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American Sociological Association: 2007 Press Release
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November 29, 2007
New Sociological Research Finds Americans Couch Feelings About Race in the “Happy Talk” of Diversity-Speak
MINNEAPOLIS, MN—According to new research published in the December issue of The
American Sociological Review, sociologists at the University of Minnesota have
found Americans are generally positive—even optimistic—about the word
“diversity,” but when asked, have trouble describing diversity’s value and
stumble when giving real-life examples. Even those working in the field of race
relations exhibit similar expressive difficulties.
The desire to appear
color-blind leads most Americans to prefer the standardized, mainstream language
of diversity-speak when addressing issues of race. The researchers conclude that
American diversity-speak is a sort of “happy talk,” an upbeat language in which
everyone has a place; everyone is welcome and even celebrated. Their undeveloped
understanding of diversity compromises their ability to articulate it and their
comfort in expressing it beyond politically correct platitudes.
takes its conclusions from a telephone survey of more than 2,000 households
across the country and nearly 150 hour-long interviews with adults from a wide
range of backgrounds living in Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis/St.
The study found a majority of Americans—cutting across race, class,
and gender lines—value diversity, but their upbeat responses to the term
contradict tensions between individual values and fears that cultural disunity
could threaten the stability of American society. Also, regardless of race,
Americans' definition of diversity places white people at the neutral center and
all other groups of people as outside contributors.
“The public debates
and talk-show lamentations about immigration and political correctness leave
many Americans to assume there’s a big divide in the country between those who
value diversity and those who reject it,” said Doug Hartmann, associate
sociology professor, who coauthored the study with graduate student Joyce Bell.
“The fact is, most Americans value diversity, but they see it as a benefit with
the potential cost of cultural disunity and social instability.”
study also found that most Americans use platitudes when describing diversity.
“The topic of race lies outside the realm of polite conversation,” said Bell.
“Everyone in the study—regardless of race, political affiliation and even level
of rhetorical ability—had real trouble talking about the inequities and
injustices that typically accompany diversity in the United States.”
study is part of the sociology department’s American Mosaic Project, an ongoing
project funded by the Minneapolis-based David Edelstein Family Foundation that
examines race, religion, and cultural diversity in the contemporary United
For a copy of the study or to request an interview, contact
Sujata Sinha at (202)247-9871 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sociological Review is the flagship journal of the 101-year-old American
Sociological Association (ASA). Vincent J. Roscigno and Randy Hodson, both of
Ohio State University, are co-editors of the American Sociological Review.
About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org),
founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to
serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science
and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.