Diversity (incl. Discrimination)

This text is drawn from www.goete.eu/glossary

With the beginning of the new century the discourse on diversity is increasingly to be found in the context of management strategies of (big) enterprises: “Managing Diversity” means a strategy to raise efficiency by using difference (according mostly to gender and ethnicity) as a resource and a key for economical success. The dominance of this discourse easily makes forget that the discourse on diversity has political and anti-discriminatory roots, and that it is originating in the black critique on the blind spots of a white, middle class and latent hetero-normative feminism (Loomba et al. 2005), in the respective call for more self-reflexivity regarding the postcolonial heritages (Hall 2000 and many others), in a critical focus on asymmetrical relations of power and also in a constructivist turn pointing to the “doing” of differences (Fenstermaker & West 1995).

On the programmatic level referring to these anti-discriminatory roots, “diversity” stands for the insight into a variety of differences constitutive for social reality and at the same time socially constructed. This social reality is only adequately described if gender orders, ethnic or cultural orders, class orders, generational orders, body orders etc. are taken into account. None of these orders alone can explain anything without wrong generalisations of “groups” and without problematic “othering”.

These different lines of social differentiations and asymmetrical relations do emerge differently in different situations and contexts, and within different interplays of structure and agency. The meaning and the relevance do change by situation and context (e.g.: gender, age and ethnicity can differently be actualised or qualified in different situations) and social differences and categories generate each other in a interdependent way. To take into account this changing and contextualised doing of difference is the (normative, i.e. anti-discriminatory and critical) program of diversity as practice – with intersectionality as analytical “regarding strategy” (Crenshaw 1991; Davies 2008).

Paul Mecheril – by taking into account also the above mentioned economic discourse – is pointing to the ongoing challenge related with “diversity” – which is: to attentively analyse if its practice and its effects are either emancipatory or hegemonial. It could be used in both directions – and inclusion can easily turn into a hegemonial strategy. Only by reminding the emancipatory potential of “diversity” and by using diversity as a tool for constant self-reflection its potential for critical analysis and emancipatory practice can be saved.

As educational trajectories are powerful ways of doing difference, the concept of diversity in GOETE serves as a valuable tool for reflexion and as a regarding strategy both for analysis and for governance development.


Crenshaw, Kimberlé 1991: Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color, Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 6., pp. 1241–1299.

Davies, Kathy (2008) Intersectionality as buzzword, Feminist Theory, Vol. 9, No. 1, 67-85.

Fenstermaker, Sarah & West, Candace (1995) “Doing Difference”. Gender and Society, 9(1)8-37.

Loomba, Ania, Kaul, Suvir & Burton, Antoinette (eds.) (2005) Postcolonial Studies and Beyond, Duke: University Press.

(Barbara Stauber & Mirjana Ule)