Three Faces of Diversity Rhetoric : Managerialization, marketing and ambiguity

Abstract: Over the past decades, the language of diversity management has spread from the US to many parts of the world, including Sweden, where it emerged in the mid 1990’s. Consisting of three papers, this thesis contributes to the field of critical diversity studies by examining the multifaceted character of diversity rhetoric among Swedish diversity consultants. A central point of debate in previous research has been the relationship between, on one hand, diversity management rhetoric, and on the other hand, equal opportunities and antidiscrimination law. Scholars suggest that Scandinavian and Swedish “diversity” are strongly associated with ideals of equality, antidiscrimination and corporate social responsibility. This thesis gives nuance to this picture by focusing on the views of consultants.Paper 1 tries to answer this question: Do Swedish diversity consultants managerialize antidiscrimination law? Research on the US and the UK asserts a conflict between legal equality and the instrumental rhetoric of diversity management. However, studies on continental Europe and Scandinavia tend to posit diversity rhetoric as linked to ethnicity and tempered by legal and social equality. Building on interviews with diversity consultants, this paper shows that their diversity constructions conform to the managerialization thesis. Paper 2 argues that diversity’s three common rhetorical moves—its broad scope, its business case, and its dissociation from legal frames—are more open to interpretation than typically portrayed in the critical diversity research. While scholars tend to interpret this rhetoric as managerial dilution of legal and equality ideals, findings indicate that consultants may use the same rhetorical moves to incorporate an equality logic and extend legal ideas beyond the limits of the law. These interpretative discrepancies are conceptualized as ambiguity—i.e., the same rhetorical moves may support more than one interpretation.Paper 3 examines the ongoing institutional work of diversity consultants as they rhetorically try to build a business case for “ethnic marketing” in Sweden. Extant literature suggests that ethnic marketing relies on making differences between “them” (ethnic minority consumers) and “us” (majority consumers). This paper asserts that while making differences is crucial when creating “ethnic” consumers (“different from us”), another rhetorical strategy, “making similarities,” is used to construct already otherized people as “consumers” (“similar to us”). Further, findings show that Sweden’s lack of official statistics on ethnicity and general reluctance towards highlighting ethnicity may function as institutional obstacles that hamper the legitimacy and spread of ethnic marketing.

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