Everyday Diversity

Christina Ho
University of Technology, Sydney

© 2014 Christina Ho. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.

Citation: Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Journal 2014, 6(2): 3964,- http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/ccs.v6i2.3964

Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Journal, Vol.6, No.2, 2014
ISSN: 1837-5391; https://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/mcs
CCS Journal is published under the auspices of UTSePress, Sydney, Australia

The Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Journal has been an important forum for discussing issues around cultural diversity. Articles on cultural diversity have been present in virtually every issue of the journal. These have ranged from conceptual pieces on cosmopolitanism, identity, dialogue, prejudice, pluralism, cultural and social capital and social inclusion, to articles embedded in empirical research on ethnic precincts and segregation in cities, experiences of religious minorities, immigrant entrepreneurs, and more. Over its five year history, the journal has also had themed editions on cultural diversity issues, including one on embracing diversity in sport, and another on the Chinese in Australian politics. The scope of this work has been wide, and authors have brought a range of disciplinary and methodological approaches to the journal.

The purpose of this paper is to situate work that has been published in the CCS Journal within the emerging literature on everyday experiences of cosmopolitanism and racism. Focusing on everyday social relations has been an important part of recent scholarship on cultural diversity in Australia (Ho and Jakubowicz 2013, p. 11). In contrast to research framed around multicultural policy or mediated representations of diversity, which typically conceives of individuals only as representatives of ethnic communities, the scholarship of the ‘everyday’ aims to explore people’s lived experiences and daily interactions with others. In everyday spaces, expressions of identity may take many forms, and membership of a discrete ethnic group may be far less important than the pragmatic practices of daily cross-cultural coexistence. As Noble writes, studying ‘everyday’ multiculturalism represents a shift ‘from a politics of identity, which reifies categories of ethnicity, towards an ethics of cohabitation’ (Noble 2009, p. 46).

This research focus has been reflected in several key articles published in the CCS Journal over its five year history, which have examined various dimensions of everyday cosmopolitanism and racism. This paper will discuss articles that have dealt particularly with the experiences of young people, who are arguably those most deeply engaged with everyday diversity, and will end with a focus on schools, which are key sites of cross-cultural contact and exchange. The paper covers a small fraction of the articles dealing with cultural diversity within the CCS Journal, but in selecting to review key articles on everyday cosmopolitanism and racism, I am hoping to highlight the role of this rich field of research, which forms a key part of the ongoing conversation about the state of contemporary Australian multiculturalism. Before discussing these works though, I begin with an introduction to the research field of ‘everyday multiculturalism’.

Stratton was one of the first to use the term ‘everyday multiculturalism’, which he contrasted with ‘official multiculturalism’ in his analysis of Australian films in the 1990s (Stratton 1998). Films such as Strictly Ballroom presented multiculturalism in terms of discrete national cultures and ethnic spectacle, their popularity reflecting the ‘carnivalesque pleasure’ associated with official multiculturalism. Meanwhile, films such as Nirvana Street Murder and Death in Brunswick depicted ‘everyday multiculturalism’, or multiculturalism ‘as it is lived’ (Stratton 1998, p. 138). The emphasis in everyday multiculturalism is not on group difference but on ‘individual difference within a general human similarity’ (Stratton 1998, p. 154).

Similarly, Ang et al. (2002, 2006) show that in contrast to fears about ethnic ghettoes and segregation, the lives of Australians from all backgrounds are marked by an ‘everyday cosmopolitanism’, which the authors define as ‘an openness to cultural diversity, a practical relation to the plurality of cultures, a willingness to engage with others’ (Ang et al. 2002, p. 34). Migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds are especially likely to report having a lot of social contact with people from other cultural backgrounds, for example (Ang et al. 2002, p. 27). Everyday cosmopolitanism is also seen in the fact that the majority of Australians enjoy food from other countries, watching subtitled films and other practices that suggest that there is a ‘mainstreaming of cross-cultural consumption in Australia’ (Ang et al. 2002, p. 33).

This focus on everyday life represents an important shift in research on cultural diversity. As Wise and Velayutham (2009, p. 2) explain, multiculturalism has traditionally been conceived from a ‘top-down perspective as a set of policies concerned with the management and containment of diversity by nation states’. The focus is on group rights and cultural maintenance, multicultural service provision and related areas. In contrast, the everyday multiculturalism approach focuses on ‘how cultural diversity is experienced and negotiated on the ground in everyday situations’ (Wise and Velayutham 2009, p. 2). The field draws on the tradition of sociology of everyday life, including a focus on ethno-methodology, dramaturgy, everyday social order and rituals, social interactionism and the sociology of emotions (Wise and Velayutham 2009, p. 3). Research themes such as neighbourhood exchanges, interactions around food, multicultural shopping precincts, and leisure and sport activities (Wise and Velayutham 2009, pp. 10-13) showcase the utility of this approach in exploring how diversity is lived by ordinary people.

At the level of the everyday, diversity can be experienced very differently compared to the often sensationalised portrayal of ethnic groups. For example, while the media might focus on Muslims ‘refusing to integrate’ or even as potential threats to national security, at the everyday level, Muslims and non-Muslims routinely engage across cultural difference in neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools and other spaces. While scholarship on mediated representations of diversity or multicultural policy may focus on cultural divisions between ethnic groups, at the everyday level, individuals in diverse settings typically come to see difference as normal and unremarkable. Everyday cosmopolitanism describes this normalisation of cultural difference and the ways in which ordinary people engage with each other as individuals rather than as members of a particular ethnic group. Noble (2009, p. 51) describes this as ‘unpanicked multiculturalism’, or the ways in which people negotiate difference and cohabit ‘away from the heat of moral panic and state- and media-driven anxieties about social cohesion’.

Everyday cosmopolitanism is particularly pertinent for young people in Australia, who in many ways, are at the raw edge of exposure to diversity, inter-ethnic tension, and emerging cultures of hybridity and transnationalism. Not only are they the most culturally diverse grouping within Australian society, but their ‘unique relationship to place’ through their use of streets, clubs and public spaces often means they are at the forefront of everyday multiculturalism (Harris 2013: 34). Ang et al. (2002, p. 28) report that people aged 16-24 are much more likely to have social contact with people from other cultural backgrounds than other age groupings, with young people from non-English speaking backgrounds having the highest levels of inter-cultural contact (see also Ang et al. 2006, pp. 23-25).

As Harris (2013) argues, the experiences of young people cannot be contained within conventional understandings of multiculturalism as recognition of group rights, or the social cohesion model of living with difference. Their ‘expressions of post-minority identities and their multiple, dynamic – and at times conflictual – modes of relationality’ (Harris 2013, p. 5) demand new ways of conceptualising social relations and a new kind of multicultural citizenship. Harris explains that young people – third, second and 1.5 generation youth – ‘personify the hybrid form of new kinds of mixed cultural identities’ and seek inclusion ‘not as a reward for assimilation or as adjunct minority citizens, but on their own terms, as entitled hybrid subjects’ (2013, p. 22)

Although the literature on everyday diversity emphasises the way individuals cross cultural boundaries as part of everyday life, these new ‘modes of relationality’ are not conflict-free. Part of the discussion of everyday cosmopolitanism is everyday racism. Acknowledging this is important because some of the literature on everyday cosmopolitanism has been criticised for being overly optimistic. The emphasis has been on positive engagement in everyday social relations, neglecting the everyday tensions and hostilities that might also be present (e.g. Valentine 2008). In contrast, the scholarship on ‘everyday racism’ has been less prominent in the Australian context. In her landmark work on the topic, Essed (1991, p. 50) defines everyday racism as ‘the integration of racism into everyday situations through practices (cognitive and behavioural) that activate underlying power relations’. It is the type of racism that is seen as normal by the dominant group. Unlike spectacular expressions of racism, evident in neo-Nazi movements, for example, everyday racism lacks visibility because of its very ubiquity and mundaneness. Correspondingly, it has attracted less scholarly attention (although see Velayutham 2009).

A notable exception is the work of Kevin Dunn. Among Australian scholars of racism, Dunn’s work is exceptional in its scale and longevity. Dunn has spent almost 15 years researching racism in Australia, and the research has surveyed a total of over 12,500 respondents (UWS 2014). Some of this research features in the very first issue of the CCS Journal in 2009. Dunn et al.’s article, ‘Cities of Race Hatred? The Spheres of Racism and Anti-racism in Contemporary Australian Cities’, provides a comprehensive account of the prevalence of racism in Australia. Their survey of more than 4,000 residents of Australia shows that ‘everyday racism’ is common in Australia, experienced by almost a quarter of respondents (Dunn et al 2009, p. 2).

This finding is a sober reminder that decades of official multiculturalism, supported by all Australian governments since the 1970s, continues to coexist with widespread racism within the population. Indeed, in the years following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the number of racist incidents in Australia has grown, with Arab and Muslim Australians bearing the brunt of discrimination and hostile ‘race talk’ (Dunn et al. 2009, p. 1).

The focus on everyday racism is important because this form of racism is more prevalent than institutional forms of racism, encountered in the workplace, in educational settings, dealings with police or when seeking housing. Everyday racism includes name-calling or disrespectful treatment on the basis of ethnicity, encountered in shops, restaurants, at sporting events, and other locations (Dunn et al. 2009, p. 2). Dunn et al.’s work is an important complement to the existing literature on everyday cosmopolitanism. Although not drawn from ethnographic methods, the survey instrument was designed to elicit respondents’ experiences in ‘everyday’ settings, and was able to generate some fine-grained results about these experiences.

The study is also a vital corrective to research that risks equating everyday mixing with cross-cultural harmony. Dunn et al. outline the forms of everyday racism experienced by respondents in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, including racist talk, exclusion, unfair treatment and physical attacks or abuse. They break down findings by language and cultural background, for example, showing that respondents from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and North African and Middle Eastern backgrounds had experienced the highest levels of racist talk, including verbal abuse, name-calling, racist slur and ridicule based on cultural background (Dunn et al. 2009, p. 7).

Dunn et al.’s article, reporting on a 2006 survey, is part of a larger research project running since 2001, the Challenging Racism project (UWS 2014), which has become the pre-eminent source of Australian data on this issue. Based on large-scale quantitative research, the work of Dunn and his colleagues has been widely cited in scholarly and policy circles, and informs the work of public bodies such as VicHealth and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Particularly since the Howard Coalition Government (1996-2007), contemporary Australian multiculturalism has been overwhelmingly framed in terms of celebratory, ‘feel good’ and innocuous language – ‘living in harmony’, ‘I am, you are, we are Australian’, and so on – often at the expense of more concrete policies to address racism and discrimination (see Ho 2010 for a discussion of the politics of ‘harmony celebrations’ and the eradication of anti-racism in government policy). In this climate, Dunn et al.’s research is an important reminder that the ugly reality of racism still needs to be tackled. Understanding the extent and dynamics of racism is a necessary first step towards challenging it.

In contrast to the sobering results of Dunn and his colleagues, another large scale survey reported in the CCS Journal documents the existence of everyday cosmopolitanism in Sydney. In their article, ‘Identities, Aspirations and Belonging of Cosmopolitan Youth in Australia’, Collins et al. report on their 2007 survey of 340 immigrant youth living in western and south-western Sydney. These young people were mostly born and raised in Australia but had overseas-born parents (2011, p. 96). The survey revealed positive results in terms of youth belonging and aspirations.

Despite the fact that most respondents were born in Australia, they reported ‘cosmopolitan identities that were hybrid rather than “Australian”’ (Collins et al. 2011, p. 94). This reflected ‘their diverse cultural heritage and global connectedness through diasporic family networks and global youth culture mediated through the Internet and social media’ (Collins et al. 2011, pp. 94-95). When asked whether they ‘felt Australian’, less than half (49%) answered yes, and 23% responded that they did not feel Australian at all. The remainder ‘sometimes’ or ‘rarely’ felt Australian (Collins et al 2011, p. 98). This is a striking result given that most of these young people had never lived in any country but Australia.

However, although not necessarily ‘feeling’ Australian, most of the young respondents felt good about living in Australia, liked living in their suburb and felt a sense of belonging to their local neighbourhood (Collins et al. 2011, p. 100). And this was not because they lived in isolated ethnic enclaves. Most had multicultural social networks, providing ‘evidence that the underlying social cohesion of inter-ethnic youth relations is quite strong in Sydney’ (Collins et al. 2011, p. 101). Overall, the survey demonstrated that immigrant youth in Sydney ‘are not disaffected, fearful and angry’ (Collins et al. 2011, p. 103) but generally feel positive about their lives, local communities and Australia more generally. These are significant findings because they show that positive feelings about one’s national community do not need to coexist with a singular ‘Australian’ cultural identity. Collins et al. (2011, p. 104) conclude that:

there is a need to move from static stereotypes and essentialist notions of ethnicity that have characterised the philosophy and practice of Australian multiculturalism in the past and recognise the fluidity and global connectedness, alliances and identities of contemporary immigrant communities in Australia, particularly of first and second generation youth.

The results presented in this article provide emphatic evidence for the concept of everyday cosmopolitanism. Perhaps more than any other social group, young people living in multicultural cities embody the cultural hybridity and fluidity at the heart of cosmopolitanism. The findings of Collins et al. mirror the research done by scholars such as Ang et al. (2006), Harris (2013), Butcher and Harris (2010) and Butcher and Thomas (2003) who document the cosmopolitan lifestyles of urban youth in Australia, as they creatively negotiate between migrant family background and the wider society to produce new hybrid identities, practices and cosmopolitan capacities.

At the same time, Collins et al. show the capacity of quantitative research to add to our understanding of everyday diversity, which has typically deployed ethnographic and other qualitative methods. As shown by the work of both Collins et al. and Dunn et al., carefully designed survey questions have a unique ability to generate research findings on the everyday minutiae of individuals’ lives, but on a large scale. Quantitative research results may also have the capacity to make a bigger impact in policy circles, where qualitative research is often undervalued as ‘anecdotal’ (Ho 2012; Lally 2009).

The lived experiences and affiliations of these young people are a visceral example of everyday cosmopolitanism, which is taken up in detail by Onyx et al. (2011) in their CCS Journal article, ‘Scaling Up Connections: Everyday Cosmopolitanism, Complexity Theory & Social Capital’. Unlike multiculturalism, which can mean ethnic groups living side by side within a national community, everyday cosmopolitanism is about ‘coming together in social interactions’ (Onyx et al. 2011, p. 49). Echoing Wise and Velayutham (2009), Onyx et al. argue that while the multiculturalism of government policy is informed by older liberal notions of identity politics and group rights, at the everyday level, identities are multi-layered and interactions are much more fluid and pragmatic.

The paper focuses on the ‘micro processes of localised social interaction that may form the basis of larger, formalised systems of interaction’ (Onyx et al. 2011, p. 47). Whether it is neighbours sharing home-grown vegetables over garden fences, school children swapping lunches, or women shopping and eating together, people routinely come together across cultural difference in the localised realms of everyday life.

Contesting the regularly occurring moral panics about the isolation of people, especially youth, into ethnic enclaves, the research showcased in the CCS Journal demonstrates that boundary crossing, inter-cultural exchange, and emergent forms of hybrid cultural identities are the new norm for people in Australia’s cosmopolitan society. The question posed by Onyx et al. (2011) is how these localised interactions may be ‘scaled up’ into something stronger and long-lasting.

At the meso level of social institutions, Onyx et al. discuss the ‘contact zones’ or ‘micropublics’ that may be particularly conducive to cross-cultural interaction. These are places such as workplaces, schools, and sports clubs, where people are thrown together and required to engage with each other and work together in a common activity, in the process enabling ‘unnoticeable cultural questioning or transgression’ (Amin, cited in Onyx et al. 2011, p. 51). Focusing on these kinds of social institutions is one way of thinking about how everyday interactions can be ‘scaled up’ into more formalised systems of exchange.

Schools are one important site for this kind of everyday cosmopolitanism, especially local comprehensive public schools, where students and their families daily encounter the full range of community diversity within classrooms and playgrounds. Mansouri and Wood’s Melbourne-based research (2008, p. 79) found that at least half of their young respondents had ‘a wide range’ of friends from different ethnic groups. And for students from non-Anglo Australian backgrounds, schools were often the one area where young people could ‘consolidate their sense of identity and belonging’, because their friends shared similar cultural and social experiences (Mansouri and Wood 2008, p. 79).

Meanwhile, Poyatos Matas and Bridges (2008, 2009) argue that schools have a crucial role to play in ‘preparing global citizens’ and that schools with high levels of ‘multicultural capital’ – which includes the skills and background of staff and students – have the greatest capacity to engage in transformative multicultural educational approaches. In these schools, diversity is integrated into everyday teaching and learning, rather than ‘celebrating multiculturalism through one off cultural days and festivals’ (Poyatos Matas and Bridges 2009, p. 390).

Research on schools and diversity has featured regularly within the CCS Journal, and the remainder of this paper focuses on two key articles in this field. In their paper, ‘Dealing with Difference: Building Culturally Responsive Classrooms’, Burridge et al. (2009) examine the challenges schools face in supporting educators to effectively deal with the range of different cultures, languages and religions within school communities.

Burridge et al. (2009, pp. 69-70) note the NSW Government’s Community Diversity and Community Relations policy which refers to the need for schools to respond to and reflect cultural, linguistic and religious diversity. The Government’s principal objectives for schools include goals such as promoting community harmony, countering racism and intolerance, and enabling students from all cultures to identify as Australians. However, the implementation of such policies can be extremely fraught. For example, Burridge et al. (2009, p. 76) discuss the need to ‘move beyond just the promotion of contact with other cultures, food and festivals’. Events like Harmony Day, while providing an opportunity for families from migrant backgrounds to celebrate their heritage within the school, can also send the message that cultural diversity is ‘separate to the school’s identity’, rather than an integral part of the school (Burridge et al. 2009, p. 78). Essentially, Burridge et al. argue for schools to promote everyday cosmopolitanism rather than an externally imposed understanding of cultural difference.

This is a long-standing criticism of the ‘food and festivals’ approach to multiculturalism in Australia, which depicts cultural diversity as exotic ‘flavours’ to be consumed by the Anglo majority on special occasions, rather than an everyday reality and lived experience of all members of a multicultural society (Hage 1998). Given that everyday cosmopolitanism has been shown to arise organically within culturally diverse school communities (e.g. Noble 2009), the ‘Harmony Day’ model of addressing diversity runs the risk of transforming naturally-occurring cosmopolitanism into something that is artificial and imposed. And, as noted above, the celebratory framework of ‘harmony’ has become so dominant that it overshadows and can preclude ‘negative’ discussions of racism, despite the fact that racism is still a regular occurrence within schools.

In fact, Dunn et al. report that of those who had reported being called an offensive slang name, one fifth (21%) had experienced this in an educational setting. This figure was higher than that for workplaces (14%) or private spaces like people’s homes (10%), although lower than the figure for public spaces (43%) (Dunn et al. 2009, p. 8). This is an important reminder that schools are key sites for the expression of ethnic tensions, as well as potential ‘micropublics’ of cosmopolitanism.

So how should schools respond? Burridge et al (2009, p. 76) suggest that rather than just relying on an annual Harmony Day program, an ‘interculturally proactive school’ incorporates diversity into its daily operation, for example, in the form of liaison between teachers and parents drawn from the different communities at the school, the provision of ‘critical socio-cultural studies’ within the curriculum, and support for students to study their home language. Programs such as these acknowledge the everyday reality of cultural diversity within schools, and recognise that different groups within school communities may have different needs. In the words of Poyatos Matas and Bridges (2009, p. 390), this is a ‘transformational’ approach to multicultural education, as opposed to traditional approaches that ‘objectify the target culture rather than creating intersubjective identities’.

Drawing from Dunn et al.’s recommendations for responding to racism, schools also need active strategies to confront racism within their communities, perhaps in a similar way to how they currently teach students to identify and confront bullying. As Dunn et al. state, ‘[e]veryday racism needs everyday anti-racism’ (2009, p. 10). Individuals need to be empowered with methods to confront racism, especially rhetorical strategies and discursive materials:

We need rhetorical tools that have everyday comprehension at the street level, in the changing room and in the school-yard. These could be, for example, anti-racist catch phrases that are nationally endorsed, easily deployed; and that rob common sense racism of their power (Dunn et al 2009, p. 10).

Such an initiative is urgently needed, especially in the light of another finding in Dunn et al.’s survey. When asked how victims of racism responded to incidents of everyday racism, the majority (70%) said they did nothing about the incident. This is concerning given the evidence that people taking no action in response to an experience of racism are more likely to suffer health ill-effects, compared to those who do take action (Dunn et al 2009, p. 9). Anti-racism initiatives should also receive broad support from the community, as Dunn et al’s survey showed that an overwhelming 86% of respondents agreed that ‘Something should be done to minimise or fight racism in Australia’ (Dunn et al 2009, p. 11).

Such strategies would be an important addition to the existing initiatives in place to combat racism and facilitate cross-cultural exchange. In fact, schools in Australia have a range of models to inform their activities, particularly as, in the aftermath of the Cronulla riot, many schools in Sydney trialled new programs to respond to the fears and tensions among young people, who were acknowledged as key participants in the riot. Young people constituted the majority of the 5,000-strong Anglo-Australian crowd at Cronulla beach on December 11, 2005, who had gathered to ‘reclaim’ the beach from ‘Lebs’, and young people made up the majority of those involved in the ‘retaliation’ attacks in the following days.

Given this, young people and schools became a focus of attention in the weeks, months and years following the Cronulla riot. In fact, along with churches, schools were particular targets of attack following the riot. One school in the Sutherland Shire had to close down for two days (Burridge and Chodkiewicz 2008). And as Carol Reid notes in her 2010 article in the CCS Journal, ‘Will the “Shire” ever be the same again? Schooling Responses to the Cronulla Beach Riot’, in the aftermath of the riot, ‘schools were a key institution that had to deal with the longer term effects, including the impact on local communities’ (Reid 2010, p. 51).

This was to be expected, for as Reid explains:

Schools are central to understanding the consequences of these events largely because they are places where the congregation of young people offers a rare medium for the tasks of responding to diversity, inequality and change in an increasingly globalised world (2010, p. 47).

Schools in two areas of Sydney became particularly active in their response to the riot: Bankstown, a residential hub for Arabic-speaking migrant communities, and of course, Cronulla itself. Reid explains that after the riot, Bankstown and Cronulla bore the mark of ‘racial grafts’ (2010, p. 56). Bankstown was a Middle Eastern space and Cronulla was a White space. Reid discusses the programs implemented in schools after the Cronulla riot, focusing on bringing together students from the Bankstown and Cronulla areas. She explains, ‘Attempts at dialogue and reconciliation were between geographically dispersed schools, across systems and on each other’s turf’ (Reid 2010, p. 52).

These activities included visits to each other’s schools, building a collaborative intranet website, and arts programs to produce collaborative products. Some of these initiatives took place on the beach itself, including the ‘Peace on the Beach’ event that brought together Shire public schools with Islamic schools or schools with predominantly Middle Eastern students (Reid 2010, p. 52), and a Surf Awareness Day at Cronulla, also attended by students from both Bankstown and Cronulla.

Locating these activities at the beach was important in enabling young people from Bankstown to safely return to Cronulla, and in reshaping perceptions of a space that had become ‘associated with violence, exclusion and alienation’ (Reid 2010, p. 56). Activities held in Bankstown similarly encouraged students from the Shire to feel comfortable visiting an area of Sydney they might otherwise consider threatening. Parents and teachers were also active participants in many of the programs, including in focus groups on the impact of the riot on their children, families and communities. Altogether the programs involved more than 500 students across several schools in south and south-west Sydney (Reid 2010, p. 53).

These programs formed part of a burgeoning movement across Australia to bring school students together for cross-cultural exchange, part of the ‘Living in Harmony’ approach to multiculturalism favoured by the then Howard Government. The Living in Harmony initiative of the national government saw tens of thousands of dollars invested in community projects aimed at fostering inter-cultural dialogue and exchange. Building partnerships between schools with different cultural and religious profiles, and encouraging mutual school visits, visits to religious institutions and other significant sites, were major components of the initiative. Funding these community-based initiatives was the government’s key approach to promoting multiculturalism in the post-9/11 environment (see Ho 2010 for an overview).

In her assessment of these school programs, Reid (2010, pp. 59-60) notes that while many friendships were formed across schools, and students gained a deeper understanding of cultural difference, the programs tended to focus on the ‘otherness’ of students’ difference, potentially reinforcing ‘fixed notions of culture as bounded entities based on ethnicity alone’. Meanwhile, ‘whiteness’ was left unexamined, as were issues of power and racism. Like much of liberal multiculturalism, the programs generally failed to go beyond the level of the inter-personal to examine underlying structural inequalities. A preferable approach, argues Reid, would be not only to recognise diversity, but also develop ‘a political literacy that links these struggles to issues of wider social justice’ (Reid 2010, p. 60). This critical approach would foreground issues of identity and nation.

Moreover, the programs, designed to bring school students together, were undermined by the increasing segregation in schooling, between public and private, secular and religious. This presented problems as mundane as students from private schools not having access to the public schools’ intranet, for example (Reid 2010, p. 57). At a deeper level, no amount of special programs to encourage inter-cultural exchange can succeed if students’ everyday school reality is one that does not include those from ‘other’ backgrounds. As Reid argues, this segregation in schooling ‘builds divisions in increasingly diverse communities’ (2010, p. 61).

After all, the need for inter-school exchange programs only arises because of the segregation in Sydney schools in the first place. While schools can function as ‘micropublics’ of everyday cosmopolitanism, this is only possible where diversity is a feature of the school communities. However, Reid (2010, p. 49) argues that while there are high degrees of cultural diversity in some schools, the policies of ‘school choice’ have led to increasing homogeneity in other schools. As Reid notes, school choice has turned education into a market place and parents have become increasingly mobile in the search for ‘good schools’ (2010, p. 49). As a result, some schools in Sydney are ‘increasing in ethnic concentration’, including in the Bankstown area, while schools in the Sutherland Shire remain Anglo-dominated (Reid 2010, p. 49). This only worsened after the Cronulla riot, as there was some evidence of ‘white flight’ out of the areas where school students were mainly from ‘Middle Eastern’ backgrounds into schools located in the Shire (Reid 2010, p. 49).

My own research (Ho 2011) has documented the ethnic segregation among schools in Sydney, noting that in Sydney’s western suburbs, it is common for public schools to be overwhelmingly dominated by students from migrant backgrounds, while some elite private schools in wealthier suburbs are comprised almost entirely of Anglo-Australian students. It is widely acknowledged (e.g. Bonnor and Caro 2007, Campbell et al. 2009) that the federal government’s generous funding of private schools has led to a growing class-based segregation separating desirable and ‘residual’ schools. What has been less studied is segregation along lines of culture and ethnicity, apart from the periodic anxieties expressed about the growth of Islamic schools. As Reid notes though, while there is attention on the growth of religious and minority ethnic identified schools, ‘we often overlook the fact that it is also the dominant “White” groups of parents, particularly the middle classes, that are bringing their children together to ensure social mobility’ (2010, p. 49). The school marketplace, established in the name of ‘choice’, has led to a social segregation that undermines the possibilities for everyday cosmopolitanism within school communities. Cross-cultural engagement programs can only ever work as band aid solutions when the structural divisions run so deep.

Taken together, these articles that have examined everyday diversity in the CCS Journal present a mixed portrait of cosmopolitanism in Australia. Racism continues to blight our national landscape, with a sizeable minority of the population experiencing everyday racism. However, at the level of the everyday lives of young people, cross-cultural engagement and cosmopolitanism appear to be natural and normal. Despite experiencing racism, which undoubtedly contributes to their lack of ‘feeling Australian’, young people in south-west Sydney, for example, maintain strong multicultural social ties and are positive about their local and national community.

However, at the level of social institutions, such as schools, everyday cosmopolitanism is undermined by structural inequalities and divisions, such as the segregation of schools, divided into public and private, secular and religious. Policies of school choice have exacerbated these divisions, as parents with the resources to choose increasingly seek out schools with ‘people like us’, leaving other families in ‘residualised’ schools. Even well-designed and resourced community programs to foster cross-cultural engagement will ultimately fail if young people otherwise inhabit school communities that do not reflect the range of diversities that are the hallmark of Australia’s multicultural society.

Overall, these articles point to the need for further research on how social institutions, and the public policies that shape them, can play a better role in combatting racism and fostering cross-cultural engagement and cosmopolitanism. The focus on schools in this paper is a reminder that policy initiatives to strengthen multiculturalism cannot be confined to the realm of multicultural policy alone. Education policy, for example, is just as implicated in the effort to create spaces for healthy multiculturalism. And despite the official commitment to promoting harmony and combatting racism in schools, other aspects of education policy encouraging school choice are contributing to the reduction of diversity in many school communities, taking away from them the first ingredient necessary for young people to develop genuine cross-cultural understanding and competency. While Australians of all ages are becoming accustomed to negotiating across cultural difference in their everyday lives, we need a better understanding of how these acts of everyday cosmopolitanism can be ‘scaled up’ or how can they inform the daily operation of social institutions, whether these are schools, workplaces, or any of the other ‘micropublics’ we inhabit.


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