What are people excluded from?

The current notion of ‘social exclusion’ originated in European debates in the 1980s, where there has tended to be a greater emphasis on spatial exclusion. There is also a policy focus on those living in ‘deprived areas’, where poor housing, inadequate social services, weak political voice and lack of decent work all combine to create an experience of marginalisation.

However, there are various understandings of social exclusion and integration. In the seminal article below, Hilary Silver highlights these, and illustrates how they stem from analysts’ own backgrounds and political traditions.

Silver, H. (1994). Social Exclusion and Social Solidarity: Three Paradigms. International Labour Review, 133(5-6), 531-578
How are we to understand the new social problems that have arisen as a result of the economic restructuring of advanced capitalist democracies since the mid-1970s? This article identifies three conflicting paradigms within which different meanings of social exclusion are embedded – solidarity, specialisation and monopoly. These derive from the political ideologies of Republicanism, liberalism and social democracy. While the idea of exclusion may help to focus attention on certain social categories, it may also distract attention from general rises in inequality and undermine universal approaches to social protection.
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Social exclusion is a socially constructed concept, and can depend on an idea of what is considered ‘normal’. In many developing countries, where most people do not enjoy an acceptable standard of living, defining what is ‘normal’ is not a simple task, especially given the lack of the welfare state and a formalised labour market. Indeed, as social exclusion can be structured around hierarchy, the exclusion of people on the basis of their race, caste or gender, may be viewed by the society excluding them as ‘normal’. As such, the concept of social exclusion is contested, in that it is often difficult to ‘objectively’ identify who is socially excluded, as it is a matter of the criteria adopted and the judgements used.

Saith, R. (2001) Social Exclusion: The Concept and Application to Developing Countries. Queen Elizabeth House Working Paper 72. Oxford: University of Oxford.
What is social exclusion? How has the concept been applied in developing countries? This chapter explains that in developed countries social exclusion has been defined in relation to the welfare state and formal employment. Attempts to adapt the concept for the developing world have led to the repetition and relabelling of earlier poverty studies. Rather than trying to transplant the concept, therefore, elements such as its helpful focus on process could be incorporated into existing frameworks.
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Social exclusion can also been seen as a part of Sen’s capability approach, which is based on the ideas of ‘functionings’ and ‘capabilities’. ‘Functionings’ are those things that an individual is able to do or be in leading a life, such as having a healthy body, being educated, having self-respect, participating in community life, etc. ‘Capabilities’ are combinations of various functionings which allow an individual to lead the kind of life he or she values. Social exclusion can thus be seen as a process leading to a state in which it is more difficult for certain individuals and groups to achieve certain ‘functionings’.  The impossibility of reaching a functioning leads to a state of deprivation, and the ‘state’ of social exclusion can be defined as a combination of deprivations.

Sen, A. (2000). Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny (Social Development Papers No. 1). Asian Development Bank
What new insight into poverty – if any – is provided by the approach of social exclusion? This paper from the Asian Development Bank scrutinises the nature, relevance and reach of the idea of social exclusion, as well as its usefulness outside the European context in which it arose, with a particular focus on Asia. It argues that this approach does indeed offer useful insights for poverty diagnostics and policy, if used with discrimination and scrutiny.
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