Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Kingdom of Saudi Alberta

First make sure you read the title correctly. I wrote Alberta not Arabia.

While traveling awhile ago I heard the phrase Saudi Alberta for the first time. I found it amusing. But then that ole anthropologist in me started mulling it over and considering why the title would work.

Here for the first time anywhere (I'm sure), is how the two Kingdoms are similar.

1. Conservative religious government.
2. Othering those not originally from there. (looking at people as foreign to one's own culture).
3. Anxiety about people "stealing" the wealth.
4. Large families.
5. Oil wealth and then some.
6. Sense of entitlement.
7. Taking care of neighbours in a monetary way. (Although would you have ever believed we would be supporting Ontario?).
8. Sexual repression. (There's the story of a guy who had a sex change and had to leave the oil field business for his/her own safety. Then there's that whole gay rights thing that keeps popping up.

I'm sure there's more. And I'm sure there's a whole schwack of reasons why we're different. (Snow, not being the least of them). But there you have it. It is a bit tongue-in-cheek and may be an abuse of anthropology, but its worth the time and effort.


Thursday, March 19, 2009


We live in a society that actively tries to remove individuals and groups from the margins. Yet, there are still people who are marginalized. More specifically, there are people who choose to be marginalized.

In my research, I've come across these people, and have puzzled over why they would opt for such a choice. But it is interesting -- in watching a car wreck sort of way.

Professor Emiritus John W. Berry proposed an attitudinal model for immigrants, and others, that asks two questions. The answers to the questions set the respondent in one of four quarters that represented their attitude to their new society.

Called the AIMS Model, an acronym from the responses determined by the answers, it is described as:

Question 1: Is it considered to be of value to maintain cultural identity and characteristics?

Question 2: Is it considered to be of value to maintain relationships with
other groups?

If the answer to the first question is “no” and “yes” to the second, then the outcome is assimilation. This is the relinquishing of one’s own cultural identity and allowing themselves to be absorbed into the greater society. This is the basis of the “melting pot” point of view.

When the first question is answered “yes”, and the second question is answered “yes”, the possibility of integration exists. Integration occurs when the person agrees to accept their own culture and that of the host society.

The answer of “no” to both questions means marginalization. The abandoning of one’s own culture and the denial of the greater society’s culture places the individual or group on the margins in an extremely stressful, alienating situation. However, as has been argued by Kuo and Tsai (1986), with a strong social-network, it is possible to exist on the margins. When the greater society chooses this for the individual it is tantamount to ethnocide (Berry, 1989).

If the answer is “yes” to the first question, but “no” to the second one, then separation or segregation occurs. “Depending upon whether the dominant or nondominant group controls the situation, this option may take the form of either segregation or separation. When the dominant group imposes the pattern, classic segregation to keep people “in their place” appears. On the other hand, when a group has the power and desire to lead an existence outside full participation in the large society, the separatist option occurs”.

My concern here is the definition of marginalization and more succinctly, those who choose to marginalize themselves.

The question is "Why?". Why do people exclude themselves from meaningful participation in society?

I have researched a particular group of people who have chosen marginalization over any other form of intercourse with the rest of society. Sadly, I find their social organization very cult-like, which would explain their marginalization. They exist in pockets all around the world and are connected primarily through the Internet, and particular centres where they gather for social and cultural meetings. This is a very strong network and very supportive. As Kuo and Tsai mention above, it is this connectivity that helps them to remain strong.(I'm not going to identify this group.)

What I know about these people are that they are taught to reach out to the general population but are actually very awkward at it. They tend to alienate people through their interactions. On one hand they are proclaimed to be the best public face of people, yet on the other hand their need to be separate / distinct from everyone else creates a discomfited environment. They want to connect to the world on their terms, but lack the ability to empathize with those they engage.

Marginalization causes a number of psychological, social, cultural and other issues. While we have been learning as a society to not marginalize groups, i.e. Blacks, Jews, Women, Disabled, we have to learn why there are people who choose to marginalize themselves. There's that question again, "Why?".

Here are some of my considerations:

1. There is a sense of empowerment amongst individuals who desire to rise up out of the mire of humanity. Marginalists have a sense of empowerment that by cutting themselves off from the rest of humanity they can focus on becoming its best example.

2. Preservation of an ideal/idea.This is similar to reason one. There is a central or core idea(l) that needs to be safeguarded. By isolating themselves, they can avoid polluting this idea(l).

3. Ongoing learning/developing within a world view. Again, this is the preservation of a way of learning or developing while avoiding outside interference.

4. Fear. Basic fear of the unknown or poorly understood.

5. Cult. It's the beginning of or continuation of a cult. Cults in the Western worldview are examined from a Judeo-Christian point of view. In an attempt to not "marginalized" non-Judeo-Christian religious devotees, even their cults are accepted. This practice needs to be rëxamined.

6. Social immaturity. Members of a society that allows dissent and expression, underestimate that right/freedom. They don't know how to use the society around them to explain their world view. Within their own society they do not know how to get their point across too.

7. Misguided sense of superiority/empowerment. Individually and collectively people feel that they are superior to the rest of society and free from any social code that would restrain them. They believe that they are the higher evolved members of their own society and therefore cannot connect emotionally, physically or spiritually to its members.

Anyway, mull these over. Do you have anything to add? I'd be happy to hear it.

au revoir.

Berry, J.W., U. Kim, S. Power, M. Young and M. Bujaki, 1989. “Acculturation
attitudes in plural societies” in Applied Psychology and International
Vol. 38 No. 2, pp. 185-206.

Kuo, Wen H. and Yung-Mei Tsai. 1986. “Social Networking, Hardiness and
Immigrant’s Mental Health” in Journal of health and Social Behaviour.
Vol.27, No. 2 (Jun. 1986), 133-149.

Mmmm. So much for being a regular writer...

Who'd a thunk it would be so difficult to post a blog regularly? mmm. Well, my apolgies and I'm off to look up another topic.