Wsevolod W. Isajiw. Understanding Diversity: Ethnicity and Race in the Canadian Context. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc., 1999, 272 pp. $36.95 paper.

It is a courageous act to write a book on ethnicity at a time in which this extremely sensitive and controversial area is undergoing major transformations. Over the past two and a half decades, along with the radical changes in the socioeconomic configurations of ethnically diverse societies such as Canada, the literature on race and ethnic relations is also redefining itself. For example, traditional concerns such as the retention of ethnic identity and language, assimilation, acculturation, the distribution of ethnic minorities in the urban space, and so forth, are no longer the only or central interests of scholars; many more have begun to emerge. In the midst of all these developments, Isajiw’s Understanding Diversity is, in my view, a successful attempt to incorporate old and new. Except for the first two theoretical chapters, the remaining eight are almost evenly split between novel and conventional discourses in the area of race and ethnic studies. He manages to redefine the boundaries of this topic at a time when boundaries are increasingly blurring, which is no mean achievement.

Globalization is the first and foremost of the recent developments that has had a strong impact on the configurations of ethnic dynamics. For instance, conspicuous improvements in communication and transportation technologies have radically altered the flow of information, which in turn, has undermined traditional sources of knowledge affecting large-scale migrations. The most recent example of such a phenomenon is the boat people in Canada or the illegal migrants from the Fujian province of China to Canada and, from there, to New York. Such a movement would have hardly been possible, had it not been for the existence of rich information on job opportunities overseas, quick transportation, and easy ways to send remittances back home to China. In the case of Canada, these developments have resulted in an unprecedented rise in racial, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity, the understanding of which goes at the heart, and the title, of the book.

The arrival of the new immigrants who contributed in this enormous diversity coincided with a period of economic decline in Canada, i.e., the 1970s and 1980s. Under such conditions, the newcomers were less welcome, if not made unwelcome, by the host population, stimulating strong prejudicial views and discriminatory acts against the newly arrived. The social visibility of these migrants further intensified such views and acts. This issue is carefully documented by Isajiw.

The adoption since the early 1970s of a free market orientation in western industrial nations, including Canada, also had consequences for those ethnic groups who had arrived in Canada in large numbers since 1970. Such groups were suitable targets for those employers in the private sector who were neither big enough to move overseas in search of acheap labour force, nor small enough to afford to ignore them. Thus, some employers started hiring the members of such ethnic groups in the secondary sector of economy, where they would receive lower wages and few or no benefits. Isajiw eloquently addresses the issue of split-labour-markets and the way they relate to certain racial and ethnic groups in Canada.

As a quantitative immigration researcher, I was particularly pleased to see Isajiw’s concise but comprehensive review of Canada’s immigration policy, and his use of the most recent (1996) census data. Although the bulk of the analysis relies on data up to 1991, it was refreshing to see one table drawing upon 1996 data, which have only recently become available.

Understanding Diversity has all the potential to be a useful textbook in undergraduate courses on race and ethnicity, and a good, comprehensive orientation to the area for graduate courses. In either case, the author should consider the addition of a ‘suggested readings’ section at the end of each chapter. With that, I believe the book will remain an influential one for many years to come.

Abdolmohammad Kazemipur
University of Manitoba

September 1999
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