Five Faces of Oppression

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The Five Faces Of Oppression is a theoretical model presented by sociologist Iris Marion Young in her 1990 essay of the same name.

Young argue that we should look to facets of categorism rather than foci of categorism: Oppression is not about the oppressed, it is about those who do the oppression and how they do it.

Young therefore argues that our understanding of oppression should not be focused on oppressed categories and groups. Doing so would give the false impressions that different oppressions are separate problems and that everyone in the category or group is affected in the same way. The model takes an intersectional approach, although without using the newly coined term, acknowledging that categories are not monolithic. Every person belong to many different categories, and may be affected in many different ways by many different social structures over their lifetime. Instead of dividing oppression into concepts such as racism, sexism and homophobia, Young argues that it should be divided into faces of oppression: Different ways in which the oppression is done, instead of different groups it is being done to. Young suggests five such faces: Exploitation, Marginalization, Powerlessness, Cultural Imperialism and Violence.

This Five Faces Model is one of the main sources of inspiration for developing the concept of categorism, as well as the conceptual framework of categorism. The differences between the Categorism Model (CM) and the Five Faces Model (FFM) are:

  • CM includes facets as well as foci, instead of choosing between including either one or the other. FFM contain only facets, not foci.
  • CM includes abstractions of categorism as part of the model, analyzing how problematic categorization is a part of categorism itself. FFM simply mentions that categorization is problematic, successfully using this as an argument for why foci is not enough.
  • CM is designed to be used in analyzing macro level socioeconomic structures as well as micro scale interaction between individuals, and everything in between. FFM is limited to analyzing macro level socioeconomic structures only, making it very imprecise for analyzing more local situations.
  • CM include a wide range of facets, as well as a system for determining whether something is a facet or not. FFM is limited to exactly five facets, without making any argument for why other facets should be excluded from the list.

For more on the five faces model, see chapter five of the thesis: "Cracks in the monoliths: Oppression is not about the oppressed".