Living with cultural diversity is characterized by a fundamental affective ambivalence. On the one hand, there is existential unease in the face of cultural strangeness, which is linked to our human dependence on 'common sense' - the shared background of understanding from which we derive ontological security about the world and our place in it. Through cultural contact, common sense loses something of its self-evident character, and certainties about what is normal are put to the test. On the other hand, contact with unfamiliar practices and forms of expression can equally give rise to positive feelings of wonder and fascination, as in the urban context. This affective ambivalence stems from an existential paradox: the experience of both meaning and lack of meaning are dependent on contact with transcendent realities - in other words, realities that cannot be fully encompassed within our cognitive and manipulative horizons. This leads us to the question as to what the conditions are in which cultural diversity is experienced as a positive social given. The hypothesis is that cultural strangeness cannot in any event fascinate those who perceive the presence of this strangeness, rightly or wrongly, as an acute threat to their own psychological integrity, their vital integrity and/or to the national integrity.

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Erasmus School of Philosophy

van Leeuwen, B. (2008). On the affective ambivalence of living with cultural diversity. Ethnicities, 8(2), 147–176. doi:10.1177/1468796808088921