The term exclusion became popular to use in the late 1980s to describe the results of the radical economic, industrial and social changes that where taking place. These changes included long-term or repeated unemployment, family instability, social isolation and the decline of neighbourhood and social networks. Social exclusion was seen to be the outcome of two strands: separation from employment and separation from social relations, in particularly the family.
The International Labour Organisation defines social exclusion as being "a state of poverty in which individuals cannot access the living conditions which would enable them both to satisfy theory essential needs (food, education, health, etc.) and participate in the development of the society in which they
The European Union adopted the term, but widened the definition stressing that social exclusion occurs when people cannot fully participate or contribute to society because of "the denial of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights." It is indicated in the definitions that exclusion results from "a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, bad health and family breakdown."
It is widely recognised that social exclusion occurs as a result of shortcomings and failures in the systems and structures of family, community and society. The term involves understanding both who is excluded, and how, as well as the results of exclusion. Definitions of exclusion often resemble those of relative poverty, and the term is sometimes used interchangeably. However, the concepts are not identical. Social exclusion does not always involve poverty. For example, the 'new rich' are often excluded from the social networks of the established elites in a society, which might have an ethnic basis. Further, one may consider all categories of foreigners in a country as being in one way or another 'excluded' due to their limited access to social rights.
Social exclusion covers both the causes and effects of poverty, discrimination and disadvantage. Ideas about exclusion are primarily concerned with processes (the way things happen), whereas poverty has tended to be understood as a condition or set of circumstances (the way things are).
Who is excluded?
Groups, communities and individuals who because of deprivation, poverty or discrimination are unable to realise their potential and participate and contribute to society are excluded. Those identified by the government as vulnerable to exclusion include: people in poverty, lone parents, unemployed people, disabled people, people facing discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, sexuality or disability, homeless people, people with ill health, children not doing well at school, people with few educational qualifications, people with low self esteem, people with addiction problems, communities in areas of deprivation.2
Phenomena of inclusion/exclusion can be observed at different levels of socio-economic organisation, i.e. local, regional, national and world level3. Research suggest that the nation-state today is abandoning its universalistic claims and has unleashed a nationalism of resistance to the new forces such as globalisation and the spectre of increased immigration. Accordingly, instead of trying to include immigrants, recent trends suggest that strategies of exclusion are preferred and that a new dichotomy of Self and Other is gaining ground: nationality is increasingly defined in opposition to immigrants. One may call the lines that include and define some people, groups and things while excluding others for symbolic boundaries4. These distinctions can be articulated through normative interdiction (taboos), cultural attitudes and practices, and more generally through patterns of likes and dislikes. They play an important role in the creation of inequalities and the exercise of power.
1 In Smelser, N. J. and Baltes, P. B. (eds.) 2001. International Encyclopaedia of the Social and Behavioural Sciences. Elsevier. Oxford Science Ltd.
2 Lothian Anti Poverty Alliance 2001. Working Together to End Poverty, Publications: SPIU Briefings, Briefing Sheet 13, April 2001.
3 Korayem, K. and Petlesidou, M. (eds.) 1996. Poverty and Social Exclusion in the Mediterranean Area, CISS.
4 Epstein, C F. 1992. Tinker-bells and Pinups: The Construction and Reconstruction of Gender Boundaries at Work. In: Lamont M, Fournier M (eds.) Cultivating Differences: Symbolic Boundaries and the Making of Inequality, University of Chicago Press, Chicago. Page 232.