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3.4 A ‘health warning’ about groups

It can be great to belong to a group, especially if you are a highly respected core member. Other people can look up to you and ask you to share your expertise. The process of moving from being a peripheral member to being a core member can also be very satisfying. However, groups are sometimes defined as much by whom they exclude.

Groups may not just have insiders; they have outsiders who are not seen as part of the group. Often this may not matter. No one can be a member of every group. However, being a member of some groups means that there is access to privileges that are denied to outsiders, who may be viewed as inferior or undesirable.

bell hooks
Figure 5 bell hooks

American author bell hooks (she prefers her name to be given without capital letters) describes the effect of coming from a class and having an ethnicity that can lead to exclusion:

It was assumed that any student coming from a poor or working class background would willingly surrender all values and habits of being associated with this background. Those of us from diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds learned that no aspect of our … culture could be voiced …

I see many students from ‘undesirable’ class backgrounds become unable to complete their studies because [of] the contradictions between the behaviour necessary to ‘make it’ … and those that allowed them to be comfortable at home with their families and friends …

(hooks, 1994, p. 182)

As bell hooks suggests, sometimes moving from one group to another can be problematic. It is also common to find that people have preconceptions about you, based on your identity (for example, your class, race, religion, gender, profession or town of origin), and for these preconceptions to make it difficult for you to fit in with a new group of people.

Being aware of how groups work can help you feel prepared and decide how to address these kinds of barriers.