Curls, clouds and code

A blog by Corstian BoermanCorstian Boerman (self portrait)
Corstian Boerman
Corstian Boerman
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Group dynamics surrounding identity, appropriation and inclusion

To create an inclusive social group one will need to retreat in order to create space for others.

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Participation in a social structure

Throughout this piece I will consider three ways for individuals to participate in a bigger social group;

  1. Individuals are the social group, adopting implicit and explicit behavioural traits.
  2. The group enables individuals to exercise their individuality, and therefore allowed to change the behaviour of the group as if being a single organism.
  3. Individuals being forced to (re)claim their space to participate, therefore significantly altering the dominant social structure.

An implication of this structure I must explicitly state is that it would be impossible to be your authentic self within a homogeneous group. Either you would have to adopt the group's habits, or the group would expel you from it for you are deemed a risk to its existence.

One should be careful however not to approach the real world with such rigorous and absolutist mental concept. No group can be totally homogeneous, nor can any group be fully inclusive, and as such all groups fall on a sliding scale somewhere in between these extremes. This mental concept however brings us a certain clarity regarding the behaviour of a social group, and its dynamics related to the acceptance or alternatively rejection of an individual.

The meaninglessness of participation in a homogeneous group

A homogeneous group does not depend on the individual for its continued existence, since its characteristics are not dependent on the individual, but the individual is dependent on the group to derive its own identity from. An arbitrary member could be replaced with any random individual and it would not make a difference. The participation of the individual therefore is by definition meaningless to the person itself, though might be useful to the group in general. Even though the individual might find a (false) sense of meaning and belonging they will be unable to show their authentic self as long the group does not approve of it.

Though there is a risk to the continued existence of a group when an individual starts to manifest themselves in unique ways, there is a far bigger individual risk so long they follow the collective. The more the individual keeps suppressing themselves, the ever more prone they will become to a wide variety of mental health issues.

Aside from a tragic lack of personal individuality and authenticity this has also proven to be a dangerous sociological path to go down. Since the individual is dependent on the group to maintain their identity it would be far easier to change their identity according to the prevalent strain of groupthink rather than to face this lacking void on their own. The groups prevalent convictions and the agility thereof is a thing too easily capitalized weaponized against any arbitrary target.

The appropriation of personal space

A somewhat less extreme though more plausible scenario is that the space one leaves behind is not filled by a similarity, but a rather perversive derivative of the previously manifested attributes. It would have morphed the previously exhibited characteristic into something it never ought to be, and with that it occupies the space as being a mere placeholder.

Since such perversions cannot be fostered as valuable personal characteristics and the only thing it is capable of is to push those taking offence out through a severely inflated sense of self. It drives the message home; there's no place for you here. We do not want people like you around.

Not only had the participation of the individual been meaningless, but at the same time the group had decided such individual could never be a part of that group again.

This is what appropriation means to me; to drive someone out, and claim what had been theirs as their own. Fundamentally it's an act of destruction; the destruction of meaning.

Reclaiming space

It must be extraordinarily rare for the space that is occupied by a perverted trait to be given back to those originally holding the space. In part this is due to the coherence of a social group which allows such perversion to occur first of all. In such situation it would be unlikely there is someone left in a position of power willingly giving this space back to those originally in possession of it. This not in the first place because those holding such position of power must exhibit the same characteristics as reflected by the group as a whole. If someone would willingly give back this space previously appropriated, that would fully reflect back on the group. It'd contain an implicit behavioural signpost.

Though since such scenario is highly unlikely it would be up to the individual to claim the space they need, to assert their right to belong. This in itself is a difficult, if not impossible task to do on your own. Those whom appropriated the space most likely have a certain incentive or bias to do so, one which will be tied to their personality one way or another. It's only when one tries to seize back this space that had been rightfully theirs first of all one starts to encounter friction. The same space cannot be reasonably held by two competing identities; one which must be given more space to be able to be their true selves, and one which must reduce the reach of their character in order to get back to their true selves.

This will unquestionably lead to conflict since the ego is this sensitive part which must be preserved at all costs to prevent from collapsing onto itself. Especially when the ego is based on mere placeholders of meaning it would be a dangerous undertaking to try and take some of this superficial meaning away from it. The reactionary nature inherent to the protection of symbols of meaning is all too easily startled, resulting in people willing to fight for things that are not even truly theirs to begin with.

Where those with an inflated sense of self are willing to fight for what they consider to be meaningful, the opposite happens to those whom are expelled and their identities appropriated. When they are pushed out of the groups they were originally part of there is not a much more reasonable thing to do than to collapse into oneself. What were you going to do with such immense power imbalance anyway?

It is only when these power imbalances are equalized that these marginalized groups are able to reclaim their space. Either this happens in numbers or other equalizing forces such as money, education and general well-being. It is only when these groups come back to reclaim their position that we'll see a violent explosion by those failing to yield.

About an inclusive environment

I fear that any conversation delving into the extent to which one is allowed to occupy space would be based off a distraction, and devolve into an unproductive discussion where the quiet voices in particular would be drowned out.

To create an inclusive environment is not to make a broad and sweeping proclamation claiming everyone is allowed to be as they are. Instead it would be to make space for others by taking a step back yourself, and to encourage peers to take as they deem fit. For inclusion to be fostered within a group, it'll need to be practiced by the individual. It's not as much ticking boxes as it is a personal reflection of the ways you can make space for others to let them do their magic, and with that implicitly a return to your own essence.


Hey there, I hope you enjoyed this post of mine. If you did, consider sharing this with that one friend who'd also appreciate this. Comments are gone for the time being, but if you feel like discussing something more in-depth, send me a message on Twitter, or just email me.

- Corstian