Journal of Adult Development

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 163–170 | Cite as

Positive Marginality: Antecedents and Consequences

  • Rhoda K. Unger


This article presents evidence for the view that an important precursor to a feminist identity is a sense of one's own marginality plus a redefinition of what that marginality means. Choosing marginality appears to be a highly adaptive strategy for social activists who can “pass” as members of the dominant majority. Women leaders in psychology appear to be more likely to be Jewish and/or to be from working class backgrounds than one would expect by chance. An examination of their autobiographical narratives indicates that many of them have actively engaged their marginal identities and redefined them into a source of strength. This article also explores the historical and contextual factors that influence overt identification with some form of marginality. These factors include historical differences in the danger due to a particular stigmatizing social label, familial social activism, and the social power possessed by an individual woman. Finally, it is argued that positive marginality appears to promote an awareness that injustice is rooted in structural processes rather than personal inadequacy.

Positive marginality social activism Jewish women in psychology 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Montclair State UniversityUpper Montclair

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