Date of this Version
Commissioned by SBS, and published in March 2006, Connecting Diversity: Paradoxes of Multicultural Australia is a follow-up study to SBS’s 2002 report, Living Diversity: Australia’s Multicultural Future. The attitudes of many younger Australians from culturally diverse backgrounds reveal paradoxes about Australian multiculturalism today. This report sheds light on their views, experiences and expectations and the role of media in their lives. Younger, culturally and linguistically diverse Australians are often the subject of mediafanned controversy about disaffection, ‘ethnic gangs’ and cultural isolation. While these controversies tend to be localised – Cronulla, Inala or Bankstown – Connecting Diversity tells a national and quite different story. This research builds upon the findings of the 2002 report, Living Diversity: Australia’s Multicultural Future, which challenged common assumptions about contemporary multicultural Australia. In an era of fragmenting media and assumed political apathy, Connecting Diversity further examines many of the findings of the earlier study, with a new focus on younger people, cultural identity and media use. Connecting Diversity reveals individual experiences and often contradictory ideas about media and diversity in Australia. Disjunctions appear to exist between an individual’s experience and their thoughts about Australia’s national identity. Multiculturalism is valued for broadening the appreciation of difference, yet this support can coexist with concerns about perceived segregation, usually ‘elsewhere’ in Australia. Younger people tend to be more comfortable with cultural difference than previous generations and cite their own diverse network of friends as one of the reasons for this. Even so, some describe experiences of racism that engender a feeling of exclusion from ‘mainstream’ society. In their everyday lives, social relationships are navigated through regular and familiar connections on the one hand, and experiences and expressions of disconnection on the other. Racism and tolerance may be expressed almost simultaneously. These disconnections are often managed through ‘practical tolerance',allowing them to negotiate these apparent contradictions. The connections can be based simultaneously on such things as work, family,religion, friendships or location. The result is a multilayered sense of personal belonging and community connection. A large number of respondents in these focus groups expressed frustration at the failings of media, especially news and current affairs coverage, yet spoke enthusiastically about the accessibility and range of media compared to what was available to previous generations. In their many forms, media remain a key ingredient of self-identification among younger Australians of culturally diverse backgrounds who are especially cynical about media and disillusioned by their perceived inability to influence issues that are important to them. These findings reveal that although they may be cynical about media messages, these younger Australians are looking for connection through media and are seeking ways to participate in meaningful ways. This raises questions about the possibilities for media to empower younger people to play a part in genuine cultural democracy. By capturing the attitudes of Australians of culturally diverse backgrounds under the age of 40, Connecting Diversity: Paradoxes of Multicultural Australia provides an insight into social trends and the generational and cultural changes that are now shaping Australia.