The Problem of the Marginal Man

The Problem of the Marginal Man

American Journal of Sociology
Volume 41, Number 1 (July 1935)
Pages 1-12
DOI: 10.1086/217001

Everett V. Stonequist (1901-1979), Professor of Sociology
Skidmore College

The marginal man arises in a bi-cultural or multi-cultural situation.  The natural desire of the mixed-blood is to advance toward the group occupying the higher status.  He may be forced to accept the status of the lower group, possibly becoming their leader.  He may be rejected by both groups.  Where accommodation, rather than conflict, prevails, the mixed blood may constitute a middle class.  With intermarriage the mixed-blood approximates more nearly the status of the dominate race.  The marginal individual experiences what [W. E. B.] Du Bois has analyzed as “double consciousness.”  It is as if he regarded himself through two looking-glasses presenting clashing images.  The marginal individual passes through a life-cycle:  introduction to the two cultures, crisis, and adjustment.  The natural history involves an initial phase with a small group of marginal individuals who are ahead of the minority.  This group increases, and a movement develops having as a goal some kind of equality and independence.  The final outcome may be a new social framework; if assimilation is facilitated, the minority may be incorporated into the dominant group, or become the dominant group, and the cycle ends…

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