Sociology 304

Notes for January 21, 1999

Diversity in Society


Issues related to diversity and difference have become key aspects of contemporary sociological approaches and theorizing. Perhaps these have always been a key feature – Marx and Engels examined class differences and their origin; Durkheim was concerned with social order in a situation where differences based on the division of labour emerged; Weber provided an analysis of group formation, definition, and action; and earlier twentieth century sociology studied and theorized about ethnicity, class, and social organization.

In the current period however, there appears to be a greater concern with issues related to diversity and difference than there did in earlier sociological approaches. Among the types of terms, language, and approaches taken in contemporary sociology are:

Some of the sources of concern and attention may be:

One of Kymlicka’s arguments in Multicultural Citizenship is that the various forms of diversity require analysis and recognition if the groups are to be accommodated in Canada. The recognition and extension of group rights is necessary so that individuals within these groups are able to fully participate in Canadian society, with rights that equal those of other citizens. For example, he opens his book noting that "Most countries today are culturally diverse" (p. 1). As evidence he cites that number of ethnic groups, language groups, independent states, and a set of what he considers divisive or potentially divisive issues such as land claims, language rights, educational policies, and national symbols. At the conclusion of Multicultural Citizenship, Kymlicka raises the issue of deep diversity – the situation Canada faces with (i) many diverse groups within the country, and (ii) diverse ways of belonging to the country.

This raises the issue of the meaning of diversity, the extent of diversity, how has diversity changed, what a definition of diversity, and how can diversity be measured. In Who Pays for the Kids? Folbre raises similar issues, although in a different way. She is concerned less with rights and more with individual and collective identities and actions. For example, she notes:

Membership in one given group (for example, women) is not necessarily any more important than membership in another given group (for example, African-Americans). Individuals cannot be located by a single set of coordinates, because they operate in many different collective dimensions, within many different chosen and given groups. Nor can they be located by a list of all the given groups to which they belong, by simply ‘adding up’ of separate positions. The interaction between different dimensions of collective identity affects the choices individuals make about which collective interests to pursue. (N. Folbre, Who Pays for the Kids? pp. 52-53). 

This section of the notes raises a number of issues related to the extent and meaning of diversity, and changes in diversity. These issues and approaches are important in this section of the course and in the next section dealing with social reproduction. More generally, these are issues that are of concern in many parts of contemporary sociology.


1. Increased Diversity?


2. Increased Homogeneity?


3. Some Causes of Changes in Diversity and Homogeneity


4. What is Diversity?


Summary of Diversity

Diversity within and between. Increase in former and decline in latter – at least in some areas. Unit of analysis.

Note that diversity may increase in some ways and decline in others. For example, within society likely have more similar access to education and health resources today, but outcomes may be more different in variety of occupational results, or differences in lifestyle and cultural choices may be greater.

There is little doubt that ethnic diversity as expressed in languages, cultures, and skin colour have increased in Canada in recent years. Whether and how long this trend will continue is not clear and it depends on the extent and type of globalization that takes place in coming years. Large-scale population movements across national borders may continue and the nation-state itself may no longer be the major geographical unit for organizing society. If current trends continue, there will certainly continue to be greater contact and transmission of ideas, values, and cultures among the people of the world.

At the same time, there are strong homogenizing trends – the consumer culture of capitalism, multinational corporations, and the modernist force of industrialization. This creates societies that are more similar to each other, with some of the traditional cultural differences declining in importance or visibility. Within Canada and the United States there are some strong forces of homogenization for the newcomers – similar laws, rules, and norms, the English language (or French in Quebec), citizenship, and the desire to integrate and participate in the economy and society.

Further, the differences among the newcomers may seem to be greater than what they really are – the language and cultural differences are not inherent in the individuals, but are a result of having lived in a different culture. The newcomers themselves may retain much of their original culture, but the children of the newcomers and subsequent generations are likely to become integrated in a great variety of ways.

In summary, there are many forces for diversity and many forces for homogeneity. Both of these operate at the same time, and it is important to attempt to sort these out. Kymlicka notes that industrial countries have generally become more similar to each other, with each country having greater cultural diversity within the country. Note though that this is greater diversity within the framework of the dominant culture, rather than a variety of separate cultures being expressed within each of these countries.


Diversity in Population Trends in Canada

Canada’s Changing Immigrant Population (Statistics Canada, catalogue number 96-311E) notes "Immigration has played a role in creating a culturally diverse Canada" (p. 17) and titles the section "Greater Diversity in the Canadian Mosaic."

Under the Employment Equity Act of 1986, people of certain ancestry are recognized as visible minorities. From the 1996 Census Dictionary (Statistics Canada, catalogue number 92-531-XPE, p. 97), visible minorities are defined as "persons (other than Aboriginal persons), who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour. The categories listed (p. 98) are Chinese, South Asian (e.g., East Indian, Pakistani, Punjabi, Sri Lankan), Black (e.g., African, Haitian, Jamaican, Somali), Arab/West Asian (e.g., Armenian, Egyptian, Iranian, Lebanese, Moroccan), Filipino, South East Asian (e.g., Cambodian, Indonesian, Laotian, Vietnamese), Latin American, Japanese, Korean, or other. In the 1996 Census of Canada, 11.2 per cent of the population identified themselves as visible minorities. For Saskatchewan, 26,945 or 2.8 per cent of the population said they belonged to a visible minority. 

The table, "Single and multiple ethnic origin responses, 1996 Census" shows the distribution of ethnic origins for the Canadian population in 1996 and for the provinces from Quebec to Saskatchewan. Note the difficulty of accurately determining ethnic origins because one-half of the Saskatchewan population states multiple origins and another ten per cent say they are of Canadian origin.  

Immigration. In 1951, the ten leading source countries of immigrants were Britain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, France, U.S., Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Denmark. In 1998, they were China, India, Hong Kong, Philippines, Pakistan, Taiwan, Iran, Korea, United States, and Russia. Note that these ten leading countries accounted for about one-half of all immigrants to Canada. In the 1980s, immigration from Vietnam was also large and in the mid-1990s, there was considerable immigration from the countries that were part of the former Yugoslavia. 

Also note the shift in birthplaces for the immigrant population of Canada, as registered in the 1996 Census. There has been a considerable increase in the number of recent immigrants from Asian countries, the Caribbean, and Latin America, and a considerable decline in the numbers from European countries.

Conclusion. As indicators of cultural diversity, the above figures have a number of problems associated with them. Immigrants may not identify themselves with the country of their origin or may not take on the culture that many may assume is associated with that country. The statistical approach in terms of population structure does provide some indication of increasing cultural diversity, but the meaning of the numbers must also be considered.


Notes for January 21, 1999.


Back to Sociology 304 – Winter, 1999