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Defamiliarizing diversity

Deborah Riese Litvin, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In the wake of predicted increases in “non-traditional” entrants into the US workforce, US organizations have widely adopted the conviction that “managing diversity” is a “business imperative.” Employees and their managers should be trained to value cultural, gender and other differences in order to improve teamwork and creativity. Further, “managing diversity” should equip the organization to better serve its customers, creating a global competitive advantage. This dissertation steps back from this account to critically examine the discourse and practices of “diversity management.” Departing from the “standard” ontology, epistemology and instrumentalism of managerial discourse, it views “diversity management” as an ongoing process and product of cultural formation . Adopting a transdisciplinary, eclectic approach, analysis focuses on processes of social construction and normalization , and the role of discourse in the constitution of subjectivity. The dissertation defamiliarizes diversity by bringing to the fore concerns that are not typically addressed in the management discourse: Why has “diversity management” acquired such wide acceptance in Corporate America? How are “diversity” and “diversity management” defined? What alternative definitions are available? What are the implications of these definitions and the practices based upon them for the constitution of subjectivity? The dissertation draws upon archival research, personal interviews and participant observation to create a “joint text” of diversity management. “Readings” of that “text,” developed through a critical, cultural studies, poststructuralist lens, focus upon the relations among language, subjectivity, social organization and power. Ultimately, the dissertation demonstrates why “diversity management,” as currently conceptualized and implemented by many US corporations, is unlikely to fulfill its promises. The dissertation contributes to the field of organization studies and to organizational practitioners by destabilizing the “naturalized” discourse and practices of “diversity management.” It “bends the bars” created by their taken-for-granted “knowledge” about “diversity,” making space for reconsideration and reconceptualization. The dissertation also contributes to an old, yet fresh, discussion of several questions basic to the study of organization: What is an organization ? How does organizational change happen? How can individuals cooperate with one another, and what might provide sufficient motivation for them to go to the effort to do so?

Subject Area

Management|American studies|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Litvin, Deborah Riese, "Defamiliarizing diversity" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9988817.