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Young (2000) defines marginalization as exclusion from meaningful participation in society, partly because the labour market does not or cannot accommodate them, proving to be one of the most dangerous forms of oppression. Marginalization has the ability to cause severe material deprivation, as well in its most extreme form can exterminate groups. Minority groups such as individuals living with disabilities (physical or mental), women, racial minorities, Aboriginal communities, elderly individuals, single mothers, and homosexuals all face marginalization due to dominant discourse(s) within the structures of society (Mullaly, 2007).
Material deprivation is the most common result of marginalization when looking at how unfairly material resources (such as food and shelter) are dispersed in society. Along with material deprivation, marginalized individuals are also excluded from services, programs, and policies (Young, 2000).
Marginalization can be understood within three levels: individual, community, and global-structural / policies. Although examples are listed within these three specific levels, one must recognize the intersecting nature of marginalization and its capacity to overlap within each.
Marginalization at the individual level results in an individual’s exclusion from meaningful participation in society. An example of marginalization at the individual level is the exclusion of single mothers from the welfare system prior to the welfare reform of the 1900’s. The welfare system is based on the concept of the universal worker; entitlement to welfare is based on one’s contribution to society in the form of employment. A single mother’s contribution to society is not based on employment resulting in the mother’s ineligibility of social assistance for many decades. In modern society, caring work is devalued and motherhood is seen as a barrier to employment (Lessa, 2006). Single mothers are marginalized for their significant role in the socializing of children and due to gendered views that an individual can only contribute meaningfully to society through employment. As a result single mothers continue to suffer from material deprivation, as well as their children (Lessa, 2006).
Another example of individual marginalization is the exclusion of individuals with disabilities from the labour force. Grandz (as cited in Leslie 2003) discusses an employer viewpoint in hiring individuals living with disabilities as jeopardizing productivity, increasing the rate of absenteeism, and creating more accidents in the workplace. Cantor (as cited in Leslie 2003) also discusses employer concern of the excessive high cost of accommodating people with disabilities. The marginalization of individuals with disabilities is prevalent today despite the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Employment Equity Act, academic achievement, skills and training (Leslie, 2003).
Many communities experience marginalization, with particular focus in this section on Aboriginal communities and women. Marginalization of Aboriginal communities is a product of colonization. As a result of colonialism, Aboriginal communities lost their land, were forced into destitute areas, lost their sources of income, and were excluded from the labour market. Additionally, Aboriginal communities lost their culture and values through forced assimilation and lost their rights in society (Baskin, 2003). Today various communities continue to be marginalized from society due to the development of practices, policies and programs that “met the needs of white people and not the needs of the marginalized groups themselves” (Yee, 2005, p. 93). Yee (2005) also connects marginalization to minority communities when describing the concept of whiteness as maintaining and enforcing dominant norms and discourse.
A second example of marginalization at the community level is the marginalization of women. Moosa-Mitha (as cited in Brown & Strega, 2005) discusses the feminist movement as a direct reaction to the marginalization of white women in society. Women were excluded from the labor force and their work in the home was not valued. Feminists argued that men and women should equally participate in the labor force, the pubic and private sector, and in the home. They also focused on labour laws to increase access to employment, as well as recognize childrearing as a valuable form of labour. Today women are still marginalized from executive positions and continue to earn less then men in upper management positions.
Global and StructuralEdit
Globalization (global-capitalism), immigration, social welfare and policy are broader social structures that have the potential to contribute negatively to one’s access to resources and services, resulting in marginalization of individuals and groups. Globalization impacts the lives of individuals and groups in many capacities with the influx of capitalism, information technology, company outsourcing / job insecurity, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Alphonse, George & Moffat (2007) discuss how globalization sets forth a decrease in the role of the state with an increase in support from various “corporate sectors resulting in gross inequalities, injustices and marginalization of various vulnerable groups” (p. 1). Companies are outsourcing, jobs are lost, the cost of living continues to rise, and land is being expropriated by large companies. Material goods are made in large abundances and sold at cheaper costs, while in India for example, the poverty line is lowered in order to mask the number of individuals who are actually living in poverty as a result of globalization. Globalization and structural forces aggravate poverty and continue to push individuals to the margins of society, while governments and large corporations do not address the issues (George, P, SK8101, lecture, October 9, 2007).
Certain language and the meaning attached to language can cause universalizing discourses that are influenced by the Western world, which is what Sewpaul (2006) describes as the “potential to dilute or even annihilate local cultures and traditions and to deny context specific realities” (p. 421). What Sewpaul (2006) is implying is that the effect of dominant global discourses can cause individual and cultural displacement, as well as an experience of “de-localization”, as individual notions of security and safety are jeopardized (p. 422). Insecurity and fear of an unknown future and instability can result in displacement, exclusion, and forced assimilation into the dominant group. For many, it further pushes them to the margins of society or enlists new members to the outskirts because of global-capitalism and dominant discourses (Sewpaul, 2006).
With the prevailing notion of globalization, we now see the rise of immigration as the world gets smaller and smaller with millions of individuals relocating each year. This is not without hardship and struggle of what a newcomer thought was going to be a new life with new opportunities. Ferguson, Lavalette, & Whitmore (2005) discuss how immigration has had a strong link to access of welfare support programs. Newcomers are constantly bombarded with the inability to access a country’s resources because they are seen as “undeserving foreigners” (p. 132). With this comes a denial of access to public housing, health care benefits, employment support services, and social security benefits (Ferguson et al., 2005). Newcomers are seen as undeserving, or that they must prove their entitlement in order to gain access to basic support necessities. It is clear that individuals are exploited and marginalized within the country they have emigrated (Ferguson et al., 2005).
Welfare states and social policies can also exclude individuals from basic necessities and support programs. Welfare payments were proposed to assist individuals in accessing a small amount of material wealth (Young, 2000). Young (2000) further discusses how “the provision of the welfare itself produces new injustice by depriving those dependent on it of rights and freedoms that others have…marginalization is unjust because it blocks the opportunity to exercise capacities in socially defined and recognized way” (p. 41). There is the notion that by providing a minimal amount of welfare support, an individual will be free from marginalization. In fact, welfare support programs further lead to injustices by restricting certain behaviour, as well the individual is mandated to other agencies. The individual is forced into a new system of rules while facing social stigma and stereotypes from the dominant group in society, further marginalizing and excluding individuals (Young, 2000). Thus, social policy and welfare provisions reflect the dominant notions in society by constructing and reinforcing categories of people and their needs. It ignores the unique-subjective human essence, further continuing the cycle of dominance (Wilson & Beresford, 2000).
Implications for Social Work PracticeEdit
Upon defining and describing marginalization as well as the various levels in which it exists, one must now explore its implications for social work practice. Mullaly (2007) describes how “the personal is political” and the need for recognizing that social problems are in deed connected with larger structures in society, causing various forms of oppression amongst individuals resulting in marginalization (p. 262). It is also important for the social worker to recognize the intersecting nature of oppression. A non-judgmental and unbiased attitude is necessary on the part of the social worker. The worker must begin to understand oppression and marginalization as a systemic problem, not the fault of the individual (Mullaly, 2007). Working under an Anti-oppression perspective would then allow the social worker to understand the lived, subjective experiences of the individual, as well as their cultural, historical and social background. The worker should recognize the individual as political in the process of becoming a valuable member of society and the structural factors that contribute to oppression and marginalization (Mullaly, 2007). Social workers must take a firm stance on naming and labeling global forces that impact individuals and communities who are then left with no support, leading to marginalization or further marginalization from the society they once knew (George, P, SK8101, lecture, October 9, 2007).
The social worker should be constantly reflexive, work to raise the consciousness, empower, and understand the lived subjective realities of individuals living in a fast-paced world, where fear and insecurity constantly subjugate the individual from the collective whole, perpetuating the dominant forces, while silencing the oppressed (Sakamoto and Pitner, 2005).
Alphonse, M., George, P & Moffat, K. (2007). Redefining social work standards in the context of globalization: Lessons from India. International Social Work.
Baskin, C. (2003). Structural social work as seen from an Aboriginal Perspective. In W. Shera (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on anti-oppressive practice (pp65-78). Toronto: Canadian Scholar’s Press.
Ferguson, I., Lavalette, M., & Whitmore, E. (2005). Globalization, Global Justice and Social Work. London and New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Leslie, D.R., Leslie K. & Murphy M. (2003). Inclusion by design: The challenge for social work in workplace accommodation for people with disabilities. In W. Shera (Eds.), Emerging perspectives on anti-oppression practice (pp157-169). Toronto: Canadian Scholar’s Press.
Lessa, I. (2006). Discursive struggles within social welfare: Restaging teen motherhood. British Journal of Social Work, 36, 283-298.
Moffat, K. (1999). Surveillance and government of the welfare recipient. In A. Chambon, A. Irving and L. Epstein (Eds). Reading Foucault for social work, (pp. 219-142). New York: Columbia University Press.
Moosa-Mitha, Mehmoona, (2005). Situating anti-oppressive theories within critical and difference-centrered perspectives. In L. Brown & S. Strega (Eds.) Research as Resistance (pp37-72). Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.
Mullaly, B. (2007). Oppression: The focus of structural social work. In B. Mullaly, The new structural social work (pp. 252-286). Don Mills: Oxford University Press.
Sakamoto I., & R.O Pitner. (2005). Use of critical consciousness in anti-oppressive social work practice: disentangling power dynamics at personal and structural levels. British Journal of Social Work 35, 435-452.
Sewpaul, V. (2006). The global-local dialectic: Challenges for Africa scholarship and social work in a post-colonial world, British Journal of Social Work 36, 419-434.
Wilson A., & Beresford P. (2000). Anti-oppressive practice’: Emancipation or appropriation? British Journal of Social Work. 30, 553-573.
Yee, J. Y. & Dumbrill, G.C. (2003). Whiteout: Looking for Race in Canadian Social Work Practice. In A. Al-Krenawi & J.R. Graham (Eds.) Multicultural Social Work in Canada: Working with Diverse Ethno-Racial Communities (pp.98-121). Toronto: Oxford Press.
Yee, J. (2005). Critical anti-racism praxis: The concept of whiteness implicated. In S. Hick, J. Fook and R. Pozzuto (Eds.), Social work, a critical turn, pp.87-104. Toronto: Thompson.
Young, I. M. (2000). Five faces of oppression. In M. Adams, (Ed.), Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (pp. 35-49). New York: Routledge.
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