. And nothing on the political front occurred at a level local enough to require any "community organizers." Those who were particularly concerned about what was going on at the local zoning board meetings were regarded as gadflys or people without anything better to do.
posted by deanc at 10:49 AM on August 7, 2007

For those of you who want to see the study for yourselves....

I've been frustrated reading the thread with folks who wouldn't just go and read it, but jonp72 did call it "article", not study, so I guess I should cut y'all some slack.

And of course, it's not full findings, just a 36 page invited paper. But even on a quick skim, I can see that it addresses a lot of the concerns/criticisms that people have been raising.
posted by lodurr at 10:52 AM on August 7, 2007

Just going on the anecdotal, my old neighborhood was fairly racially diverse. It was also very insular, very few of my neighbors talked to each other or chose to hang out with each other. Typically the only time we talked to each other was after a storm to make sure everybody's houses were okay.

My new neighborhood is more predominantly white and just from living there a few months, my neighbors are much more chatty. They bring by food, stop over and talk and so forth much, much more than the old neighborhood.

Then again, my old neighborhood was full of mostly starter homes with young families that were (almost always) working two jobs. The new neighborhood is split evenly between college kids and older established couples that are nearing retirement.

My assumption is that the differing levels of "community investment" between the two neighborhoods is due to the amount of free time held by the residents. College kids and older couples just have more time to chat with the neighbors. When you're working full time, caring for kids, and trying to keep up with home maintenence, chatting with the neighbors comes much further down on the list.
posted by teleri025 at 11:26 AM on August 7, 2007

The basic argument is: a) immigration and innovation produce diversity, b) diversity creates distrust (people ‘hunker down’ and cease engaging with both the strangers and their ‘own kind’), c) religion and nationalism has historically created a renewed sense of cohesion.

one way of reading Putnam’s research is to say: we’re going through a growth spurt, and we’ll eventually find a way to reproduce the cohesion and sense of identity necessary for trust to develop. Right now, we don’t trust each other because we’re still digesting the massive growth of American multiculturalism, which is a self-reinforcing result of economic success. As we become a wealthier nation, more people immigrate, more ideas and lifestyles become viable, and we’re shoved into increasingly mixed company. Eventually, we’ll subsume these changes in the demographic constitution of the country. The problem with this ‘eventually’ is that we’ve pretty much given up on religion to accomplish identification (we’re not likely to sacrifice religious diversity any time soon) and the nation-state has been ‘in decline’ almost since it was invented by Westphalia. What we need is to stop changing and growing… and we’re not going to do that. In the absence of a full text of the lecture, I’m going to refrain from judging Putnam himself.

Let’s be clear: the reason Putnam has been so careful about the uptake of his most recent line of research is that he’s afraid of furthering xenophobia and racism. It’s bad enough when people hate foreigners for ‘taking their jobs.’ Just think about your average lonely meathead blaming his friendless existence, like his joblessness, on illegal immigration. But what do we do if Putnam is right about the problem, but not the solution? What if you need a certain minimum amount of ‘bonding capital,’ a certain number of close friends who are mostly ‘like you,’ before you can invest in ‘bridging’? I think this must be true: how can you even say what you’re ‘like’ until you have that basis? Putnam assumes that skin color and cultural education are enough to give this sense of identity, but that’s clearly wrong: you’ve got to share a community with someone before you can connect with other communities, and that initial sharing can’t just be a matter of genetic inheritance or childhood experience. In those situations, you’ve yet to figure out who you are in any deep sense, and yet your provisional identity is caught up with skin color and superficial cultural rituals, so it’s easier to discover “yourself” among others like yourself. For that, you need friends, and as Putnam has shown, people have fewer friends in diverse neighborhoods, even among their ‘own kind.’ The opposite side of the old saw: the (friend-)poor get poorer.

So: what’s the solution? I’m going to say what Putnam seems unwilling to say: I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t think anybody does. Demographics and population pressures are tough issues for any thinker, made tougher by the improbable magnitudes involved: 300 million people is a lot. But maybe, we could start by making an active effort to trust each other. Usually, people deserve it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:36 AM on August 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

lodurr, in Singapore (at least in the 80s when I lived there) the culture was highly segregated along ethnic lines. All the chinese kids went to chinese schools, all the malay kids went to malay schools; even the have-a-happy-day propaganda songs the govt put out were ethnically distinct.
posted by nomisxid at 11:41 AM on August 7, 2007

how can you even say what you’re ‘like’ until you have that basis?

Interesting idea(s). One thought is that where we see communities getting past this point, people in them have found new ways to define what they're "like".
posted by lodurr at 12:08 PM on August 7, 2007

Wow, this bigtime thinker has discovered racism.

Per the article which has now been linked twice in this thread, people trust members of their own racial/ethnic group less in diverse neighborhoods than people who live in homogenous ones. Racism may be a factor, but it's not a full explanation.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:43 PM on August 7, 2007

I know I don't trust davy. But you gotta love how he manages to show up late and still occasionally stirs things up with his curmudgeonly, left-field, hasn't-RTFA textbites.
posted by lodurr at 1:04 PM on August 7, 2007

I think another cause might be that racially diverse neighborhoods are generally places with lots of new people moving in. That might have a lot to do with it.
posted by delmoi at 1:26 PM on August 7, 2007

delmoi: If Putnam's right, these neighborhoods predominate during periods of economic growth, for all the obvious reasons. People move around to take advantage of better jobs. Basically, the labor market brings new neighbors faster than they can become a part of the community.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:28 PM on August 7, 2007

Mod note: a few comments removed, davy take a week off you're a little over the edge here
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:30 PM on August 7, 2007

Causation/correlation? And the real tragedy is that this study will be used as 'proof' for all sorts of bullshit agendas...

Considering the article says he took about 6 years or so trying to move the data away from the study's current conclusion suggests to me that the conclusion of the study is sound. You should always be a little bit suspicious of an article that matched what the scientist wants (i.e. you should pretty much disregard anything written by this guy). Contrariwise, if a study contradicts the author's own attitudes and belief systems, it means something.

Still, social science is not 100% clear on these things, and unlike things like electrical charge I'm pretty sure attitudes and human behaviors can change over time (very few of us eat each other when we're feeling a bit peckish).
posted by Deathalicious at 2:03 PM on August 7, 2007

Looks like diversity just creates more complex communities. As a result these groups are harder engage.

Maybe communities should have a difficulty rating. This way you know what you are in for before you move into one...Sunny Acres is rated 8.3 on the index so be prepared to make an effort with your neighbors.
posted by lightweight at 2:15 PM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Lightweight, just so you know, I will be stealing that idea. TIA.

Seriously, though, I think that's absolutely a valid way to interpret this finding. We have complexity thresholds we don't easily cross. And different types of complexity would most likely have different thresholds.
posted by lodurr at 2:30 PM on August 7, 2007

deathalicious: While I will refrain from commenting on the article, for various reasons, and admire and respect Putnam's work, your comment as regards validity is way off the mark. You trust scientific studies not by whether they jibe with the author's values (as if you can know them, except in the case of some higher-profile academics and public intellectuals; in this case, the latter applies, since Putnam has promoted civic engagement throughout the country) or belief system or, I'm guessing, his or her expectations. You judge the quality of the work by whether the methodology fits the research questions involved, the thoroughness of the research, ethical treatment of human subjects and sensitivity to real-world implications of your research, maybe even a willingness to share data after presenting the article and general transparency, etc. What do you want? Academic equivalents of contrary-for-the-sake-of-it Slate articles?
posted by raysmj at 3:11 PM on August 7, 2007

If this study is true, then I wonder how we can address the diversity found within our own internet community?

I mean, it's nice that we don't have corny avatars, signatures, or heavily customisable user profiles that people elsewhere on the web use to try & create individualism within a site, but can't we do something to ensure that usernames are made more homogeneous, or to ensure that all comments are made more similar, eg by requiring commenters to choose from a predefined set of dropdown opinions that can apply generically to topics at hand?

Other than that, your favourite academic article/study sucks.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:22 PM on August 7, 2007

learning to tolerate diversity isn't about making a better civic society, it's about lessoning ethnic tensions and learning to respect other people well enough to get on without killing/oppressing/being nasty to them, maybe even well enough to realise that differences are not insurmountable. You don't always have to agree with them, or respect everything about them - I will never agree with tradional gender roles, for instance, whether in conservative Anglo communities or conservative Muslim ones. But diversity is going to happen, no matter what, unless we start doing horrible, inhumane things like enforcing ghettos. That way lies hatred and human suffering. Instead, we have to learn to shut up and put up with each others' differences, and our children won't be so different.
posted by jb at 3:23 PM on August 7, 2007

In other words - we have immigration because we need the workforce to help with our aging populations. And immigration causes diversity. We try to celebrate and enjoy that diversity, because if we don't, we just get hatred and misunderstanding. I have no desire to live in a community wracked by fear and tribalism, and I fully support the efforts of the local schools to at least try to work against it. It may not be 100% effective, but it's better than sitting on our hands. And certainly I've seen less xenophobia and racism in places like Canada, which actively embrace multiculturalism, than I have in Britain, where the BNP get elected in local government.

As for the civic society thing - I don't think we understand how it works. Perhaps it is the diversity, I could see that having an effect. Perhaps it is that diverse communities are also more likely to have high turnover or to be more urban. Perhaps it is that the world is just changing, and support for civic society is going down - it's not universal. There is a history to the rise and fall of civic society.
posted by jb at 3:29 PM on August 7, 2007

So, why does ethnic diversity affect social capital differently in Canada than in the US? Good question, and one that we are still working on. It might have something to do with Canada's official Multiculturalism policy.
posted by arcticwoman at 10:53 AM on August 7

Immigration laws might also have something to do with it. It's way harder for prospective immigrants to immigrate to Canada if they don't know one of the official languages. I mean it counts against you officially, not just in the unofficial way that it can count against immigrants in the US, so in addition to having to overcome language barriers and prejudice, you have this official structure, too.

It might also have something to do with socialized healthcare and other social spending which prevents the poorest people from being quite as desperate as the poorest Americans.

But you've probably already thought of these.

For whatever reason, many people, particularly new immigrants, identify primarily by their country of origin and only secondarily as Americans, or perhaps not at all.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:11 PM on August 7

Anecdotes aren't data, I know, but consider this: when I talk about being excited about becoming American (currently slated for 2009), more than half of Americans respond by asking why on Earth I'd want to become American. (I came here in 2004 so this might be a strictly new development, I don't know.) I'm originally from Canada, and I have never heard a Canadian say anything so derisive of their own country to a new immigrant.
posted by joannemerriam at 5:21 PM on August 7, 2007

So this is the reason we can't have nice things.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 9:53 PM on August 7, 2007

National identification is a tricky thing. New US citizens are stereotypically proud of their new status as 'Americans', yet they still identify strongly with their country of origin. Clearly there's not a basic incompatibility, or that wouldn't remain true generation over generation.

Instead, there's a sense of being something in addition to what you were, not in place of. Hence, people often feel little tension between being, say, Ukranian and American at the same time. One is what they were born, and we don't ask them to deny that; one is what they become, and we do ask them to embrace that. It's a hard attitude for some American social conservatives to wrap their minds around. (Case in point, the old John Wayne "song" about hyphenated ethnic identifiers: "If you're saying you're a're saying you're a divided American.")

We tacitly encourage that attitude of transcendence or addition -- we reinforce it. My sense is that immigrants to Canada are encouraged to feel the same way.

But while Canada is a pretty multi-cultural society these days, nevertheless I think the cultural bedrock on which it's built is more homogeneous than ours. In the US, we talk about anglo-saxon heritage, but it's really pretty vague. When you start to take apart American traditions, you find that as many of them are German or Irish or Italian in origin as are anglo-saxon. We have so much greater population and had so much greater of an immigrant influx, that the cultural bedrock is essentially imaginary, now. It's my sense, OTOH, that Canadian traditions have a much more clear and solid foundation in Scottish and French cultural heritage. I'm reaching and being vague, here, but I'm wondering if that more unified bedrock, as it were, might play some role in a more rapid transition through Putnam's "constriction" phase.
posted by lodurr at 11:08 AM on August 8, 2007

Canada is more culturally diverse than the United States. I looked up the statistics on this one time - more Canadians were born outside of Canada than Americans were born outside of the States - we have a higher proportion of immigrants.
posted by jb at 12:04 PM on August 8, 2007

Interesting. How does that play out over time?
posted by lodurr at 12:44 PM on August 8, 2007

Tough shit if he doesn't like people using the results of his study for political goals he doesn't agree with. He studied the affects of diversity on social capital, his statements on the long term benefits of immigration are an opinion. He just trotted out the usual arguments and platitudes. For example he demonstrates that immigration does not equal diversity, but then unqualifiedly supports his claim of good diversity by pointing out how many Nobel prizes, Emmy's etc were awarded to American immigrants while completely neglecting to comment on what their country of origin or race was (his study only recognized four racial categories, white, black, hispanic and asian, I wonder how the awards thing would pan out under those standards, which would group a ton of those immigrants right under "white.") He never studied the economic consequences of immigration, or what amount is best and if we are above or below that amount; he just waves his hand and says that economists agree that it's good. He repeats the claim that immigration solves the problem of replenishing workers in our aging society. First of all, show me the study he's cited that claims that is the best way to solve this problem. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, yet I don't see any studies. Secondly, based on his claims, why precisely would we not make an attempt to ensure that needed immigrants are reasonably integrable?

I guess what is irritating to me about this is that if you are going to argue that diversity, while having negative consequences in the short and middle term will be beneficial in the long term, then I have a few questions: if you argue that the negative consequences go away over time, does this not imply that if integration is to take place that it is important that immigration be limited where immigration rates exceed "assimiliation" rates? Would using your own studies standards of negative consequences be a metric for making this determination? And if you are arguing that the negative consequences do not go away, then isn't it actually a value statement to argue that the social consequences are worth it?

I doubt he will answer any of these questions, but if forced to address them in an interview would say that that's not what his study is about.
posted by erikharmon at 7:33 PM on August 8, 2007

He studied the affects of diversity on social capital, his statements on the long term benefits of immigration are an opinion. He just trotted out the usual arguments and platitudes. ... He never studied the economic consequences of immigration, or what amount is best and if we are above or below that amount; he just waves his hand and says that economists agree that it's good.

Actually, he cited a number of studies to support those opinions (with which opinions you obviously disagree).

Please, if you want to criticise the paper, read it carefully enough to recognize the difference between 'trotting out the usual arguments' and citing studies.

I doubt he will answer any of these questions, but if forced to address them in an interview would say that that's not what his study is about.

And what would be wrong with that answer? Would you demand that every time someone publishes research, they be able to answer all your questions about it?

The purpose of scientific research is usually not primarily to answer questions, but to understand what the next questions ought to be.
posted by lodurr at 5:41 AM on August 9, 2007

I didn't say it wasn't an informed opinion, but that it wasn't what he studied and so he isn't speaking with authority on that topic and has no obligation to be fair.
posted by erikharmon at 10:53 PM on August 22, 2007

« Older Portraits of rural Russians by Pavel Bezrukov   |   Musica Excentrica Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments