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Greg Noble

There are two key themes I would like to consider for a reseach agenda in cultural diversity:

1. Everyday Diversity

This first area is really about developing strong, empirically-based understandings of how diversity is experienced and negotiated in everyday life. Much is said about what multiculturalism is and does in Australia, and much of this is bunkum. And much of what is said is shaped by what I call ‘panicked multiculturalism’ – a focus on spaves of crisis and conflict. Sadly, we have little research (with some notable exceptions) that explores the everyday dimensions of diversity. This kind of research is needed for several reasons:

– to counter simplistic narratives of mutliculturalism in crisis (and equally simplistic narratives of ‘everything’s fine’)

– to consider the ways that people confronand negotiate differences in everyday encounters in shopping centres, neoighbourhoods, workplaces, schools, government offices, etc. This would entail a sense of both the protocols of ‘everyday cosmopolitanism’ that people develop to manage difference to create productive encounters, and the forms of everday racism that often shape those encounters. These can better inform programs and policies for addressing conflicts and promoting productive intercultural relations.

– to better understand the cultural complexity of everyday lives (in contrast to tendencies towards the stereotyping of ethnic identities that are often found in both racist beliefs and in well-meaning multicultural practices.

2. Multicultural education

Much good work has been done in the name of multicultural education, but so too have there been quite problematic assumptions and practices (involving ethnic stereotypes) with dangereous consequences. Much of this well-meaning-but-problematic multiculturalism has involved an attachment to an ethos of ‘cultural sensitivity’ or notions of ‘learning styles’ which is often misplaced, bordering on racism. Most importantly, it has tended to reproduce educational disadvantage in the name of being sensitive to different communities’ needs and values etc. My recent work on dispositions to learning suggests the need to return to an ethic of social justice in education that takes account of where students are coming from, but also has a strong sense of where they need to go, to develop the skills for participating in a socially and culturally complex society like Australia.


My second area of interest looks remarkably similar to an earlier correspondent: ‘days’ of national significance (i.e. Anzac Day, Australia Day, Melbourne Cup Day) as well as ‘days’ with special importance to particular ethnic or religious groups (i.e. St Patrick’s Day and Diwali). This allows exploration around neo-Durkheimian ideas of social cohesion, neo-Marxist ideas of dominance and hegemony, and so on. I’m also fascinated by the use of public space, symbols, music and songs during civic rituals, whether that be through street parades, mass assemblies, and the like. These ‘days’ and ‘events’ may contribute to broader notions of citizenship and community, but equally they may constrain or disassociate ‘others’. This all depends on context, of course, but the key point here is that there is no natural essence about civic ritual and ceremony; they may include and exclude, and they may be widely accepted or avidly contested. Finally, I am also interested in the organisation (policing and crowd management) and the engagement of crowds (leadership, charisma, entertainment) at such events, as well as media interpretations of a relationship between spectacle and audience. This means research into the underlying logistics of spectacle, but also ways in which a civic ceremony may be stage-managed to suit particular interests.

Cheers, Daryl

1.    Inter-ethnic Youth Relations and Public Space in Australian cities and towns.
The Cronulla riots threw the national and international spotlight on inter-ethnic youth relations in Sydney, and, by extension, Australia. Australian cities and towns have neighbourhoods of great ethnic, cultural and  religious diversity. In most places, most of the time, people get along; but underlying racist sentiments occasionally explode in a volcano of hatred. We need to understand more about the complex and often contradictory dynamics of inter-ethnic youth relations: their social networks and connectedness to the local neighbourhood;  their interactions at school and on the streets; their use of new media; their changing attitudes and aspirations. We also need to investigate youth use of public spaces like shopping malls, entertainment precincts, transport nodes. Gender, class, age, subculture, location, religion all shape inter-ethnic youth relations.

2.    Ethnic Diversity and the Built Environment in Australian cities and towns
Australia’s large immigrant population help shape the built and social environment of Australian cities and towns. Concentrations of immigrant populations and/or immigrant enterprises lead to the development of ethnic precincts in Australian cities and ethnic heritage and immigrant enterprises in Australian regional and rural towns or ethnic landmarks. Minority immigrants have an impact of the built environment of Australian cities and towns, particularly evident in the form of churches, mosques, halls, schools, restaurants, landmarks, coffee shops and clubs. Sometimes these are controversial, such as the recent Camden Muslim school. We need to investigate the history of this ethnic heritage, the dynamics of contemporary changes to this built environment, the social relations and social capital  that occur there.

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I am interested in the management of diversity and the construction of ‘values’ in former British colonies such as Australia, India and South Africa and their dissemination in society as well as their enactment through evens such as ANZAC day, Harmony Day, Australia Day, Indian Republic or independence day and so on. I am also interested in Anna Tsing’s notion of frictions as a tool to analyse multi racial, multi ethnic and multi religious societies.

It is certainly a difficult task to narrow the enormous range of research interests and needs to just two topics …

1. Intercultural relations – I’d second Amanda’s thoughts and add a few of my own. Currently the most common approaches to community relations and antiracism work focus on dialogue and are highly dependent on the participation, generosity and often the volunteer labour of Australians who are subjected to racism and prejudice. The demands of cross-cultural education, Interfaith dialogue, cultural awareness training etc place much of the burden of responding to racism and building better community relations on the very communities experiencing racism – in particular Muslim communities and organisations during the ‘war on terror’. These are also strategies which overestimate the importance of individual prejudice and underestimate structural or institutional racism. We need to develop more innovative approaches which distribute the hard work and responsibility of antiracism work more widely and which can tackle difficult questions and uncomfortable conversations beyond ‘harmony’ and the celebration of diversity.

2. Media and cultural diversity

Media provide some of our most widely shared cultural resources for understanding places we will never go to and people we will never meet. Images and information circulated through media also shape our understandings of our own neighbourhoods, and debates around Australian culture, values etc. While much media research focuses on identifying media ‘problems’ – stereotyping, misrepresentations, inflaming intercommunal tensions – we need to much better understand the role of media in everyday negotiations of cultural diversity. How do media shape our understandings of proximity and strangeness, connections and conflicts? How does media facilitate or constrain capacities to listen across differences? How can media contribute to social justice and processes of conflict transformation?

3. Multiculturalism and Indigenous sovereignty

The bifurcation in research, policy and programs around multiculturalism and Indigenous affairs continues largely unchanged – for very understandable reasons. Nevertheless, there is a need for research which can underpin more integrated approaches beyond simply ‘including’ Indigenous Australians in understandings of multiculturalism which have been developed with with a focus on migration, rather than Indigenous sovereignty. Recent research which identifies the shared use of public spaces (parks, beaches, shopping strips etc) as a catalyst for intercommunal tensions offers a possibility for innovative work. Research into place-sharing, neighbourliness and belonging must engage with the disspossession of Indigenous people and questions of land/place, otherwise we reproduce the logic of ‘terra nullius’ and develop strategies which again leave Indigenous Australians to negotiate a place within relationships of belonging developed by those who have benefited from their dispossession.

Like Amanda I find it difficult to nominate 2 issues, but for the sake of this discussion:

1. Religion, secularism & culture – since 2001, intercultural relations have often been reframed as interfaith relations, as seen in the spectacular rise of interfaith dialogue initiatives. The obvious subtext here is anxiety about Islam and Muslims in ‘secular’ Western societies (that are nonetheless founded on Christian traditions). This desecularisation of multiculturalism has received virtually no critical analysis. To criticise interfaith dialogue seems akin to criticising motherhood or friendship. But are cultural tensions in Australia based on religious differences? What is achieved by interfaith dialogue and what is left out of the discussion? And how should secular societies respond to the growing political assertiveness of religious groups – both Muslim & Christian?

2. Government multicultural policy – there seems a need for scholars to more actively engage in the processes of policy development & analysis around cultural diversity, particularly with the end of the long dark Howard era. The Rudd Government has already made some interesting decisions, e.g. abolishing TPVs, and appears to be reviewing some of its predecessors’ agendas, e.g. the citizenship test & the ‘Living in Harmony’ program. What changes are possible in this new era?

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