In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, while conducting primary research and ethnography for his dissertation, Michael Hanchard worked alongside several black activists who helped organize street children and children living in government foster service centers to demand access to better housing and education, and an end to police harassment and violence. One activist in particular, Ivanir dos Santos, developed a project focusing on the specific and disproportionate ways that Afro-Brazilian children were among the most marginalized populations in Brazilian society.
Hanchard, now a professor in the Department of Africana Studies in the School of Arts & Sciences, says dos Santos’ activism and community work became an opportunity for scholarly reflection about the ways in which different African-descended populations in various parts of the world have experienced state power, repression, and marginalization.
His scholarly reflection compelled him to establish the Marginalized Populations Project, a collaborative research initiative operated out of Africana Studies that is designed to explore the dynamic interactions between national governments and populations with unequal, minimal, or non-existent state protections.
A marginalized population has several indicators. Hanchard says marginalized peoples generally have less access to broader social networks, education, health care, and formal employment, which often places them in the most disadvantageous position to thrive in a given society.
“Marginalized populations often don’t have the same access or means to socioeconomic advancement, and often don’t have the means to make certain kinds of political claims through voting or trade union movements,” he says. “As a result, in different parts of the world, marginalized populations have created social movements in order to be able to articulate their claims when existing political parties and political institutions don’t provide outlets or space for them to do so.”
Racism, xenophobia, caste, and religious intolerance often appear as significant factors in group marginalization.
“In many diverse, multi-ethnic, and plural societies, racial and ethno-national categorization often figure prominently as factors in population marginalization,” Hanchard says. “If we think about, for example, the outpouring of refugees from Syria and what has led to various immigration crises across the [European Union], many of these refugees are often being referred to and treated in terms that suggest processes of racialization. They’re deemed as ‘other,’ without possibilities for assimilation into a host country. Some migratory flows are more readily accepted than others. Several countries in the EU are experiencing this phenomena right now, but also in places like Myanmar and South Africa.”
Hanchard says one of the goals of the Marginalized Populations Project is to further develop and highlight the Department of Africana Studies as a site for innovative, cross-national comparative research on Afro-descendent populations. The project is already fostering relationships and synergies through planned conferences, coursework, curricula, speaker series, and symposia, and partnering with departments and programs across the University to “further illuminate the ways in which many of the conditions of mar- ginalized populations across the black world resonate amongst other populations in other parts of the world as well.”
Barbara D. Savage, the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and chair of Africana Studies, says the Marginalized Populations Project fits perfectly within the department’s devotion to a new black global studies that extends itself to include people of African descent around the world and on the African continent. She says how a state treats marginalized populations is often a true barometer of that nation’s commitment to the extension of full citizenship rights even to those excluded from traditional conceptions of power, namely capital or elite status.
“That is true in the United States and around the world, so educating ourselves about the status of the marginalized and their attempts to gain power and a more just society provides an ideal forum for comparative studies,” she says.
In 2017, Hanchard and the Project are partnering with Perry World House for the conference, “Under the Gun: State Violence and Black Populations,” which will feature experts from Penn Law School, the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program, the Latin American and Latino Studies Program, and internationally renowned scholars from Africa, Latin America, and Europe.
“We see this conference as one of several collaborative initiatives and programmatic efforts in the ensuing years,” Hanchard says.