Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Young - Five Faces of Oppression.

The concept of social group in fundamental to understand oppression as Young sees it: a social group is a group into which one is born and does not freely enter into, one whose traditions and history serve to define one's existence and experiences. Though one can attempt to divorce oneself from such a group, one's history as part of a member of such a group cannot be removed, nor can its one's experiences as colored by group membership. Young defines oppression as an inability of a group to cultivate and express itself, and further subdivides this into five categories which can be used as factors which can serve to identify cases of oppression: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. Exploitation is a state in which a specific group is utilized for gain without adequate compensation; here it is useful to consider Marx: the wage-laborer produces a surplus, which only exists because the wages she is being paid do not match the value of the labor which she produces. Marginalization stands in relation to exploitation inasmuch as this state is one in which individuals are not even allowed to be exploited: they are relegated to marginal jobs or unemployed, and therefore are more dependent on state aid. Powerlessness, the third marker of oppression, is intertwined with exploitation and marginalization inasmuch as power is related to acceptance in the wider society and the ability to act independently. Cultural Imperialism stands as an active factor which encourages marginalization and powerlessness, as it is the process which involves the imposition of other cultural values over a group's set of values. Normative processes ensure that those who do not adhere to the majority culture's values are turned into others, and often stigmatized for their very values. Violence, the final face of oppression, is also the most obvious face; violence is encouraged by the processes of cultural imperialism and marginalization and is exacerbated by powerlessness. The process of selecting one set of values over another and turning those who adhere to alternate practices into Others, the majority culture creates animosity, which cannot be abated due to marginalization which often accompanies these processes. Each definition is interrelated with the others, but not all are necessary for a group to be oppressed. Inasmuch as this is the case, I prefer such a definition as it allows for a broad spectrum of groups to be defined as oppressed: women, minorities, the LGBT community, etc. Women, members of the LGBT community, and minorities all must face the possibility of violence (depending where they are) though to different extents and for different reasons; that they must even consider violence as a possibility at all, simply because of who they are, I think, suggests that there is something to be said in identifying them as such. But, they are also exploited, albeit in different fashions and to different extents, they face the normatizing attempts of a majority culture, they are marginalized in many ways, and they (in specific and different ways) lack power. Women are exploited in the workplace more than ordinary workers, due to a lack of pay equality, minorities are marginalized into jobs which tend to be more exploitative, members of the LGBT community can sometimes fear dismissal if they are found out. There are so many facets to oppression and so many different incarnations that it is useful to have such a broad definition, both to allow different groups to be united under the same umbrella term and also to allow a comparison between groups.

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