Defining diversity : the politics of identity in a rural community
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This ethnographic study examines the meaning of "diversity" in a rural community, along with related issues of social identity. Data collected through participant observation, public documents, and interviews has shown that as in most places, "diversity" is typically defined in Montgomery County, Virginia in terms of ethnic differences. However, conflict and tensions within the county usually occur not between ethnic groups, but between the public associated with the university here, Virginia Tech, and the public of "rural" community members not associated with the university. Furthermore, there is little interaction between these two polarized publics. The dissertation shows how boundaries between them are created and sustained partly by discursive productions of categories like "rural" and "Appalachian" and partly by institutionalized mechanisms such as tracking in schools that redefine social differences as "natural" and unchangeable. However, these practices are functional for each group too, since they serve to maintain groups' identities.
While democratic dialogue could produce new understandings and alter the polarized relations between the groups, it could also be threatening to those involved because either group could become subsumed by the other. One possibility for furthering the democratic project is to work through schools to develop multicultural education that enables students to be critically reflective of their own publics. Such awareness could allow publics to define themselves in less rigid ways, opening possibilities for interpublic dialogue. But if the discursive practices operating in the community that separate groups are left intact, there is little hope that critical reflection learned in schools will be sustained as students grow up and enter the adult community.
- Doctoral Dissertations