The many faces of safe water marginalization

We have seen many different views on marginalization in our readings this semester and we have discussed the topic extensively in class.  One thing stands out to me from these readings and discussions.  That thing is power!  The marginalized lack the power and the dominant have it.  Without power, one lacks voice.  One lacks influence.  One lacks basic security of their person.  Further damage to the powerless is that the marginalized story may never be told or if it is told it will be spun in favor of the dominant forces in society.  Why then is it so important for the marginalized story be told?

To this questions, we have answered three basic things.  First was the idea that local marginalized knowledge can be valuable knowledge.  It can help us do better science, as shown in Wynne’s study of Cumbrian sheep farmers.  Next, bringing voice to the marginalized promotes democratic ideals.  The dominant groups with power get their voices heard.  If we are really dedicated to democracy, should not all voices be heard?  As Bohman suggests, deliberative democracy must be sought after.  It does not spontaneously generate.  Third, the voices of the marginalized can also be beneficial to other groups and to society at large.  This idea was put forth in our readings last week by Wehling, Viehover and Koenen.

So, we have three strong reason to seek out the marginalized voice, but there is still the question of where to find this voice.  This week we read the work of Sandra Harding, who puts a new dimension on what it means to be marginalized.  Harding reminds us that marginalization and lack of power is not necessarily associate with being economically disadvantaged.  Harding takes the question of marginalization to the epistemological level.  As Fricker pointed out the epistemic injustice of sexism, Harding expands the epistemic injustice to include other powerless positions that are marginalized, such as race, gender, ethnic background, religion, age and community.   The idea of marginalized community is especially pertinent to the Flint and Washington DC cases of lead poisoning.

If we look at Flint, we see what I will call a classic marginalization of a disadvantaged community.  The marginalization is occurring on political (governor take-over), economic (poor and budget crisis), racial (minority) and health (lead poisoning) levels.  But, in the case of Washington DC, the marginalization is taking place on different levels.  The worst community hit in Washington DC was not poor, lacking political savvy, or a high minority concentration.   The community had power in all those community aspects.  Where the community lacked power was in the management of safe drinking water.  The community also lacked a knowledge of water quality.  Unlike Flint where many knew the water was bad due to the taste and smell (not to mention the rashes), the water in Washington DC appeared safe and unchanged.  To me, this really shows the different faces of marginalization and lack of power.  You would not think of this community as being marginalized, but it was.  It had little power over the water coming from the pipes and permanent brain damage to your children qualifies as marginalization, despite the community wealth.  I conclude that if you rely upon any municipal water source in the US, you are a marginalized community.  It is not a question of whether you are being lead poisoned, but how much?

Charles Dickens told the story of the poor and powerless in London.  He spoke for the poor with emotionally captivating fictional individuals such as Tiny Tim in the Christmas Carol.  Similarly, Karl Marx spoke for the poor of the same historical period telling the story of the poor and powerless with his material historical analysis.  Marx give voice to the proletariat.   Who then will speak for the powerless and marginalized concerning safe drinking water?  It is a story of the poor and the rich.  It is a story of communities without power and communities with power.  It’s everyone!  There are many faces to clean water marginalization, but they all have one thing in common.   All believe that the water in their glass is safe.  Are we powerless to confirm this?  And if lead is present are we powerless to do anything about it?  Lead knows not who it poisons, it just poisons.  Welcome to the marginalized world everyone.


Bohman, J. (1996). Public deliberation: pluralism, complexity, and democracy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Fricker, Miranda, Epistemic Injustice: Power & the Ethics of Knowing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)

“Harding, S. 2005. Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology: What is “Strong Objectivity”? In A. E. Cudd and R. O. Andreasen, eds., Feminist Theory: A Philosophical Anthology, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Wehling, P., Viehöver, W., & Koenen, S. (2015). The public shaping of medical research: patient associations, health movements and biomedicine. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Wynne, B. (n.d.). May the Sheep Safely Graze? A Reflexive View of the Expert–Lay Knowledge Divide. Risk, Environment and Modernity: Towards a New Ecology,44-83.




One Reply to “The many faces of safe water marginalization”

  1. Lots of food for thought here.

    I agree with the three reasons you present. I would add a fourth, which I see as related to justice: protecting those who are marginalized from oppression (exploitation and harm), creating conditions under which they can flourish, and holding those in power accountable (which would/could include generating more just regulations).

    Your point about Flint versus DC is well taken. I regard the LCR as, by definition, an exploitative regulation, rooted in informational asymmetry. By extension then, it seems perfectly legitimate to regard it as an oppressive regulation.

    I think this blog is another analysis that you could deepen and publish.

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