The term social location came from the field of Sociology. As a visual learner, I found this wheel of power and privilege shared in Michelle Johnson’s Skill in Action workshops very helpful. This drawing was adapted from ccrweb.ca and created by Sylvia Duckworth.
I wrote this because I wanted to share why social location in important. It is also important to name that mapping yourself is not about how you view yourself. Rather, it is about how culture views us.
As you can see, the center of the circle is the identities closest to power and the margins are furthest away from power. And I don’t pretend to know everything about this so I’d like to share a definition that was in the Skill in Action immersion:
“Social location is a practice used to reflect on the groups you belong to because of your place or position in histort and society. It is a tool used to clearly see you proximity to power based on identities you embody. All of us have a social location that is defined by race, gender, gender expression, social class, age, ability level, sexual orientation, geographic location, and context”
Why is social location important?
It is important to define this because identities that are closest to power have been normalized and tended to while identities in the margins (farthest away from power) have been uncared for and even exploited. And as our privileged identities learn about the experience of marginalized people, folks in the margins are experiencing the harm.
And before someone says “Raudhah, but we should not identify with how society perceives us”
Yes these locations are constructs AND the harm is absolutely real.
Knowing that these social locations are constructs gives us an understanding that identities are fluid. One way I know this is because my social location is perceived differently in Malaysia where I lived, in Singapore where I was born and in United States where I live.
Now, let’s talk about the ‘Social’ part of the name.
Depending on where we are located on the identity, we have been socialized and conditioned in a different way than folks who are located in a different position than you on the spectrum. These identities can be both visible and non-visible and you’ll see that I give examples on how these identities relate to one another.
So I’d like to give you examples of both.
First: Locating my non-visible identities on the social location wheel:
As you can see in the graphic above, there are many identities. Some visible and some non-visible. You can draw a sun like shape. The center of the sun represents power. Begin to mark to indicate where you are on this wheel for your non-visible identities.
Maybe you’ll notice some identities close to power and some in the middle and some distant from power.
Here’s what I wrote about my citizenship and class identities:
Socialized as an upper middle class person in Malaysia and Singapore, I had resources to study Genetics in California which lead me to getting my work visa and then my permanent residency aka the green card.
I’m an immigrant with privilege and not a model immigrant. This is important to name because as I continue to learn about immigrants who are not been given the same chances I have, underestimated immigrants are experiencing displacement and forced into assimilation in a country that is far from home.
Second: Locating my visible identities on the social location wheel:
Visible identities are identities that folks assume as they come in contact with you face to face.
Here’s what I wrote about my able-body and citizenship:
Socialized as an able body person, I did well in school and was able to experience a post-secondary education the way it was delivered. Learning in a container that was catered to an able-bodied person made it possible for me to graduate top of my class and later on get a work visa.
Now, there are many more invisible and visible identities on this wheel. So try this on: Map yourself on the wheel and
Now why is this important?
It is important because of how it can help us find our Personal Power and Responsibility. It does this because it invites us to question the privileged identities, especially if we have been conditioned to not do it. Often times I have seen this questioning of self turn into guilt and feeling bad about one self for being the way you are.
AND I offer this as a definition for Personal Power that is rooted in liberation rather than privilege:
Personal power comes from disrupting what we feel guilty for. Guilt is an socialized emotion rooted in conditioning. And it prevents us from actually exploring how ignorance, avoidance and shame sits in our body.
When and where would you use this tool?
I find it extremely helpful to locate myself when I am in shared spaces because quite honestly, we cannot just say whatever the f we want – that’s not brave. That’s just vulnerability operating from ignorance and may cause gaslighting and bypassing experiences. If you know your social location, you may be able to practice discernment when to lean in and skillfully facilitate.
If this was helpful for you, I encourage you to begin to map your social location and identify how those identities have affected how you are socialized. If an identity is normalized (closest to power) you may have a harder time admitting the privileges you have been given. If that happens, take a breath and began journaling about that experience. We have not been taught to question what comes easy to us and we need to start doing so.