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By Maria Elena Indelicato

Minority is a sociological category that is used to problematise the degree of social disadvantage that members of various groups experience as compared to the members of a dominant group. In its current usage, the term minority strives to foreground governmental efforts to redress social inequities through the provision of non-universalist social programmes. In this regard, it carries two main statistical meanings. The first is the definition of population groups as those people who are set apart from others because of possessing specific socio-demographic attributes (i.e., gender, age, education, occupation and, more recently, race, sexuality, religion, and disability). The second is the idea that variance in the possession of such characteristics amounts to deviation from their normative distribution. Whereas the first statistical meaning is rather neutral and explains why, for instance, gender and religion can be used to claim the status of minority, the second signals the socio-historical root of the concept.

According to James B. Mckee, the term was officially added to the vocabulary of the sociology of race relations in 1932, when the sociologist by Donald Young published American Minority People. In this book, Young clarifies that the adoption of the term stemmed from the sociological need of using a conceptual category that encompassed as much populations groups who were racially different as population groups who were culturally different. According to McKee, the sociologists of the time readily adapted the term since it allowed them to examine all social relations as belonging to the same minority-dominant paradigm, while retaining the ‘quite different historical trajectories of development of different people in the United States’, Black people in primis (McKee, 1993, p. 131). The origin of the term thus denotes the unequal status that some minority groups hold vis-à-vis others. Whereas for, instance, in the past, as McKee highlights, European immigrants became assimilated at last, the inclusion of Black people as equals is still unfinished business.

Related References

Goldmann, Gustave. 2001. “Defining and Observing Minorities: An Objective Assessment.” Statistical Journal of the UN Economic Commission for Europe 18 (2/3): 205–16.
Healey, Joseph F., Andi Stepnick, and Eileen O’Brien. 2018. Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and Change. 8th Edition. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Mckee, James B. 1993. Sociology and the Race Problem: The Failure of a Perspective. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.
Myrdal, Gunnar. 1944. An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. New York: Harper & Brothers.
Young, Donald. 1932. A Study in Racial and Cultural Conflicts in the United States. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Cite this entry as:

Indelicato, Maria Elena. 2022. ‘Minority’. In Populisms and Emotions Glossary, edited by Cristiano Gianolla and Maíra Magalhães Lopes. Available atário