Debating Diversity: Analysing the Discourse of Tolerance

Debating Diversity: Analysing the Discourse of Tolerance

Debating Diversity: Analysing the Discourse of Tolerance

Debating Diversity: Analysing the Discourse of Tolerance


Immigration, racism and nationalism have become hotly debated issues in the Western world. This highly original and controversial work focuses on the language used by the vast majority who regard themselves as being open to a multi-cultural society.Using Belgium as a case study and drawing parallels with the UK, US, Europe and the former Yugoslavia, the authors analyse this language and reveal a remarkable consistency between these liberal voices, such as in news-reporting, and the language used by radical racist and nationalist groups.


The empirical data for this study were collected from publicly accessible types of discourse on ‘migrants’ (a fuzzy category the functioning of which will be described at length) produced by the mass media, government sources, political parties, and social scientists whose work was widely broadcast in the media. To the extent that these different sources are interrelated, the ‘migrant debate’ is predominantly oriented at formulating policies, i.e. the management of diversity. Irrespective of the content of the adopted positions and of the formulated proposals, it is clear that they affect group relations: existing or desired relations between a majority of ‘Belgians’ and a minority of ‘immigrants’. In the foregoing chapter we already hinted at the dependence of group relations on their conceptual framing. Before venturing into an analysis of actual data, the general validity of this point about the cognitive anchoring of intergroup perception and interaction has to be shown.

Not only are perceptions of the ‘other’ highly influenced by the socio-psychological positioning of the self. At the most elementary level the conceptual framing of group relations depends on definitions of group identities, as much for the self as for the other. And this is where a major problem emerges from the start. As Dov Ronen (1979:9) says,

Until future research proves otherwise, we ought to take for granted only two basic human entities: individuals and all humanity. All entities between these two, save a mother and a new-born child, are arbitrary formations created by our perception of ourselves vis-à-vis others.

In a further explanation he argues:

One’s religion, mother tongue, culture, also one’s education, class, sex, skin color, even one’s height, age, and family situation are all potentially unifying factors. Each factor can also be ignored as irrelevant in the formation of an ‘us.’ Various unifying factors, such as language, religion,

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