Learning to live together in increasingly culturally diverse societies

Year: 2017

Author: Stolz, Steven

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

There is a powerful narrative that asserts that Australia should be considered a hopeful global exemplar for building an economically successful and socially cohesive nation that is culturally diverse. But then globally, nations such as Australia are contending with serious tensions related to increasing cultural diversity. Put simply, all nations now struggle with ungovernability pressures from within and outside of the nation. From outside of the nation, globalising capital (especially transnational corporations) avoid paying tax to host countries, and 'the state now has a very limited role in mediating between capital and workers as key decisions are made at a global level to which states have little connection and over which they have even less power' (Bates, 2012, p.60). Perhaps most significantly for Australia, have been trends towards de-industrialisation as manufacturing moves off-shore, and growing income inequality. Inside of the nation, traditional sites for sociality and community are breaking down, such as family, church, and local community. But then new formations of sociality and community are evident, such as trends towards hyper-nationalism and religious fundamentalism of various kinds. We might be rightly proud of multicultural Australia, but then cultural diversity is still highly contested on the street, in the workplace, and in media culture. And cultural diversity is one of the divisive sites in Australian politics. We can remember the Cronulla riots, our version of the cultural war that is being played around a politics of representation, and the development of 'dog whistle politics' around issues connected to ethnic and racial difference.
Importantly though schools are both affected by these pressures, but they also provide spaces for skilful intervention. We could research the effects of increasing cultural diversity on the school but in this symposia we prefer to focus instead on how schools teach for cultural diversity. Schooling is a key site of identity and social formation in the Australian nation and hence potentially can play a significant role in developing the 'high levels of community harmony and cohesion which draw Australia's diverse society together' (Department of Immigration and Border Protection 2014) and ensure continued economic and social benefits for the nation. This symposium focuses on the (inter)national problem of how schools teach for cultural diversity and human rights during times in which cultural diversity presents serious challenges for the nation.