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What is cultural diversity?

‘Diversity’ is a broad term that essentially means variety, i.e., made up of differing elements or qualities. The term is meaningful in relation to specific contexts involving ethnicity, race, culture, and religion. Here are some basic definitions of diversity:

• Ethnic diversity: differences in ethnic descent among individuals or groups

• Racial diversity: different physical characteristics among individuals or groups

• Cultural diversity: individuals or groups having different cultural traditions, customs, and languages

• Religious diversity: multiple religious faiths being practiced within one society.

In everyday speech ethnic diversity and cultural diversity are often understood as synonymous, referring to different languages, customs, and traditions, including codes of behaviour, codes of dressing, and values.

Diversity may be the result of migratory movements and may actually present itself in very complex patterns. Thus, for instance, migration has led to the formation in different countries of several migrant communities who may share the same religion, e.g. southeast Asians in Britain, Moroccans and Turks in the Netherlands or Germany

Diversity may also be ‘native’ to a place, thus citizens of a country may differ both in ethnic origin and religious affiliation. Indeed there is a hardly any country in the world that can claim to be ethnically and culturally homogenous. Examples abound: large federations like India are characterized by the coexistence of multiple ethnic and religious communities, but small countries like Bosnia in south-eastern Europe may be internally divided also.

Turning to urban diversity: In large urban centres, more often than not, cultural and religious diversity is the product of past migratory flows motivated by trade or employment opportunities and further completed by migrant networks.

There are today global cities like New York City that have been the product of vast migrations. Historical cities like London or Paris have also been migration magnets. New global financial and cultural centres like Singapore, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, or Doha have actively projected themselves and attracted people from abroad, while cities like New Delhi that started as colonial centres of power reconfigured themselves into national capitals.

What is most important about city heritage and diversity is the ways in which these very different cities reconfigure and reinvent their diversity – both native and post-migration – in ways that forge a sense of common city heritage and that project this heritage to the outside world as a distinctive feature of that city.

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This article is from the free online course:

Cultural Diversity and the City

European University Institute (EUI)

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