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On Being Marginal and Marginalized: An Exploration

时间:2010-04-07  来源:华研通讯第5-6期  文平强 点击:

"Marginalization" as a social phenomenon is present everywhere, yet not everyone may think so. It may be observed, but more as a qualitative rather than a quantitative phenomenon that can be pinned down. Under certain circumstances, this subject may also be seen as a sensitive issue, both to those who suffer from it and to others for being told that it exists at all.

"Marginalization" is both a process and a phenomenon. Its study would require, among other things, an examination of the following:
1. Definition and criteria,
2. Quantitative measurement and the availability of relevant data,
3. Characteristics associated with the process and phenomenon,
4. The "etiology"of marginalization, and
5. Response strategies

Definition

"Marginalization" has been defined as "a process by which a group or individual is denied access to important positions and symbols of economic, religious, or political power within any society" (Marshall, 1998: 385). It is associated with other sociological processes particularly those of "exclusion" and "closure" in various forms (social, economic, political, spatial, etc.). It is also linked to such concepts as poverty and inequality, status and power, and class. In a multi-ethnic society, it inevitably implies ethnic competition and rivalry. To some, it conveys a deep sense of deprivation and injustice. It is thus objectionable as a socio-economic phenomenon to all sections of society.

Measurement

Marginalization varies in intensity during different periods of time and in different places. Yet it is significant only in a "relative" sense and in "comparative" terms. It is meaningful because of its many forms of impact on different sections of society.

Issues concerning marginalization are subjects of debate and tend to be controversial. This may be because the measurement of "marginalization" depends on the choice of criteria and the availability of reliable data. Both the criteria and the data may not be free from subjective judgment. Quantitative measurement is therefore the first step in the analysis of "marginalization".

Characteristics

Marginalization takes on different dimensions and is encountered at varying spatial scales. The important dimensions would include the economic, political and ethno-cultural.

The economic dimension manifests itself in competition and the work of market forces arising from such processes as economic restructuring, globalization, and the effects of official economic policies. Politically, marginalization is associated especially with the practice of communal politics and the inevitable outcome of ethnic bargaining and rivalry, the hegemony of dominant groups, or the pursuit of ethnic-oriented political and economic agendas. Intense ethno-cultural competition arising from religious, ethnic and linguistic complexities - especially when "ethnicity" is a major determinant of national objectives and official policies - is often reflected in the creation of marginalized groups.

Marginalization also occurs at two spatial scales, namely, local/national and regional/global. Over-emphasis on local economic issues may breed parochialism, inward-looking attitudes, narrow vistas, and unhealthy internal competition. Failure to stress the mounting trend of globalization to accommodate its best and to resist its worse features will work to the disadvantage of a nation. Hence, at the same time that certain groups (e.g. indigenous groups, women, farmers, plantation workers, etc.) within the country become marginalized, the nation as a whole or some of its functional parts (such as education or industries) may also be marginalized at the regional and global level.

Causes and Origins

Marginalization as a process has been around for a long time and has appeared as a result of various causes. How it arises and operates as a process and the nature of its long-term impacts and implications are subject to different interpretations.

Marginalization is often the unintended outcome of policies formulated to achieve stated objectives and the enabling mechanisms to realize these objectives. Few official policies are formulated with the intention to "marginalize" specific sections of society. But the objectives of policies and the manner by which the enabling mechanisms are put to work often lead to various forms of imbalances between the mainstream and marginal groups.

Official policies implemented to achieve stated objectives on behalf of target groups may deny or reduce access of non-target groups to the same objectives. In theory, no one is denied access to desired objectives. In practice, discriminatory decisions by individual holders of authority may, over time, effectively bar access to opportunities and lead directly to the marginalization of non-target groups. Official policies may also produce unforeseen consequences from attempts to achieve well-intentioned objectives. This "back-firing" of policies may in itself lead to the marginalization of the target groups. Again, the pursuit of "agendas", official or otherwise, that involves chasing after "moving" targets to meet growing demands through time may sideline one group in favour of another. In the context of a multi-ethnic society, the interests of one group may be seen to encroach on those of other groups.

Resorting to various enabling mechanisms meant to create a level playing field may often mean the use of preferential treatment to favoured groups at the expense of all others. These enabling mechanisms are legal and policy instruments by which official policies are to be implemented. These mechanisms provide the means and legitimacy by which priority is accorded to one group over other groups. When applied in a concerted manner, the likelihood of pushing less favoured groups to the periphery is real indeed.

Other causes of marginalization may also be identified. These include complacency and failure to cope with changes. These are self-inflicted causes, but are often imperceptible and take effect over a period of time. For instance, groups or businesses that are unable to compete because of technical incompetence or obsolesce will almost certainly be sidelined.

Individual Responses

The 21st century is an increasingly globalized era and the forces that "flatten" the world are numerous and converging (see Friedman, 2006). In a highly competitive world, it is realized that one has to run in order to stand still.

The world does not owe any person or any nation a living. The modern nation-state has to compete at the international level instead of competing for the limited domestic "economic cake".  While the internal distribution of national wealth by class or ethnicity is important, the creation of more wealth is even more so.

At the time of independence, Malaysia was economically better off than South Korea 1  or Hong Kong. But we are clearly way behind these economies today. Yet to compare our economic performance with countries in the less developed parts of the world would be self-deluding.

For individuals who feel "marginalized", two broad types of response strategies may be cited, namely, proactive and passive.

The passive response is a registration of frustration and a resistance to perceived injustice and lack of fair play. This is a strategy adopted by individuals to improve their own prospects. Many young talents choose to emigrate to seek opportunities that are commensurate with their own potential worth. Others may "jump ship" to live and work illegally overseas.

Talents are a vital resource to the modern nation-state. In a globalized world, talents are a highly mobile "commodity" that is subject to competitive bidding. Ironically, while we cannot afford to lose talents, we have done little to reduce the loss. At the same time that we stress the importance of talents, a substantial number is in fact leaving to serve in countries that are our competitors. Yet the economic consequences of this loss to the nation have not been quantified.

The positive and proactive response takes the form of the emphasis on self-improvement and upgrading of personal and community capability. Self-reliance as a form of response to perceived discrimination is expressed in terms of improving and uplifting one's worth through education, skills and ability. This may also be seen on a community basis when it attempts to keep abreast of the latest trends in business, technical capability, etc. within and outside the country.

Malaysia is blessed with a richness of ethno-cultural "diversity" that creates a microcosm of "Instant Asia" at the same that it serves as a much envied national resource. This diversity in a multi-ethnic society is more than a tourism curiosity. It has been recognized that, in economic development, culture matters. The success of the Asian "mini-dragons" has not occurred without a positive dose of motivations derived from culture.

Malaysia is at the cross-road of three great civilizations: China, India and Indonesia, all members of the major emerging economies that will feature prominently as global economic players in the future. The obvious strategy is to exploit the combined resources and talents embedded in the diversity of Malaysia to take full advantage of the vast opportunities that are at our doorstep.


Notes

1. Since 1970, the total increase in income per capita and the average annual rate of increase was 923% and 6.8% respectively for China, 286% and 4.0% for Indonesia, 566% and 5.6% for Korea, 347% and 4.4% for Thailand, and 283% and 3.9% for Malaysia (Stiglitz, 2003: 297n ).


References

Friedman, Thomas L. 2006. The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century , New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Marshall, Gordon 1998. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology , Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2006. Making Globalization Work: The Next Step to Global Justice , London: Allen Lane.

 

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