Shared visions? diversity and cultural membership in American life

Penny Edgell, Ediric Tranby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Sociological theory and public discourse raise concerns about division, fragmentation, or attenuation in our collective life rooted in, among other things, racial or religious differences, but we know very little about how ordinary Americans imagine themselves as similar to and different from their fellow citizens. In a recent, nationally representative telephone survey (2003, N = 2081) we asked over 2,000 Americans whether the members of ten different racial/ethnic, religious, or social groups "share your vision of America." We used cluster analysis and found three patterns of responses to this set of questions, patterns that refect differences in social location and correspond to different views of diversity, group stereotypes, and understandings of American society. We argue that what we fnd reveals different dimensions along which Americans draw symbolic boundaries in public life, and that how these boundaries are drawn is rooted in three different visions of America. Optimistic pluralists believe in the positive value of diversity and are unwilling to exclude people on the basis of religion, ethnicity, or lifestyle; critics of multiculturalism are critical of diversity and are wary about contemporary social changes and political and social "out- groups;" and cultural preservationists imagine an America with a moral order underpinned by shared values and a history of a unifed white, Christian culture. In the conclusion, we discuss the implications of these fndings for scholarship on multiculturalism and the "culture wars," and we call for more research on how ordinary Americans interpret the meanings and implications of social differences in public life

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-204
Number of pages30
JournalSocial Problems
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2010


  • Cultural membership
  • Diversity
  • Multiculturalism
  • Race and religion
  • Symbolic boundaries


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