IAS Fellow's Seminar by Prof. Colleen Ward, Victoria University of Wellington.
In recent years my collaborators and I have begun to explore multiculturalism in connection with social cohesion and subjective well-being from a cross-cultural and social psychological perspective. Although the discipline of psychology trails other social sciences in advancing theory and research on multiculturalism, I suggest psychology can contribute a novel perspective on the benefits and risks of multiculturalism—even in the supposed “post-multicultural” era of interculturalism. I begin by identifying the key characteristics of multiculturalism: 1) the presence of culturally diverse groups that are in contact with each other (Multicultural Contact); 2) a widespread valuing of diversity (Multicultural Ideology); and 3) policies and practices that support and accommodate diversity (Multicultural Policies and Practices) to ensure both cultural maintenance and equitable participation for diverse groups. There are frequently used, objective national-level data to measure the contact (e.g., the ethnic segregation index), ideology (e.g., the International Social Survey), and policy (e.g., the Multicultural Policy Index) dimensions of multiculturalism; however, as psychologists we are also concerned with individuals’ observations, understandings, and interpretations of their everyday multicultural experiences. Specifically, our research team is interested in individuals’ perceptions of multicultural norms, which are known to shape attitudes and guide behaviours. To these ends, we have developed psychometric tools to assess perceived Normative Multiculturalism both at the national level and in educational institutions. Our studies have shown that each of these dimensions of multiculturalism exert largely positive independent and interactive effects on indicators of social cohesion, such as trust, and subjective well-being, such as flourishing, for both minority and majority groups although the effects vary as a function of socio-political-historical contexts. This research is in its infancy, and there are important big picture questions that deserve further attention, including: Is multiculturalism dead and buried? Why does normative multiculturalism play out differently in former colonial and settler societies? How can we integrate levels of analysis (national, group, individual) and interdisciplinary perspectives to examine the social and psychological consequences of multiculturalism? How can research on normative multiculturalism be applied to foster better social and psychological outcomes: for majority and minority groups? In our educational institutions? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these and related issues.