Merlin Schaeffer (2014), Ethnic Diversity and Social Cohesion. Immigration, Ethnic Fractionalization and Potentials for Civic Action


Recent scholarly debates in Europe have become preoccupied with the effects of increased ethnic diversity on social relations, trust and social participation. It has been widely investigated, if and how ethnic diversity impacts the quality of urban and neighbourhood contacts between people of different origins. Particularly, the question whether the increase in ethnic diversification leads to ‘hunkering down’ of social capital (Putnam 2007) or ‘erodes’ trust (Stolle, Soroka, Johnston 2008) could be regarded as a starting point of a dynamic academic discussion in many European countries on so called ‘diversity effects’ at the neighbourhood or local community levels. Here, Merlin Schaeffer’s book Ethnic Diversity and Social Cohesion. Immigration, Ethnic Fractionalization and Potentials for Civic Action arrives as a comprehensive review of to-date debates and methods, it also brings diverse, often contradictory arguments together, and points to new research directions.

Schaeffer starts his book by saying: Over the past six decades immigration has made Western societies more culturally, religiously and phenotypically diverse (p. 1). It is hard to disagree with this statement; however, I would like to bring it forward. Indeed, Western European countries have faced in last decades an increase in immigration influx, resulting in ethnic diversification of these societies. A lot of attention has been paid to the effect of ethnic diversity on social relations in Western Europe, but there are other parts of the continent, which are less diverse, although they used to be more ethnically mixed more than six decades ago. Specifically, this is the case of most countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Thus, let me use this opportunity of reviewing Merlin Schaeffer’s book to sneak a few reflections on a potential for developing similar studies on ‘diversity effects’ in the CEE region.

Schaeffer's book is an effect of an extensive statistical analysis of the German subset of the Ethnic Diversity and Collective Action Survey (EDCAS);1 nonetheless, the work is very theoretically driven and based on an original theoretical framework. It is well situated in the exiting research and, interestingly, it does so by employing statistical modelling of to-date literature by discipline, region of analysis (regretfully, Europe is included as one region), the type of ethnic diversity that was analysed, the level of data aggregation and the type of studied dependent variables etc., controlling for publication type [sic] (Chapter 2). This meta-analysis of the existing studies of diversity effects confirms inconclusiveness of the debate (p. 30), which is a result of differences in applied methodologies and it highlights the importance of moderating conditions in analyses of ethnic diversity's relationship with indicators of social cohesion.

A strong part of the book is Chapter 4, which provides empirical analyses of different diversity indices. Here, theoretical approaches that were discussed in the previous chapter are linked with corresponding indices, e.g. in-group favourism with the Hirschman-Herfindahl Index,2 group threat theory with the index of ethnic polarisation, cultural preferences with the measure of cultural distances (‘culturally weighted ethnic diversity’) and ethnic group-based income inequality and, finally, linguistic and coordination concepts with the ‘mean of host-country language skills of persons of immigrant origin’. The comparison of ‘competing indices’ reveals, however, that they explain a similar amount of variance, and marginal differences in model fits were found. We read convincing reflections under what conditions the indices could be more informative and we learn that all of the most common diversity indices applied in studies are not sensitive enough when minority groups are relatively small in numbers, i.e. less than 30 per cent of total population (p. 68). Thinking about a wider implementation of diversity effect studies in Central and Eastern Europe, in countries where levels of immigration are lower and statistical diversity indices have little variability, it would be useful to further investigate what measures could be used to study diversity in countries with  histories of ethnic diversification different from those of Western European countries.

Some solutions for low-diversity countries are presented in the next part of the book. Chapter 5 touches on a topic which has not yet been so broadly investigated as the effects of actual, statistical diversity on quality of inter-ethnic relations – namely subjective perceptions of ethnic diversity. Schaeffer argues that cognitive indicators regarding whether, and to what extent, ‘real’ diversity is recognised and acknowledged by a population could serve as a micro link between the contextual demographic situation and individuals’ tendencies to withdraw from public social life (p. 75). This chapter further exposes contrasting effects of statistical diversity on behavioural and cognitive aspects of social cohesion. Perceptions – as the provided analyses demonstrate – bridge the gap and offer alternative explanations of ethnic diversity effects.

Another attention-grabbing part of the book is the next chapter which critically engages with the idea whether these perceptions could be at all subjective, since they refer to local/national ‘genealogies’ of ethnic difference, which are anchored in social and political discourses and daily mediated by media and public discourse (Chapter 6). Specifically, the Author discusses the German vision of nationhood, citizenship, demarking ethnic ‘others’ and tests with data whether ethnic categories remain salient when people are asked about groups responsible for problems in neighbourhood with an open-ended question, avoiding specifying ethnic categories a priori.

Going back to my previous considerations, subjective measures of diversity could be more useful as diversity measurement tools in countries with lower levels of actual ethnic diversity. The comparison of subjective and objective indicators of diversity could provide insight into the role of familiarisation with diversity for inter-ethnic relations (cf. Hooghe, de Vroome 2013; Kuovo, Lockmer 2013) for societies with high levels of ethnic diversity. It is still under-investigated how ethnic or national diversity is perceived by residents of less diverse countries, such as countries in the CEE region. Of course, such studies were beyond the scope of Merlin Schaeffer’s book. However, what could enrich this part of the book would be a critical reflection on the causality between social cohesion and perceptions of diversity. As other literature argues, subjective perceptions of diversity could be ‘distorted’ by a lack of social interaction, prejudiced views and perceived threat (cf. Alba, Rumbaut, Marotz 2005; Schlueter, Davidov 2013; Strabac 2011). Thus, perception of diversity is not always a more precise indicator of actual diversity, a moderator or a mediator of statistical diversity effects, but it could be considered a more complex psycho-sociological variable, which is reversely impacted by social cohesion. Obviously, a follow-up EDCAS survey would allow to investigate the causality question.

The final empirical chapter of the book entitled The Dilemma of Inter-Ethnic Coexistence discusses residential segregation and spaces of encounter with people of different background. It extends existing analyses of the diversity effect and along with measures of diversity, segregation and contact, includes more specific sites of inter-ethnic interactions, namely parks and playgrounds (which facilitate interactions of people with children) and bars and restaurants (with their potential of forging cross-ethnic friendships). This analysis points to new directions in research of ethnic diversity and a need to design more nuanced measures of inter-group contact occurring in neighbourhoods and within urban space. I have only a minor comment here – the section omits the rich human geography literature on spaces of encounters, which could be further employed in conceptual frames of such studies. For example, there has been research on how people experience everyday encounters in public spaces, such as public transport (Wilson 2012), schools (Hemming 2011), or social organisations (Matejskova, Leitner 2011).

Overall, Ethnic Diversity and Social Cohesion… should be an essential read for social scientists studying social change in European societies brought about by international mobility and ethnic diversification. This book might also call the attention of anyone interested in conducting parallel quantitative, large-scale research in other European countries, since it provides rich ‘food for thought’ about how to contextualise and situate such research in particular national or regional contexts. Whether such studies will emerge in Central and Eastern Europe – hopefully, we will see soon.


1 EDCAS was a computer assisted telephone survey conducted in October 2009 – July 2010 in Germany, France and the Netherlands. The German sample of EDCAS comprises 7 500 observations in 55 selected regions with 24 per cent oversample of people of immigrant origin.

2 However, the formula Schaeffer actually refers to is the Simpson’s Index of Diversity, since the sum of squares is subtracted from unity (Simpson 1949).


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Aneta Piekut
University of Sheffield