Diversity in Everyday Discourse: The Cultural Ambiguities and Consequences of �Happy Talk�
Presented by Joyce Bell and Doug Hartmann
Few words in contemporary American public life and political culture are as ubiquitous and ostensibly uplifting as diversity. Despite its prominence and positivity (or perhaps precisely because of it), actual meanings and uses of the term can be difficult to pinpoint. In this paper we use in-depth interviews conducted in four major metropolitan areas as part of the American Mosaic Project to explore conceptions of diversity in everyday American discourse. While most Americans respond optimistically to initial questions about �diversity,� our interviews reveal underlying ambiguities and tensions in the discourse. These include the contradiction between idealized visions of cultural diversity and actual experiences with social difference as well as the challenge of balancing the recognition of group-based differences against traditional commitments to individual freedom and choice. We also find that although our respondents define diversity in general, apparently universal terms, most of their actual references and experiences tend to involve interactions with racial others. Finally, we find that it is very difficult for our respondents�even those who are otherwise articulate about diversity or have clear political commitments to equality�to talk coherently about issues of social inequality in the context of a conversation focused on diversity. These findings will be illustrated and expanded, and their significance discussed.