Correlates of marginality: toward a clarification of the concept of marginality

Kaldenberg, Dennis
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Sociology and Anthropology

This dissertation is a quantitative and theoretical discussion of marginality. Marginality, according to Robert Merton, is the condition of being ineligible for membership in a group in which membership is sought. Using this definition, a study is made of a class of conditionally and unconditionally admitted law students at a Midwestern law school. The conditional students are considered marginal because they do not meet the eligibility requirements necessary for unconditional admission;The hypotheses for this study were generated from an earlier field study of this group of law students. The hypotheses predict a positive relationship between marginality and powerlessness, normlessness, self-estrangement, negative self-concept, job dissatisfaction, and certain health and psychological disorders. Further, it is hypothesized that the strength of these relationships will increase as the salience of success in the law school increases. General and situation specific measures of powerlessness, normlessness, and self-estrangement were used to study the context in which these forms of discord occur. All of the hypotheses are supported, although the strengths of the relationships vary;An attempt is made to develop a general theory of marginality by using the results of this study and combining them with previous research and theory. The general theory examines the different types and sources of marginality. Objective, subjective, structural, cultural, and reality marginalities are discussed. The general theory also tries to delineate some of the consequences and concomitants of marginality. The dissertation concludes with an argument that the measurement of marginality in this study comes closer to what is meant by alienation than any of the existing measures of alienation. Perhaps, marginality should be integrated into the theories of alienation and studied in that context.