“Diversity” is one of those ordinary words that on passing into public discourse become freighted with meanings and overtones conflating the descriptive and the normative. Not more than a decade or two old as a catchword, it has become, in the United States at least, what my friend Nathan Glazer once called “a semantic beacon of our time.” Glazer was referring to the term “alienation” way back in the late 1940s when its use was still confined to intellectuals, although over a decade later it became a negative rallying cry for the rebellious youth of the 1960s. Unlike alienation, diversity is represented as a social condition deemed desirable, to be encouraged to the extent of promoting policies extending it throughout American society. While its literal meaning is purely descriptive, “cultural pluralism” and, more ambiguously and uncertainly, “cultural relativism,” both of them ideas with a long history of favorable connotations in the intellectual world, have been invoked to justify it. “Diversity” in this respect resembles other words, whether referring to approved or deplored phenomena, that have diffused from academic and intellectual parlance to the wider public. This process occurs regularly enough to deserve intensive study in its own right: it is one manifestation of the “reflexivity” that sociological theorists have seen as peculiarly characteristic of modernity, or at least of “late modernity” as Anthony Giddens has described the present era. 1 Each special instance of it, however, requires examination in its own particular social and historical context.