The Trouble with Diversity: The Cultural Sector and Ethnic Inequality

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Diversity has increasingly become coveted in the Creative and Cultural Industries (CCIs), with a significant presence in institutional and policy vocabularies. The concern to employ diverse staff and cater to diverse audiences is driven by socio-economic rationales and in terms of ethnicity, the focus of this article, is justified by the levels of ethnic inequality within CCIs. This article argues that the painfully slow progress in advancing ethnic equality in CCIs pertains to the discursive conceptualisation of diversity, which translates into practices lacking in efficacy and legacy. It traces the evolution of the diversity discourse in CCIs from impassioned calls against racial inequality to a less politically conscious multicultural vision of society, and shifts to a discourse on creative diversity. Focusing on the production of, rather than representation in, culture, the article draws uniquely on an intensive institutional ethnography and interviews in two organisations in the museum and TV production sectors, both of which had committed to diversifying their workforce and practice. With a recognition of the historical and contextual differences in the two sectors’ approaches to diversity, we present an analysis of the micro institutional ways in which diversity is performed as a way of understanding the macro workings of diversity in CCIs at large. Our empirical discussion examines Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) policy as one of the more institutionally entrenched and visible practices of diversity and explores diversity schemes as a ‘quick fix’ that cultural organisations have increasingly pursued. While examining these practices, we centre the experiences of ethnically diverse cultural workers as the bearers of diversity work in the context of what we term white institutional benevolence. Those accounts reveal a complex web of intersecting institutional and socio-cultural barriers that need to be urgently addressed for a future cultural sector that is purposely anti-racist, equal and representative.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCultural Sociology
Publication statusPublished - 17 Nov 2022


  • cultural industries
  • race
  • racism
  • diversity
  • museum
  • TV

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities


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