- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Encounter Books (July 1, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594030421
- ISBN-13: 978-1594030420
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 26 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,368,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Diversity: The Invention of a Concept Paperback – July 1, 2004
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Anthropology professor Wood examines two kinds of diversity. Diversity as physical and cultural variation among humans was propounded by nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century systematic anthropology. Diversity as the conviction that physical and cultural traits should determine one's eligibility for admission to college, career advancement, and bestowal of government largesse arose from Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell's freestanding decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, in which he allowed that differences in race, gender, and other traits--designated as diversity--were worthy of consideration in distributing social goods. The new diversity quickly became an aggressive ideology, damaging American institutions and poisoning public discourse with "identity politics." Wood blames the Left for using diversity to undermine democracy and faintly praises the marketplace for trivializing it into a matter of lifestyle choice. But the marketplace is interested in making money off diversity, not quashing it. "We will be left," he sadly concludes his otherwise surprisingly congenial survey, "for a long while still, with the reign of diversity's pasteboard stereotypes." Ray Olson
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"A perceptive and closely reasoned examination of the spread and implications of contemporary Diversity."
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This book was written before all the really crazy stuff happened--the 2008 financial meltdown, global “quantitative easing” empowering central banks, the Facebook-internet-tweeting media eruption, the eight years of Barack Obama, the push-back-against-Washington election of Donald Trump, and the accompanying media jihad against him…along with continuing Islamic terrorist attacks, here and in Europe. The diversity-victimization crowd has been active in all of this, as we were told they would be. We now have a new self-help best seller, The Vanishing American Adult—Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and Wood warned us about this too.
Wood reminds us that today’s diversity movement is a Caliban-like diversity—not the sweet and sympathetic underdog variety, but a more terrifying variety, licensed to do whatever it feels is authentic, however vicious and destructive, Hopefully, this may be a time when we can slow it all down.
Wood's book provides the historical backdrop for the emergence of "diversity," principally in Justice Powell's opinion in the Bakke case, which involved a colorblind interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment but included agreement that race could be taken into account as a factor in an admissions program, not as the decisive factor but insofar as the race of a black applicant contributed to an institution's diversity. With that door open, the notion of diversity has become pivotal in later case law and, indeed, throughout our academic and corporate culture. The latter, interestingly, was advanced dramatically by a 1987 report entitled Workforce 2000 from the Hudson Institute.
That report garbled some key demographic statistics and suggested that by the year 2000 the percentage of white males entering the labor force would be 15%. Hence the need to change the contemporary universities' way of doing business so that a diverse array of graduates would have the preparation to meet America's corporate needs. The percentage at the time of the report was 47%. The (muddled and mistaken) drop to 15% was reported throughout the media and given considerable attention. The actual number in 2000 was 45.6%.
Wood's survey of the "diversity" concept is historical, with particular attention given to the law, to the academy, to culture and to commerce. It is rich in its examples and often humorous in its tone. Those who have disagreed with some of its conclusions or analysis have acknowledged that it is exceptionally well written and a very enjoyable read.
I would note that Wood is an anthropologist and that his training and credentials provide him with a unique outlook on an issue that has been discussed from other perspectives but seldom from that of a professional anthropologist. The book is learned and important, but written with a light touch that all readers will appreciate.
This is the idea Peter Wood bemoans in Diversity: The Invention of a Concept. In the first chapter, he shows that highlighting and exploring diversity is a very old idea, but that the ways of seeing diversity several hundred years ago are not the ways of today. Indeed, Wood takes us back to books written hundreds of years ago that both highlight, celebrate, and comment on diversity in a freer, less beatifying way than today's politically correct methods, where individuals felt free both to explore other cultures and judge them (positively and negatively). Wood suggests that this is in contrast witih today's "celebrate-diversity-for-the-sake-of-celebrating-diversity" mentality, where we paradoxically notice diversity everywhere but are never free to judge cultures in negative lights, generalize about observed cultural trends, or otherwise comment (outside of saying "Hooray for diversity!!"
Next, Wood goes on to examine a pivotal moment for the fetishizing of diversity: the famous Bakke affirmative-action-in-college-admissions case. The opinion, which gave constitutional legitmacy to the idea that racial/cultural/gender diversity was an educational good, is seen by Wood as the moment when skin-color became linked with character and racial diversity somehow meant diversity of thought. How ironic it is that a movement that was supposed to free us from stereotypes came to rely on stereotypes such as these! The irony is not lost on Wood.
From here, we go from chapter to chapter exploring how the diversity-craze (by which is always meant racisl/cultural diversity rather than diversity of thought, as if the two were equivalent) has infiltrated everything from the art world to commerce to education. Wood does quite a good job in explaining the flaws in reasoning employed to no end by the diversophiles. A movement that started out of desire to free us from stereotyping and being stereotyped, says Powell, has ended by stereotyping and convincing us that stereotyping is "racial consciousness." In this new world, 'justice' now means 'the ability to adequately sort people by race/sex/name-your-superficial-factor", and "equality" means "recieving different treatment relative to your group status."
I confess that this second half of the book gets a bit monotonous as they generally consist of Wood giving examples of how 'diversity' has infiltrated x discipline and using the same line of argument to show why that is a tragedy. I think about 50 pages could have been removed from this latter portion of the book without affecting the overall argument.
Undoubtedly, many (who likely will not read the book) will brand Wood a cultural imperialist, a racist, or what have you. In fact, Wood is not denying the rightful place of diversity in our lives, but simply arguing that the diversity of today (a) overemphasizes differences and magnifies their significance, and (b) runs the risk of harming those it tries to help by placing everyone in cultural stereotypes of the kind we rightly try to get beyond.
A book not to be missed and sure to provoke reaction.