Exercise 3.3 Marginalisation

Marginalization is the act of excluding or ignoring somebody by relegating him/her to the outer edge of a group …  Furthermore, marginalization as a term is related to ‘othering’ as it is approached by post-colonial and feminist studies … According to such studies ‘othering’ is a way of defining and securing one’s own positive identity through the stigmatization of an ‘other’. Whatever the markers of social differentiation that shape the meaning of ‘us’ and ‘them’ – whether they are racial, geographic, ethnic, economic, or ideological – there is always the danger that they will become the basis for a self-affirmation that depends upon the denigration of the other group.

Agelides P & Michaelidou A. (2009)

The above definition of marginalisation serves to emphasize the various social differentiations where marginalisation can occur. In a quick search through my university’s online database various journal articles appeared about marginalisation ranging from occurrences in globalization and global inequality; public administration; and domestic violence to name but a few.

When society assigns people to groups or labels we in effect pass judgement on them, reducing their rights and powers and social status. We are probably so used to some of these groupings that we don’t even view them as such:

  • Too old/young
  • Too fat/thin
  • Wrong gender
  • Too rich/poor
  • House or car too small/too big/too old/too new
  • Wrong education – not enough degrees
  • Wrong language – too much accent/not English speaking enough
  • Persons with disabilities suffer from exclusion, aren’t fully included in society due to physical differences.
  • Visible minorities and immigrants run the gauntlet of racism and discrimination when seeking employment.
  • Those lacking long-term employment lose respect from friends and neighbours. Identity issues arise for young people who cannot find jobs or older people who are laid or forced into early retirement.
  • Concentration of poverty in urban areas results in the polarization in community composition.
  • Homelessness

Marginalization exists for a number of reasons. New technology takes away peoples’ jobs, ineffectual public and social policies, individual circumstances, market failures, and the 80/20 wage gap to name but a few (Jenson, 2000).

Five cents a spot - unauthorized immigration lodgings in a Bayard Street tenement [New York] by Jacob A. Riis (ca 1890)
Five cents a spot – unauthorized immigration lodgings in a Bayard Street tenement [New York] by Jacob A. Riis (ca 1890)

Social reform photography had its beginnings when British suffragists photographed the lives of poor women and children. Two consequences arose from this public exposure: by continually exposing the public to images of the poor in squalid conditions the concept that these people were inferior was reinforced and secondly “compassion fatigue” set in. (Warner Marien p. 203). Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine were two well known social reform photographers, photographing people in their squalid tenements in New York and young children working in factories. Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Jack Delano were photographers of the Farm Security Administration era documenting the depression and the struggles the American farmers were undergoing. More recently we have photographers like Chris Killip who moved away from promoting social reform to concentrating on “personal observation and interpretation of particular instances of social life” (Warner Marien, 2014: 416).

As photographers we need to take care when photographing the marginalised. We would do well to remember some of the words written in Mary Ellen Marks’s obituary in the Wall Street Journal: she had “a style that demands blending in and a cloak of invisibility”. Marks had “empathy with the marginalized and the square pegs”, and (told) “the story from their point of view”, “portrayed street kids in Seattle in a sympathetic light”,  and “you do have to push your limits, if you want a certain intimacy in your pictures” (Woodward, 2015). We need to treat the subjects with respect and empathy, preserve their dignity and encourage their true story to emerge.

Reference List

Agelides, P., & Michaelidou, A. (2009). Collaborative Artmaking for Reducing Marginalization [online]. Studies in Art Education, 51(1), 36-49. Available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/40650399 [Accessed 17 December, 2016]

Jenson, Jane (2000) Backgrounder: Thinking about Marginalization: What, Who and Why? [online] Canadian Policy Research Networks Inc. (CPRN) Available at: http://cprn3.library.carleton.ca/documents/15746_en.pdf [Accessed 18 December, 2016]

Strictly Stress Management (n.d) Marginalization for All or None – Who Isn’t in Need after All? [online] Strictly Stress Management.com. Available at: http://www.strictly-stress-management.com/marginalization.html [Accessed 18 December, 2016]

Warner Marien, M. (2014). Photography: A Cultural History (4th edition). London: Laurence King.

Woodward, R. B. (2015). Remembering Humanist Photographer Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) [online]. Wall Street Journal. Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/remembering-humanist-photographer-mary-ellen-mark-1940-2015-1432854037 [Accessed 19 December, 2016]

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