Causes and forms of social exclusion

Exclusionary processes can have various dimensions:

  • Political exclusion can include the denial of citizenship rights such as political participation and the right to organise, and also of personal security, the rule of law, freedom of expression and equality of opportunity. Bhalla and Lapeyre (1997: 420) argue that political exclusion also involves the notion that the state, which grants basic rights and civil liberties, is not a neutral agency but a vehicle of a society’s dominant classes, and may thus discriminate between social groups.
  • Economic exclusion includes lack of access to labour markets, credit and other forms of ‘capital assets’.
  • Social exclusion may take the form of discrimination along a number of dimensions including gender, ethnicity and age, which reduce the opportunity for such groups to gain access to social services and limits their participation in the labour market.
  • Cultural exclusion refers to the extent to which diverse values, norms and ways of living are accepted and respected.

These relationships are interconnected and overlapping, and given the complexity of influences on individuals, it is impossible to identify a single specific cause in the context of social exclusion. People may be excluded because of deliberate action on the part of others (e.g. discrimination by employers); as a result of processes in society which do not involve deliberate action; or even by choice. However, more generally, the causes of social exclusion that lead to poverty, suffering and sometimes death can be attributed to the operations of unequal power relations.

Tilly, C. (2007). Poverty and the Politics of Exclusion. In Narayan, D. & Petesch, P. (Eds.), Moving out of Poverty: Vol. 1. Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Mobility (pp. 45-76). Washington, DC: World Bank.
How does politics affect individual and collective exits from poverty? This chapter examines the politics of exclusion and the political production or reproduction of poverty. It focuses on causal links among four elements: social exclusion, poverty, exits from poverty and overall processes that generate inequality among social categories. Social exclusion lies at the heart of inequality-generating processes. Exclusion itself promotes poverty, and exits from poverty therefore depend on eliminating or bypassing the usual effects of social exclusion. Political programmes to address political interests are required.
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Mosse, D. (2007). Power and the Durability of Poverty: A Critical Exploration of the Links between Culture, Marginality and Chronic Poverty. Chronic Poverty Research Centre.
What are the causes of chronic poverty and through what social mechanisms does it persist? How does a weak group become a constituency and a political agenda? This paper draws on case studies from western India. Research on poverty has to be reconnected to knowledge about the way in which socio-economic, political and cultural systems work. Chronic poverty develops in the midst of capitalist growth and is perpetuated by ordinary relations of exploitation and opportunity hoarding. To address it, multi-level and long-term strategies are needed.
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Social exclusion can also result from the persistence of poverty.

Stewart, F. & Langer, A. (2007) Horizontal Inequalities: Explaining Persistence and Change. Working Paper No. 39. Oxford: Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity, August.
Why do Horizontal Inequalities (HIs) persist in some cases and narrow in others? This paper explores case studies of HIs over time in different countries. It presents a framework in which complementarities between the productivity and accumulation of different types of capital tend to lead to self-perpetuating cycles of success and failure. Persistence of HIs is not inevitable, but interventions are generally needed in relation to both human capital accumulation and economic disadvantage if groups are to catch up.
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