Social invisibility occurs when, to a material degree, the social network that would ordinarily bind a group to the larger society is inadvertently or intentionally pruned, ultimately leaving the subgroup as a social “island”. The social influence of a group subject to invisibility is diminished, much like the position of untouchables in a caste society.
Social invisibility also refers to individuals who have been marginalized and are systematically overlooked by the wider public and in effect made as if invisible. It can include homeless people, the elderly, minorities, migrant workers, or anyone who experiences a sense of exclusion from society as a whole.
Social invisibility is the subjective experience of being unseen by others in a social environment. A sense of disconnectedness from the surrounding world is often experienced by invisible people. This disconnectedness can lead to absorbed coping and breakdowns, based on the asymmetrical relationship between someone made invisible and others.
Among African American men, invisibility can often take the form of a psychological process which both deals with the stress of racialized invisibility, and the choices made in becoming visible within a social framework that predetermines these choices. In order to become visible and gain acceptance, an African American man has to avoid adopting behavior that made him invisible in the first place, which intensifies the stress already brought on through racism.
- Brooks, Katie; van Gelderen, Tamar. “Fighting Invisibility: the Recognition of Migrant Domestic Workers in the Netherlands”. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
- Social Invisibility as Social Breakdown: Insights from a Phenomenology of Self, World, and Other. Stanford University. 2007.
Franklin, Anderson; Boyd-Franklin, Nancy (2000). “Invisibility Syndrome: A Clinical Model of the Effects of Racism on African-American Males” (PDF). American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.
2 thoughts on “Social invisibility”
One of the things I find interesting about the whole idea of social invisibility is how, depending on how & where one is situated, people’s lives can simultaneously be both visible and invisible. So, absolutely, the lives and realities of African American men, and women, in much of white America, are either invisible, or presented as two-dimensional stereotypes. But within those communities of African American men and women (any any marginalized, colonized, oppressed, excluded group–which can include, by degrees, any non-white person, and also women and children and animals too) they are of course not invisible. I’m thinking of when Trump appealed to black voters, assuming they all have miserable lives–“what have you got to lose.” And the backlash was along the lines of, “you don’t know me–you have no idea who or what I am and how I live. You don’t speak for me.” I think the politics of the gaze are interesting here: you’re focusing on those who are invisible (which in itself is an interesting conundrum–how does one literally focus on that which can’t be seen), and yet, were we to flip the coin and see their lives from their own situatedness, I doubt they’d feel that the worlds they inhabit are invisible. They might well acknowledge the extreme manner in which they’re ignored, silenced, and pathologized–but “their” worlds and realities are no less visceral and clear and in focus as “ours.” All of which is just to say that, as you explore “invisibility,” I think it can’t help but also be about addressing visibility too–and the degree to which we can’t have access to those worlds. Like, the fact that other people are invisible to us, probably says as much if not more about our own blindness…?
You are so spot-on about this, Derek. I totally agree with you. I hope my posts don’t suggest that I presume anything about other people’s experience and perception of invisibility. In my own experience growing up in an unsafe environment, I was desperate to be seen by those who could help me, while simultaneously wished I could be invisible to the sexual predators that surrounded me in my childhood.
I too, was very offended by Trump’s grossly erroneous assumption about the lives of African-Americans in his broad-stroke (and grossly misinformed) remarks that equated their lives to living in a war-zone. I hope my statements are not so closed-minded as his. I am looking forward to diving more deeply into perceptions and assumptions about time, space and all that is invisible to us…