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Diversity: The Invention Of a Concept [Hardcover]

Peter Wood
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 1 2009
Diversity is America's newest cultural ideal. Corporations alter their recruitment and hiring policy in the name of a diverse workforce. Universities institute new admissions rules in the name of a diverse student body. What its proponents have in mind when they cite the compelling importance of diversity, Peter Wood argues in this elegant work, is not the dictionary meaning of the word—variety and multiplicity—but rather a set of prescribed numerical outcomes in terms of racial and ethnic makeup. Writing with wit and erudition, Wood has undertaken in this entertaining book nothing less than the biography of a concept. Drawing on his experience as a social scientist, he traces the birth and evolution of "diversity." He shows how diversity sprawls across politics, law, education, business, entertainment, personal aspiration, religion, and the arts, as an encompassing claim about human identity. It asserts the principle that people are, above all else, members of social groups and products of the historical experiences of those groups. In this sense, Wood shows, diversity is profoundly anti-individualist and at odds with America's older ideals of liberty and equality. Wood warns that as a political ideology, diversity undercuts America's long effort to overcome racial division. He shows how the ideology of diversity has propelled the Neo-racialists on the political Right as well as those on the multi-culturalist Left. But even if the diversity movement did not exacerbate racial and social division, he believes that it would be a questionable cultural ideal. As Wood points out, "Our liberty and our equality demand that we hold one another to common standards and that we reject all hierarchy based on heredity—even the hierarchy that comes about when we grant present privileges to make up for past privileges denied."

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Anthropology professor Wood examines two kinds of diversity. Diversity as physical and cultural variation among humans was propounded by nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century systematic anthropology. Diversity as the conviction that physical and cultural traits should determine one's eligibility for admission to college, career advancement, and bestowal of government largesse arose from Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell's freestanding decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, in which he allowed that differences in race, gender, and other traits--designated as diversity--were worthy of consideration in distributing social goods. The new diversity quickly became an aggressive ideology, damaging American institutions and poisoning public discourse with "identity politics." Wood blames the Left for using diversity to undermine democracy and faintly praises the marketplace for trivializing it into a matter of lifestyle choice. But the marketplace is interested in making money off diversity, not quashing it. "We will be left," he sadly concludes his otherwise surprisingly congenial survey, "for a long while still, with the reign of diversity's pasteboard stereotypes." Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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"A perceptive and closely reasoned examination of the spread and implications of contemporary Diversity." --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Clear-Headed Diagnosis of a Hot-Button Issue April 18 2004
By grapabo
Format:Paperback
The thesis of Wood's book can be stated in this way: With relative cultural unity having been achieved in America with the removal of legal barriers to opportunity for minorities, a more recent movement has arisen that seeks to undermine this unity by introducing a new type of "diversity". The former term refers to true diversity between cultures that involves deep and fundamental differences in worldviews that are more often an obstacle to overcome than something to be celebrated. (One example used by Wood is Herman Melville's extended experience with Typee people in the Marquesan Islands.) On the other hand, the new diversity (used in italics by the author) turns superficial distinctions into epochal differences (such as having a college roommate with fake Polynesian tattoos) that, according to the diversophiles, must be retained in the culture at all costs.
This is more than just a silly exercise in treating cultural fads as meaningful differences. Wood describes a two-phase process in which this concept of diversity is a means to a specific end. The first phase (diversity I) stresses hard that people must be defined by a race, even if the minority does not wish to do so, in order to create identifiable "groups" in society. The second phase (diversity II) uses the fiction that diversity of race, gender, sexual preference, etc. is equivalent to diversity of worldview. With this foundation, questions of diversity take on an ominous meaning - when this kind of diversity is emphasized as a policy in the workplace, on campus, or elsewhere, a conflict arises between the interest in selecting the best qualified individual(s) and preserving an overall profile of a workforce or campus population. And when these superficial race, sex, etc.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Professor Wood offers a holistic look at this strange new ideology of diversity, particularly in how it has surged from an obscure portion of the Bakke case to an all-encompassing religion for its adherents that continues to encroach on virtually every aspect of public life. His best argument is that diversity, when brought alongside traditional American values of liberty and equality, always seems to trump the latter pair, and we end up forsaking both liberty and our belief in equality to preserve demographiclly correct proportions of essentially manufactured ethnicities.
Wood comes to some strong conclusions, but never commits the near universal sin of hyperbole that currently envelopes both political left and right. That alone should earn him four-and-a-half stars. Anyone interested in a thoughtful, well-researched critque of this concept of diversity need look no further than professor Wood. Please, delete Hannity and O'Reilly from your shopping cart and buy this book first!!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The greatest lie in the world: diversity Oct. 17 2003
Format:Hardcover
Diversity is the greatewst lie in america today. What does diveristy claim. It claims, as we learn in this fine read, that diversity is essential to success and understanding and tolerance. THis is actually completely false. Diverse workforces and diverse college campuses dont actually make anything better, in fact they make people less tolerant. Diversity is the ideal of the communist left that says everyone(remmember "workers of the world unite you have nothing to lose but your chains!") is the same and that by mixing us all together in some grand social experiment that we will all be happy. That sad part is that 'diversity' and 'tokenism' really mirrors far more what queen victoria did at her diamond jubille when all the 'oddities of empire' the diverse masses from all over were paraded in front of the aristocracy. This is the truth behind diversity. In fact the liberal would love it if every diverse 'oddity' of humanity could come to college dressed in 'traditional garb' so that we can admire and see them as if they are in some museum. But this doesnt help the 'exotic' people we bring in to diversify ourselves, it actually mkaes them feel more like outcasts. Hiring one Sikh and one Hindu and one Pathan and one Gurka and one Jew for your coproation wont help them, in fact they would all be more productive if they worked with eachother against eachother. The idea that they will become more tolerant is also false. In most racially mixed societies(Brazil, south africa, Israel, Australia, America) the many races hate eachother much more then they did prior to the mixing.
Lets take for example the situation in malaysia when they were building the Petronas Twin Towers. They had Japanese workers building one tower and koreans building the other.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Logic and reasoning, mixed with humor. Aug. 14 2003
Format:Hardcover
Peter Wood's book is written in an easy-to-read, logical, and well-reasoned fashion. Before earning my master's degree last year, I attended meetings at the university's "Diversity Task Force". I must admit to using some of Peter Wood's same arguments regarding the superficiality and shallowness of the "Task Force" criteria for measuring the diversity of the student body -- It felt like I was banging my head against the wall! I sensed that my white male status was seen as subtracting from the diversity of the student body, regardless of my diverse life experiences. Maybe if I were raised by a pack of wolves? How come this makes so much sense and many other people don't see it? Thank you Peter Wood for this timely book. I wonder if the logic and science will be enough to deprogram any diversiphiles. In my experience, they are close-minded to any argument, regardless of reason, that may disrupt their delusion. I would also like to add that most of the diversiphiles I met are good people who have good intentions; however, we all know the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This book should be required reading for all people who want to improve "diversity".
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Diversity: The Invention of A Concept
If you really want to know the truth about "diversity", just read Peter Wood's new book. Of course, some in the diversity crowd don't want the truth told, but Wood... Read more
Published on June 9 2003 by Calvin Fields
5.0 out of 5 stars 6 for content, 4 for style, averages to 5
Must reads are everywhere. But few of them address such a toxic and dangerous plague as this one. The diversity movement, hiding in the garb of peace, love, and tolerance, is... Read more
Published on May 29 2003 by J. C Clark
5.0 out of 5 stars Common sense amid chaos
I heard Dr. Wood speak in Washington before I purchased the book and he is as eloquent in person as he is on the page. Read more
Published on April 9 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars A Challenging and Infuriating Book
My politics and Dr. Wood's are miles apart, but his book is exceptionally well-written, researched and timely (the Supreme Court will be hearing the U-M case next month). Read more
Published on March 6 2003 by jimfocus
5.0 out of 5 stars Timely, thought-provoking, and highly recommended reading
Diversity: The Invention Of A Concept by Peter Wood (Professor of Anthropology, Boston University) is a cautionary look at the extent to what the idea of "diversity" is... Read more
Published on March 4 2003 by Midwest Book Review
5.0 out of 5 stars Nailing diversity
A brilliant dissection of "diversity." The quotation marks are necessary because the concept Wood is writing about--and all of AMerican higher education is obsessively talking... Read more
Published on Feb. 10 2003
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