Living with Our Differences   /   Spring 2001   /    Bibliographic Review

Contesting the Boundaries of Diversity

Joy L. Borkholder

Margaret Hamilton standing next to the navigation software that she and her MIT team produced for the Apollo Project (1969).

Any attempt to compile a comprehensive literature review of works addressing diversity borders on being unmanageable. Even the simple task of identifying words that encompass diversity is complex: multiculturalism, multiethnic education, cultural pluralism, identity politics, religious pluralism, etc. The essays in this issue focus on ways of living with our differences. Many of the books listed below address the realm of the political and the increasing complexity of diversity in modern democracies. Just how does one label the young Latina, bisexual woman with strong Protestant beliefs who tends to identify with conservative politics? What is her primary identity, or primary group affiliation, if she even has one? Simple categorizations of Americans no longer reflect the complexity of our current situation.

As the nation continues to confront the promises and challenges of immigration, cultural pluralization, and the like, fundamental questions persist: What kind of consensus on an American identity is possible or even desirable? Given the pressure of increasing diversity, what are the possibilities for meaningful civic, ethnic, racial, and religious solidarity? What are the implications of cultural difference—in its most profound complexity–for our basic institutions, including education, religion, the workplace, and the family? Academics continue to debate issues of diversity, social order, and democratic possibilities, even as federal and state officials continue to implement policy in realms such as education and family law. Meanwhile, discussion of multiculturalism continues, often incoherently and incongruously, across the nation.

Hence the body of literature below covers a wide range of issues of diversity. Some books overlap categories, or merely defy categorization. While most of the books listed focus on diversity in the United States, a few global perspectives are included. The bibliography begins with such traditional concerns as race and ethnicity, education, religion, and ends with a look toward “post-cultural” society. It is hoped that the reader of this annotated bibliography will come away with a broader conception of the meaning of diversity, and its implications for public life, in the twenty-first century.

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