Thinking Diversity Radically – immersive

This is example of a course that I have supported – the lead trainers for this programme were Byron Lee (Added Value Learning) and Pauline Gibbs (Mindful Bowl). For more information about this immersive course at the Ulex Project click here.

This is a week-long residential community of inquiry that combines virtual and physical space to support a deep reflective inquiry into diversity and inclusion in society. The gathering will strengthen our capacity to create social practices that honour diversity, embrace pluralism, and enable us to live creatively with difference, through a deepening our understanding of ‘othering’.

‘Othering’ involves constructing identities and defining belonging and exclusion in terms of ‘us and them’. It is the patterning of identity that finds explicit expression in intolerance, racism, and xenophobia. It is both a psychological dynamic and set of social practices, and sits at the heart of ideological formation.  Although its consequences can be harsh, its formation can be complex and subtle.

Through participatory and co-creative methodologies, the community of inquiry will explore:

  • The root causes of ‘othering’
  • How it shows up and shapes the intrapersonal, interpersonal and structural
  • Ways of deepening our understanding and uncovering the process in ourselves, our groups and in society
  • Effective methods for challenging and engaging with intolerance and prejudice – as well as ways to transform those tendencies
  • Situate intolerance historically – understanding the conditions that give rise to it and how they can be changed
  • How this learning can support the development of radical and pluralist democracy.

Intolerance, racism, and xenophobia are all back in the headlines. Of course, they never went away, but a constellation of socio-economic conditions is strengthening their hand along with the rise of the far right. It seems, as Zack Beauchamp,[i] writes, that ‘the battle between racist nationalism and liberal cosmopolitanism will be one of the defining ideological struggles of the 21st century.’

Anger over immigration and a toxic mix of racial and religious intolerance, combining with economic precarity are current sources of the far-right’s appeal. But the core tendencies are is nothing new. The tendency to construct identities and define belonging or exclusion in terms of ‘us and them’, is the patterning of identity that finds expression explicitly in far-right populism. This is the tendency often referred to as ‘othering’. It structures relations and oppression in terms of race, culture, sexuality, class, ethnicity and gender, amongst other diverse dimensions of human identity.

Understanding ‘othering’ as a psychological tendency, as a social practice, and its role in ideological formation, can support us to honour diversity, embrace multi-culturalism and pluralism, and live creatively with difference. It is important to be able to reflect on the ways it plays out in the construction of our own identities, in our own groups and organisations, as well as in society around us.

“Social groups and relations exist only by means of their symbolic differentiation from other[s], through exclusion from or opposition to certain conditions. This antagonistic differentiation supplies a fictive coherence and objectivity to social identity through the demarcation of a threatening ‘other’ often regarded as irrational, hostile or beyond reasonable comprehension (selfish capitalists, envious foreigners, cold-hearted bureaucracies, and so on), thus It promis[es] an illusion of fullness of identity once the antagonist has been overcome.”[ii] James Martin

In recent years there has been some excellent work done in the areas of ‘Power and Privilege’, ‘Diversity and Anti-Oppression’, or ‘decolonialism’.  Related tools and methods have been used to uncover and transform prejudice and oppressive practices in many social change groups, organisations and communities. This inquiry seeks to draw on these fields and then drop into a yet deeper reflection on the core tendencies that undermine our capacity to truly honour diversity.

“It is part of our task as revolutionary people, people who want deep-rooted, radical change, to be as whole as it is possible for us to be. This can only be done if we face the reality of what oppression really means in our lives, not as abstract systems subject to analysis, but as an avalanche of traumas leaving a wake of devastation in the lives of real people who nevertheless remain human, unquenchable, complex and full of possibility.” —Aurora Morales