The Myth of Marginality

Working through the book manuscript on the lives of poor and lower-caste golf caddies--halfway there, aiming for a pub date in 2017--I'm reacquainting myself with some of the old familiar texts I leaned on in producing the original dissertation. Foremost in my mind, at present, is Janice Perlman's The Myth of Marginality. Originally published in 1980, Perlman's book is a study of the politics and experience of poverty in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in the sixties and seventies.

Useful to the work I’m doing is Perlman's understanding of aspirations among the poor and working people she encounters. At one point she writes of her informants: “In short, they have the aspirations of the bourgeoisie, the perseverance of pioneers, and the values of patriots. What they do not have is an opportunity to fulfill their aspirations” (emphasis in the original; pardon the academic convention).

The lesson here, and throughout the book, is not one of personal choice and responsibility made and unmade on the margins of society--as if someone chooses poverty, in Brazil, in India, anywhere, that someone chooses marginality--but that there's an order to who gets to fulfill what aspirations, when, and where. A necessary lesson, I take it, not just for the book I'm writing; it's necessary, too, I think, as a window onto poverty, in general, and a clue as to what might be done about it.