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Impact of Diversity on Social Cohesion: Implications of Positive and Negative Intergroup Contact

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My talk will challenge the pessimistic view that living in ethnically diverse areas is associated with ‘distrust’, not just of ethnic outgroup, but also ethnic ingroup, members. I will challenge this view, primarily, for having failed to include an adequate measure of intergroup contact (i.e., not just whether people live in ethnically diverse areas, but the quantity and quality of interaction they experience with members of different ethnic, religious and other groups). This critique is substantiated with recent multi-level data from surveys carried out in neighborhoods and schools varying in diversity. The remainder of my talk presents an overview of current research – comprising cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys, observational studies, and analysis of social networks. I provide evidence for the impact of different kinds of contact (direct, and indirect); highlight the value of cross-group friendships; and consider the generalized effects of contact from one outgroup to other outgroups. I conclude that a broad approach to conceiving and measuring ‘contact’ is necessary, and that contact conceived in this manner is crucial to understanding the impact of diversity on social cohesion. Threats to the effectiveness of contact do exist, however, and these include the phenomenon of ‘re-segregation’ and the experience of negative, rather than exclusively positive contact. I will conclude by considering the mutual impact of both forms of contact and how this approach will help to build stronger social cohesion in multicultural societies.

This talk is part of the Zangwill Club series.

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