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Models of Assimilation and Diversity

There is a large section of the mediation universe that is very focused on issues of diversity.  The following logical models, adopted from Leah Wing's work at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, are provided for a model of various options and approaches to the issue of diversity.

A+b+c = A

A+b+c = A+b+c





Both of the last two models accept that full assimilation can not occur (in any manner consistent with social justice) and that some effective method of acknowledging and accommodating associational relationships needs to be explored and adopted.

Questions to ask:

  1. How does the social contract of assimilation apply to indigenous peoples?
  2. Under what conditions should we modify the social contract?
  3. What is a Nation-State that does not assimilate its members?
  4. To what extent is some assimilation necessary (e.g. is there a minimal structure of law or manners or language or territory necessary to the functioning of a Constitutional Democracy)?
  5. What do we learn from the experiences of Turkey, Switzerland, Quebec and other non-assimilation experiments? 6
  6. To what extent, if any, should we revoke the basic principles of a constitutional democracy in order to grant a right not to be assimilated?
  7. Which groups "count" as associational groups and which ones do not?  (Closely related is the question, "how do I create a 'legitimate' associational group?)

These are not idle questions. Most of the debate circles around issues of social justice and oppression that are not acknowledged by the vast majority of the cultures in the world.  Many of the implicit conclusions frankly amazed me.

I've sat in groups that insisted that Jews could not be oppressed.  Others insist that Italians and Greeks can not be oppressed and that the fact that per capita Italians and Greeks have fewer college graduates than any other group (falling behind Blacks and Hispanics) is one that should be ignored.

I had someone tell me with a straight face that crusades against mormons weren't oppression (nor were the multiple anti-mormon arsons in South Texas) but that anti-sodomy language was.  "Because the mormons deserved it, it couldn't be oppression."

The result of such language being tied to the issues of diversity and assimilation is that large sectors of the mainstream society view the entire debate as a far left exercise in soft thinking and illogic.  This may provide amusement for Rush Limbaugh, but it leads to society ignoring significant and substantial issues.  A return to the analysis of the metastructures that frame the debate, and the logic that relates to those structures is essential in order to build a framework that is inclusive (unless those who discuss diversity really mean only to alienate the mainstream culture).  Thinking in terms of the structures and premise issues may be abstract, but it is by no means necessarily soft or muddled.  It is also essential.


1.  Kevin J. Worthen, a professor of law at Brigham Young University has presented a number of papers on the topic of The Role of Indigenous Groups in Constitutional Democracies:  A Lesson From Chile and the United States.  (e.g. his paper at the Sovereignty Symposium, 1995; Inter-American Bar Association Conference (Quito, Ecuador, 1995).  He has well documented that:

  1. in spite of incredible efforts and pressure, indigenous groups (IGs) are not going to assimilate to the extent of ceasing to be associational groups;
  2. IGs have positive values;
  3. IGs can be incorporated in the form of associational groups;
  4. While the conflict resolution work with IGs and Constitutional Democracies needs to begin, associational group analysis (or what I call associational analysis) provides a legal framework for dispute resolution efforts to succeed in, consistent with the rules, existing structures of power, and the pragmatic conceptual framework.

I would recommend Professor Worthen's body of work to anyone who has a serious interest in dealing with conflict in the Americas.  Regardless of what the reader thinks of assimilation, Professor Worthen provides a compelling (overwhelming actually) fact based argument that demonstrates that "classic" assimilation is impossible.  [return]

2.  The mythical "pure" associational group is not to be found.  Consider the WASP (actually the Saxon-Norman) heritage of many English-Americans.  A quick reading of Ivanhoe is usually enough to illustrate what deeper scholarship reflects.  Even relatively small indigenous groups have amazingly diverse sub-divisions. [return]

3. Professor Wing acknowledges that the first three models, which she uses in teaching, come from a prior work.  She is hoping that someone can provide her with a citation to that work.  She may be reached at 823 Campus Center, Box 31220, Amherst, MA  01003-1220 Attn Professor Leah Wing.  [return]

4. Obviously, indigenous peoples did not come to the resident Constitutional Democracies.  Unlike other ethnic groups (consider that more African-Americans came to the United States as immigrants than as slaves prior to the Civil War -- and were obviously not provided the equal benefits implicit in the social contract so that slavery aside, they have very just complaints), indigenous peoples had the democracies come to them in a non-democratic context.  While most tribal peoples have a social contract that acknowledges conflict, force and the doctrine of the "spoils of war" I am unable to think of a current social justice doctrine that revolves around applying rules against other cultures in that fashion (there are a number of such doctrines currently not in vogue). [return]

For some interesting viewpoints on the plight and pathos of the free Blacks in the United States:

5.  I am frankly amazed to watch people who are supposed to be trained mediators and/or dispute resolution professionals who go out and use language, approaches and emotional judgment statements that guarantee not only the rejection of their positions, but long lasting animosity towards the concepts they espouse.  Once the moral rules are accepted (and the issues about whether or not accepting moral rules is appropriate in a multicultural setting resolved), it is a matter of engineering solutions, not hectoring moral condemnation.  That is, assuming that the individuals involved value problem solving over their own amusement and self fulfillment of the sort that comes from condemning and judging others. [return]

6.  Every time assimilation and non-assimilation is discussed, one or more of these examples is likely to come up.  There needs to be a "classic" set of analysis that can respond to such discussions in some short-hand form (so that  there is available the "oh, you mean the Chmoski-Elgin question?" sort of response when someone says "what about ..."). [return]

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