Diversity: Concepts, Paradigms, and History

The project aims at understanding how different traditions that have led to the current political conjuncture of the concept of diversity differ from one another but also correlate and converge at the same time. Based on our previous analyses, we may differentiate between four paradigms of diversity:

(1) a socio-legal paradigm of equality initiated by emancipation movements and aimed at equal treatment and equal opportunity of people regardless of their biological or cultural characteristics;

(2) a liberalistic-economic paradigm of market and management that considers ‘diversity’ to be the result and the goal of the free market, and aims at an efficiency in corporate management

(3) an ethical-ecological paradigm of nature protection and conservation in which (bio)diversity is seen as both an irreplaceable value in itself and as guaranteeing ecological stability, and finally

(4) a cultural-aesthetic paradigm of self-development to which diversity can be a central principle of self-identification and self-presentation, and that may serve as a basis for different identity politics.  

The project is divided into three parts:

(1) A conceptual-historical examination addresses the historical semantics of ‘diversity’ and closely related terms (such as ‘pluralism’, ‘manifoldness’, ‘heterogeneity’) in the political-social language of the 20th century; it will ultimately result in a contribution to the ZfL’s dictionary The 20th Century in Basic Concepts.

(2) A small compendium will trace the evolution of the discourse on diversity on the basis of the history of central terms (such as ‘emancipation’, ‘racism’, or ‘intersectionality’) and organize it according to different time layers; this contribution also includes a website (www.diversity-glossar.de) and will be carried out on behalf of and in co-operation with the Berlin University Alliance’s (BUA) Diversity and Gender Equality Network (DiGENet).

(3) Finally, there is work in progress on a monograph on the forms of representation of biological diversity and how these interact with social models.

since 2021
Head researcher(s): Georg Toepfer


Georg Toepfer