Does Diversity Erode Social Cohesion? Conceptual and Methodological Issues

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Abstract

Robert Putnam's ‘hunkering down’ thesis regarding the negative effect of ethnic diversity on trust and willingness to participate in collective life launched an ongoing debate concerning the ramifications of diversity for social cohesion. Findings regarding the way in which diversity affects social cohesion are discrepant, some scholars arguing that diversity has negative effects on social cohesion and others indicating insignificant or even positive effects. This study claims that these conflicting conclusions are explained by the vagueness of social cohesion – a multidimensional concept. Analyzing cross-national survey data from 42 European countries, it demonstrates how diversity is variably related to the diverse dimensions and operationalization of social cohesion. While diversity is not associated with the most commonly adduced dimension of social cohesion – namely, interpersonal trust – it does possess a negative relation to two other dimensions of social cohesion: belonging and social solidarity. Even these negative relations are not consistent across different operationalizations of belonging and social solidarity, however. In the face of increasing concerns regarding the implications of diversity for social cohesion, these findings demonstrate that caution must be exercised when examining the relations between these two phenomena.

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