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Diversity in society: ‘We are looking for a new approach to an existing phenomenon’

What is the best way for us as a society to deal with all the different forms of diversity? Professor Marlou Schrover will use the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) to explore this question with colleagues and the public.

‘How societies deal with one form of diversity is also determined by how they deal with other forms of diversity,’ Schrover explains. In order to properly understand diversity, policymakers and scientists should therefore look at all the various forms, such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, gender, religion, disability and age. But such an intersectional approach is not without its challenges. ‘The knowledge is there, but what you tend to see in practice is that people mainly focus on migration-related diversity.’

Complicated subject

During the ESOF conference, Marlou Schrover will be discussing this issue along with fellow historian Nadia Bouras, social scientist Anouk de Koning and gender expert Eithne Luibhéid. But it is not only practical obstacles that are hampering an intersectional approach; crisis rhetoric also has a role to play. Schrover: ‘You often hear journalists, but also some scientists, say: “This is completely new. This is the first time we are living in an era of mass migration and super-diversity.” As a historian, that annoys me a little. First of all, it’s not true: migrants have accounted for three percent of the world’s population since 1960. And secondly, by constantly labelling everything as new, you create the impression that the problem is bigger than it was in the past. You then get bogged down in a crisis narrative and that influences people and policy.’

Nuance and intersectionality

In the ESOF session, the researchers will therefore discuss and explore the possibilities of doing greater justice to diversity. ‘How can you talk about the “new” without trivialising what’s going on,’ summarises Schrover. ‘It doesn’t help local residents if we say: “The issue isn’t worse than it was before, and within three generations it will all work out fine with the migrants.” At the moment, Ter Apel just doesn’t have the capacity. This is partly a result of decisions made about seven years ago to close the other two reception centres. But recognising this fact doesn’t solve the problem.’ 

Dialogue with the public

So, there is a need for nuance and intersectionality, without trivialising the issue. Anyone expecting to be given a ready-to-use manual for this during ESOF are in for a disappointment. ‘We will really be showing our vulnerability: we don’t have the answers, either. If anyone has a brilliant idea, we would love to hear it.’ The public will also be actively involved in the session. ‘The idea is that we will keep things brief and to the point, so that they can join in the discussion. I hope that this will lead to a dialogue, because then you discover what really matters to people and why.’

The EuroScience Open Forum iis the biggest multidisciplinary science conference in Europe. The tenth edition will be held in Leiden from 13 to 16 July, in close collaboration with EuroScience in Strasbourg. Beyond Newness In Understanding Migration And Diversity is on 15 July from 17.15 to 18.30 in the Kamerlingh Omnes Building. Students and artists can attend the whole conference for a reduced fee of €50.

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