Everyday Ethnic Diversity and Racism on Australian Construction Sites

By Kevin Dunn, Martin Loosemore, Florence Phua and Umut Ozguc.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Major construction sites in Australia are settings of ‘everyday ethnic diversity’ as well as ‘everyday racism’. Scholars investigating the everyday experience of ethnic diversity have concluded that the prevalence of poor ethnic relations has been exaggerated, and that ethnic diversity is marked by as many positive and neutral interactions as negative experiences. The assertions of the ‘everyday multiculturalists’ are strongly confirmed in this paper which examines the attitudes and experiences of 1155 workers and 204 managers who were surveyed on 29 and 16 Sydney construction sites respectively, during 2008 and 2009. The three key findings are: first, that there is ‘everyday ethnic diversity’ on construction sites; second, that there is also ‘everyday racism’, and; third, that the inculcation of the former and the mitigation of the latter is poorly managed. Workers were generally pro-ethnic diversity and were positively disposed towards ethnic mixing. Ethnic mixing at work was very high, much more common than had been anticipated in previous research on this setting. One-third perceived there to be ethnic discrimination on construction sites and roughly the same proportion reported they had been the target of racism in that setting. The most common manifestations of racism were in the forms of racist graffiti and derogatory name calling: almost half of the workers acknowledged that they themselves had told racist jokes in the workplace. Key out groups in Australian society (Lebanese- and Asian-Australians) were the targets of greatest antipathy, reinforced through visceral assertions regarding the poor hygiene and morals of those groups. Construction sites are an especially productive setting in which to analyse the normalisation of negative ethnic interactions – ‘everyday racism’, and in which to consider anti-racism. But anti-racism programs are not currently a management priority.

Keywords: Everyday Ethnic Diversity, Everyday Racism, Construction Sites, Australia

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp.129-148. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 681.688KB).

Prof. Kevin Dunn

Professor of Human Geography and Urban Studies, School of Social Sciences, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Professor Kevin Dunn (BA (W’gong); PhD (Newcastle); FNGS), is Professor of Human Geography and Urban Studies, School of Social Sciences, at The University of Western Sydney. His areas of research include the geographies of racism, immigration and settlement, Islam in Australia, and local government and multiculturalism. Recent books include Landscapes: Ways of Imagining the World, and his recent articles are published in Society and Space, Ethnicities, The Australian Geographer, Studia Islamika, Urban Studies and the Australian Journal of Social Issues. He is a Fellow of the New South Wales Geographical Society and President.

Martin Loosemore

Professor, School of the Built Environment, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Martin Loosemore is Professor of Construction Management at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. He is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building and is a visiting Professor at University of Loughborough in the UK and The University of Hawaii. In 2002, Martin was a consultant to the Australian Royal Commission into the Building Industry, advising on international workplace reform and productivity and was subsequently called to provide evidence to the Federal Senate inquiry into the Building and Construction Industry Bill. Martin was recently appointed by Minister Kim Carr to the first of the Australian Federal Government’s Innovation Councils-representing the building, construction and engineering industry. Martin has published over 150 articles and books in risk management, occupational health and safety and human resource management.

Florence Phua

Reader in Organizational Behaviour, School of Construction Management & Engineering, University of Reading, Reading, UK

Florence Phua is Reader in Organisational Behaviour at the University of Reading, UK. She specialises in international construction management and publishes widely in the area. She is particularly interested in construction industry performance across different cultural contexts and international settings. She is a member of both the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Chartered Institute of Building. She held previous academic positions at the University of New South Wales, Australia and the University of Hong Kong.

Umut Ozguc

PhD Candidate, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Australian Defence Force Academy, University of New South Wales, Canberra, ACT, Australia

Umut Ozguc is a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales. She holds a Masters of Arts degree in politics and international relations. Her research interests are cultural diversity, racism and international political sociology.

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