Diversity Research


From the mid 1990s I began to research ethnic diversity in addition to organizations.  An early guiding question was how degrees of diversity affected social cohesion. I studied ethnic mafias, middlemen and freedom fighters (Risky Transactions, 2002) and the impact of ethnic diversity on welfare states (Welfare, Ethnicity, & Altruism, 2004). Another question that guided me originated in evolutionary theory: can ethnic altruism be adaptive? Ethnic altruism includes preferential friendship and greater risk-taking for fellow ethnics in business and war. The conventional view is that, yes, ethnic groups assort in all sorts of ways, that birds of a feather do indeed flock together (e.g. McPherson et al. 2001), but that this serves no adaptive function. Actually the question does not arise in non-biological social science. But to scholars with who see humans as an evolved species it is natural to ask whether sacrificing oneself for the benefit of fellow ethnics makes evolutionary sense. After all among non-human animals altruists—those who sacrifice themselves for others—suffer reduced reproductive fitness. Conventional theory has much to offer the evolutionary approach. For example, it has long been established that what is special about ethnic identity is its basis in shared descent from common ancestors. The significance of this is lost in the common belief that over many thousands of generations human lineages have become thoroughly mixed.

My own research found something very different. It confirmed the view advanced by Pierre van den Berghe in his book The Ethnic Phenomenon, that shared ethnicity is extended kinship at the genetic level, that members of an ethnic group are related in the same way that members of a family are related, though less strongly (Salter 2006). In addition the work of the late William Hamilton and others shows that ethnic altruism can be adaptive, i.e. increase fitness by spreading the genes of the altruist (Hamilton 1971; Harpending 1979; Rushton 1989).

The realization that ethnicity corresponds to extended kinship at the genetic level led to the realization that individuals have a large genetic stake in their ethnic groups, which helps explain the ubiquitousness of ethnic identity and solidarity and their effects in diverse societies. It also helps explain group conflict. From the late 1990s I began studying the strategies used in group competition. Under which conditions is ethnic altruism adaptive? I was especially interested in win-win strategies, i.e. those that would be adaptive to all groups even when everyone used them. The outcome was the theory I call Universal Nationalism, described in my book On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethnicity, and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration (originally published in 2003, republished in 2006).

Universal Nationalism raises the issue of relations between majority and minority ethnic groups. Power is one such relation and I am trying to develop a general model for comparing the influence of different ethnic groups within liberal democracies. Another phenomenon related to power is terrorism, which is connected with ethnicity and nationalism (Salter 2008).

To read more please go to the website dedicated to my diversity research.


Berghe, Pierre L. van den (1981). The ethnic phenomenon. New York: Elsevier.

Hamilton, William D. (1971/1996). Selection of selfish and altruistic behaviour in some extreme models, in W. D. Hamilton (ed.), Narrow roads of gene land. Vol. 1: Evolution of social behaviour. 97. Oxford, W. H. Freeman, 198—227.

Harpending, Henry (1979). The population genetics of interactions, American Naturalist, 113, 622—30.

McPherson, Miller, Smith-Lovin, Lynn, and Cook, James M. (2001). Birds of a feather: Homophily in social networks, in Karen S. Cook and John Hagan (eds.), Annual Review of Sociology. 27. Palo Alto, California, Annual Review, 415-44.

Rushton, J. Philippe (1989). Genetic similarity, human altruism, and group selection, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12, 503-59.

Salter, Frank Kemp (ed.). (2002), Risky transactions. Trust, kinship, and ethnicity Oxford and New York: Berghahn.

Salter, Frank Kemp (ed.). (2004), Welfare, ethnicity, & altruism: New data & evolutionary theory London: Frank Cass, 341.

Salter, Frank Kemp (2006/2003). On genetic interests. Family, ethnicity, and humanity in an age of mass migration. New York: Transaction.

Salter, Frank K. (2008). Ethnicity and indoctrination for violence: The efficiency of producing terrorists, in Ibrahim A. Karawan, Wayne McCormack, and Stephen E. Reynolds (eds.), Values and violence: Intangible aspects of terrorism, Studies in global justice, Springer, 63-79.

Background to Diversity Research