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Cultural Diversity and Community

June 19, 2007

Here are some recent reflections from Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, on the obstacles to community in highly diverse towns and cities:

What if, at least in the short term, living in a highly diverse city or town led residents to distrust pretty much everybody, even people who looked like them? What if it made people withdraw into themselves, form fewer close friendships, feel unhappy and powerless and stay home watching television in the evening instead of attending a neighborhood barbecue or joining a community project?

This is the unsettling picture that emerges from a huge nationwide telephone survey by the famed Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam and his colleagues. “Diversity seems to trigger not in-group/out-group division, but anomie or social isolation,” Putnam writes in the June issue of the journal Scandinavian Political Studies. “In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ — that is, to pull in like a turtle.”

What is your experience? Do diverse places foster alienation and isolation?


2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2007 1:23 pm

    I don’t think it matters where you live. I’m in a predominately white upper-class community and although we’re slowly getting to know our neighbors, there is the same “turtle shell” effect going on. I’m not sure if race and ethnic diversity contributes to lack of community but I do know the problem runs deeper.

  2. June 19, 2007 2:15 pm

    At the beginning you said it doesn’t matter where you live, but at the end you say that diversity does exacerbate community-building issues. Which do you mean?

    It seems that the gospel should cut across various ethnic, cultural and subcultural identities to build lasting redemptive community. Why doesn’t it do so in many churches?

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