Neoliberal Multiculturalism: the Diversity that Divides Us

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Arthur Scarritt


In recent decades, the globe has undergone dramatic economic and social transformations that have reconstituted politics. Neoliberalism represents the shift to market fundamentalism, seeking to marketize and commoditize everything in society. The neoliberalization of higher education is visible in the dramatic increases in tuition coupled with the push towards online education. Students have internalized the neoliberal ethic of the market, viewing themselves as consumers of the university product, a degree. While neoliberalism has been the hegemonic political and economic ideology since at least the 1980s, it continues to evolve as a concept, mapping itself onto variegated political terrains. Neoliberalism is inherently a multicultural (diversity-appreciating) endeavor because of the globalization intrinsic to free-market expansion. How does neoliberalism become hegemonic in contexts where there an ideology of colorblindness (diversity-apprehension) has been dominant? For example, at a university like Boise State University, a large section of the student population views programs such as affirmative action or Title 9 as a threat to the meritocratic access to resources. Students view these efforts to promote diversity as a form of continuing discrimination, thus overlooking the real and systemic discrimination present in current society. As neoliberalism continues to shape higher education, how do students reconcile their colorblind ideals with neoliberal ideology, which promotes diversity as good for the market, thus the ultimate good? I argue that neoliberal multiculturalism reshapes the construction of diversity, broadening its definition and depoliticizing it. Qualitative interviews reveal that most students construct diversity as relating to international students and that they agree that efforts should be taken to promote this kind of diversity. At the same time, students oppose affirmative action, which is an attempt to limit discrimination of the underprivileged in their own society. These new constructions of diversity remove political contestation in favor of simple math problems resulting in international students as a way to promote diversity because they pay “boat-loads of money,” as one student put it. This should be interpreted as international students are the worthy subjects of diversity promotion because they represent wealthy new markets versus dependent poor people in the home market. The end result of the diversity promotion under neoliberalism is that there has been no challenge to the status quo structures of power that have continued to marginalize women and racial minorities. In fact, neoliberal multiculturalism removes the political power of diversity to challenge discrimination in universities such as Boise State Univeristy.

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