Research Highlight

The (In)compatibility of Diversity and Sense of Community

The the March 2014 issue of the American Journal of Community Psychology researchers Zachary Neal and Jennifer Watling Neal present research suggesting that diverse neighborhoods, while supporting a respect for diversity, do not support the bonds necessary for a strong sense of community.

Journalist Richard Florida discusses the research in The Atlantic Cities

Article Abstract

Community psychologists are interested in creating contexts that promote both respect for diversity and sense of community. However, recent theoretical and empirical work has uncovered a community-diversity dialectic wherein the contextual conditions that foster respect for diversity often run in opposition to those that foster sense of community. More specifically, within neighborhoods, residential integration provides opportunities for intergroup contact that are necessary to promote respect for diversity but may prevent the formation of dense interpersonal networks that are necessary to promote sense of community. Using agent-based modeling to simulate neighborhoods and neighborhood social network formation, we explore whether the community-diversity dialectic emerges from two principles of relationship formation: homophily and proximity. The model suggests that when people form relationships with similar and nearby others, the contexts that offer opportunities to develop a respect for diversity are different from the contexts that foster a sense of community. Based on these results, we conclude with a discussion of whether it is possible to create neighborhoods that simultaneously foster respect for diversity and sense of community.

What do you think?

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Neal and Neal's research on the (in)compatibility of diversity and sense of community supports the finding that "birds of a feather" prefer to flock together. This suggest a more natural inclination toward assimilation than multiculturalism as a basis for "community." Is that because birds don't realize that they and the other animals ARE all alike on a universal, omnicultural level? How can we test that principle?
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