nl en

Global Challenges: Diversity



First-year programme

Admission Requirements



What does it mean to say that diversity is a global challenge? One could argue diversity is a fact of life – if we are all different, why should this constitute a challenge?

More often than not, people like and feel more comfortable with those others who are like themselves, feeling in turn threatened by those and that which differs. History across the board, from East to West and South to North, shows us how our modern societies are, in the jargon of social scientists, highly differentiated societies. Globalization has highlighted our differences and the contradictions between the need to belong (to discrete communities), and the fact of living in highly anonymous, mixed and complex societies. At the same time, new technologies increase our possibilities to realise the extents to which we are connected to, and depend on, the actions of those who we label as strangers and others; those with whom we share nothing, except for the planet (and that’s not little!).

There are many approaches to the question of diversity. In this course, we will use the various disciplinary perspectives and methodological approaches which blend in the Human Diversity major to address diversity thematically. The course proposes to focus on six conventional markers of diversity, using them as lenses to investigate how they affect our ways of thinking, conceptualizing and understanding diversity today, in personal and social terms. The weekly units are:

WEEK 1 – Why does diversity matter?
WEEK 2 – De/constructing gender
WEEK 3 – Does race exist?
WEEK 4 – Religion: what you believe is who you are, or not?
WEEK 5 – Does class still matter?
WEEK 6 – Nationality as identity: old or new challenges?
WEEK 7 – From diversity in a medieval town to teaching diversity in 2015: The challenge remains open
WEEK 8 – Reading Week

In each of these weekly units, students will be exposed to various types of readings (from history to journalism; from social and political theory to literature). In the plenaries and seminars we will explore the various angles and methods that allow us to describe, interpret and analyse specific themes, cases and/or events as illustrative of diversity as a global challenge.

Course Objectives

The main objective of this course is to make students aware of the complexities inherent to the challenge of diversity. In particular the course aims are:

  • To train students in developing their ability to critically disclose these complexities from various disciplinary angles, and based on different types of evidence.

  • To illustrate the crucial role of interdisciplinary approaches and methods in social science and humanities: the ways in which history frames and explains these events, while literature provides narratives from an experiential perspective, and theory informs the ways we conceptualise them.

  • To prepare students to examine, question and position themselves regarding prevailing criteria about what is defined and considered to be different (and by contrast what accounts as normal) in their own societies.

Compulsory literature

Ghosh, A. (2005). The Shadow Lines. A Novel. (available at the American Book Centre The Hague).

Preparation for first session

The first plenary meeting and seminar meetings will be on Wednesday 8 April. Readings are available on Blackboard:

Bateson, G (2000) “Metalogue: Why do things get in a muddle?” in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, The University of Chicago Press, pages: 21-25.

Bauman, Z.. (2001). “Oneself with others“and “Viewing and sustaining our lives” in Thinking Sociologically. London: Blackwell, pages 17-42.

Said, E. (1979). “Introduction” in Orientalism. New York: Vintage, pages 1-28.