Social inclusion and social exclusion explained

So what do we mean by 'social inclusion' exactly? Since we use the concept liberally throughout this manual, going deeper into how we define the concept certainly looks like a good start.

The literature on the topic of social inclusion is abundant and it should be noted that it was certainly not our aim to summarise all of it here today. Our aim in describing social inclusion was all about better understanding the link between policies at European and national levels and the way these are translated into real activities in the field by social work organisations. Why do youth work organisations do what they do? This was important to us throughout the INCLUSO project, because we wanted to ensure a good match between the social media tools we'd employ and how they would be fitted to really support the way youth organisations work. At all times we kept in mind that ICT and social media in particular should not be seen as solutions on their own, but as tools that, if used correctly, can support the strategies of an organisation working with youngsters.

When we wrote that literature on the topic of social inclusion was abundant, we were not exactly honest with you. In fact, the availability of literature on social inclusion was rather disappointing. It was the concept's opposite, social exclusion, that was much better documented. Put simply, social inclusion can be defined as a number of affirmative actions undertaken in order to reverse the social exclusion of individuals or groups in our society.

Well then what do we mean by 'social exclusion' ? Social exclusion itself is a complex concept and is described by Silver (2007) as:

“A multidimensional process of progressive social rupture, detaching groups and individuals from social relations and institutions and preventing them from full participation in the normal, normatively prescribed activities of the society in which they live.”

The origin of the concept of social exclusion can be traced back to France in the 1970’s and has since then been adopted (and adapted) throughout Europe and beyond. A number of aspects from the available literature are worth mentioning:

Social exclusion is multidimensional
Social exclusion goes beyond the issue of material poverty as it is also seen as encompassing other forms of social disadvantages such as lack of regular and equal access to education, health care, social care, proper housing. Causes for exclusion also go beyond material poverty and encompass a wide range of reasons why individuals or groups might be excluded, such as discrimination against immigrants, ethnic minorities, the disabled, the elderly or ex-offenders. In short one can be socially excluded in a multitude of ways, for a multitude of reasons.

Social exclusion is a proces
Social exclusion is not merely a condition that is the outcome of a process, but a process in itself. Due to the multidimensional nature of social inclusion, it remains hard to interrelate these dimensions over time. The accumulation of a number of disadvantages may result in a self-reinforcing cycle that makes it difficult to attribute causality to one specific factor or another.

Just as the idea of the multidimensionality of social exclusion has lead social scientists to adapt the way social exclusion is measured, so does the notion that social exclusion is not static, but dynamic and different individuals or groups find themselves in different stages of the social exclusion process, be it only temporarily, recurringly or continuously.

Social exclusion is context-specific
We should keep in mind that most nations have different interpretations of what it means to be socially excluded. Even within the EU, social exclusion has many definitions based on national and ideological notions of what it means to belong to society. These notions often differ from region to region, neighbourhood to neighbourhood and on an individual level as well. Even though initiatives such as the EU’s Social Inclusion Process have created overarching definitions of what social exclusion means and how it should be taken on by the various member states in Europe, sufficient freedom in this approach on various local levels remains important.

The context-specific and complex nature of social exclusion also results in different European member states being at different stages in overcoming social exclusion. The synthesis report ‘Tackling child poverty and promoting the social inclusion of children in the EU’ by the European Commission acknowledges this issue and states:

“There are also important variations in the composition of child poverty and social exclusion… Countries are at very different levels of development [regarding overcoming child poverty and social exclusion] and need to develop policy packages which take account of these different policy challenges.”

This perspective supported our approach to work with organisations in the field that were already specifically focused on taking on inclusion in ways that were specific to that particular locality. Instead of telling these organisations what to do, we wanted to leave them sufficient freedom to define how best to integrate social media into their approach to tackling social exclusion.

Social exclusion from an individual and collective perspective
Social exclusion can be observed from both an individual as a collective perspective. From the first perspective, it entails the individual’s lack of access or capacity to the multitude of social opportunities brought about by being included into mainstream society. From the collective perspective, social exclusion breaks the larger social bond that holds society together. Or as Sen (2000) puts it:

“In general, social cohesion faces many difficult problems in a society that is firmly divided between a majority of people with comfortable jobs and a minority—a large minority—of unemployed, wretched, and aggrieved human beings.”

Social exclusion is a relational
Social exclusion has two parties as it involves both the excluder as the excluded. The excluded should be guided into a better integration with mainstream society, whereas external factors, such as monopolisation of jobs, restrictive access to certain sectors should be taken on as well. Different initiatives throughout Europe focus on one or both of these approaches.

The INCLUSO project, focused on the point of view of the excluded, aiming to give these individuals better access to services that can be beneficial to them as well as giving them more capacity to help them make the most out of our modern information society.

References for further reading

  • H. Silver, “Social Exclusion and Social Solidarity: Three Paradigms,” Int. Labour Review, vol. 133, 1994, pp. 531-78. (PDF)
  • H. Silver, “Social Exclusion: Comparative Analysis of Europe and Middle East Youth,” Dec. 2007. (PDF)
  • J. Hills, J.L. Grand, and D. Piachaud, "Understanding Social Exclusion", OUP Oxford, 2002. (Amazon)
  • H. Frazer and E. Marlier, "Tackling child poverty and promoting the social inclusion of children in the EU", Social Inclusion Policy and Practice, CEPS/INSTEAD, 2007. (PDF)
  • A. Sen, "Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, And Scrutiny", Manila: Asian Development Bank, 2000. (PDF)