Diversity and difference in communication
Diversity and difference in communication

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Diversity and difference in communication

2.3.1 An essentialist perspective

One way of understanding apparent differences in people’s behaviour and needs is to account for them as a direct result of their membership of a particular social group or category. For example, it might be suggested that a patient expresses herself in a very physical way because she is of African-Caribbean origin, and therefore because of certain innate biological or psychological attributes shared by all members of that ethnic group. Or it might be argued that a male manager behaves aggressively and competitively in a meeting because that is simply the way men are. According to this view, apparent differences in behaviour are innate within the person, as a member of a particular group, and they remain fairly fixed and stable throughout their lives. Difference is seen as an ‘essence’, something belonging to the person which they bring to an interaction. Some essentialist arguments locate the roots of difference in people’s genetic or biological make-up, while others identify upbringing and socialisation within the family (in the case of gender, for example) or within the social group (in the case of ethnicity and culture). Either way, what all essentialist views have in common is a tendency to see difference as working ‘from the inside out’, as something that is fairly fixed and stable within particular groups and the individuals who belong to them. As you might expect, essentialist approaches to issues of difference tend to be linked to various psychological perspectives. This does not mean everyone working within a psychological perspective can be labelled ‘essentialist’. However, it is broadly true that a psychological perspective tends to see differences as residing within an individual or a group, rather than as the result of social processes.

Figure 6.1
The way we understand ‘difference’ determines how we respond to it in the context of health and social care

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?
Free Courses

OpenLearn has over 800 free courses across all our subjects designed by our academic experts. From 1 to 100 hours, introductory to advanced, you can start learning at any time and all for free.