International Global Citizen's Award

encouraging young people to become better global citizens

Diversity and Difference: how we Understand other cultures and Outlooks

While studying the University of Bristol's excellent free online course on global citizenship a section concerned Diversity and Difference and this got me thinking. This is of relevance to how we work with IGCA participants to understand other cultures and outlooks.


Diversity recognises different types, often identified by the observer rather than the people themselves. The ethnic groups used in censuses and surveys usually require a person to select which of the pre-set groups they belong to. The person may not be able to use the term that they would choose to describe themselves. Diversity often involves


We recognise groups, or types – for instance racial group, or religious affiliation. We are sorting people into one of a number of pre-determined, pre-set boxes. We are attaching labels. Examples would be Muslim, black, Chinese.

Once we attach a label, we may tend to assume the person has all the characteristics of that group or type.

This approach can lead us to a crude process where we assume that we know lots of things about a person because we know, or have decided, which group they belong to.

Some people argue that this means we are dealing with caricatures and over-simplifications. It can lead us to

  • focus on superficial and easily recognised characteristics, while not appreciating more subtle differences
  • look for divisions and separations (as is necessary to classify things into separate groupings on the basis of differences)
  • consequently, miss points of similarity with those in other groups
  • brand certain types as “exotic”


An alternative approach is to find out about other people, trying to avoid the labels. We want to find out what people are like. We can ask people to talk about themselves, as far as possible, without resorting to types and labels, but using their own words and ways of expression. Or we read or listen to what they say about themselves, rather than fitting them into categories that we have chosen or defined. If they choose to attach a label – for instance by saying that they belong to a particular religion – we ask them to elaborate a little more to see what their key beliefs are. We go beyond the label. We then compare what the person says with how we describe ourselves. We note points of difference that are of interest. We can then explore these differences and find out their extent and importance.


The first approach is one of classification. It places the person in a group with others – often using the labels and descriptions that we choose.

The second approach is exploratory and investigative.  It is more open-ended and leads to us learning more about the person and his/her views and background. It does not involve attaching a label or sorting into a category. Rather we look for interesting differences and explore how these arise and if/why they might be important.


This approach involves

  • a focus on people saying things in their own words
  • telling us how they see themselves, rather than how we categorise them
  • looking for similarities as well as differences
  • regarding differences as interesting and enlightening
  • exploratory conversations which are mutually enriching


Reminder: IGCA has produced a format for participants to prepare for and conduct an interview with another person. There are two versions of “Face-to-face” – one for older and one for younger participants. Both are attached and can be found on the IGCA Ning website.




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