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The Rise of Indirect Affirmative Action: Converging Strategies for Promoting “Diversity” in Selective Institutions of Higher Education in the United States and France

  • Daniel Sabbagh (a1)

A growing trend in the comparative politics literature on patterns of minority incorporation emphasizes the emerging policy convergence in this area, conventional oppositions between national models notwithstanding. This convergence is further illustrated by drawing upon the cases of two countries often analyzed within an “exceptionalist” framework and generally viewed as polar opposites as far as the political legitimacy and legal validity of race-based classifications are concerned: the United States and France. The analysis of recent programs designed to increase the “diversity” of the student body in selective institutions of higher education demonstrates that indirect affirmative action is the instrument around which French and U.S. policies have tended to converge. This increasingly visible convergence obtains in part because of the current move toward color-blindness as a matter of law in the United States. Yet it is also a reflection of the fact that the ultimate purpose of affirmative action in liberal democracies requires a measure of indirection and/or implicitness.

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* A previous version of this article was presented at the meeting of the American Political Science Association, Toronto, September 3–6, 2009, the seminar of the University of Geneva's Department of Political Science, April 27, 2010, and the Fair Admissions Conference at the University of Manchester, July 7–8, 2011. My thanks go to all of the interviewees. For many helpful comments, I also thank the three anonymous reviewers for World Politics, as well as Erik Bleich, Matteo Gianni, Terri Givens, Nicolas Guilhot, Randall Hansen, Christian Joppke, David Laitin, Lea Sgier, Laurent Tischler, Marie-Anne Valfort, Frank de Zwart, and all members of the Transparency research group coordinated by Magali Bessone.

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World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
  • EISSN: 1086-3338
  • URL: /core/journals/world-politics
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