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.