Project Overview

The Diversity Effect Project

Multiculturalism is a feature of almost every society and yet the value of diversity is highly contested. Despite its potential riches as a means to challenge stereotypes and add cultural value, it is sometimes viewed as a societal problem, associated with tensions, segregation and a clashing of cultures. By focusing on diversity as a problem, however, we have neglected to fully understand how and when diversity is associated with positive outcomes or how these can be embraced.

The proposed project aims to address this gap in the literature by addressing under what conditions diversity is associated with social cohesion and educational achievement through the lens of intergroup contact theory. It will examine the extent of ethnic segregation in formal (classroom) and informal (cafeteria) spaces in secondary schools in Bristol, a diverse city in the United Kingdom, to enable an understanding of the relationship between observed behaviours, attitudes and achievement, and to establish what can be done to intervene and promote more positive outcomes for all learners. The project will provide both theoretical and methodological contributions.

Theoretically, the research will shed light on the compatibility of diversity, education and social attitudes addressing the ESRC strategic priority to promote a Vibrant and Fair Society. Whilst there has been much research which has examined the effects of diversity on wider society and educational outcomes (often in the U.S.), to date these effects have not been evaluated through the lens of intergroup contact theory taking into consider the nature and quality of the interactions occurring within and outside the classroom. As such, the project will develop a new theoretical approach which brings together perspectives from multiple disciplines to gain a holistic understanding of the diversity effect.

Methodologically, the project will provide two main innovations. First, it will integrate multiple quantitative and qualitative methods and techniques longitudinally, moving beyond mere self-report of attitudes which is currently a focus in UK social science research on diversity, and in doing so provide a new, multilevel dataset for further research. This will include observations of seating behaviour in different spaces within the target schools, social network analysis and advanced statistical analysis of longitudinal questionnaire responses. Second, it will move beyond observations of the effects and develop a short and easy to implement intervention which will have potential to be scaled up and used across the UK and beyond. To achieve this, the project will work with teachers and other stakeholders in the design, execution, and dissemination of the research at different stages throughout and after the project.

The project has potential for wide impact. The findings will inform understandings of diversity and how to best promote intergroup relations and academics for all learners beyond the social psychology and education audiences. This will deepen the evidence base that can inform policy and practice in the UK and internationally. Both local actors as well as international organisations have become increasingly interested in the effects of diversity on society. Examining the value of ethnic diversity will provide valuable lessons for schools and wider society informing strategies to reduce the likelihood of ethnic tensions.