Academic Proof Finally that More Diversity Equals More Community

Education Financial Justice

120725103344-london-brick-lane-horizontal-galleryNew Orleans     On the streets in lower income and working communities, a generation of community organizers has argued that, everything being equal, our gumbo neighborhoods of mixed and matched families, races, and ethnicities in fact work, and work well, when people are able to organize together and act collectively.   The academic community has not been very friendly to either our experience or our argument, needless to say.

A random call from my old friend and the learned professor, scholar and public policy expert from the frozen north, Joel Rogers, ostensibly testing a new phone, alerted me to news he knew that I would eat like dessert.  A study coming out of a close analysis of demographics in London (yes, England), arguably one of more diverse, cosmopolitan cities in the world, had found after a rigorous and careful study of various factors in London neighborhoods that in fact more diversity equals more community or social cohesion in their terms.

Ok, so here we go.  The authors Patrick Sturgis, Ian Brunton-Smith, Jouni Kuha, and Jonathan Jackson wrote this paper for the journal of Ethnic and Racial Studies, late in 2013.  They make you wade through the overview of the raging ivy tower dispute on whether diversity in close proximity triggers conflict or cohesion as well as a bunch of math and tables.  The “conflict” scholars argue is that diversity will trigger fierce competition for resources and position in communities.  The “contact” scholars take the opposite position that the more there is interaction, the more there will be reduced conflict, acceptance, and social cohesion in diversely populated communities.  It’s hard to find a bridge over such a gaping chasm!

But here comes this analysis which in Joel’s words “finally controls for income,” and it turns out in my words – and obviously my experience as well – that hell yes there’s conflict when there is competition in the same community for equity in resources, jobs, access, and so forth, but when you flatten the income differences, which happens in lower income communities, then in fact the constant interchange of people trying to survive, live-and-let-live, and act together in ways large and small, produces community or social cohesion.

Here’s how they say it:

Diversity and deprivation are strongly intertwined in London, with ethnically diverse neighbourhoods tending to also be more deprived. Because deprivation has its own negative effect on cohesion, if only diversity is included in the prediction of cohesion its estimated effect will be a ‘mixture’ of the positive influence of diversity and the negative effect of deprivation. The diversity and deprivation effects cancel one another out…. However, once deprivation is included… the diversity coefficient becomes substantial and positive because the deprivation component of its variance … has now been partialled out. In other words, for neighbourhoods with a given level of deprivation, those that are more ethnically diverse tend to have higher levels of perceived cohesion. This finding demonstrates two important points, one methodological and one substantive. Methodologically, it is clear that any analysis of the effect of ethnic diversity on social-psychological outcomes must adequately account for the social and economic conditions in which diversity is found (Letki 2004; Laurence 2009). Substantively, we find that in London, social cohesion is significantly higher in more ethnically diverse neighbourhoods, once we have accounted for the fact that more diverse neighbourhoods tend, predominantly, to be more socio-economically deprived.

Diversity is not the issue, in fact the authors also found that young folks growing up in diverse communities were virtually a perfect blend, compared to the older folks of the population with less interaction.  So, in what should surprise no one and in fact should be a booster rocket to the arguments about the urgency of increasing equality all over the world, class actually matters, differences in resources and money actually create conflict.

Load this bullet in the guns of your arguments from now on and shoot it straight and true!

To cite this article: Patrick Sturgis, Ian Brunton-Smith, Jouni Kuha & Jonathan Jackson , Ethnic and Racial Studies (2013): Ethnic diversity, segregation and the social cohesion of neighbourhoods in London, Ethnic and Racial Studies, DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2013.831932

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