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The Dilemma of Equality and Diversity

Author(s): Michael Jindra

Source: Current Anthropology, Vol. 55, No. 3 (June 2014), pp. 316-334
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Wenner-Gren Foundation for
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316 Current Anthropology Volume 55, Number 3, June 2014
2014 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved. 0011-3204/2014/5503-0004$10.00. DOI: 10.1086/676457
The Dilemma of Equality and Diversity
by Michael Jindra
The tension between the values of economic equality and diversity can be found throughout the world, and yet it
rarely is recognized by scholars, partly because it deals with the sensitive area of culture and poverty. This article
will focus on where this tension comes from, how and where it is expressed both worldwide and in the United
States, and why anthropologists and sociologists neglect it. The tension expresses itself in predicaments in contexts
ranging from government policy (e.g., on indigenous groups) to the workings of local antipoverty nonprots, often
confounding attempts to deal with the issue of inequality. The issue is neglected for a number of reasons, including
the preferred narratives of poverty scholars and their assumptions about human aspiration and fault. Instead, I
argue for better attention to the complexities of human action, culture, and agency in order to understand poverty
and inequality.
Throughout the world, an increasingly frustrating quandary
has arisen over how to address rising levels of inequality amid
increasing diversity. From the controversies over the Roma/
Gypsy in Europe and aboriginal life in Australia to the home-
less populations in the United States, Native American res-
ervations, and those in poverty in general, political bodies
and other organizations have tried different strategies and
policies, often with little success. This predicament, I argue,
is borne out of a largely unrecognized tension between the
values of diversity and (economic) equality and the connected,
stultifying debate over issues of poverty and culture.
In this article, I will discuss how diversity, as expressed by
lifestyle, is connected to economic inequality. After briey
discussing the controversy over connecting cultural diversity
and poverty, I will then highlight what diversity is and where
we see itin the proliferating array of subcultures and lifestyle
groups. I will then detail the largely unrecognized tension
between the values of diversity and equality, including where
we see these tensions burst out into conict and indecision
in public policies. Drawing on my own research on antipov-
erty nonprots, we will see the same dilemmas operating at
the local level. I then discuss several reasons why stratication
scholars are unable to recognize this tension, with attention
to their assumptions, their discourse on fault, and their pre-
ferred narratives about people in poverty. Finally, I discuss
the few scholars who have recognized this tension and call
for a broader approach to addressing inequality.
Michael Jindra is Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of
Anthropology and Visiting Research Scholar in the Center for the
Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame (611
Flanner Hall, Notre Dame, Indiana 46556, U.S.A. [mjindra@nd
.edu]). This paper was submitted 19 XII 12, accepted 2 IX 13, and
electronically published 17 IV 14.
There are, of course, understandable reasons for the hes-
itance to connect cultural diversity with issues of poverty and
inequality. For one, highlighting culture as a cause of poverty
and inequality can lead people to simplistically blame the poor
for their own condition and can give excuses to policy makers
to do nothing about poverty. Other academic arguments
against connecting culture to poverty are so well worn that
there is little reason to rehearse them again (see Small, Har-
ding, and Lamont [2010] for a review). They usually highlight
Oscar Lewiss culture of poverty, which prompted reactions
against it that continue today, mostly around the concern that
culture blames the victim of poverty (Lewis 1959). Daniel
Patrick Moynihans infamous 1967 report on the black family
similarly prompted a virulent reaction (Patterson 2010) that
basically halted any scholarly analysis of the connection be-
tween culture and poverty until scholars such as William Ju-
lius Wilson gingerly brought culture back into the discussion,
even if only as adaptation to structural forces.
Below, I will offer a more detailed critique of the current
literature on poverty, inequality, and stratication (a term
used more commonly among sociologists), but I rst want
to make the argument that incorporating cultural differences
is absolutely essential to understanding and dealing with in-
equality, and that there are ways of handling this issue that
can adequately address the concerns of those hesitant to give
an overall view of the lives and cultures of the poor. Ignoring
the connection between culture and poverty is tantamount
to self-censorship and indicates a basic failure of scholarship.
In contrast, scholarly work on culture and poverty, if utilized
properly (which means never using it as an excuse to ignore
poverty or inequality) would help develop applied approaches
and policies that take in all the causes of poverty and would
complement, not replace, the existing focus on structural so-
lutions to poverty.
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Jindra The Dilemma of Equality and Diversity 317
Connecting Diversity to Economic Outcomes
In order to do this, one must begin with a proper under-
standing of diversity. Diversity, as I use it in this article, is
based on actual practices and beliefs or attitudes, in addition
to the more common and overlapping understanding of di-
versity as based on socially constructed categories of race/
ethnicity, or on categories such as class, nationality, gender,
or sexual orientation (cf. Pincus 2011; Susser and Patterson
2001). This diversity is expressed in signicant contrasts in
family life, leisure, work, and consumption, from hyper-
achieving success-oriented groups to leisure and entertain-
ment-oriented subcultures, and includes the myriad of group-
ings that marketers dene us by. Diversity is thus tied more
to Webers Lebensfuhrung (life conduct) or Anthony Giddenss
use of lifestylesclusters of habits and orientations that
involve modes of acting, routines of dress, diet, and favoured
milieux for encountering others (1991:81). Murray Milner
calls it lifestyle pluralism, which he describes as a melange
of relatively unranked groups that have differing lifestyles and
discernable social boundaries, which are nevertheless often
fuzzy (Milner 2004:101). It is important to keep in mind,
however, that these groups are not just self-chosen, but power
and structure often play a role in forming them.
Economic equality is a more straightforward concept.
While it is often measured using the Gini index, as income
inequality, a better measure is wealth or asset inequality. While
income can change signicantly from year to year, asset in-
equality is cumulative and better measures how well people
can withstand adversity. More signicantly, it is affected not
only by income but also by consumption and savings habits,
which have a profound effect on overall wealth when, for
instance, savings are used to build wealth for emergencies,
college educations, or retirement. Wealth inequality is also
more extreme than income inequality, and it better captures
the effects of the contrasting histories and habits of different
groups (Elmelech 2008).
Within the United States, diversity has always existed, with
different groups having different attitudes and practices con-
cerning subsistence, hierarchy, honor, and other notions,
some of which have contributed to inequality. There were
substantial differences among the various groups (e.g., East
Anglians, Scottish borderlands) that emigrated from the Brit-
ish Isles (Fischer 1991), which can still be tied today to dif-
ferent levels of wealth, violence, health, and other measures
in different regions such as Appalachia (Nisbett and Cohen
1996; Obermiller, Wagner, and Tucker 2000). Regional vari-
ations that go back to the nineteenth century are clear (Krue-
ger, Bhaloo, and Rosenau 2009; Lieske 1993).
Other cultural patterns have had a strong effect on both
health (Williams 2013) and economic status, including at
higher wealth levels. Sherry Ortner (2003) has pointed out
how both cultural and noncultural factors have played a role
in the rise of Jews to the top income levels. Earlier, the wide-
spread promotion of literacy through reading the Torah and
commentaries played a major role in Jews entering various
professions and becoming urbanized and wealthy (Burstein
2007). The literature on immigration, which I can mention
only briey here, reveals a wide array of cultural orientations
related to economic outcomes among different groups (Hao
2007; Waldinger and Lichter 2003), a topic often left out of
the discussion on inequality, as Jeremy Hein (2006) argues
in his extensive analysis of the role of culture among im-
At lower wealth levels, the pull of alternative lifestyles
often gets short shrift in favor of structuralist explanations
for inequality, as I discuss more below. People do not always
adopt mainstream notions of work, productivity, and long-
term economic planning and instead live in the present
(Day, Papataxiarchis, and Stewart 1999:1). These diverse
groups tend to reject authority, value freedom and sociality,
and thus avoid practices that include working in large or-
ganizations with regular work hours, accumulation, and home
ownership (Pardo 1996; Polsky 2006; Stewart 2001). They
recognize, either implicitly or explicitly, that there are often
signicant sacrices or trade-offs for societies oriented to the
accumulation of wealth, where sociality is sacriced to wealth,
freedom sacriced to work.
Long-standing subcultures on the margins include the
Roma and portions of indigenous groups (Muckle 2012) still
found in North America and Europe. Focusing on the United
States, one could include todays array of itinerants, street
sellers (Duneier 2001), hustlers (Polsky 2006), intermittent
workers (Malenfant, LaRue, and Vezina 2007), and homeless
(Gowan 2010). In poor urban neighborhoods, preservation
agents among the varied ethnic communities use various
social mechanisms (language, shunning) to maintain a way
of life they view as more important than economic gain,
which can reduce economic mobility, as Sanchez-Jankowski
reports (2008:44ff.). One should also note anticapitalist im-
migrant cultures, including some pockets of the working class
that have resisted dominant consumerist orientations and live
frugal lives on low incomes (Durrenberger and Doukas 2008),
or religious groups such as the Amish.
Expressiveness, romanticism, and other ideals have also
motivated a wide range of social movements and phenomena,
from early mountain men and migrants to hippies and punks,
across the social classes (Miller 1991; Soeffner 1997). Others
include various groups of agrarians, bohemians, and more
recent groups such as downshifters (Benson and OReilly
2009), new age and environmental groups (Campbell 2007),
countercultures based on contemporary leisure or popular
cultures such as grungies (Moore 2004), or subcultures
where both work and leisure are distinctive, such as bicycle
couriers (Fincham 2007). Some of these lifestyle groups offer
attractions of a very nonmainstream sort, described by some
as edgework (Kidder 2011; Lyng 2005), extreme bodily
activities that include criminality (Hayward 2004), or other
leisure lives (Abramson and Modzelewski 2011; Allen-Collin-
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318 Current Anthropology Volume 55, Number 3, June 2014
son and Hockey 2011). One can list many others here, such
as the subcultural cliques (Eckert 1989) that inuence life
The more itinerant groups listed above are frequently mis-
understood and often appear feckless or irresponsible to
their more mainstream neighbors (Day, Papataxiarchis, and
Stewart 1999:21). Savings and education rates tend to be
lower, and gambling rates higher, with economic activity often
taking place on the margins but often within their own social
networks and logics (Stewart 2001). As a result, some of these
groups suffer from ongoing discrimination and stigmatiza-
tion, which certainly play a role in maintaining the margin-
alization of these groups. It is important to note that these
orientations originate from a complex interplay of forces, in-
cluding the norms of a subculture, histories, and the fact of
material scarcity.
Digging into Diversity and Lifestyle
Specic research on life patterns in Western societies shows
a diversity that is not simply reducible to adaptation to cir-
cumstances and that also exists within and between social
groups. Sociologist Margaret Archer (2007), for instance, has
contrasted four different lifestyle groups, based on their re-
exivity and orientations, which guide their way of life and
inuence their social mobility. Communicative reexives,
for instance, often foster social immobility because they at-
tach supreme signicance to inter personal relations. They
tend to live for today, are unlikely to plan ahead, and see a
lot of contingency while hoping something will eventually
turn up. In contrast, for autonomous reexives, self-re-
liance and work are important. They practice a personal
power that fosters upward social mobility; embrace challenge,
control, and variety from work (Archer 2007); and minimize
social considerations.
Similarly, other social scientists analyze diverse lifestyles in
terms of broad general orientations (e.g., fatalists, individu-
alists) based on factors such as differences in values, social
relations, household routines, and general ways of life (Eng-
bersen et al. 2006; Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky 1990).
For instance, there is diversity in household cultures (Dake
and Thompson 1993), such as practices concerning eating,
cleaning, sociality, and consuming habits. Some families have
scheduled communal mealtimes, prompt cleanup, and savings
patterns, in contrast to those who are less bound by these
routines and, for instance, rely more on takeout food at ir-
regular times. People in these groups often have different work
ethics and perceptions of time and risk (Engbersen et al.
2006). Specically, research indicates signicant diversity
among the poor themselves, such as Salcedo and Rasses
(2012) classication of ve types of urban poor households
(organized, dependent, ghettoized, hopeless, and moyenized),
the multiple cultures of poverty reported by Holloway et
al. (1997), or Ulf Hannerzs four lifestyles of Soulside (2004).
All of these clearly reveal the awed nature of analyses that
either posit only one culture of poverty or, more commonly,
deny any connection between culture and poverty at all. The
poor are often different from the mainstream, but neither are
they homogeneous, with a wide variety of contrasting ori-
entations and practices, a continuum between mainstream
and nonmainstream patterns that shifts over time and over-
laps between ethnic, class, religious, and other subcultural and
lifestyle orientations.
For a popular look at lifestyle diversity in the contemporary
United States, there is hardly a better place to turn than the
ABC television show Wife Swap (200410) and similar shows,
where the spouses of two very different families were ex-
changed and made, in turn, to follow each others habits and
rules for a week. Though the show illustrated a degree of
diversity that is not as radical as in international cross-cultural
contexts, one is still struck by the vivid clash of family life-
styles. The families may still share common American ori-
entations such as individualism, but they show a radically
different view of the good life, with contrasting work, lei-
sure, and consumption patterns, and their common individ-
ualism allows life patterns to take a myriad of different routes
that feed into a kind of diversity seldom discussed as such.
Indeed, studies have shown clear contrasts between differ-
ent styles of parenting based mainly on class. Concerted
cultivation has become the standard upper middle class pat-
tern, while natural growth is found more among lower class
families (Lareau 2011). The former is better for upward mo-
bility, while the latter can give children more daily freedom
and stronger obedience toward parents. At stronger extremes,
a cult of childhood success (Kottak and Kozaitis 2002) has
taken over, which includes numerous planned enrichment
activities for children and an ongoing use of experts and
advice to manage the business of raising children and to
ensure their future success. Some families put intense pressure
on youth to perform well in school, with substantial lifelong
effects on educational attainment and income and wealth lev-
els. Ethnicity also plays a role here, as Nisbett (2009) reports
with East Asians, and as popularized in the frenzied response
to a self-proclaimed tiger mother (Chua 2011).
The high achievement pattern, however, often comes at a
cost in terms of sociality, time, freedom, and increased stress
(Pope 2001), so for many the sacrices required for upward
mobility are simply not felt to be worth it (Kabachnik 2009).
Worldwide, many recognize the advantages of freedom and
exibility and forgo the regulated work-oriented lifestyle com-
mon only among particular groups worldwide. As cultural
studies scholars stress, one must understand the pleasures
of alternative ways of life that may be less work and income
oriented, or even deviant (Katz 1988), such as many of those
listed above. Impulsivity and the lack of delayed gratica-
tion are increasingly important in the growing hedonistic
clusters of society driven by the phenomenal rise of consumer
culture (Hayward 2004). These issues also take us into the
more biological and individual levels of analyses, where neu-
roscientists and social scientists are increasingly working to-
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Jindra The Dilemma of Equality and Diversity 319
gether to understand how external factors such as cultural
and technological changes affect the pleasure centers of the
brain, for instance, by encouraging addictive patterns, in-
cluding gambling (Lende and Downey 2012; Schull 2012).
Market researchers, who have unsurprisingly developed
some of the strongest tools for dening a diversity based
primarily on lifestyle and practice, have also conrmed in-
creased diversity in the West (Weiss 2000). To put it simply,
people nd fulllment, identity, and enjoyment in very dif-
ferent ways, from occupational devotees (Stebbins 2004) to
those who pursue leisure careers (MacDonald and Shildrick
2007), often despite signicant economic and social costs
(Abramson and Modzelewski 2011:143). While some have
reported two main general orientations: one individual and
acquisitive, and the other expressive, countercultural, and
more inner directed (Binkley 2007), it is certainly more com-
plex than this. For some it may be a lifestyle based on an
expressive, neo-bohemian (Lloyd 2006), postmaterialist
(Inglehart 1997) ethic. For others it may be playing to win,
whether for their children (Davis 2009; Levey 2010) or them-
selves (Hewlett and Luce 2006).
Recent research points to an increase both in the size of
groups with a hedonist orientation and also in groups with
a competitive one (Thome 2008). In addition, the wealthy
and the poor are becoming more isolated from each other
due to such forces as increased assortative mating (marriage
within social groups) and residential/class segregation, which
in turn increase the transmission of inequality and decrease
social mobility (Elmelech 2008).
All of this points to a society with stronger extremes
intense, hypercompetitive overachievers at one end and widely
varying unskilled, less educated intermittent workers, or
downshifting, leisure, and social-oriented groups at the other
extreme. Some reduce this process simply to the outcome of
changes in the political economyhigher competition for
higher paying jobs, and a reduced number of good-paying
working class jobs, in addition to political policies that favor
the rich. But this is simplistic, as it totally ignores changes in
family structure, parenting practices, education, and other
signicant forces that contribute to what may become a per-
manently divided society, according to stratication scholar
Isabel Sawhill (2012:6) and Charles Murrays controversial
Coming Apart (2012)
These patterns, though, are not just a question of individual
choice. They are culturally embedded, passed down, and
maintained through both structural forces and cultural pref-
erences. These orientations should not be essentialized, as
some change over time, and there is also wide diversity of
practice within groups, with some leading conventional mid-
dle class lives. Structural forces such as stereotypes and prej-
udices against visible members of groups and their symbols,
including more subtle features such as accent, dress, or per-
sonality, work to maintain differences and symbolic bound-
aries between groups (Lamont and Molnar 2002). The various
cultural productions and practices of minority ethnic groups
are sometimes reactions to the oppression experienced from
society, as we see in music, dress, style, comportment, and
other factors (Anderson 2000; Patterson 2006; Wilson 2009).
Effects can include an oppositional street identity that works
against the humble, obedient social interaction demanded in
contemporary ofce or service settings (Bourgois 2002), or
accusations of acting white against high-performing stu-
dents of color (Buck 2010).
The product of all this is a fragmentary, kaleidoscopic
differentiation of life styles rather than rigid and bounded
social strata (Scott 1996:15). And one consequence of this
increased lifestyle diversity, with different groups oriented to
different goals or ideals, is more inequality. In other words,
there is a tension or trade-off between these values of diversity
and equality, which are manifested in various policy dilemmas
worldwide. The next section describes this process in both
international and national contexts.
Tensions of Diversity and Inequality
International Contexts
Around the world, tensions between those with contrasting
economic practices and outcomes can be particularly acute
and occasionally erupt in violence and expulsions (Chua
2004). In Australia, the situation of aborigines may be where
the dilemma of equality and diversity has been felt and written
about most strongly, since the inequalities are among the most
extreme, and attempts to remedy them have been stymied at
every turn. Government policies, and the positions of prom-
inent experts on aboriginal affairs (including aboriginals) have
shifted back and forth between autonomy on the one hand
and integration/assimilation on the other (Tonkinson 2007),
somewhat like Native American policy in North America.
After attempts at assimilation earlier in the twentieth century,
self-management policies in the 1970s gave some autonomy
to aboriginals, hoping this would help them thrive. More
recently, however, those policies have been retracted after
shocking reports of high levels of child and spouse abuse,
alcoholism, and squalid conditions in aboriginal communi-
ties. Heavily inuencing these differential outcomes are cul-
tural differences on a number of levels, where attitudes and
practices of white Australians and aboriginals toward work
and sociality dramatically differ (Tonkinson 2007).
In addition, this dilemma over equality and diversity is well
illustrated by the experiences of Australian white antiracists,
sympathetic to aboriginal populations, who head to aboriginal
areas to improve aboriginal life. Many of them, often from
more educated and wealthier backgrounds, become frustrated
by the lack of progress and perceived lack of cooperation
from aboriginals (Kowal 2008). These activists are pulled by
a desire both to see aboriginal life improve (in the common
terms of Westerners) and to give aboriginals self-determi-
nation, a policy which has allowed increased social dysfunc-
tion and abuse within aboriginal communities. One anthro-
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320 Current Anthropology Volume 55, Number 3, June 2014
pologist with a long relationship with aboriginals, Peter Sutton
(2009), controversially wrote of how he realized that post-
imperial guilt politics has often limited realistic responses to
the enduring crisis state of indigenous peoples in Australia.
Different individuals and groups resolve this tension by
either choosing one at the expense of the other or awkwardly
attempting to balance them. One anthropologist advocates
very remote locations or aboriginal outposts where there
would be no outside inuence, to allow the opportunity for
Indigenous people to choose to live fundamentally differently
from the mainstream (Altman 2006:11), but whether many
aboriginals would desire this themselves is unclear. Others,
such as Sutton, argue for more assimilationist intervention
in order to close gaps in health, income, and other social
In general, Australian policy has shifted back and forth
between diversity and equality, never nding a satisfactory
outcome. On the one hand, diversity and one of its possible
applications, autonomy, has meant increased inequality on a
number of indicators, setting off alarms with sensational re-
ports in the media. Yet, the new paternalism announced in
2007 by the government after the dramatic revelations of
abuse also strikes much of the Australian public as wrong-
headed since it resurfaces memories of colonialist oppression.
In Europe, the diverse Roma/Gypsy groups (some settled,
some itinerant) likewise frequently confound authorities,
whose strategies have shifted over time. At times, governments
have provided services and pressure to assimilate, which some
Roma have resisted. At other times, it is expulsion and dis-
crimination. Attempts at integration are often not successful
or done only halfheartedly. The dilemma is expressed in the
battle over whether to accept nomadism either as a way of
life or as a problem requiring solutions (Roman 2012:69).
Attitudes have recently become more negative, as expulsions
of Roma populations have increased in a number of countries,
such as France.
European states have taken contrasting positions on di-
versity, such as France with its universalist orientation and
Britain with a more multiculturalist bent (Sala Pala 2010).
Increased immigration in recent decades, however, has roiled
these countries to the extent that the British, German, and
Dutch governments have controversially declared the failure
of multiculturalism (Vertovec and Wessendorf 2010) as opin-
ions have turned increasingly against the large, mainly Muslim
minorities in their respective countries, with gains by Far
Right political parties. Some of this is certainly xenophobia,
but some of the tension is from a (perceived) lack of inte-
gration and over ostensibly different attitudes and practices
toward work, state benets, and other lifestyle practices such
as the treatment of women. The welfare states of Scandinavia,
for instance, are admired around the world, but few notice
the dependence of this model on specic cultural legacies that
include conformism and a secularized Lutheranism that cre-
ated high levels of trust and a focus on work (Srensen and
Strath 1997). Welfare states across Europe have come under
strain recently because of increased diversity, and support for
the welfare state has consequently declined, though this varies
across different parts of the continent (Clasen 2011; Eger
The current trouble in the Eurozone over debt is further
evidence of the tensions over diversity and equality, the stick-
iness of cultural differences, and the willingness of elites to
ignore them in favor of a universal mode of wealth and ac-
cumulation (Eichengreen 2011). As we now see, quite differ-
ent practices over accounting, budgeting, borrowing, taxation,
licensing, and work/leisure habits (and of course political/
economic factors) contributed to the debt crisis that currently
envelops the European Union (EU) and has roiled markets
worldwide. Mediterranean countries are struggling after en-
tering a northern EU milieu with a contrasting ethos and
practices. Some argue they will need to adopt the way Amer-
icans deal with the tension between diversity and equality, by
net government transfer payments to poorer regions. But the
looser EU, without unied taxation and spending policies,
cannot currently accommodate this model.
The North American Context
Like the Roma/Gypsy groups of Europe, there are many lower
income populations in North America that confound au-
thorities by following egalitarian and freedom-oriented life-
styles. This general orientation is dened by part-time or
nonwork, temporary living arrangements, and frequent mo-
bility. Some of these are homeless, others more settled, but
most of them living on very low incomes, such as the scrap
collectors common in urban areas (Ferrell 2006). Larger num-
bers are found in California because the weather allows ve-
hicle-dwellers and homeless populations some respite. Here,
an itinerant population stays near beaches trying to sell goods
to tourists, though they are seen as a nuisance by nearby
residents, so ofcials attempt crackdowns (Lovett 2010). In
San Francisco, the progressive government has long fretted
about what to do about the large numbers of homeless, some
of whom gravitate toward itinerant work such as recycling
over more standard jobs, for various reasons. Here the im-
pulse toward accepting diversity bumped up against the per-
ceived problems they create, and the city ended up with a
policy of authoritarian medicalization (Gowan 2010).
Often, the situation is traced to simple availability of jobs
and housing or mental illness, but it is clearly more complex
than this, especially if one has an understanding of and sen-
sitivity to diverse groups and orientations. Nonmainstream
or alternative lifestyles exist for a variety of reasons, from
stigmatization and prejudice to the attractions of the lifestyles
themselves, and often a mix between these poles. People are
pushed and pulled in different directions, and understanding
how this process works among people means getting a grasp
on everything from family dynamics, networks, identity is-
sues, personality orientations, normative beliefs, and larger
social, cultural, and economic contexts. Sometimes biograph-
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Jindra The Dilemma of Equality and Diversity 321
ical and biological factors such as addiction and mental health
issues intervene. The complexity of contemporary life requires
relatively high levels of human and cultural capital not only
to obtain jobs but even to do things such as maintain bank
accounts (Caskey 1997).
Building codes are another example of policies that au-
thorities use to legislate equality. In mainstream discourse,
these codes are portrayed as a matter of safety, cleanliness,
and aesthetic beauty, but these are all culturally relative con-
cepts, and people in different localities may have widely vary-
ing standards. Ofcial building codes and zoning policies have
created conicts with ethnic and immigrant groups that have
contrasting practices, such as among Latinos, Laotians, and
Hasidim (Rapoport 2000). Mariana Valverde recently detailed
the contradictions between the ofcial celebration of diversity
in Toronto (and other North American cities) and the reality
of regulations and laws over aesthetics (sounds, smells, yard
appearance), housing, and other practices such as street sell-
ing, all of which severely limit diversity (Valverde 2012). Mo-
bile homes and trailers are another common ashpoint be-
tween different economic classes, with middle and upper
classes typically lobbying to get rid of this kind of diversity.
All of these issues pivot on whether to enforce a specic
equality or allow diversity. Differences, if they become too
large, create tensions and stresses that may invite backlash,
or in the case of too much inequality, create problems in areas
such as health life satisfaction or social trust.
One can also see the tension and contradiction expressed
in popular culture. According to Robert Bulman (2005), in
urban-school lms such as Stand and Deliver featuring un-
derprivileged youth, the dominant theme is utilitarian indi-
vidualism, where the youth overcome odds and work their
way to success. Solving poverty means addressing inequality,
and therefore we (media consumers) encourage utilitarian
individualism. In suburban school lms like Ferris Buellers
Day Off, which features a hero rebelling against school au-
thorities, it is expressive individualism. In one context, in-
equality violates our sense of justice, and in the other con-
formism violates our sense of freedom and diversity. In the
suburban school lm Pump Up the Volume, the heroes are
independent and free thinking while the antagonists are nar-
row-minded achievement-oriented adults and some students
(Bulman 2005:85). At the same time the suburban lms seem-
ingly promote a rebellious creativity, we lament declines in
academic standards. And it is the expressivity and aesthetics
of some youth cultures that affect work and study habits and
clearly hurt academic and work careers (Gunter 2008). Youth
seek to generate worth and value through their investments
in style, though these practices may also play into oppressive
social relations and contribute to xing the young people
within marginalized and disadvantaged social positions (Ar-
cher, Hollingworth, and Halsall 2007:219). Popular culture
and peer inuence play a role in inuencing attitudes toward
schooling, which have a signicant relationship with inequal-
ity and later life income (Gibson, Gandara, and Koyama 2004;
Vaisey 2010).
Educational practices, of course, are common fodder for
the courts, as in the famous 1972 Supreme Court case of
Yoder vs. Wisconsin, which pitted Amish practices on educa-
tion versus the states desire for a universal standard of ed-
ucation intended to limit inequality. The Amish rejected the
state requirements because their own particularistic practices
meant education only through the eighth grade. The court
ruled in favor of the Amish, after having considered the va-
lidity of contrasting cultural patterns in their decision. Most
other Western countries, however, are more restrictive of chil-
drens education outside of ofcial state institutions, and
homeschooling in the United States continues to be conten-
tious in some jurisdictions. Likewise, the ongoing debate over
national education standards places the equality of No Child
Left Behind and the Common Core in tension with those
who say these policies do not take diversity into consideration.
The Native American situation in some ways mirrors the
Australian aboriginal dilemma. Policies toward Native Amer-
icans have shifted radically over the years, in an attempt to
address their income and wealth levels, lowest of all racial/
ethnic groups in the United States and Canada. As in Aus-
tralia, the legacy of usurpation and exploitation by European
immigrants has meant that policy makers have felt responsible
for this inequality and attempted to solve it by various
means. In the United States, many reservations were elimi-
nated in attempts at assimilation and then reestablished later
in the twentieth century to allow for autonomy. Yet the in-
equality has remained, mitigated only more recently by busi-
ness enterprises and gaming compacts that allow many Indian
tribes regular sources of income. This, however, has created
new tensions over diversity and equality within and between
Indian groups across the United States, such as among the
Seminole (Cattelino 2008), Lakota (Fenelon 2006), Southern
Plains region (LaVere 2000), Iroquois, and others, with some
tribes being torn by these tensions. Traditionalists lament the
distancing from Indian ways of life centered on clan, com-
munity, and traditional subsistence and thus lean toward cul-
tural particularity (diversity), while progressives or moder-
nizers more attached to the mainstream welcome business
development, including casinos or natural resource exploi-
tation (though this division is more complicated than this,
as Cattelino describes). Urban Indians also manifest a differ-
ent kind of diversity, utilizing alternative nomadic patterns
of exploiting resources in urban areas (Darnell 2011). Pushing
equality here could essentially mean hurting or eliminating
diversity, but interesting arguments are made, for instance, in
favor of development while trying to maintain at least some
of the communal nature of Indian ways (Warry 2007).
Antipoverty Nonprots and the Tension
The tension between diversity and equality can also be seen
in local contexts, such as among local antipoverty nonprots.
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322 Current Anthropology Volume 55, Number 3, June 2014
In most urban communities around the United States, non-
prots attempt to assist the poor through various means.
These include homeless shelters, those that provide emergency
help with utility bills, church-related organizations like the
Salvation Army or Catholic Charities, womens shelters like
the YWCA, drug treatment centers, drop-in day centers, those
that serve single mothers and provide job training (e.g., Good-
will), and a host of others that involve mentoring, classes, or
self-help groups, from STRIVE to Bridge of Hope.
The philosophies and practices of these groups vary, and
each deals with the dilemmas of diversity and equality in
different ways. Some are more intent on moving the individ-
ual to the path of self-sufciency by involving participants in
the classes, counseling, training, or other more intensive ac-
tivities that often move people out of poverty and off social
assistance programs, while others focus on more modest goals
such as providing community, support, or immediate stability.
These latter organizations may also serve a different clientele,
such as those with more severe needs or disabilities that pre-
vent them from holding regular jobs. These organizations
sometimes change their philosophies over time and become
more or less intensive in their efforts, or they have internal
debates and differences on whether, for instance, the residents
of a homeless shelter should be required to take classes to
improve their job prospects. In essence, these organizations
range from those that lean toward equality through specic
practices, to those that are less intensive and thus accept more
diversity (Jindra and Jindra 2013).
Another dimension of the tension or trade-off between
diversity and equality can be seen in how one antipoverty
organization works with individual participants. In one Mid-
western city, a local antipoverty nonprot utilizes ongoing
classes, networking meetings, and other activities, encour-
aging participants to consider their mental map and as-
sociated behaviors that go with it, set goals, and work toward
a more stable life. The nonprot utilizes the published Bridges
out of Poverty curriculum (DeVol 2013), which focuses on
understanding the hidden rules of economic class, the
eleven different kinds of resources (e.g., nancial, mental,
relational), how to build these resources, and how to create
a plan to get from poverty to prosperity.
Classes are led by a facilitator and a cofacilitator, one or
both of whom have come out of poverty and were earlier
graduates of the class. Bridges out of Poverty uses a collab-
orative, participative model where the participant coinves-
tigators (of diverse ethnicities) consider differences in how
people in poverty, the middle class, and wealth structure and
orient their lives, dwelling especially on the hidden rules of
class. The class in essence encourages participants to offer a
self-critique of their lives, their background, and where they
are going in the future. They also analyze their communities
and wider socioeconomic structures and obstacles. Those that
graduate from the class are further mentored by volunteer
allies from middle class backgrounds.
The tension between diversity and equality is found, for
instance, when participants consider language registers
(such as formal/casual) and discourse patterns, time orien-
tations, and attitudes and practices about education, money,
food, clothing, and other categories. In general, they compare
the achievement orientations of the middle class to what
are regarded as the relationship/survival/entertainment ori-
entations of generational poverty. In effect, participants learn
that they must consider taking on at least some middle class
behaviors in their path out of poverty. This, however, is where
some (e.g., Froyum 2010) have criticized Bridges out of Pov-
erty for overvaluing middle class standards, illustrating the
dilemma between diversity and equality.
One interviewee, Randy, a white male, took the course in
2006 after a series of felonies involving DUIs and domestic
abuse. He had been in a halfway house and was a recovering
alcoholic who had a skilled trade and had done well in the
past, but his drinking and spending kept him from saving
any money and achieving any stability. Poverty was all about
chaos, constant drama he told me. His father had grown up
in poverty in Appalachia, a family background which he re-
ports contributed to his day-to-day pattern of living. The
Getting Ahead course helped him see the pattern he was in:
blowing his paycheck quickly and using payday loans. Stop-
ping drinking meant he also had to drop his drinking buddies,
since they now had less in common. Relationships changed.
He adopted more middle class habits like saving, and he works
at carpentry on the side of his regular job as a foreman at a
plastics plant. But he has not turned into the stereotype of
an ascetic miser. He does not charge much for his carpentry
work, which keeps him in high demand, and he provides help
for his children, though with strict guidelines about repaying
him, lest they maintain what he calls the chaos of poverty.
Other interviewees demonstrate a wider variety of life goals,
aspirations, and denitions of success. For some, success is
modestly dened as being stabile and not on public aid. Some,
especially seniors, are unlikely to acquire the various capitals
to enter the middle class and have trouble handling the com-
plexity of modern life, including nancial predators and the
complexities of bank accounts. In other words, they do not
all strive to enter the middle class. They are diverseoften
strong-willed, independent, and unwilling to submit them-
selves to the strict requirements of educational institutions
and workplaces guided more by neoliberal principles, as those
in the middle and upper classes do. One should not, however,
use these differences as an excuse to other them and ignore
poverty or inequality. Many do want something better and
want to know how to get ahead. This is where programs like
Bridges out of Poverty (and many others that focus on pat-
terns of behaviors and attitudes, such as STRIVE or the Circles
Campaign) encourage people like Randy to adapt at least
certain middle class modes of life, thereby decreasing lifestyle
diversity, but with the potential to lessen inequality.
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Jindra The Dilemma of Equality and Diversity 323
Ignoring the Tension
The tension between diversity and equality is important to
understand, but it is rarely discussed by stratication (or
other) scholars, for several reasons. For one, many are either
uncomfortable with or theoretically opposed to a focus on
culture. Indeed, scholars who work on poverty have been
accused of a gross neglect of the existence and workings of
a culture among the poor (Sanchez-Jankowski 2008:48). This
situation is a legacy of the debate that started back in the
early 1960s over the culture of poverty, after which it be-
came taboo to discuss different behaviors, habits, and prac-
tices among the poor (Patterson 2010). Related to this, aca-
demics often prefer to avoid an issue if they fear
misinterpretation by the public, as one also nds in the debate
over the existence of acting white accusations in schools,
as Stuart Buck discusses (2010).
Indeed, much ethnographic writing on poverty has been
driven by the desire to address stigmatizing characterizations
of the so-called underclass (Munger 2002:11).
Scholars, in
essence, follow narratives that are driven by dominant aca-
demic discourses. In anthropology, for instance, scholarship
on marginalized groups has veered from a victim narrative
in the 1970s to one of heroic resistance in the 1980s and
90s as scholars realized that victimology leaves agency entirely
out of the picture. More recently, the resistance narratives are
now also seen as unsatisfactory, one-dimensional, and over-
used, and scholars have moved onto other topics such as
The neglect of the tension is also because the social sciences
have long been prone to reductionisms of personhood to
more materialistic motives such as interest and power (Sahlins
1976; Smith 2010). This means that the complexities of hu-
man action are missed when studying certain issues like pov-
erty, which involve the interaction of structural, cultural, and
individual/agency forces or causes. Indeed, when it comes to
poverty, anthropologists and other scholars who are normally
sensitive to cultural difference suddenly assume that everyone
aspires to one universal, upwardly oriented mode of life or
lifestyle (Kerbo 2006:263ff.; Robbins 2009:273).
The question
then becomeswhose aspirations? Typically it is that of the
standard American success model (Strauss 1992) held by
the middle and upper classes. Most mainstream individuals,
academics included, consistently underestimate the attrac-
tions of alternative lifestyles, revealing the bourgeois eth-
nocentrism that Marshall Sahlins (1972) ngers. As soci-
ologist Joseph Davis (2008:276) argues, even in our
1. Another recent example of this is Krumer-Nevo and Benjamin
(2010), who contest the othering of those in poverty by proposing
three contrasting narratives (e.g., voice/action). While their intentions
are good, any analysis that counters othering has the potential to impose
an inappropriate sameness on different groups, if the analysis indeed
refuses to countenance differences.
2. This is a common conceit that can be found in wider society, in-
cluding those on the Right, such as when George W. Bush argued for
the invasion of Iraq under the guise of promoting democracy.
multiculturalism, we imagine a sameness of outlook and as-
piration, an unwitting projection of ourselves in the end.
Thus, anything else that deviates from the mainstream pattern
must be explained or rooted in some other structural or adap-
tive force, and one only needs to remove structural barriers
to be lifted out of poverty.
One basic mistake that many of these scholars make is to
argue from interviewees simple statements or assertions,
whereas in reality our behavior often deviates from our stated
aims (Strauss 1992). In other words, most of us tend to ver-
bally buy into the ideology of upward mobility and success,
yet actual behavior varies widely. For instance, while immi-
grant families verbally stress the importance of education,
immigrant family processes may orient in other directions
(Vermeulen and Perlmann 2000). Strong orientations toward
family mean lower college enrollment for Latino children
(Desmond and Turley 2009). Older children are expected to
share in family-related responsibilities, while education takes
a backseat. Parents end up providing little support for their
children in school, partly because they are unfamiliar with it
themselves. The cultural model of success is strong, but the
behavioral paths are inuenced by a wide variety of forces,
from family dynamics to subcultures and individual interest.
Another way of putting this is that we are inuenced by several
different cultural models or traditions, all of which can be in
tension (Waldron 1996).
Meanwhile, most textbooks on stratication and inequality
typically highlight that any cultural differences are supercial
and only situational, and do not discuss any tensions between
the various orientations (e.g., Kerbo 2006). Ronald Takaki
(1993), a well-known scholar on inequality, argues explicitly
for both diversity and equality, while avoiding discussion of
any tension between the two. Even in the recent reconsid-
eration of the relation of culture to poverty, the same weak-
nesses appear. The introduction (Small, Harding, and Lamont
2010) to a special journal issue on culture and poverty
highlighted in a front-page article in the New York Times
(Cohen 2010)differentiates seven cultural inuences related
to poverty (e.g., frames), but actual practices and habits are
given short shrift in their summary, even though these have
been central to denitions of culture for the last century (Wor-
sley 1997). Consumption practices, often a major contributor
to poverty because they prevent savings (Moav and Neeman
2008), are not even mentioned. They even seem uncomfort-
able with values, another central element of culture. Anthro-
pologists (e.g., Goode and Maskovsky 2001; Robbins 2009)
still beat on the old simplistic culture of poverty model and
ignore better arguments connecting culture and poverty. If
agency is highlighted, it is how the poor have adapted to
the structures and contexts and navigate their way through
their situation. Concepts of agency that involve self-reexivity
and routine ethical choices are simply left out of consider-
ation, as Laidlaw (2014) discusses. However, research points
to the direct and important inuence of cultural inputs,
values, and their connected practices on socioeconomic
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324 Current Anthropology Volume 55, Number 3, June 2014
outcomes (Abramson 2012; Hitlin and Piliavin 2004). Culture
may be used to explain the advantage of the rich, as in Bour-
dieus work, because the taboo only exists in relation to the
poor, as Khan (2012:368) notes.
In poverty studies, there is also an almost total neglect of
the inuence of popular cultureeven though television
viewing and popular culture consumption in general are sub-
stantially higher among lower income groups. Not only does
pop culture consumption substitute for other activities such
as education and work, but the messages of popular culture
often work against obtaining success, as discussed above with
the inuence of movies. Some musical genres, such as hip
hop and southern rock, work against bourgeois orientation
and practice (Tanner, Asbridge, and Wortley 2008). In media
such as advertising, rebellion, individualism, and anti-insti-
tutionalism predominate. While the upper and middle classes
consume these products also, they (especially youth) can stra-
tegically combine a rebellious image on the outside with a
success-oriented habitus through family and community so-
In sum, those who reject culture as an important inu-
enceRichard Shweder (2003) calls them anticulturalists
will simply not see the connection between culture and in-
equality. The discourse that typically rejects cultural difference
intersects with another signicant scholarly discourse on so-
cial problems that has pervaded the social sciences (and
broader contexts) in the last few decades, that of fault.
Shweder, for instance, has highlighted the mixed and perhaps
changing discourse on suffering and fault in the United
States, which removes the idea of the agency of the sufferer
as a relevant contributory factor (Shweder 2003:128), which
Joel Robbins recently discusses as the anthropology of suf-
fering (Robbins 2013). This rather one-sided discourse is
partly in reaction to the other, individualist extreme, where
all responsibility is put on those in poverty. Attributions of
fault are commonly disparaged as blaming the victim.
is understandable, since social forces and circumstances be-
yond ones control often do contribute to misfortune. But,
according to Shweder, there is a problem when victimization
becomes the dominant account of suffering and when it be-
comes politically incorrect to ever hold people responsible for
their misery (Shweder 2003:128129). This depersonalizes
the sufferer, who is encouraged to think and act as a passive
victim with few personal capabilities, which certainly does not
contribute to their well-being. Shweder, informed by the
moral metaphors of other cultures, argues that people need
to be aware of whatever degree of personal control they have
over their own conditions and that a discourse of personal
responsibility should be encouraged without going to the ex-
3. Bourdieu is also limited by a bent toward social structural deter-
minism at the expense of the agent, and a neglect of human capital in
favor of cultural capital.
4. For a discussion of how this blameless discourse does not apply to
certain marginalized groups, such as poor southern whites, see Grindal
treme of laying all responsibility on individuals (2003:129).
Barbara Ehrenreichs popular writings on poverty are a classic
example of the blameless discourse, and she even goes to the
extent of discouraging the kind of self-improvement that can
help lift people out of poverty (Ehrenreich 2009). Work on
poverty must take in all these dimensions of human life,
including diverse human capabilities such as volition. This
kind of human creativity and agency comes out only in very
selective ways in work on poverty, usually as resistance or
adaptation to structural forces.
Recognition of the Tension
Public discussion of cultural and lifestyle differences imme-
diately brings up issues of moralizing and judgment, not to
mention generalizing and stereotyping. We often prefer to
avoid discussing these kinds of differences, while talking of
diversity supercially, usually based on an outmoded belief
that racial/ethnic groups dene diversity, when intragroup
differences are often larger than intergroup differences.
Given the ever-widening gaps between different lifestyle
patterns, more tension between the values of diversity and
equality is likely. A few scholars have recognized this tension,
though they are rare. Emma Kowals writings (above) on
white antiracists in Australia are probably the best illustrated
and most extensive discussion of the quandaries of trying to
be committed to both diversity and equality. Social psychol-
ogist Hazel Markus and colleagues note how we commonly
hold the paradoxical idea that society should celebrate dif-
ference with the idea that this difference doesnt really matter.
. . . This perspective on difference is an all-American effort
to reconcile diversity with equality (Markus, Steele, and
Steele 2002:461).
Minow, Shweder, and Markus (2008) sim-
ilarly recognize an equality-difference paradox in the
schools context, where pressures to integrate meet pressures
to value diversity. In Britain, David Goodharts (2004) essay
in the left-of-center Prospect sparked considerable discussion
when he laid out the progressive dilemma between soli-
darity/equality and diversity.
Some fall clearly on one side or the other of this issue, as
we see above with the debate in Australia. Organizations such
as Survival International advocate in defense of multicultural
identities and groups, though normally leave out any sense
of the tension with equality, which Kowal explicitly includes.
James Scott (2009) backs the strategies of diverse antistate
highland peoples against wealthier lowland mainstream
groups and states. In a strong defense of culture theory, James
Boggs argues for Native American interests against regnant
liberal theory (Boggs 2002). From the opposite direction,
the inuential Harrison and Huntington (2000) volume
largely pleads for poorer communities and nations to adopt
mainstream values of economic progress. The rather large
5. For an interesting discussion of the tensions between values and
practices of freedom, equality, and civil peace, see Salzman (2005).
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Jindra The Dilemma of Equality and Diversity 325
corpus of writings on the homeless is another touchstone for
this debate, with some (Wasserman and Clair 2010) leaning
more toward recognizing the diversity of the dispositions of
the homeless, and thus against large-scale top-down measures
aimed at entirely eliminating homelessness, which they argue
denies them a role and contributes to their oppression. On
the more egalitarian side, one can nd anthropologist Michael
Blim (2005) and those such as Brian Barry (2001) or Walter
Benn Michaels (2006) who argue that diversity, or at least a
multicultural politics of identity, should give way to policies
aimed at eliminating inequality, though they display little
awareness of how actual diverse practices are related to in-
The political issues involved also relate to theoretical dif-
ferences. While those solidly on the political left often rec-
ognize only structural sources of inequality and thus structural
solutions (Goode and Maskovsky 2001), some on the political
right, such as followers of Ayn Rand, take the opposite tack
and individualize inequality by making it mostly the result of
choices or preferences. Many of the latter also posit a sim-
plistic belief in the free market as the cure to a variety of
economic issues and thus also display no awareness of cultural
difference. If allowing for cultural differences, they understand
them as choices and not as historically generated and struc-
turally inuenced practices.
I argue that understanding cultural inuences means taking
a mediating position between these extremes, by incorporat-
ing the importance of the macro factors that help formculture
while allowing that alternative lifestyles may have some pull,
even if those in the mainstream (including academics) nd
some of these lifestyles perplexing. In social theory terms, this
means allowing for both structural forces and agency, along
with culture. More specically, poverty scholars fail to ade-
quately incorporate all of the elements of social theory, es-
pecially those involving culture and agency (Abramson 2012;
Alexander 2007; Vaisey 2010).
The focus has typically been on the structure of job op-
portunities, the way income is distributed across those jobs,
government policies, or the beliefs and practices, such as dis-
crimination, of privileged groups that disadvantage margin-
alized groups. These analyses certainly point to reasons why
patterns of inequality are so stubborn and why inequality is
getting worse, but they are also notably incomplete. As Kowal
argues, scholars are prone to overstructuration, the ten-
dency to downplay agential explanations and highlight struc-
tural explanations for any given situation (Kowal, forthcom-
ing). Other social forces, such as the pleasures of identifying
with marginalized groups (Kulick 2006), also act upon schol-
ars, which at the same time can create a certain self-righ-
teousness and groupthink (Sutton 2009:137139).
It is important to note that recognizing the tension between
diversity and equality does not imply naturalizing inequality
or making it functional. It should never be used as an excuse
to ignore poverty or inequality. A proper understanding of
inequality means keeping all of the causes in mind, which
include everything from family background, networks, iden-
tity issues, personality orientations, normative beliefs, reli-
gious background, and other social, cultural, and economic
contexts (Keister 2011:12). Patterns of habitual behavior are
key (Farkas 2003). Education and job training, for instance,
have often had disappointing results, unless the more cul-
turally generated soft skills are also considered, from in-
terpersonal skills to time management, emotion control, and
conscientiousness. One can gain a rich array of insights from
other disciplines like developmental and social psychology,
behavioral economics, along with advances in biological an-
thropology, where there has been a burst of recent work,
including the interactions between biology, the humanperson,
and the environment (Chiao et al. 2013; Lende and Downey
2012; Narvaez et al. 2014). Biographical approaches (Cham-
berlayne, Bornat, and Wengraf 2000) and interdisciplinary
approaches are also needed here, with a view to the devel-
opmental pathways that people navigate through structural,
cultural, and individual contexts.
In order to understand the tensions between diversity and
equality, we will need an adequate understanding of lifestyle
diversity, which also means reconsidering some of the taboos
on incorporating culture. Anthropologists ought to offer their
unique insight into the tremendous diversity that is ignored
by most who study inequality. This will be a tricky enterprise,
but well worth it if it gives us better insights into what con-
tributes to poverty and inequality, while remaining sensitive
to diversity. Despite some of the ethnographic work on the
poor, there still seems to be a huge disconnect between the
anthropology of poverty and inequality, and the reality of the
lives of the poor and the organizations that work on poverty
alleviation. The standard scholarly narratives simply do not
adequately address both the structural and cultural aspects of
the lives of the poor or the related tensions between the central
values of diversity and equality. By their one-sided structural
approaches, stratication scholars leave themselves open to
easy takedowns from public intellectuals who write for
broader audiences (e.g., Wolfe 1999) and thus have simply
taken themselves out of the public debate on poverty, leaving
the eld open for writers like Charles Murray (2012).
The typical policies promoted by well-meaning academics
often assume a homogenous and compliant public simply
needing opportunity, ready to take up jobs when available.
They do not get at the dynamics and diversities of social
groups. Some of the lower income groups (e.g., downshifters,
Amish) are relatively stable and contribute to few social prob-
lems, and one could argue they provide positive alternatives
to the mainstream neoliberal juggernaut. But others struggle
to survive in our speeded-up technocratic world of high com-
petition (on the production side) and the temptations of ever-
increasing opportunities for leisure and immediate grati-
cation (on the consumption side), preventing the slower
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326 Current Anthropology Volume 55, Number 3, June 2014
processes of education and savings that promote stability over
the long run. Daniel Bells Cultural Contradictions of Capi-
talism (1976) is here prescient, leading us to understand that
our predicaments go deeper in society than we often realize,
with our public policies often hamstrung by the ongoing ten-
sion between diversity and equality.
An earlier draft of this article was presented to the Culture
Workshop at the University of Notre Dame, and I wish to
thank the organizer, Terence McDonnell, and the participants,
along with others who provided input along the way: Emma
Kowal, Philip Salzman, Sean Kelly, Bonnie Bazata, Maurizio
Albahari, Laurie Arnold, Ines Jindra, and the anonymous re-
Jonathan Benthall
Department of Anthropology, University College London, Down-
ingbury Farmhouse, Pembury, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN2 4AD,
United Kingdom ( 19 XI 13
The general thrust of Michael Jindras article is admirable. It
is marred, however, by inconsistent use of key terms, equal-
ity and diversity, used sometimes to denote observable
social phenomena and sometimes to denote values or prin-
On the one hand, we may compare the observable extent
of equality between two specic populations in space and
time, using economic or human development indicators.
And when Jindra concludes that there has been an increase
in diversity in the West, even in the world at large, there is
no problem in understanding what he means, though we may
go on to ask what are the criteria for forming this hypothesis.
Jindra adduces such a wide range of criteriapractices, be-
liefs, and attitudes, as well as numerous socially constructed
markersthat the claim is unveriable. One could point to
many social phenomenasoccer, the English language, the
Internet, management taught at business schools, New Age
spiritualitywhich seem to attest to convergences as much
as to increased diversity.
On the other hand, equality and diversity can represent
values or principlesas in Jindras rst paragraph. For both
theologians and humanists, the equality of all human beings
is an article of faith. Egalitarian values also underpin many
political ideologies, from that of the United States, as ex-
pressed in the Declaration of Independence, to state com-
munism. As for diversity, it is promoted as a political value
in some countries today, though as Jindra notes, the concept
of multiculturalism is contentious. The result is a commin-
gling in this article of the analytical or etic use of the terms
equality and diversity with their folk or emic use, and
a less-than-smooth train of thought.
Moreover, the principles of equality and diversity are not
precisely comparable. Equality is an ideal of the same order
as liberty, each with a long history of political advocacy, and
it makes sense to think of these two principles as in contin-
uous tension. As for diversity, it is admittedly given a high
value by a school of humanist thought, much inuenced by
social-cultural anthropology. Emmanuel Terrays essay on
Levi-Straussian lines, The role of the Other in the consti-
tution of the human being, is an eloquent example, a warning
against xenophobia and political hysteria (Terray 2011:1523).
However, there is as yet no diversitarian movement to set
alongside egalitarianism and libertarianism.
More positively, I would like to single out one of the many
stimulating points made by Jindra when he writes that In
anthropology . . . scholarship on marginalized groups has
veered from a victim narrative in the 1970s to one of heroic
resistance in the 1980s and 90s as scholars realized that
victimology leaves agency entirely out of the picture. More
recently, the resistance narratives are now also seen as un-
satisfactory, one-dimensional, and overused, and scholars
have moved onto other topics such as identity. In my own
research on welfare provision in the Palestinian Territories, it
is impossible to avoid either the aspect of Palestinian victim-
hood (resulting from expulsions, conscations, military oc-
cupation, ethnic cleansing, aid dependence, and political
manipulation by Arab states as well as by Israel and Western
powers) or that of resistance, which is indeed closely linked
with the afrmation of Palestinian identity.
The Palestinian capacity for active resistance (muqawama)
is well known to everyone, extending to the lurid cult of the
martyrdom operation (istishhad). But although another
term in the Palestinian cultural repertoire, s umud, best trans-
lated as steadfastness, has received less international media
coverage, it is more pertinent to the everyday lives of Pal-
estinians under pressure. Sumud can be expressed, for in-
stance, through the determination not to give up land or
emigrate, through building up local welfare institutions,
through asserting national cultural values, and through non-
violent protest (though this has been given little practical
support by Palestinian politicians, and shades into muqa-
wama). The term has Islamic resonance, for Al-Samad is one
of the names of God (Quran 112.2). Leonardo Schiochett
(2011) argues that s umud also has a secular history but has
recently become re-Islamized.
At the beginning of the present century, numerous inter-
national aid donors saw local Islamic charitable organizations
in the Palestinian Territories as worthy objects for subventions
that sidestepped the corruption then associated with the Pal-
estinian Authority. These charities saw themselves as practical
manifestations of s umud (Schaeublin 2012). The long-run-
ning political crisis in Israel-Palestine was exacerbated by the
Fatah-Hamas split in 2007. International counterterrorist
measures, led by the United States, have subjected all external
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Jindra The Dilemma of Equality and Diversity 327
aid ows to suspicious scrutiny. For this and other reasons,
donors have shunned what was formerly a decentralized, rel-
atively unpolitical, and locally trusted sector. The weakening
of nonviolent s umud in the face of overpowering forces that
increasingly threaten Palestinian futures is likely to be fol-
lowed by a revival of more violent opposition from dissenting
factions. Cultural adaptations are trumped here by geopolitics.
Nanlai Cao
Department of Religious Studies, School of Philosophy, Renmin
University of China, Beijing 100872, China (nanlai_c@hotmail
.com). 10 XII 13
By making explicit the tension between economic equality
and cultural diversity, Jindra has offered an effective critique
of the popular scholarly discourse on stratication that as-
sumes a homogenous public needing opportunity. Drawing
on such high-prole cases as the Roma/Gypsy in Europe,
Native Americans in the United States, and Australian ab-
originals, he points out lifestyle diversity as an important (but
often ignored) contributing factor of persistent inequality so
as to highlight the role of human agency and cultural em-
beddedness in understanding poverty and inequality. While
I fully agree with his analysis, it seems that he has focused
exclusively on advanced Western countries that have com-
pleted the nation-building process and generally have high
tolerance to diversity. Here I would like to put this tension
in the contemporary context of Chinas modernization and
national rejuvenation with reference to religious diversity and
its connections to development.
Mainstream cultural values in China are scrutinized and
regulated by a powerful party-state preoccupied with making
exclusionary loyalty claims of the countrys diverse ethnic and
religious groups and constructing commonalities of lived ex-
perience across the nation (Kipnis 2012). Unlike what Jindra
has observed in the Western context, there is no taboo against
connecting cultural difference with poverty in the political
space of the Chinese state. In both ofcial and popular Chi-
nese discourses, rural inland provinces are perceived not only
economically poor but culturally backward, as evidenced by
the national project of sending culture down to poor rural
areas. Both state and nonstate actors (such as evangelical
Christian groups and domestic nongovernmental organiza-
tions) share the view that there is a need to transform rural
peoples backwardness while lifting them out of poverty (Cao
2009, 2011, 2013). However, development-related state in-
terventions and bureaucratization have fostered resentment
and resistance in impoverished minority regions where there
is rich local religious life such as in Tibet and Xinjiang, where
Tibetan Buddhism and Islam, respectively, have substantial
inuence among the local populace.
In the dual context of state and market modernities, of-
cials have taken a utilitarian approach to religion by setting
up the religious stage for promoting the economic devel-
opment show (zongjiao datai jingji changxi; see Oakes and
Sutton 2010). While Chinas ve ofcially recognized religions
are under pressure to adapt to socialism, those categorized as
feudal superstitions (such as folk religions and local cults)
may be preserved in the form of intangible cultural heritage
if compatible with the political and economic interests of the
state. Technically illegal religious structures and wasteful ritual
activities are for the most part tolerated if not encouraged by
local state agencies as long as they help stimulate the local
economy and enrich local elites (Chau 2006; Fisher 2008; Yang
2000). Not unlike the political left in the West as described
by Jindra, the post-Mao reformist state tends to view the
connection of cultural/religious diversity and inequality es-
sentially not as a matter of individual choice or preference,
but as a manifestation of developmental tensions to be over-
come, a view in line with the atheist-state understanding of
the doomed fate of religion in modernity.
Empowered by Chinas reform-era economic miracle, Pres-
ident Xi Jinping has recently described the ongoing nation-
building project as a gradual and linear process to realize the
Chinese Dream (apparently a paraphrase of the famous
American Dream). As a top buzzword in the Chinese media
now, the Chinese Dream emphasizes the revival of the Chinese
nation and aspirations for development, prosperity, and
Chinas modern identity, all of which signify a national call
for breaking away from local traditional forms of community
and the rise of a new form of politically motivated national
homogeneity. In this nation-building process, pluralism has
become a political formality serving to justify the use of col-
lective efforts and resources to maintain the status quo in
politics. While the party-state recognizes the freedom of re-
ligion as a constitutional right, religious believers continue to
be disallowed to join the ruling Communist Party even though
the latter has incorporated private entrepreneurs into its
power structure, defying the supposedly proletarian nature of
the party. What appears to be a dangerous consensus in to-
days Chinese society is the understanding of the tension of
diversity and equality as a transient phenomenon of economic
nature, inevitably resulted from dramatic modernization and
uneven development and thus bound to be resolved by the
completion of an all-around well-off society led by efcient
state agencies as well as elite entrepreneurs and scientists im-
bued with a modern secularist tendency. The strong relevance
of the state and its emphasis on gross domestic product ac-
cumulation in the Chinese model of development will likely
continue to perpetrate the misconception of the fundamental
human need for economic opportunities and development in
the making of public and foreign policies. At this juncture of
Chinas increased global economic outreach and political im-
pact, Jindras article serves as a timely reminder by question-
ing this seemingly universal truth.
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328 Current Anthropology Volume 55, Number 3, June 2014
Patrick Chabal
Kings College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, United King-
dom ( 21 XI 13
The very title of Michael Jindras article sets the stage for a
fascinating discussion on one of the most persistent conun-
drums of our modern societies: How do we reconcile equality
and diversity? My remarks here will focus less on the substance
of the article, much of which is well informed and impeccably
presented, and more on the assumptions behind the very
enterprise. It seems to me there are three issues that merit
reection. The rst concerns the denition of the concepts
used in the article. The second has to do with the discussion
of the causalities implied in the theories that deal with ques-
tions of equality and diversity. The last turns on the need to
revisit the premises of the social sciences we use to analyze
these processes.
(1) The article uses but does not question a number of
important concepts, which to a large extent color the way the
argument is presented. The notions of equality, diversity, pov-
erty, and, above all, culture, are all loaded both historically
and conceptually, and because of this they tend to overde-
termine the ways in which the main topics are approached.
Clearly, the major issue is that explosive question about the
alleged link between culture and povertya problem that
aficts all Western societies. The problem is twofold: one the
one hand, it is simply politically unacceptable to suggest a
cultural root to poverty; on the other, there is a politically
understandable but theoretically dubious attempt to portray
poverty as diversity. So, politics and analysis clash, leading to
a seesaw approach to this thorny dilemma. While the article
is lucid in the exposition of these contradictions, it does not
propose any conceptual way out.
(2) Clearly, the key issue here is that of causality. Whereas
sociology searches for structural explanations to the relation
between poverty and diversity, anthropology looks more
closely at the question of diversity and culture. Both offer
explanations as to why it is so difcult to achieve diversity
and equality: the one stressing the socioeconomic constraints
making progress virtually impossible; the other explaining
that there may be distinct cultural understandings of diversity,
which do not t the template of our Western societies as they
are currently organized. The result is that there seems to be
no satisfactory, or even workable, concept of agency. Either
there is no scope for agency that would allow greater equality
or agency becomes the veil that is (not so) discreetly thrown
upon practices that are seen to be detrimental to socioeco-
nomic advancement.
(3) The difculty in identifying relevant causalities stems
from two distinct but interrelated questions. The rst has to
do with the limits of the concepts we use. But the second,
and more important, is linked to the nature of mainstream
social science. The concepts we use are intimately tied to the
development of Western societiesthat is, in effect, West-
ernization. One way out here is to conceive of culture not as
a concatenation of (supposedly universal) values but as a
language that makes it possible for people to understand and
share the ways in which they perceive and operate within the
world they inhabit. Seen thus, the notion of poverty can only
be relative, and it is therefore impossible to conceptualize it
satisfactorily outside of the cultural context within which it
is found. Are the nomadic Maasai poor because their wealth
is invested in cattle?
One way out of this analytical dilemma is to search for
concepts that enable us to analyze these issues outside the
iron box of social science theory.
This involves a double
exercise. One is to set the theories within their historical con-
text, in order to show how they were meant to conceptualize
the progress of our Western societies since the Enlighten-
ment. The other is to search for concepts that can stand tall
outside of this specic Western framework. This is not easy,
since we are all conditioned by the setting in which we have
lived and worked. However, it is not impossible, and, in any
event, the attempt to do so is a liberating exercise that may
make it easier to tackle those apparently intractable issues in
a more productive way.
Pyong Gap Min
Queens College and Graduate Center, City University of New
York, and Research Center for Korean Community, Queens Col-
lege, Department of Sociology, Queens College, Flushing, New
York 11367, U.S.A. ( 25 XII 13
In this article, Professor Jindra has documented the tensions
between increasing diversity and rising levels of inequality
using many salient examples. In doing so, he used a broad
denition of diversity that includes not only the convention-
ally used social categories of race/ethnicity, class, nationality,
gender, and sexual orientation, but also (and more important
for him) many subcultural groups. His denition of diversity
is based on actual practices and beliefs or attitudes.
He has provided an excellent review of several salient ex-
amples of the tensions between diversity and equality in the
international, North American, and antipoverty nonprot
contexts. His review includes policy makers and experts
shifting back and forth between the autonomy and integration
policies in their attempt to help aboriginal communities in
6. The key here is to expose the axioms and assumptions of our social
scienceswhich have evolved theoretically very little since they rst ap-
peared at the end of the nineteenth century and are thus still geared to
searching for the holy scientic grail that will make it possible for them
to emulate the physical scienceswhich is what I try to do in my last
book: The end of conceit: Western rationality after postcolonialism (Chabal
7. For lack of space I can only give one example: my book Africa: the
politics of suffering and smiling (Chabal 2009) is an attempt to reect the
nature of real-life politics in Africa, one that tries to understand from
within the meanings of equality and diversity while not neglecting a
discussion of poverty in its appropriate historical and socioparticular
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Jindra The Dilemma of Equality and Diversity 329
Australia and local antipoverty nonprot organizations frus-
trations over how to deal with the dilemmas of diversity and
equality. Through this review, he has convincingly demon-
strated that subcultural differences, as well as structural bar-
riers, contribute to poverty and other forms of economic
problems on the part of disadvantaged groups. He criticizes
stratication scholars for ignoring cultural diversity that con-
tributes to inequality. He points out that most stratication
scholars on the political left have intentionally focused on
structural factors because of the conservative implications of
cultural explanations. He has the courage to recognize culture
as an important inuence on poverty and other forms of
I believe Jindras article will serve as an important source
for research on the tensions between cultural diversity and
equality in the future. I admire him for clearly telling the
readers of Current Anthropology that lifestyles of disadvan-
taged groups do inuence their economic problems. His mes-
sage is likely to encourage many social scientists to consider
the inuence of cultural differences in economic adaptations
in the future. I have read his article with great interest, and
I agree with his central argument.
Since Jindra provides more examples of the tensions be-
tween cultural diversity and class inequality in his article, I
would like to introduce here a salient example of the tensions
between cultural differences and racial inequality. In her
award-winning book Black identities: West Indian dreams and
American realities, Mary Waters (1999) pointed out that Ca-
ribbean black immigrants are ready to take low-status, low-
paying jobs that most African American workers would not
accept, partly because as new immigrants they have a higher
motivation for economic mobility and partly because they
consider their jobs temporary. Many other immigration stud-
ies have also shown that business owners and managers prefer
Latino immigrant workers to African American workers be-
cause they consider the former to be harder working than
the latter. There are many other reasons, in addition to cul-
tural reasons, why we should believe new immigrants from
underdeveloped countries work harder and have a higher mo-
tivation than native-born Americans: their self-selection in
terms of class and achievement orientation, their urgent im-
migrant situation, and their psychological motivation deriving
from a big gap in the standard of living between the United
States and their home country. For these reasons, most im-
migration scholars accept the proposition about immigrant
workers harder work and higher motivation, but because of
its negative implication for African Americans, many race
scholars, including Stephen Steinberg, are critical of this and
other similar ndings.
Diversity (multicultural) policy in the United States over
the past 50 years has helped to moderate racial and gender
inequality by reducing prejudice and discrimination against
these minority groups on the one hand and by hiring many
minority members and women through afrmative action
programs one the other. The US government has had to take
various measures to moderate racial and gender inequality
because historical and contemporary prejudice and discrim-
ination against and stereotypes of these minority groups based
on physical differences have contributed to their lower so-
cioeconomic status.
However, multicultural policy cannot do anything to mod-
erate the economic disadvantages of those groups based on
lifestyle differences reviewed in Jindras article that challenge
meritocracy. The contemporary postindustrial society de-
mands highly skilled workers. Accordingly, it is inevitable that
people get economic rewards based on their educational cre-
dentials and other human capital investments. Also, the con-
temporary postindustrial society economically rewards people
with technical skills, frugal attitudes, and legalistic and busi-
ness minds. Thus, why medical doctors make $300 per hour
compared to janitors who make only $7 per hour is not a
diversity issue, but an issue related to social equality. The
United States is a far more multicultural, but far more un-
equal, country than most European countries. European
countries have achieved class equality to a greater extent than
the United States using mainly socialist programs, such as a
much higher minimum wage, levying much higher taxes for
people with high-incomes brackets, and providing greater so-
cial safety nets than the United States. This means that we
can achieve not only class but also racial and gender equality
effectively in the United States mainly through socialist pro-
grams rather than through diversity programs.
Richard A. Shweder
Department of Comparative Human Development, University of
Chicago, 5730 South Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60637,
U.S.A. ( 29 XII 13
Opening Ones Eyes to the Equality-Difference
Promote equality in wealth or embrace genuine cultural di-
versity? The two aims are not harmonious. From a descriptive
point of view, there appears to be a trade-off between the
amount of equality in wealth and the amount of cultural (or
lifestyle) diversity achievable within human societies. If you
survey the world, you will discover that the most egalitarian
countries with respect to domestic wealth distributions (e.g.,
Denmark, Croatia, Slovenia, Rwanda) are (relatively speaking)
culturally homogeneous. These egalitarian countries often
have a history of partition, succession, ethnic cleansing, or
intense top-down pressuring of minority groups to assimilate
to mainstream norms. One speculates that it becomes easier
to enforce policies of wealth redistribution in a more culturally
uniform country, perhaps as a result of the fellow feeling and
the primordial sense of kinship, trust, and visceral attachment
that develops in homogeneous in-groups.
The trade-off goes both ways. Countries that are multi-
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330 Current Anthropology Volume 55, Number 3, June 2014
ethnic or religiously or linguistically diverse (culturally het-
erogeneous countries such as India, Brazil, Israel, or the
United States) tend to be relatively unequal in domestic wealth
distributions. Between 1918 and 1965, when the United States
took steps to close its borders and stopped being a land wel-
coming of immigrants, the country became both more cul-
turally (and linguistically) uniform and more egalitarian in
the distribution of wealth than it is today or than it was in
the 1890s. The contemporary (and much discussed) rising
wealth inequalities in the United States run more or less par-
allel to shifts in immigration policies in the mid-1960s that
made the United States once again a more culturally diverse
place. Levels of wealth inequality in the United States appear
to be roughly the same today as they were in the decades
prior to World War I (18701914), when the cultural, reli-
gious, and linguistic diversity of the country was on the in-
crease and the United States was proudly viewed as a world
federation of nations.
From an evaluative point of view, this trade-off between
promoting equality and embracing diversity is sometimes
called the equality-difference paradox (see Shweder 2008).
The paradox is a central theme in Michael Jindras highly
original, elegant, and courageous essay. His essay is corrosive
of received paradigms and is likely to provoke critical re-
sponses from both egalitarians and multiculturalists. Egali-
tarians will be inclined to resist the suggestion that wealth
inequalities within a society are not necessarily immoral or
at least might be a measure of something good. For egalitar-
ians, the provocation in Jindras argument is the implication
that the existence of wealth inequalities might be interpreted
as a positive index of (a) the scope of lifestyle diversity in a
society, (b) the existence of individuals and groups within a
society who remain poor by choice or unwilling to sacrice
their inherited lifestyles at the altar of Mammon, or (c) reject
neoliberal achievement ideals and upper middle class bour-
geois notions of success in a global capitalist economy. While
the essay acknowledges so-called structural factors and ques-
tions of power, the originality in the essay is its balance and
its willingness to acknowledge (for example) that: The high
achievement pattern . . . often comes at a cost in terms of
sociality, time, freedom, and increased stress . . . so for many
the sacrices required for upward mobility are simply not felt
to be worth it. Indeed, in the light of Michael Jindras eye-
opening account of lifestyle diversity in the United States,
wealth inequalities might even be viewed as a partial measure
of the extent to which (perhaps even for structural reasons)
the country truly tolerates (or at least puts up with) the free
exercise of culture within its borders.
The opening of ones eyes to the equality-difference par-
adox is likely to provoke multiculturalists as well, at least those
multiculturalists who actually value cultural differences and
do not automatically attribute such differences to false con-
sciousness or a history of domination, exploitation, or vicious
discrimination. The moral ideal for such multiculturalists is
a pluralistic society. In the ideal pluralistic society, groups or
factions are free to be culturally different (to adopt alternative
lifestyles with respect to the raising and education of children,
subsistence activities, gender relations, time management, ex-
pressive behavior, wealth acquisition) but are also made equal
with respect to the distribution of material benets. In effect,
the reality of the equality-difference paradox unmasks that
ideal as naive or utopian. Multiculturalists are not likely to
appreciate the irony that income equality is most readily
achieved by attening out the cultural variety within a society.
And they will be inclined to resist the suggestion that the
greater the legal and ethical scope for lifestyle diversity, the
more likely the resources of that society will be unequally
For all these reasons, this is a welcome, eye-opening con-
tribution and a pleasure to read. The essay addresses a deep
and signicant issue by means of a skillfully conducted, hu-
mane, and balanced review of many literatures. While there
may be limits on how much wealth equality is possible in a
genuinely culturally diverse society, Jindras essay raises in my
mind the following question: What is the ideal balance be-
tween equality and diversity in a complex society such as the
United States where at least some of us value both?
I am pleased that the commenters recognize the crucial issues
that I address in the article, but I suspect that these mostly
friendly comments do not reveal the hesitance many feel
about the connections between diversity and inequality. Since
I rst submitted this article, economic inequality has become
the hottest issue in public debate, highlighted by President
Obama and addressed even by Republicans. Preschool pro-
grams have become one of the favorite programs to deal with
inequality. In this sense, they are an effort to address the
diversity of parenting practices, but because socialization and
subcultural processes continue well past preschool as the in-
uence of peers and popular culture kicks in, evidence as to
their long-term success is mixed. On all sides, there seems to
be little awareness of the complexity of the issue.
As Benthall points out, there are problems with measuring
diversity (more so than economic equality), and while there
is certainly lifestyle convergence, I believe the evidence for
increased lifestyle diversity is strong. This is matched by the
rise of the ideal, not as diversitarianism but certainly as
multiculturalism, and calls to celebrate diversity. This, how-
ever, focuses mostly on racial/ethnic diversity (and often su-
percially at that) while leaving out the lifestyle diversity that
is the most relevant factor. As for inconsistency, I indeed use
those terms both as observable phenomena and as things we
value. The point is to show how they are changing but also
how we value both without realizing they conict. While they
are not precisely comparable, there is certainly a relationship
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Jindra The Dilemma of Equality and Diversity 331
between them, as Shweder details in his comments. Also, I
specically dene equality as economic equality, not as po-
litical equality, a more nebulous ideal.
Nanlai Cao offers excellent insights into the situation in
China, where the dilemma is simply resolved by the state in
favor of development for all, diversity be damned (while keep-
ing it supercially for tourists). Of course, they get resistance.
While diversity discourse is more upheld in Western contexts
rather than non-Western ones, the dilemma is still felt. In a
democracy like India, however, the dilemma pops up again,
most notably with the minority and rural scheduled tribes.
Government efforts to promote literacy, education, and in-
tensive agriculture among them are both egalitarian and an
attempt to eradicate cultural difference by superimposing a
majority style of life on the daily habits of minority members
(Schermerhorn 1978:339). Some tribal elites have beneted
from afrmative action programs, but the vast majority re-
main poor, and debates air over who exactly should be in-
cluded in these programs. As in other countries, government
policies have vacillated between autonomy and assimilation,
with the latter usually favored under the pressure of dominant
Hindu groups.
Pyong Gap Min adds a nice example in Waterss important
book on the success of West Indian immigrants. Later, he
discusses the shifts in labor market structures and rewards,
refers to more equal European societies, and advises for more
socialist programs. These programs, however, do not tend to
work well in more diverse societies, as Richard Shweder points
out in his comments. Part of the reason for more equality in
Europe is also due to cultural notions that operate more under
the radar. A human resources director at a Swiss corporation
once told me that executives there turned down the large pay
increases the new Russian owners wanted to give them. The
reason? Along with a sense of modesty and ethics, executives
anticipated the resentment and enviousness this could en-
gender in Swiss society. Compare this to Wall Street, through
the revelatory account Sam Polk (2014) recently gave in the
New York Times about his addiction to wealth as a trader,
unrestrained by any sense of social pressure or judgment
only a nagging sense of guilt that saw him eventually walk
away from that lifestyle. Swisslike social pressure is more likely
to occur in less pluralistic societies, which is not so much an
argument against diversity as one that says we must realize
the implications of it. Without strong ethical codes, market
forces and, along with it, inequality are likely to get stronger.
Richard Shweder highlights some very relevant country
data on the connection between equality and diversity and
the controversy over this equality-diversity paradox. At the
end, he asks about the ideal balance between these principles
in complex societies where both are generally valued.
First, we must simply recognize the trade-off exists, the
main point of my essay. Better awareness would allow us to
be more realistic and modest in our goals, such as the un-
reachable ending poverty, which would certainly eliminate
much diversity by forcing all nonmainstream groups into
modernist lifestyles. Certain groups, like old-order Amish,
would certainly be dened as poor by most income data,
though they have wealth in other ways.
On the other end, we would also be more careful about
celebrating diversity. If that means a rather supercial ac-
ceptance of different ethnic groups, it is certainly admirable,
but when it shades into tolerating all lifestyles, it becomes an
unworkable and extreme relativism, an issue which anthro-
pologists have thoroughly dissected before, most notably in
Geertzs anti-anti relativism. In some contexts, we end up
with high rates of extreme poverty, mortality, and other social
ills, as among the indigenous in Australia, and we draw lines.
Partly in answer to Shweders question, Patrick Chabal asks
for concepts that can apply outside the West, and his own
work takes us in that direction.
Similarly, Bjrn Thomassen
(2012:171173) deals with the relationship between moder-
nity and diversity, points to some of the inconsistencies in
our discourse of celebrating diversity, and argues that we
should study the frictions of multiple modernities, as in
Bhutans oundering irtation with happiness as a unied
national goal (Harris 2013). Diversity, he argues, is a part of
modernity, but it offers no solution since one inevitably needs
to rely upon specic traditions to address the dilemma. Chabal
is right that poverty is a problematic and relative concept, as
dening poverty only materially is simply not sufcient. Many
have recognized this, from Mary Douglas to Amartya Sen,
but it often becomes too complex an issue for the public and
policy makers to easily discuss, and it muddies up the simple
statistics that people prefer. There are more promising and
precise ways of measuring poverty in multidimensional ways,
including things like inner capabilities and relational resources
(Wagle 2014). Or one could take the broad concept of human
ourishing (Smith 2014) as a guide, though one should be
cognizant of the multiple ways that it is dened. This does
not solve the issue, but makes it one of ongoing public con-
tention to be worked out in most places through the often
imperfect mechanisms of liberal democracy.
Once we understand we are dealing with a trade-off and
avoid political extremes, the political and legal system kicks
in at all levels, from the Supreme Court down to local or-
dinances and zoning boards, and involves liberal democratic
processes, as mentioned above. This is where the United States
has been more exible than countries like France. Shweder
is right that allowing a certain amount of inequality is a sign
of tolerance. A key question, one I am working on right now
in research on antipoverty nonprots, is: To what extent do
we push in order to reduce poverty, to nudge people, a` la
the behavioral economists, to do what is good for themeat
better, act more responsibly, show concern for their families,
neighbors, and the wider society? Or, to what extent do we
8. I am both honored and saddened by the comments of Patrick
Chabal, as they are likely among the last things he wrote before his death
in January 2014, after a very inuential career. I was looking forward to
future correspondence with him.
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332 Current Anthropology Volume 55, Number 3, June 2014
allow diversity here? Do we want to enforce work, or allow
people who can work to avoid it?
This gets to the heart of Shweders question, and it takes
us into tricky areas of paternalism or conditionalityother
anathemas to social scientists but ones we cannot avoid, as
my research on even the most tolerant nonprots reveals.
Organizations that work with the poor simply do not have
the luxury of removing the human agent, as structuralist ac-
counts tend to do. All of these considerations are ne balances
or edges to maintain, and people will lean different directions
on this and hopefully nd an (uneasy) balance. We will need
to keep space for diverse communities, not to acquiesce to
all poverty or to deny injustice and oppression, but to allow
lifestyles that are stable and can ourish, even if they skew
the statistics on inequality or sometimes violate norms of
middle class respectability.
As I write this in early 2014, another book on culture and
success, by Tiger Mother Amy Chua and her husband, is
about to be released amid much publicity. Early reviews make
me doubt that these two lawyers have handled it well, with
heavy reliance on psychological language (superiority com-
plex, sense of inferiority, and impulse control) rather than
stronger social theories. Here, and with the debate on in-
equality now at the top of the political agenda, anthropologists
and sociologists are again left behind. The 2007 American
Anthropological Association annual meeting theme was Dif-
ference, (In)equality, & Justice, but the description and con-
nected panels showed no awareness of the tension between
these concepts, so an opportunity went wasted. We must re-
alize we face a stickier issue than most people realize, with
roots in deep-seated cultural and social changes, besides the
economic ones at the forefront of the discussion.
Michael Jindra
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