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Definitions & Key Terms

PrivilegeIt refers to the advantages afforded to groups and individuals on the basis of a range of markers of social difference including race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, religion, ability, and class.

Privilege is a term synonymous with power and advantage. Social, economic, cultural, and political advantages are afforded to those people who are perceived to belong to dominant groups. These groups can be aligned with class, ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, and religious identities. The norms associated with these groups that mark them as privileged are socially constructed. Therefore privilege is not a singular, universal phenomenon but a complex system which simultaneously leads to inclusion of the privileged and exclusion of the oppressed.

Privilege is unearned and systemic but can be difficult to see because it has become normalized in social, economic, cultural, and legal institutions.

Power: It affords dominant groups socioeconomic advantages while supporting and perpetuating structural barriers that deny others access to the benefits of privilege. In this way, privilege is synonymous with access to power. Advocating for more focus on privilege is not denying the importance of understanding the experiences of disadvantaged groups and the systems that contribute to the perpetuation of inequality. Rather, examining privilege can add greater understanding of complex power relations that structure societal relations. Disadvantage is exacerbated because of privilege. Investigating how unmarked structures of privilege operate through institutional, individual, and symbolic geographies is critical to capturing the complexity of social power relations.

International Encyclopedia of Human Geography