“The Trouble With Diversity” By Walter Benn Michaels Essay Example

The foremost thesis that is being explored throughout Walter Benn Michaels’s book The Trouble with Diversity, can be defined as follows: the current governmentally-endorsed policy, concerned with promoting ‘diversity’ in just about all spheres of America’s public life, is being conceptually fallacious, because the actual effects of this policy’s implementation stand in striking opposition to its indented aim of ensuring people’s equality.

Whereas, the ‘celebration of diversity’ policy is based upon the assumption that the particulars of people’s racial affiliation do not affect their chances to attain social prominence, the unsightly aspects of this policy’s practical implementation, such as the enforcement of ‘affirmative action’ in America’s colleges and universities, reflects policy advocates’ endowment with rather extreme racial-consciousness.

As it was pointed out by Michaels: “Why does racial difference remain so important to us when the racism it was used to justify is so widely condemned and when the basic idea about race that gave it its power – the idea that there are fundamental physical and cultural differences between people that line up with our division of them into black, while, et cetera – has been discredited? (49).

Hence, author’s main argument – the fact that, as of today, the process of designing America’s socio-political policies revolves around the ‘celebration of diversity’, is meant to divert citizens’ attention from a truly pressing issue – the continuation of an acute stratification between the representatives of different social classes.

According to Michaels, it is not ‘visibly ethnic’ people’s exposure to ‘subtle racism’, which hampers their chances of social advancement, but the fact that it is being assumed a natural state for these people to remain poor: “While the gap between rich and poor has grown larger, we’ve been urged to respect people’s identities – as if the problem of poverty would be solved if we just appreciated the poor” (56). In other words, those who speak the loudest on behalf of ‘poor’ and ‘underprivileged’, while invoking the notion of race, create objective preconditions for the socially disadvantaged representatives of racial minorities to never break out of the vicious circle of poverty – whatever ironic it may sound.

Michaels argues that it is not ‘racism’ but ‘classism’, which appears to be the America’s ‘little dirty secret’. He comes up with a number of examples of how people’s low social status prevented them from attaining a good education, from securing a well-paid job, and from being able to provide a quality-upbringing to their children.

According to the author, even though that formally speaking, the ‘celebration of diversity’ appears an essentially humanist policy on the outside, it has been designed to preserve the current status quo in America’s public sphere – when rich grow richer and poor grow poorer. The reason for this simple – the assumption that people’s ‘ethnic uniqueness’ invariably affects their existential modes is utterly unscientific. This is something in which racists believe.

Yet, in an absolutely paradoxical manner, this assumption serves as the foundation, upon which a number of currently enacted America’s social policies appear to be firmly based. Michael concludes his book by suggesting that, in order for the Americans to be able to realize their full existential potential, they must cease being subjected to racial discrimination, under disguise of ‘celebration of diversity’.

While proceeding with his line of argumentation, which has been outlined earlier, and while supporting the validity of his claims, Michaels refers to a number of different sources. For example, while exposing the inner motivations behind the advocates’ of ‘diversity’ tendency to scratch the issue of ‘racism’, Michaels widely quotes from David Brooks’ book Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There.

According to Brooks, the fact that many White representatives of America’s social elite (yuppies) are known for their ‘progressive’ socio-political attitudes, reflected by these people’s predisposition to continuously whine about ‘racial injustices’, is nothing but a sublimation of yuppies’ perceptional and cognitive inadequateness. After all, it does not make much of a secret that White yuppies constitute the bulk of ardent promoters of ‘diversity’.

This, however, is not because these people are being particularly open-minded, but because by blabbering about the benefits of ‘celebration of diversity’, they strive to retain their essentially undeserved high social status. While being perfectly aware of the fact that, in today’s America, it would prove quite impossible for just about anyone to be able attain social prominence, without being proficient in politically correct rhetoric, White yuppies never cease exposing ‘racism’. This, however, does not make them less racist. According to Brooks, this is the actual reason why these people prefer living in secluded White suburbia, and not because such suburbia features ‘safer streets’ and ‘better schools’, as they claim.

Another author, which is being widely quoted in Michaels’s book, is Samuel Huntington. According to Huntington, the specifics of people’s racial affiliation matter very little. What matters though, is whether these people associate themselves with the values of civilized/secular living, or with the dubious ‘values’ of often highly religious traditionalism. After all, according to this particular author, regardless of what happened to be the color of people’s skin, they can be classified as representatives of two globally defined opposing populations – the ‘agents of civilization, on the one hand, and the ‘primeval barbarians’, on the other.

Therefore, the currently enacted policy of ‘celebration of diversity’ cannot possibly be regarded as beneficial to American society’s well-being. The reason for this is apparent – in many cases, encouraging the representatives of racial minorities to celebrate their ‘cultural uniqueness’ means encouraging them to take pride in their ancestors being nothing but utterly primitive people. It is needless to mention, of course, that there can be hardly any positive effects to this.

For example, as it was mentioned by Huntington, it now represents a commonplace practice in Canada for ethnic Sikhs to be allowed to carry concealed ‘ceremonial’ daggers in public, simply because carrying huge daggers 24/7 is an essential part of these people’s ‘cultural identity’. As a result, the rest of Canadian society’s members strive not to socialize with Sikh immigrants (one can never know when they may decide to put their daggers to use). The ultimate consequence of this is that, even the children of Sikh immigrants continue to remain socially alienated, which in turn impedes their chances of social advancement.

While exposing the sheer fallaciousness of ‘celebration of diversity’ policy, Michaels also refers to the speeches of Malcolm X. Throughout the course of his life, Malcolm X never ceased promoting an idea that, in order for the African-Americans to be able to attain a true equality with Whites, they should never allow Whites to patronize them.

Therefore, there can be little doubt as to the fact that, had Malcolm X been alive, he would strongly oppose the implementation of the ‘affirmative action’ policy, because this policy is nothing but the most blatant example of how White people go about patronizing Blacks. After all, this policy is based upon the premise that the representatives of racial minorities are being in no position to compete with Whites fairly, which is why they need to be given a ‘slack’ – an extremely racist idea.

I think that the way in which Michaels engages with the outside sources, to support the legitimacy of his book’s main idea, can be best defined as rather effective. It is not only that he was able illustrate the counter-beneficial effects of ‘celebration of diversity’ policy’s implementation, but he also succeeded in exposing the essentially ‘classist’ roots of this policy.

However, there is one important shortcoming to the line of argumentation, deployed by Michaels throughout his book – the fact that, while suggesting that there is no such a thing as ‘race’, he never bothers to support this claim by making references to the relevant academic literature. In its turn, this undermines the overall soundness of Michaels’s arguments.

Obviously enough, it never occurred to him that; whereas, it does not make much of a sense to discuss the socio-political and legal implications of one’s racial affiliation, denying the validity of ‘race’, as biological concept, is being just as erroneous. After all, it has long ago been proven that one’s race is not being solely concerned with the color of his or her skin, but also with the specifics of how a particular individual tends to assess the surrounding reality. Therefore, even though Michaels’s book does represent a high discursive value, it would be wrong to suggest that The Trouble with Diversity should be read uncritically.

Bibliography:

Brooks, David. Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. Print.

Huntington, Samuel.”The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72.3 (1993): pp. 22-49. Print.

Michaels, Walter Benn. The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006. Print.

Structuralism Concept In Philosophy

Background

Identifying the Main Theorists in the Field

While analyzing the theory, it is imperative to highlight the difference between structuralism tendencies presented in American and the ones developed in Europe. The latter is associated with the study of structural linguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure who focuses more on synchronic linguistics. The theorist was among the first who managed to apply structuralism to other disciplines. Significant contribution has been made to the study of semiotics, a science of signs. More importantly, Saussure was a core figure in developing modern methods studying language. Particular reference was made to historical dimensions of language, as well to how “meanings are maintained and established” (Barry 41).

Another notable theorist who has introduced researches on structuralism was Claude Levi-Straus. His studies were predominantly focused on the analysis of anthropology and sociology. In particular, structural approaches contributed to reproducing system of signs through cultural practices, including customs, religious rites, different types of texts, and many other culture-related activities.

Judging from the above position, the theory of structuralism has greatly contributing to the study of many social, cultural, and linguistic theories and disciplines. Therefore, it is purposeful to consider the tools and the main way of thinking as presented by Ferdinand de Saussure and Claude Levi-Straus.

Defining Structuralism as a Theory and a Cultural Tool

The concept of structuralism centers on the concept of outside influences on human perception of the world. From social point of view, the supporters of structuralism believe that the individuals are always guided by generally accepted social and cultural norms rather than by personal outlooks (Kumral 481). Within a linguistic perspective, structuralism explores social and collective aspects of language and focuses on its grammar rather than its actual application (Booker 20).

Barry also agrees that structuralism explores the structures that are “imposed by our way of perceiving the world and organizing experience, rather than objective entities already existing in the external world” (39). As a result, individuals are considered as subjects because they are created by existing structures. They are decentralized constructs that are involved into a particular social and cultural system.

Structuralism as a Base for Semiotics

A structural approach is heavily applied to semiotics, a field that deals with sign systems, conventions, and codes. A system of signs, therefore, includes different aspects of linguistics ranging from human language to the vocabulary used in the sphere of fashion. Because semiotics is premised on social constructs, it is closely connected to the concepts applied in structuralism (Booker 20). It has been previously mentioned, the fundamental concept of the science is sign. In this respect, semiotic theorists consider humans a subjects making and interpreting signs.

Importantly, because structuralism is highly associated with cultural concepts and dimensions, semiotics is also involved into the analysis of cultural patterns in language structures. In this respect, structuralism can be seen as a modern way of thinking that focuses on recurring patterns of though and behavior through analyzing elements of any system in terms of a highly abstract relational structure.

Outlooks on Structuralism as Presented by Saussure and Levi-Strauss

Linguistic model of Saussure

Signs and the Arbitrary Relationship between Signifier and Signified

Ferdinand de Saussure, the father of structuralism and linguistic, has presented an alternative outlook on analyzing languages as systems of signs. In this respect, the linguistics also introduced semiotics as a science of signs. His intellectual contribution to the development of linguistics has affected other scientists working in the sphere. According to Saussure, different languages originate from one language, which allows to conclude that language is based purely on the principle of signs and symbols (Booker 957).

Because of a variety of languages, the only means to identify the relationship between those is to define the natural (arbitrary) similarities. Saussure believes that all human languages have one purpose – to describe the external world. Saussure also suggests that the sign is the atom of language divided into the following parts: a signifier and a signified. A signifier is a sound concept whereas a signified is the concept that endows an object with a meaning.

The relations between those are arbitrary, or predetermined by natural resemblance. In other words, arbitrary relationships means that a person make use of generally accepted language meanings to describe a specific phenomenon. However, the language signs are not subject to an individual choice, but to a generally accepted convention (Booker 958).

Arbitrary connections can be brightly exemplified on the example the relationships between objects and their names. For instance, the word ‘table’ is not correlated with its actual meaning because there is no logical connection between a word (a signifier) and what it actually designates.

However, the exceptions can be connected with onomatopoeic words, but even these ones differ from language to language and are based on conventions (Barry 42). In addition, Saussure also supported the idea of differences and oppositions, which was later discussed by Levi-Strauss. Hence, the scientist believed that language was nothing but a set of differences and oppositions deprived of fixed terms (Booker, 958).

Viewing the language from the point of a signifier and signified, Saussure also refers to the concepts of the langue and the parole, which will later be used by other structuralism, including Claude Levi-Straus who applied this principle to studying texts within cultural contexts.

Synchronic and Diachronic: The Study of a Language System

According to Saussure, language belongs to a larger system of conventional signs in culture. In this respect, language can be regarded as a structured system of symbol and signs that should be studies in a particular cultural period, or synchronically, but in a phenomenon changing over time (a diachronic approach) (Booker 958).

In this respect, there are two types of a language analysis: synchronic and diachronic. The former refers to the static evaluation of a text. In other words, the text is regarded as a set of interrelated concepts and established relations between those. It also analyzes how one concept is influenced by other. The second type is associated with the evolutional approach to a text study. It implies that the text is assessed through the prism of historic or cultural periods.

Reviewing diachronic and synchronic representations within a broader meaning of structuralism, it should be stressed that each objects or phenomena can also be interpreted within a specific time extract, or with regard to the temporary shifts. In such manner, it is possible to identify the way cultural and social conventions change in the course of time.

Structuralism in Anthropology: Anthropological Model of Levi-Straus

Claude Levi-Strauss was a notable anthropologist who made a significant contribution to the development of sociology and linguistics. From structural perspectives, the scholar believes that meaning is produced within a cultural context by means of various activities, practices and phenomena, being the main underpinnings of systems of signs.

The scholar’s belief is that events and phenomena of social anthropology are composed of communication, but not of functions (Booker 1415). While explaining the concept of gift, for instance, he suggests that “gift giving in general and wife trafficking in particular are above all modes of communication” (Booker 1416). Interpreting this, gifts can be considered words used for communication with each other.

While analyzing the individual tale (the so-called parole), Levi-Straus states that it does not have a complete meaning when it is separated from the entire cycle. It can be interpreted and analyzed only when it is presented in the context of the whole cycle, or the langue. At this point, the individual tales posited in larger contexts can be considered through the prism of differences and similarities.

For instance, the anthropologist placed a separate story about the Oedipus myth through a larger context of tales about the city of Thebes. Applying to a structural method, concrete motifs and details from the story are viewed in the light of larger structures. The dual oppositions can be presented in symbolic, archetypal, and thematic terms.

Doing a Structuralist Analysis: A Practical Application

Considering that a shift in one understanding one concept or elements generates shifts to other systems is involved into the main principle of a structuralist analysis. Using language a structural framework, allows the linguist to understand the meaning with regard to eternal cultural and social influences. Hence, while analyzing texts, the emphasis is primarily faced on the analysis of structures, rather than on their content, which contributes to preserving objectivity in the course of analysis.

Looking through the prism of a signifier and signified, let us consider the meanings of a word “table”, which, according to the dictionary, has several meanings (signified objects):

  1. a piece of furniture;
  2. figures and facts displayed in columns;
  3. type of geometrical figure.

Different signified notions are aligned to one signifier, but all of them are premised on the oppositions existing as conventions. However, these meanings cannot be recognized unless they are posited in context.

Comparing Structuralism Theory to Other Theories

Theory before Structuralism: Marxism

Because structuralism is closely associated with cultural and social contexts, Marxist theory can also be seen in the light of cultural concepts. Regarding this, many similarities occur between two theoretical frameworks. Similar to structuralism, Marxist theorists also support the idea that society should be viewed as structure that always undergoes change.

In particular, the Marxian interpretation of social and cultural contexts is premised in splitting the system into two parts: the base, a system in which the core is the mode of production and the superstructure that includes cultural and moral systems, social relations, and other institutions. Hence, the idea is that cultural and social systems are shaped on the basis of existing historical conditions. However, the base is not sufficient for determining all cultural and social institutions because it would mean that all communities are identical.

Both structuralism and Marxism decentralize the role of individuals in shaping cultural arrangements, including traditions and customs. However, the difference is that structuralism considers the external natural world as the one influencing human perception and shaping society in general whereas Marxists support the idea that modes of production, as well as class struggles, are at the core of cultural formation. Hence, both structuralism and Marxism do not recognize society as a group of individuals, but a set of intersections and relations in which the individuals are involved.

A distinctive feature of considering objects and concept as represented by structuralism and Marxism lies in diachronic and synchronic representation of cultural phenomenon. In particular, Saussure suggests that language, as well as cultural concepts should be studied within a certain period of time (synchronically) whereas Marxists view social and cultural progress through changes and transformations (diachronically) (Berger 42). In addition, class struggles define the character for development, similar to differences and oppositions define objects within larger concepts, as presented by structuralism.

While applying Marxism to interpreting texts, much emphasis should be placed on the development of consumer culture and strict communist ideology. In this respect, Marxist approach to interpreting meaning contrasts the structuralism approach. This is of particular concern to symbolic representations of texts.

Theory after Structuralism: Psychoanalytic Analysis

Similar to structuralism, the theory of psychoanalysis has also contributed to the study of sociology and linguistics, but the studies are focused on the notions contrasting to understanding individuals through contexts. In particular, a person-oriented approach opposes a decentralized dimension of structuralism. Hence, the language is viewed as detached from the natural world (or pure conventions, as presented by structuralists) (Barry 43).

Accepting this position implies that a text should not represent the real world. Such an assumption is congruent with Saussure’s definition of language as a set of arbitrary relations that does not depend on realitu, but on the structural differences within a language. The difference, however, lies in the fact that texts are closely associated with the concept of the self, which is withdrawn by structuralism.

While investigating the realms of languages, a French psychoanalytic Jacque Lacan draws parallels between personal development and literary theories (Barry 110). At this point, the scholar singles out several stages of the self: the Imagery and the Symbolic. The first stage is associated with idealized representation of the world. Lacan compares this stage is extensively used to characterized poetry as a literary genre.

Hence, the Imagery represents an anti-realist outlook on the worlds, similar to poetry aimed at idealizing the world through language of gestures that are beyond grammar and logic. The Symbolic is more consistent the realistic representation of the world, which is congruent with prose. Hence, the opposition between the Imaginary and the Symbolic is seen as the opposition between poetry and prose. Similar to personal development interacting with the Imaginary and the Symbolic, the literary genres also combine realistic and anti-realistic tendencies.

Conclusion

Structuralism discusses the individuals through their relations with the outside conventions. A decentralization of outlooks on personal development is determined by the existence of purely conventional terms. Looking at the language through the prism of structuralism allows use to regard it as set of differences and relations deprived of fix terms. Ferdinand de Saussure, the father of structuralism, also considers language as a sign system when there words are composed on signifying and signified concepts.

These meaning can be interpreted within a larger context, which also relates to Saussure’s model of the parole and the langue. The latter was used by another supporter of structuralism Claude Levi-Straus. Hence, the presented views on social constructions and literary theories supports the idea that structuralism is a powerful cultural tool contributing to understanding the recurring patterns of thought and behavior. These patterns, however, significantly differ from Marxist theory and Psychoanalysis. Nowadays, structuralism is represented through mass cultures that establishes the norms of society.

Works Cited

Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. UK: Manchester University Press. 2002. Print.

Berger, Arthurs Asa. Cultural Criticism: A Primer of Key Concepts. US: SAGE, 1995. Print.

Booker, Keith. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. US: W.W. Norton & Co. 2001. Print.

Kumral, Necat. “Semiotics and Language Learning: Speech as a Sociolinguistic Phenomenon.” Ekev Academic Review 13.41 (2009): 481-494. Print.

Change Management Issues: Institutional, Individual, And Structure Change Issues

From the research project, there are some change management issues that have been noted; the issues related on how to change the behaviour, culture, beliefs, attitudes and perceptions of the students to adopt changes in the system. The issues can be classified broadly as institutional change challenges, individual change issues, and structure change challenges (Beringer, Wright & Malone, 2008).

Under the title individual change, the research shown that differences in people orientation and socialisation has an effect on change. Students who have been socialized in the same environment or social settings are likely to have the same issues when it comes to change. For instance the Americans were more willing to change than the case was among the Britons.

Individual factors are other attributes that were noted to influence the degree and rate at which change was to happen. Individual level of understanding and the kind of exposure that someone has had has an influence on how well he is going to embrace change occurring in the organisation. There were some students who repelled change not because of any apparent reason; other students were noted to accept changes in the institution without an understanding of the effect of the change (Brinkhurst, Rose, Maurice & Ackerman, 2011)

From the institutional level, as the case is in a community, numerous higher education institutions in Canada has their way of living and some organisational culture; to implement change effectively, there was need to change the culture of the institutions which proved challenging. Students seemed to have developed a certain systems of doing things and changeling to another version was challenging.

One constant thing that was coming all along is that students were understanding the need to change, they were appreciating that a change in the system and attain sustainable measures was necessary, however the challenge that cut across them was that they were resistant to the change. Despite the wide understanding of the positive effect of the change, students were not willing to leave their traditional system of operation to adopt the new suggested one.

The third challenge that appeared was in the institutional level, the structures Canadian institutions have set seem to reinforce traditional system of operation. The structures include how orders and decisions were given in the institutions. It was evident that there were some rules and power structures that were not challengeable; they seemed to have prevailed in the institutions since their inceptions.

Some of these policies and structures were hard to change and they had negative influence to the change process. Institutional structures were strong determinants of the opinions and systems that the change prevailed in, when departmental heads and administrators failed to support a certain change agenda, the success of the agenda or the change was always challenging (Conway, Dalton, Loo & Benakoun, 2008).

Institutional management and administrators seemed to have high resistance to change; they were not willing to change the structure and mode of life that they had lived for the better part of their employment in the institutions. As was accepted, there were some resistance to change even from the people who were the change agents. For change to be effected in the right manner, institutional administrators, student heads, and students should join efforts and press toward the change; it was challenging to have the three focuses on the change. Communication and effective method of passing information among students fraternity was a strong promoter of change in Canadian institutions (Helferty & Clarke, 2009).

References

Beringer, A., Wright, T. & Malone, L. (2008). Sustainability in higher education in Atlantic Canada. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 9 (1): 48-67.

Brinkhurst, M., Rose, P.,Maurice, G. & Ackerman, J.D. (2011). Achieving campus sustainability: top-down, bottom-up, or neither? International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 12(4):338-354.

Conway,T.M., Dalton, C., Loo, J. & Benakoun, L. (2008).Developing ecological footprint scenarios on university campuses: A case study of the University of Toronto at Mississauga. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 9 (1):4- 20.

Helferty, A. & Clarke, A. (2009). Student-led campus climate change initiatives in Canada. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 10(3):287- 300.