It „Broadened my Horizon and Left me Excited and Happy“: First Report from Our WeberWorldCafé „Diversity – Limits and Opportunities“

A report by Malina Emmerink

It sounded like an academic speed dating event on an international and intercultural level and instantly made me curious: When Gesche Schifferdecker of the Max Weber Foundation asked me if I would like to join the Weber World Café on „Diversity – Limits and Opportunities“ to meet professionals from different fields of expertise and exchange ideas on the fascinating topic of “diversity”, I happily agreed to come to Göttingen for the event.

dsc03437_croppedThe international Weber World Café is organized biannually by the Max Weber Foundation and the Forum Transregionale Studien (Berlin) in changing locations. It brings together people from different countries, professions and ages to discuss a topic of broad public interest. The format is innovative and refreshing: Instead of well-known and often unproductive panel discussions, the participants are grouped around several tables. Each table is hosted by two experts from different academic fields who chair the discussion about a special aspect of the main topic. Every participant is encouraged to take an active part in the discussions and contribute with his or her specific views and perspectives. Each discussion round lasts for 25 minutes after which it is possible to change tables or stay for another, often very different session on the same topic. Paper table-cloths provide a great opportunity to take notes, to sum up important aspects of the discussion and to write down newly raised questions for the next group.

This late fall’s Weber World Café was organized in cooperation with the German Institute for Japanese Studies Tokyo (DIJ), the Diversity Research Institute of the Georg-August-University Göttingen and the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. The subject-matter was highly topical and of great importance: During three hours we discussed many facets of the complex and at times diffuse concept of “diversity”. The organizers tackled the complexity of the phenomenon by organizing the discussion tables around seven very interesting subtopics: They focused on conflicts in multi-ethnic societies, intersectionality, gentrification, body modification, historic examples of diverse societies, the concept of “superdiversity”, and gender-neutral parenting. Experts from all over the globe were invited to host the tables and enriched the discussions with their expertise. Weiterlesen

Cyborgs, Klone und Mutanten? – Interview mit Melike Şahinol über aktuelle Transformationsprozesse in der Medizin

Leider konnte Melike Şahinol an unserem WeberWorldCafé „Diversity – Limits and Opportunities“ nicht teilnehmen, da sie als Organisatorin der Vortragsreihe „Natur umgestalten, menschliches Leben optimieren? Wie Medizin, Wissenschaft und Technologie unser Leben transformieren“ am Orient-Institut Istanbul unabkömmlich war. Freundlicherweise erklärte sie sich jedoch zu einem Interview bereit. Ich habe mich mit ihr über ihre Forschung unterhalten.

Welche Bedeutung hat der soziologische Begriff der Diversität (im Sinne von Vielfalt) für Deine Forschung?

Mit den vielfältigen biotechnischen Möglichkeiten aus den Life Sciences werden Eingriffe in die „Natur des Menschen“ zum Alltag, dadurch entsteht künstlich eine Form von „Diversität“. Das kann man bereits bei medizinischen Behandlungen im Hinblick auf Gentherapie, Assistierten Reproduktionstechnologien, Neuroimplantaten etc. beobachten. Transformationsprozesse in der Medizin müssen aus unterschiedlichen Gründen interkulturell, interreligiös und transnational betrachtet werden. Dies kann einen Beitrag dazu leisten, die sich gegenseitig bedingenden biopolitischen, sozialen, institutionellen, regulativen, etc. Einflussfaktoren auf die „Natur des Menschen“ und ihre Folgen für „Mensch und Gesellschaft“ abzuschätzen. Ein inter- und transdisziplinärer Blick ist dabei hilfreich.

Wenn ich Diskussionen über mögliche Optimierungen des Menschen (Reproduktionsmedizin, Schönheitsoperationen, Manipulation des menschlichen Erbguts) folge, bin ich beunruhigt. Werden die Menschen der Zukunft alle Cyborgs sein?

Foto: Linus Bohman on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Foto: Linus Bohman on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Cyborgs sind Donna Haraway zufolge Verflechtungen von natürlichen und materiellen Elementen und spiegeln sich in Subjekten wieder. Sie sind kybernetische Organismen – also Hybridkonstellationen aus Organismus und einer kybernetischen Apparatur. Wenn wir uns die moderne Medizin anschauen, kann man sagen, dass sie voller Cyborgs ist, die aus Verkopplungen von Organismus und Maschinen bestehen, die beide „programmierbar“ erscheinen. Das bedeutet also, dass in der Medizinforschung die Grenzen von Natur und Kultur in der Figuration der Cyborg/des Cyborg zusammenfallen. Dies ist den Gedanken der Wissenschaftlerin folgend auch durchaus erwartbar, denn nach Haraway ist die Trennung von Natur und Kultur nicht natürlich, sondern wird „künstlich“ erzeugt. Weiterlesen

Tipp: Diversität im Kulturbetrieb

km1611_header„Diversity“ hat als Schlagwort auch im Kulturbetrieb seit einigen Jahren Konjunktur. Schließlich soll Kultur ein Ort sein, wo gelebte Vielfalt und Toleranz ethnische und nationale Grenzen verwischen. So erfreuen sich Programme, die auf Interkulturalität oder die Inklusion von Flüchtlingen abzielen, großer Beliebtheit. In der neuen Ausgabe des  „KM Magazin: Kultur und Management im Dialog“ geht es darum, wie gelungen bzw. wie divers die aktuellen Ansätze im Kulturmanagement wirklich sind. Weiterlesen

Table Topics: Can Cool Little Boys Wear Skirts? Gender, Parenthood and Sexuality (Sabine Grenz)

Sabine Grenz

Sabine Grenz

To ask the question of whether a boy can wear skirt is related to the two-sex concept prevalent in the West. Moreover, the question particularly arises, when we assume sex to be somehow ’natural‘. By wondering about this we relay on assumed clarities about what it means to a boy and a girl. In our assumptions we tend to forget that also norms like wearing skirts and trousers are socially constructed and historically developed. Hence, they can change. Can we change those now? Can we work on more liberal clothes orders than we already have? What would we have to do?

On the table I would like to discuss the historicity of sex and gender as well as our modern constructions of femininity and masculinity that allow certain clothes and seemingly forbid others. By doing this, I will draw on works of historians as well as social scientists. Weiterlesen

Table Topics: DiverCities. Gentrification, Social Mobility and Public Spaces (Qudsiya Contractor )

Qudsiya Kontraktor (photo: private)

Qudsiya Kontraktor (photo: private)

Gentrification in Indian cities has been used variously by scholars to describe an array of urban transformations from slum demolitions to land privatization; from labour market induced displacement to the overall restructuring of cities. The post-colonial Indian city has followed its own trajectory into the spatial fix of capitalism that has shaped urban transformations, Mumbai being a good illustration. However, these transformations have not just been outcomes of capital accumulation and class-based displacement but also socio-political contestations over urban space involving the entrepreneurial state, elite power and subaltern aspirations. These contestations have often been violent and xenophobic (especially towards Muslims) having transformed the socio-spatial landscape of the city. My own research engagement for the past several years has been with Mumbai’s Muslim working-class neighbourhoods or ‘slums’, to understand these as sites of socio-spatial exclusion as well as socio-cultural innovation aimed at the redistribution of social goods and opportunities. For the round table, I would like to discuss how gentrification could be understood from different contexts? How do different social groups experience gentrification? What are the challenges of gentrification in the Global South? Weiterlesen

Table Topics: „Learning from the Past? Facts and Fictions from Historical Societies with Greater Diversity“ – The Case of 19th Century Latin America (Lorena Ossio Bustillos)


Lorena Ossio Bustillos (photo: private)

In Latin America, before people began to talk about the Indians or indigeneity, the liberal constitutional projects of the 19th century concentrated on equal citizenship rights; the indigenous communities and the access to collective rights were hereby silenced. The indigenous population had „hidden“ under the identity of „Campesino“ (peasant). The peasant movements in Mexico, Bolivia, Guatemala and all of Latin America consisted of indigenous peoples who did not demand their cultural difference who neither demanded the recognition of ther cultural difference, nor their civil rights, but instead stood up for their their social rights, i.e. their land rights. With the first Congreso Indigenista Interamericano (First Inter-American Congress of Indigenous Peoples) that took place in 1940 in Pátzcuaro, Mexico, this started to change. According to José Bengoa, at least four concepts have been established for the legal discourse, which are still in one way or another belong to the definition of the indigeneity: first, the relationship between the pre-colonial inhabitants, peoples and nations, and the indigenous communities, which is often the subject of much discussion. Second, the lack of a demand for the recognition of ethnic or “cultural purity”, but rather the acceptance that the contact with the indigenous communities has led to numerous changes in those communities, which therefore do not cease to be indigenous; Third, the affirmation that self-identification (the feeling of belonging and finally (fourth) that there are separate forms of work, languages, cultures and traditions which ultimately separate the Indigenous Peoples from the non-Indigenous Peoples and characterize it.

At the table “Learning from the Past? Facts and Fictions from Historical Societies with Greater Diversity“, Lorena Ossio will also describe how the legal discourse prefigured the history of the colonial period in Latin America, and how historiography is deeply influenced by legal requirements. The construction of justice systems raise serious questions and problems. One problem is that it habe been long a prevailing assumption that every state must possess a unified legal system backed by coercive enforcement. A second major problem is that indigenous customary systems may be inconsistent with national constitution and are perceived as systems that violate human rights or women´s rights. Another central topic for this table is also to discuss to what extent does the legal discourse play a role in the construction of identities. Weiterlesen

Table Topics: „Learning from the Past? Facts and Fictions from Historical Societies with Greater Diversity“ – The Case of 19th Century Ottoman Istanbul (Richard Wittmann)


Richard Wittmann (photo: Orient-Institut Istanbul)

Lessons from the past can only be learned if we do not blindfold ourselves by ignoring sources available to us, be it accidental, deliberate, or as a result of methodological approach, argues historian Richard Wittmann.

While the Ottoman capital Istanbul has been home to many nationalities and adherents of various religions ever since the city was conquered from the Byzantines in 1453, its history has by-and-large been written on the basis of texts produced by Sunni Muslim males.  For centuries, the Ottoman ordre public, which was developed according to Islamic notions of the state, allowed for a functioning—albeit unequal—conviviality of Muslims, Christians and Jews, who only occasionally experienced short-lived disruptions of their all-in-all peaceful coexistence. As a consequence of the reform legislation (Tanzimat) of the 19th century, for the first time in Ottoman history, non-Muslims acquired equal citizenship rights. Weiterlesen

Table Topics: DiverCities. Gentrification, Social Mobility and Public Spaces (Anouk Tersteeg)

Photo: private

Anouk Tersteeg (photo: private)

Although cities have always attracted diverse groups of people, recently scholars including Vertovec (2007; 2010) have argued that cities are becoming even more diverse. The EU-funded research project DIVERCITIES in which I work uses the concept of hyper-diversity to indicate that cities are not only increasingly diverse in ethnic, demographic and socioeconomic terms, but also with respect to attitudes, lifestyles and activities of people (see: Tasan-Kok et al., 2013). In Western European cities, the neighbourhoods that are most diverse are often relatively deprived areas that host low-income groups, non-western ethnic minority groups and newcomers to the city (Wessendorf 2014). For this, these areas are often portrayed as undesirable places to live in public and political debates. Authorities seek to promote the influx of middle class households and entrepreneurs to stimulate social cohesion and social mobility in these areas.

At the table “DiverCities. Gentrification, Social Mobility and Public Spaces”, I would like to critically assess this policy approach, by considering the perspectives of multiple resident groups in these diverse and deprived areas, particularly also low-income and/or (ethnic) minority groups. What does the neighbourhood and its’ diversity mean for different resident groups (positively and negatively)? What do pro (white) middle class policy approaches mean for them? And from the perspective of the city, are these approaches the right way to go? Weiterlesen

Tipp: „Intersectionality 101“ with Kimberlé Crenshaw

„A lot of the problems we face today grew out of intersectional failures of yesterday“, Kimberlé Crenshaw, the female black civil rights advocate, feminist scholar, and law professor, began her keynote at the Women of the World Festival 2016, earlier this year. Crenshaw, who helped to coin the term intersectionality in the 1980s, elaborated in her talk on the meaning and usefulness of intersectionality. A great deal of her explanation illuminates, why the concept is so important until this day and accounts for difficulties of addressing diversity without borrowing from her terminology, which explains why the intersectionality is an omnipresent term in most of the short expert statements we posted here in this blog in preparation of our WeberWorldCafé „Diversity – Limits and Opportunities“. Since modern multi-religious and multi-ethnic societies are complex hierarchies, and forces of oppression work from several directions at once, intersectionality has become an incredibly helpful analytical tool to address the overlapping, entangled structures that characterize almost any form of discrimination and social inequality that is part of human everyday life to this day. It allows people, both scholars and activists, to name and approach the multidimensional interplay of markers of human identity, such as gender, race, class, sexuality, age and able-bodiedness. The intersection, the image the term intersectionality borrows from, was, as Crenshaw explicated the most obvious choice for a metaphor to put the experience of being disadvantaged from more than one perspective: „If you’re standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you are likely to get hit by both“, pretty much like a person standing in the middle of a crossroad. Weiterlesen

Schluss mit „Schubladendenken“ – Diversität in der Schule

Was ist Diversität eigentlich genau? Wie geht man damit um? Ist es schlecht oder gut, dass wir alle „anders“ sind?

Das waren die ersten Fragen, die ich im Kopf hatte, als ich das Wort zum ersten Mal gehört habe. Eigentlich müsste ich „diversity“ schreiben, also das englische Wort. Übersetzten kann man es mit „Vielfalt“ und „Verschiedenheit“. Da in England und den USA die dahinterstehende Idee entwickelt wurde, wird das Konzept mit dem englischem Wort verknüpft. Der Leitgedanke ist die gegenseitige Anerkennung und der Umgang mit Verschiedenheit. Man soll für Diskriminierung sensibilisiert werden und Selbstreflexion sowie den Perspektivwechsel erlernen. Also kurz: Bei „diversity“ geht es sowohl um die Wahrnehmung von Gemeinsamkeiten und Unterschieden als auch um die Anerkennung des Gegenübers.

Gardenswartz & Rowe (1995)  haben den Aufbau der Diversität in einem Schaubild verfasst: In der Mitte ist die Persönlichkeit. Dieser folgt die Schale „Innere Dimension“(Geschlecht, Alter und Hautfarbe). Danach kommt die „Äußere Dimension“(Religion, Gewohnheit und Einkommen), zuletzt schließt sich die Schale „organisatorische Dimension“(Arbeitsort, Managementstatus) an. Ich interpretiere das Schaubild so, dass die verschiedenen Dimensionen sich wie Schichten über eine Person erstrecken. Je näher eine Schicht an der eigenen Persönlichkeit liegt, desto geringer bzw. unmöglich sind die Chancen, sie zu verändern.


Abbildung: The Four Layers of Diversity (Quelle: eigene Darstellung nach Lee Gardenswartz und Anita Rowe 1995,Adaptierung durch Katrin Oberhöller für das IMST Gender_Diversitäten Netzwerk 2012, Quelle:


Table Topics: Facing Various Axes of Oppression – Individual, Political and Legal Approaches to „Intersectionality“ (Andrea D. Bührmann)

All Oppression is Connected, 2013 by Jim Chuchu (photo: baldiri | Flickr| CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

„All Oppression is Connected“, 2013 by Jim Chuchu (photo: baldiri | Flickr| CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Crucial to the rise and propagation of diversity as a relevant notion for the social sciences were the activities of various social movements, above all, the civil rights movement, the women’s and lesbian movement and also the labour movement . Today, the issue of diversity features in many disparate areas of society and at different levels. The spectrum stretches from discussions at the micro level on the identity politics of individual social groups, tending to involve, in particular, women, members of ethnic minorities and also LGBT activists, to the macro level with the central axes of social inequality, for example, hierarchical gender relations, class relations or migration regimes, and also encompasses, at the meso level, approaches to diversity in the workplace in the form of organisational diversity management policies. Further, at the level of the symbolic order, discussions are taking place on the possible consequences of diversity.  Weiterlesen

Table Topics: Multi-Ethnic Societies – How Do We Get Along, If You Are Not Like Me? (Bouke de Vries)

Bouke de Vries (photo: private)

Bouke de Vries (photo: private)

Living with people from different cultural or religious affiliations backgrounds need not result in conflict. In this respect, the title ‘how do we get along, if you are not like me’ overstates the challenge that diversity poses to social stability and cohesion. Nonetheless, when disagreements arise about the conditions for living together (i.e. about the terms under which people can practice their different cultures and religions), diversity may lead to conflict among (cultural) groups. In the WeberWorldCafé, I’d like to focus on some of these disagreements. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the limits of free speech, abortion, the teaching of evolutionary biology, veiling, ritual slaughtering, and pornography. All of these issues have sparked vexing debates within diverse societies.

Bouke de Vries is a PhD at the European University Institute in Florence and recently at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. His dissertation focuses on liberal neutrality and toleration and under what conditions liberal states may burden peaceable comprehensive doctrines of citizens and non-citizen residents. He holds several degrees from the University of St Andrews (MPhil) and King’s College London (MA), as well as a degree in Arts and Culture from Maastricht University (BA).

Table Topics: Conflicts in Multi-Ethnic Societies – How Do We Get Along, If You Are Not Like Me? (Banu Karaca)

Banu Karaca (photo: private)

Banu Karaca (photo: private)

Discourses of diversity have been on the rise, and have in part replaced those on multiculturalism – today often designated as a failed concept, especially in Germany. While multiculturalism has generally attended to questions broadly formulated around ‘cultural’ difference, diversity seems to encompass issues of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and class more explicitly. And yet, the question remains to what extent this focus on diversity has decentered the power relations that separate ‘unmarked’ bodies that fit into the normative (and majoritarian frame) from those that are designated to ‘add’ or provide diversity to a social context with regard to gender, sexuality, ethnic background, etc. In this frame, the ‘other’ continues to be designated to auxiliary regions of society rather than being constitutive for it. How do discourses of diversity relate to issues of equality and social justice? If we understand homogeneity as a concept that has dominated modernity and its political manifestation – the nation state – can the concept of diversity help us think through the ‘ethics of living together’?


Table Topics: Fighting Complex Structures with New Concepts: How “Superdiversity” Can Help Us Understand Contemporary Migration Flows

Laurence Lessard-Phillips (photo: private)

Since Steven Vertovec coined the notion of „super-diversity“ in 2007, it has gained in popularity in academic and policy circles. Talking about super-diversity is meant to provide a better understanding of changes ongoing in Western societies, especially among their populations, who are evolving quickly under the effect of new migration dynamics. Urban populations, in particular, are becoming more heterogenous and the social relationships more unstable.

In the research community, the notion raises hopes but also critiques, and is still facing several challenges, both in terms of theory building and implementation of methods.
Outside academia, super-diversity attracted some politicians and public institutions, but has also been defined and interpreted in different ways.

Alexandre Tandé (photo: private)

Alexandre Tandé (photo: private)

At the table, Laurence Lessard-Phillips and Alexandre Tandé will explore topics closely related to super-diversity and are particularly interested in discussing the following (and related) issues:

  • Definition of the notion of „super-diversity“ and core ideas of Vertovec’s seminal article.
  • How is super-diversity approached in academic research?
  • What is new in this approach, in comparison to older ones?
  • What kind of questions and challenges are raised by the notion, for both researchers and policy-makers?


Table Topics: Facing Various Axes of Oppression – Individual, Political and Legal Approaches to „Intersectionality“ (Guilaine Kinouani)

Intersectionality: A Bridge between the Social and the Psychological?

Intersection (photo: private)

Intersection (photo: private)

There is a long history of social scientists rendering invisible social forces such as oppression, discrimination and marginalisation on the psychological functioning of people who are located at the bottom of social hierarchies. Similarly, it remains largely unclear how social mechanisms may shape psychological structures and relational processes. Clear relationships nevertheless exist between social devaluation, stigma, exclusion and poor psychological health. It is therefore not coincidental that ‚low rank‘ groups such as poor people, people of colour, those who identify as LGBT, people with disabilities or people considered ‚fat‘, for example, tend to experience more challenges to their psychological well-being in ‚the west‘.  Any genuinely liberatory approach to addressing these inequalities must strive to make visible the impact of these multiple and complex oppressions and of their bi-directional influence on wider social structures. Intersectionality offers us a starting point to illuminate the same. Using primarily personal testimonies, it will be argued that intersectionality when combined with psychological knowledge and theories may create innovative opportunities for the formulation of lived experience and for emancipatory action. Weiterlesen