2019: A World on the Margins

Social Studies

On the Edge of Society

Introductory Questions

    • What does it mean to belong?
    • What does it mean for a group of people to be marginalized?
    • Is it always better to be included than to be excluded?
    • Who decides who belongs in a certain group?
    • Is it always wrong to exclude people from a group?
    • Are there any situations in which one might want to be marginalized?
    • Should people ever be integrated with others against their will?
    • What is the difference between exclusion and inequality?
    • Can people ever be “separate but equal”?
    • Are there any valid arguments against inclusiveness as a social goal?
    • Are there any steps toward increasing inclusiveness with which you would be uncomfortable?
    • Are there times when stratification is necessary or beneficial for a society?
    • Is the world becoming more inclusive? Is your school? Is your country?
    • Is there a difference between being in the minority and being marginalized?
    • Are different marginalized groups in the same society natural allies, or are they just as likely to turn on each other?

People of a Feather: The Sources and Consequences of Groups

    • Basic Features of Social Groups
      • power structures | roles | communication structures
      • similarity | interdependence | injunctive and proscriptive norms
    • Entitativity: when does a group think of itself as a group?
      • cultural identity groups | crowds vs. mobs
      • Tuckman model | seceder model | Homans’ theory
      • social exchange theory | swarm behavior | herd mentality
    • To Follow the Group, To Go Astray
      • informational vs normative vs referential conformity
      • social identity theory | self-categorization
      • dominant culture | counterculture | high-brow vs. low-brow
      • Asch Paradigm | Crutchfield Situation
    • Them-ocracy: Understanding Exclusion and Rivalry
      • ingroup vs. outgroup | outgroup homogeneity | trait ascription
      • intergroup interactions | social comparison | social invisibility
      • amity-enmity complex | internalized oppression
      • black sheep effect | Robber’s Cave | Stanford Prison Experiment

Here There be ____: Understanding the Margins of Society

    • Mechanics of Marginalization
      • discrimination | colonialism | slavery | hegemony
      • nepotism | endogamy | xenophobia | rankism
      • sexism | racism | ageism | ableism | elitism
      • bullying | victimization | social dominance orientation
    • Poverty and Social Stratification
      • Gini index | Great Gatsby curve | Poverty Gap Index
      • social class | social mobility | dissimilarity | division of labor
      • just-world fallacy | redlining | Davis-Moore hypothesis
      • homelessness | slums | favelas | shanty towns | skid row
    • Race and Ethnicity
      • segregation | self-segregation | ethnocentrism
      • tribalism | supremacism | reverse racism | eugenics
      • institutionalized racism | “race traitor” | “passing” | reparations
    • Gender and Sexism
      • institutional sexism | objectification | masculinity vs femininity
      • mansplaining | pay gap | gendercide | heteronormativity | glass ceiling
      • gender identities | LGBTQ+ | toxic masculinity | intersexuality
    • Additional Terms to Explore
      • second-class citizen | dehumanization | vagrant | alien | untouchable
      • homo sacer | lumpenproletariat | baekjeong | burakumin
      • cagot | ragyabpa | bui doi | tanka | osu | akhdam | bitlaha

Additional Cases & Guiding Questions

Merging with the Masses

    • Consider the so-called Asch Conformity Experiments and the conclusions drawn from them about how and why people might conform to the opinions of those around them. Are there ways in which you might critique the original experiment or the resulting paradigm? Discuss with your team: when, if ever, is it good to conform?
    • Look into the work of Project Implicit. Should its findings be applied in everyday life, and, if so, how? How might someone critique their work? If you have time, try taking one of the tests on this page, and, if you feel comfortable sharing the results, discuss the experience with your team afterward.
    • Fashion (voluntary and involuntary) is strongly linked to group formation and membership. Does the rise of the often unisex “normcore” movement in recent years point toward a more inclusive fashion industry, or is it just another way for the “ingroup” to spend money to differentiate itself? Discuss with your team: does fashion perpetuate perceived differences between genders, races, and cultures?
    • Have you ever known someone who didn’t want to dance—whom someone else tried to force onto the dance floor? Consider this article by the scientist Henry Reich, then discuss with your team: when is it right to encourage someone to do something they don’t want to do? Would you ever pressure someone to go to a party? Should we always let people opt out of social activities, or are there times when it is appropriate to intervene “for their own good”? You may also want to look at expectations around cosmetics, marriage, and vacation days.
Beyond the Norm

    • Consider schools dedicated to the education of highly gifted children—such as the Mirman School in California, which admits only children with IQs of at least 145, and its many highly selective counterparts around the world, from Kazakhstan to Israel. Then, discuss with your team: should high-achieving learners be separated, in whole or part, from other students? Is there a difference between exclusion and exclusivity, and is one more acceptable than the other? Are people too quick to judge programs of this kind - and, if so, what might be motivating their judgments?
    • Consider the phenomenon of self-segregation on school campuses. Do you see it at your own school? Is it something administrators should take measures against, and, if so, what kinds of measures? Does it matter what the reason for the self-segregation is—for instance, among gender, ethnicity, religion, age, or other values?
    • For every superstar in the NBA, a player is warming the bench. Do such players deserve more credit than they receive—and is it ever right for them to ask for more recognition or for more playing time? Are there similar hierarchies in other sports, or in the professional world, and are they ever unfair? Discuss with your team: should special talents lead to special treatment?
    • Explore social programs in countries with very low rates of homelessness and destitution, such as Finland, Denmark, and Japan. What is particularly effective about their approaches? How would you advise countries—or cities, such as San Francisco—that are experiencing very high rates of homelessness?
Toward a More Integrated World?

    • Some researchers have concluded that companies (and even countries) are more likely to select women for positions of leadership when they are already in decline—making it more likely that these women will fall off what they term the “glass cliff” of failure. Discuss with your team: to avoid such a phenomenon, should companies and countries be required to alternate regularly between male and female leaders?
    • Is Canada really inclusive, or does it just have excellent branding? Discuss with your team: what is the best way to measure the inclusiveness of a country or society? What countries would you consider to be the most inclusive, and what do you think has made them that way?
    • In a world in which many countries (including the United States) are highly religious, atheists—nonbelievers—arguably encounter challenges fitting in with mainstream culture. Consider this article about the rise of an atheist rights movement, then follow up on its claims. Is such a movement justified?
    • Ancient Greeks mocked people with physical differences; today, we have disability rights movements and disability studies. How have people with disabilities such as deafness, blindness, and lack of mobility advocated for inclusion in mainstream society? Discuss with your team: do you support those who may wish to resist that inclusion?
    • Are women held to different standards than men in the pursuit of elected office? Discuss with your team: can elections ever be counted on to produce fair results, if people have underlying prejudices toward one or more groups?
    • In India, a woman just scaled a mountain that until now had been reserved for men only. Discuss with your team: is it ever right to restrict access to a place to members of one gender? How about to one age group, or to one religion or culture? If your answers are different for different categories, what makes one restriction okay and another not?
    • Do computer algorithms - such as those that power Google search - perpetuate harmful or undesirable views of the world? Consider the work of Safiya Noble and other researchers with similar concerns. Then, discuss with your team: should private companies regulate or censor search results and the results of other algorithms to achieve goals such as racial and gender equality? Should governments?
    • Sometimes, people are excluded from society for (ostensibly) the common good; for example, criminals are placed in prisons. In some of Norway’s prisons, however, the criminal justice system aims to keep prisoners as part of society. Discuss with your team: to what degree should we prioritize reintegrating prisoners with the rest of the world?
    • Marginalized communities are often those with the least access to the Internet - and, in at least one case, their access is intentionally limited by those with power over them. Discuss with your team: should prisoners have the right to free and unfettered Internet access? Would no access at all be more fair than the scheme described here?
    • Consider this introduction to "defensive" designs, many of them meant to prevent loitering by homeless or otherwise challenged populations. Then, discuss with your team: are critics justified in describing these as examples of "hostile" architecture? When, if ever, might such designs be warranted? Or should all public places and spaces be made equally comfortable for all who might need them?