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What are the Margins of Society?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The margins of society refer to a philosophical rather than physical location. Essentially those who are considered in the margins of society are those people who live outside socially accepted norms. These might include the impoverished, people in the penal system, the homeless, the incurably mentally ill, or certain racial groups. The latter may not occur regularly in the US, but in other countries, certain groups may be considered outside or on the edge of the society.

In the US, those participating in and benefiting from democracy usually fall "within" the margins, and not outside. Though it would be ideal if democracy served all people, it tends to best serve people who function well in the society, can abide by its rules, work and pay taxes, and have a stable dwelling. It does not tend to work as well for those who are in the margins of society, the outward edge, because such people may have little influence in the democratic system, either due to poverty, discrimination, education or complacency.

For example, if we declare the homeless to be in the margins, we are essentially stating that they are on the outside of our society. It is a mainly true statement. Further, the state of being homeless often makes voting more difficult since they cannot always provide a mailing address in order to register.

This may create a problem from a democratic standpoint, because a homeless person may not even register to vote, and lose out on voting on key issues that might affect him or her. If a bill concerning the homeless is up for a public vote, and the homeless do not choose to vote, or cannot register to vote, they remain outside of the society, and not participants in it. Because they belong to the edges of society, they can’t be said to truly have a say in how they are governed or how they are helped.

Another example could apply to someone who is illiterate. A person who is illiterate lives on the margins of society because basic things like voting may be difficult or seem impossible. The illiterate person also might have challenges filling out tax forms, filling out job applications, and thus without help can become outcast. While there are many programs and provisions in the law to provide assistance to the illiterate in regards to voting or paying taxes, taking advantage of it may be embarrassing.

While some people fall within the margins of society due to choices, uncontrollable circumstances or disabilities, certain groups within the US, like white supremacist militias, live on the margins of society by choice. They do not accept the societal norms accepted by the mainstream public, and may view other racial groups as controlling the political power in the US government, or may espouse conspiracy theories that would make living in the mainstream quite difficult. Many prepare for a violent conflict with the government and see the government, and most of its people as enemies.

Some people may reject society, in any country. Additionally, some people have relative freedom to reject society. A wealthy person who is unstable mentally is often left to pursue his or her own course provided it doesn’t break laws. Such people are called eccentrics. On the other hand, the mentally ill without wealth, have little choice, and are generally seen as outcasts, problems, or misfits. Such people have even more marginal status than the wealthy eccentrics because there is no way to fit such people into the definition of for example, a US society.

CulturalWorld.org is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a CulturalWorld.org contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon257055 — On Mar 24, 2012

Why is one assumed to be either complacent or mentally ill if one chooses not to participate in a system one only found oneself opted into by accident of birth, not by choice, or because one simply doesn't agree with most of how it works?

Conscious non-endorsement of things you don't want to be part of is anything but complacent. Nor does disagreeing with societal norms mean that you have to be a violent white supremacist or conspiracy theorist. It might actually mean that you think for yourself and are possibly ahead of your time, rather than just following the herd.

As for mentally ill, do you mean to say that anyone who disagrees with the way things are must be mentally ill?

Just thought I'd ask. --A random reader from Canada

By Qohe1et — On Feb 20, 2011


This may be true, but many people who exist on the margins of society are there by choice. As the world advances, there will always be people who prefer to take their own road and go against the flow.

By dbuckley212 — On Feb 17, 2011


I saw an interesting documentary on this phenomenon, which showed that people are beginning to have "parallel lives" on the internet, where they assume an alternate persona and are able to feel like they are living very normal- or very fantastical- lives. As these role playing sites continue to advance, it may be that there will be new avenues for thinking and creativity.

By Leonidas226 — On Feb 15, 2011

Many new opportunities are being provided for those who would be considered to be "on the margins of society." With the advent of widespread internet jobs and working from home, physical prowess will begin to become obsolete, and people will be respected for their ability to innovate and think together.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a CulturalWorld.org contributor, Tricia...
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