The Paradoxes of Cultural Diversity within Organizations

By Halleh Ghorashi.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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

The dominant discourse in most European countries in regard to new migrants from Islamic countries has become increasingly culturalist, in which a migrant’s culture and religion are considered to deviate from the European norm. This is founded on a static and essentialist approach to culture, in which cultural content is considered the determining factor for all actions of individuals. Such an approach leaves little space for individual interpretations and creativity with regard to cultural background. The main criticism of the culturalist approach does not concern categorizing itself. It is impossible to conceive of life without categories. The criticism concerns cultural categories being made into absolute contrasts. In the social sciences, this type of conception of culture has been criticized since the 1960s, when the anthropologist Fredrik Barth (1969) argued that ethnic boundaries are not created and preserved by cultural content, but that these boundaries are constructed in order to pursue a ‘political’ goal. Cultural characteristics are thrown into sharp relief precisely when they can be used to mark a difference between us and them. This means that ethnic boundaries between groups should chiefly be considered constructions that are situational, contextual, and changeable, rather than entities that are inherent in the essence of different cultures.

The issue of ethnicity and/or cultural diversity within organizations has been part of the broader focus on diversity in organizations. In spite of contributions of the dominant approaches of diversity in organizations (deficit, discrimination and culturalist) they seem not to be far reaching enough. The main problem of the above-mentioned approaches within organizations is their essentialist focus on ethnic groups as closed entities with fixed cultural contents. The members of the ethnic groups are considered either incompetent to fit the organization or discriminated because they are different. Even in case of the culturalist approach in which the possible value of ethnic diversity is underscored, the approach remains essentialist. This approach does not consider the contextual and situational ways that individual members of groups shape and re-shape their ethnicity through interaction with other individuals. Also there is a lack in these approaches to observe the possibility of hybrid positioning within organizations in which individual members could combine elements from various available cultural and ethnic resources. In this presentation I will plea for a need to make room for new kind of approach of ethnicity/cultural diversity within organizations in which there is space to understand individual choices and practices through the ways they are positioned within the intersection of various contextual and organizational discourses.

Keywords: Dominant Culturalist Discrous, Ethnic/Cultural Differences, Hybrid Positioning, Situational Logic of Practice, Integral/Intersectional Approach, Ethnography

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 7, Issue 5, pp.223-230. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 528.297KB).

Prof. Halleh Ghorashi

Department of Culture, Organization and Management, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands


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