Managing cultural diversity: Competing discourses in Australian multiculturalism

Document Type

Book Chapter


Nova Science Publishers


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Psychology and Social Science




Dandy, J. K. (2010). Managing cultural diversity: Competing discourses in Australian multiculturalism. In Lydia B. Kerwin (Eds.). Cultural diversity: Issues, Challenges and Perspectives (pp. 113-130). Hauppauge, New York: Nova Science Publishers. Available here.


In 1978 the Australian government introduced an official policy of multiculturalism to manage the increasing ethnic, religious and cultural diversity that had occurred through immigration. In this chapter I discuss the Australian experiment with multiculturalism, including the more recent popular debate concerning the merits of the policy. The emphasis of the chapter is on research addressing Australian attitudes to immigration and cultural diversity, including survey and interview data collected as part of the International Study of Attitudes Toward Immigration and Settlement (ISATIS). Overall, these findings and those of other researchers demonstrate the complexity of Australians‟ attitudes which can be described as ambivalent. Our research revealed widespread community support for the policy in principle, tempered by fears of threats to Australian national identity and social cohesion. Following Dunn and others, support for multiculturalism can be connected with beliefs in social equality and egalitarianism. In contrast, fears about national identity and unity can be linked to older essentialist discourses of race and ethnicity, as well as beliefs that cultural homogeneity is necessary for strong communities. These beliefs have been further enhanced by fears of „homegrown‟ terrorism in the current socio-political climate. I argue that these discourses serve to reinforce white multiculturalism in Australia, in which Australian identity remains centred around a white, British cultural heritage. In conclusion I discuss the implications of the findings for future policy and practice in Australia, and other culturally and ethnically diverse contexts.