Diversity is manageable provided each party feels that the affiliation costs and benefits are equitably shared. In contrast, diversity gets out of hand where the signals coming from both culture and personality spell nothing but conflict and, therefore, trouble for the nation-state.
The argument thus far is not that diversity is of no consequence in conflict situations. However, its relevance lies in the capability of one type of diversity being manipulated to mask engrained prejudices, meaning a latent, probably cloudy, motive. Sooner or later, the mask will come off as the cynic begins to seek a relief that is totally unrelated to the proclaimed grievance.
In a nutshell, diversity may, at one point, be no more than an ‘opportunistic’ factor, and at another, a direct, causative agent. As argued in this article, whether diversity will strengthen or undermine a supra-ethnic (or ‘national’) identity depends on the different parties’ comparative assessment of the ‘costs’ versus the ‘benefits’ of various categories of identities or citizenship, that is the ‘identity value of citizenship’. Where the situations are properly handled, diversity will be perceived as an edifying factor in nation-building and capital formation. Diversity becomes a destructive agent only when it is so mismanaged that inter-personal and inter-group tension constantly rises beyond the acceptable (let us term it, ‘the Lewin’) threshold.
Handling a complex subject like diversity frequently requires that it be examined simultaneously from all possible angles and as a first step towards assigning precise values to the broad range of diversity indices. This is an impossible mission. Establishing a one-to-one relationship between, on the one hand, an identity fault-line, and, on the other, individual or group behaviour, poses a serious dilemma — one that is similar to that confronting Einstein as he tried to measure the precise position of particles in space. Much as he might detest the idea, Einstein realised that the act of measuring the position of a particle disturbs its momentum, and conversely. If in the quantum world, certainty is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder, it is more so in the social sciences, where fluidity is the rule, rather than the exception. If, with all its claim to objectivity, physics is unable to resolve the puzzle of the ‘spooky action at a distance’, the social sciences face a mammoth challenge explaining or predicting human behaviour.
Consequently, we cannot determine a priori how a specific diversity indicator — e.g., ethnicity, religious belief, or economic class — will shape or trigger a specific human response. Rather than allow ourselves to be diverted by a futile search for diversity ‘causes’ and ‘effects’, we should settle for the second-best — which is the isolation of different identity categories, as well as the influences or factors to which they are amenable in changing circumstances. This is where the relevance of the concept of the identity value of citizenship lies.
As we proceed in our analysis, we are likely to identify the citizenship benefits that are purely psychic. An example is the pride that comes with being identified with a specific diversity unit, be it the state, a clan, an ethnic group, a religious order, the middle/working class, or the elite. The importance or weight that each person attaches to any of the psychic values will naturally vary. Other benefits are the goods and services ‘consumed’ or enjoyed, especially the economic, social, and personal security provided by the state in competition or collaboration with civic bodies, access to a broad range of rights and privileges, and the opportunities which the individual has to live a healthy and fulfilling life under the various identity regimes.
The need for a refined sociology of knowledge of diversity is predicated on the fact that the totality of the individual’s social condition defines his/her ‘identity’, and by implication, his/her response to external stimuli. As presented in this article, diversity is a three-way pattern of interaction.
The costs of citizenship (and of primordial allegiances) include the sundry risks to life and property; the tax, tributes, or levies payable to retain citizenship status and rights; the obligations to comply with statutory and/or customary enactments, and to respect other citizens’ rights; as well as the readiness to be conscripted into national military service (as against service in ethnic militias or neighbourhood security outfits). At times, some disaffected or criminally inclined citizens seek to accumulate ‘benefits’ at the expense of the state and of other citizens. Such unearned benefits (the loot from robbery or the ransom from kidnapping operations, the damage to national prestige by money-loving drug traffickers, the fuel supply disrupted by acts of vandalism, and the life cut short by inter-communal clashes or by paid assassins) constitute additional ‘costs’ to the average citizen and are likely to lower the identity value of citizenship.
While the ‘identity value of citizenship’ enables us to generate easily verifiable hypotheses on the costs and benefits of competing identities, it leaves unresolved a crucial methodological challenge — how to ensure that the observer’s judgment does not substitute for that of the observed. The costs and benefits as perceived or ‘calculated’ by the researcher (and reproduced as probabilities) are likely to be at variance with the research subjects’ assessments, the latter representing an aggregation of the citizens’ objective and subjective interpretation of reality. If ‘reality’ is socially constructed, the sociology of knowledge of diversity will have to accommodate what the citizen knows to be true, together with his all too frequent lapses into ‘false consciousness’, self-deception, and outright misrepresentation.
The need for a refined sociology of knowledge of diversity is predicated on the fact that the totality of the individual’s social condition defines his/her ‘identity’, and by implication, his/her response to external stimuli. As presented in this article, diversity is a three-way pattern of interaction. The ‘parties’ to this triangular relationship are the nation-state, together with the conflicts associated with its creation and maintenance, the individual personalities, along with their needs and fears, and the cultural sub-systems, totems, and signals to which they are exposed. The international angle becomes relevant where it can influence the attitudes and behaviour of the three main parties.
Diversity is manageable provided each party feels that the affiliation costs and benefits are equitably shared. In contrast, diversity gets out of hand where the signals coming from both culture and personality spell nothing but conflict and, therefore, trouble for the nation-state. In this latter case, the parties to the state creation effort will perpetually complain about the huge ‘costs’ incurred by, and the ‘paltry benefits’ accruing to their sundry identities. Understanding the role of diversity thus entails inquiring into the citizen’s own notion of the costs and benefits of competing identities — a notion that tends to be shaped by the citizen’s personality and innate character, as well as by the cues transmitted by the state and non-state actors. While an individual is, to some extent, free to ‘choose’ his identity, he most frequently finds some identities ‘ascribed’ to him or ‘fastened’ on his neck.
An identity that is ascribed (mostly by groups to which the citizen does not belong) leaves little room for personal choice. Such an identity confines the citizen to a ghetto, meaning, x1 (ethnic), x2 (religious), x3 (linguistic), or xn (any other exclusive group). This is the case when the individual is ‘labelled’ or ‘profiled’ by members of rival ethnic or faith groups…
An identity that is based on choice allows a certain degree of individual discretion and flexibility in decision-making. Identity borders are permeable when the value attached by an individual to an identity fault-line does not pitch him/her against another and does not predetermine the values of other diversity categories. An example is when an individual makes deliberate moves to cross nature-imposed barriers by learning an ‘alien’ language, donning another ethnic group’s traditional apparel, and siding with the ‘other tribe’ on major issues.
This notwithstanding, an identity that is permeable and seen to be so may still not hold any promise for an individual who is not particularly keen about life behind the ‘enemy border’. Indeed, rather than learn about new and conflicting identities, such an individual may waver from blissful ignorance to outright misrepresentation and distortion of outside experiences. Serious conflicts have been known to begin as an exchange of fabrications and diatribes, or because of insults hurled across the pages of newspapers and magazines. Religious groups have, as part of their proselytising (or membership recruitment and fund-raising) drives, deliberately misrepresented the teachings of opposing groups, and, by so doing, touched off bloody religious confrontations.
An identity that is ascribed (mostly by groups to which the citizen does not belong) leaves little room for personal choice. Such an identity confines the citizen to a ghetto, meaning, x1 (ethnic), x2 (religious), x3 (linguistic), or xn (any other exclusive group). This is the case when the individual is ‘labelled’ or ‘profiled’ by members of rival ethnic or faith groups, and when his motives are explained solely in terms of this voluntary categorisation. In other words, before the individual has a chance to choose, s/he is labeled ‘Hausa-Fulani’, ‘Efik’, ‘Bolewa’, ‘Igbo’, ‘Yoruba’, ‘Ijaw’ ‘Southerner’, ‘Northerner’, ‘Muslim’ or ‘Christian’. This act of pre-empting individual choice is at the heart of the diversity management challenge facing Africa today.
Whether an individual will venture in search of new experiences depends on how porous the borders he seeks to penetrate are. Caste identities tend to be fixed and, in the absence of state policy to the contrary, taken as predestined and immutable. Everything being equal, therefore, the probability is high that individual members of the upper class will identify with it and place a high value on caste ‘purity’ vis-à-vis the members of the disadvantaged groups. An identity based on race or an individual’s ethnic origin is sometimes viewed in the same way, although the individual concerned may surmount birth-imposed barriers by learning a new language, acquiring new knowledge and skills, imbibing new cultures, and taking steps to fulfil other critical conditions for ‘assimilation’.
M.J. Balogun was Special Adviser to the President of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
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