Same-same but different: what can superdiversity offer that multiculturalism cannot? 

MagazziniTina Magazzini

Studies in psychology often refer to their samples as being WEIRD –Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. It should come as no surprise that most social psychology results rely on research that is tested on a narrow and in many ways privileged sample of society, given that most participants in behavioral studies are undergraduates at Western universities. What is more intriguing, and less obvious, is the fact that there seems to be an opposite, specular trend in the field of public and social policy. We—political scientists, sociologists, anthropologist, legal scholars—tend, by and large, to focus on subjects only insofar as they appear to be marginalized, racialized, or vulnerable: in short, only when they are seen as a ‘problem’.

The burgeoning, rich scholarship on migration and integration that has developed over the last years is no exception. The surge in research on (and research funding available for) minority integration, social cohesion and European identity is highly dependent upon migration being understood as a ‘problem’ to be managed, on ‘identity’ being seen as under threat, and on there being a clear-cut distinction between who belongs to a minority and who doesn’t, who migrants are and who they are not.

In my recent Policy & Politics article on the multilevel governance of superdiversity in Europe, as part of the journal’s superdiversity Special Issue, my aim is to problematize the relationship between identity and difference, and to suggest ways in which superdiversity can be employed as a useful tool to deconstruct what is usually left unstudied (because it is perceived as unproblematic): the so-called ‘mainstream’ or ‘majority’.

I argue that superdiversity as an approach applied to the study of policy and governance can help us challenge the dominant framework that still sees the “Default Man” (western, middle-class, white heterosexual male) as the benchmark of what it means to be ‘integrated’ or to belong to the ‘mainstream’. This does not mean doing away with multiculturalist policies or with identity as a field of research, but rather it implies that identity markers do not need to be pre-determined by policy-makers, in ethnic terms or otherwise.

Especially in these times, in which populist movements make such a massive appeal to identity, the task of policy studies is to open up and dismantle identity as an essentializing concept, allowing for new identities and categories to emerge, and for more people to identify with more than one ‘identity’ at the same time. In migration and integration research, this means that we need to treat identity not as a tool to analyze behaviours, but as an object that needs to be deconstructed in its own right.

Using the example of Roma-targeted policies, in the article I argue that superdiversity can help us move in this direction, and that this has significant implications for how we understand and conceptualize group categories and classifications.

The article’s suggestion for ways forward in operationalizing the concept of superdiversity is to shift the focus from minorities to majorities, and from general theories to institutional local settings, with the aim of enabling alternative and critical approaches to knowledge-production about and around minorities.

This might not, at least in the short term, produce better answers to the ‘problem’ of migration, especially if we continue to think about it as such. Ultimately, advances in social science have however never been about giving better answers, but rather about asking better questions.

If you enjoyed this blog post you may also be interested to read:

Superdiversity, multiculturalism and local policies: a study on European cities 

Managing superdiversity? Examining the intercultural policy turn in Europe 

Introduction: superdiversity, policy and governance in Europe 

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