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Diversity and Coexistence: Towards a Convivencia for 21st Century Public Administration

Author: KYM THORNE
Published in PAQ, Vol. 37 No. 3

This paper explores the relationship between diversity and coexistence. It proposes that the convivencia period of 'watchful coexistence' that existed in Spain for centuries provides a model for enduring meaningful and lasting diversity. This period was notable for 'structures of concession' where different religious, ethnic and cultural groups acquired characteristics in common whilst still maintaining their distinct and separate identities.
The Spanish convivencia rejected overly destructive interactions or retreats into separate religious and/or ethnic 'ghetto's'. Instead, echoing Grey’s, and especially Sennett's, investigations into the value of constructive conflict, this convivencia involved forms of disorder and related public administration practices that continually refreshed a diverse yet interconnected, vibrant, pragmatically tolerant society. The re-conquest of Spain by Christian monarchs did not eliminate Moorish Spain and demonstrated the problematic nature of ‘either/or’ formulations that reject diversity and coexistence.
A renewed contemporary convivencia should revolve around interactions where groups and individuals directly confront and interact with alien groups and individuals with different habits and customs. These disorderly interactions should prevent groups and individuals from becoming rigid and complacent and should assist groups, individuals and social compacts to achieve psychological and other forms of maturity. This approach to diversity and coexistence provides a much-needed alternative to the 'demonizing', 'dehumanizing', 'either/or' approaches representative of recent, still prevalent, fundamentalisms opposed to difference and the ‘other’.

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