Monday, January 10, 2011

An Introduction to Social Exclusion

The concept of social exclusion is used in different ways, but in most cases is often viewed as synonymous with poverty, inadequate social participation, lack of social integration, and or lack of power. Canadian Sociologist Dr. Daniel Béland of the School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan, briefly outlines the history of this concept in his work, The Social Exclusion Discourse: Ideas and Policy Change. Béland's work reveals that two principle writings by Jean Klanfer and René Lenoir, offer insight into understanding the formulating concepts of social exclusion. Klanfer’s 1965 book, L’Exclusion sociale: Étude de la marginalité dans les sociétés occidentales [Social exclusion: The study of marginality in western societies], emphasized personal responsibility. Béland cites that in this writing, the term ‘social exclusion’ refers to people who cannot enjoy the positive consequences of economic progress due to irresponsible behavior (Klanfer, 1965). Acknowledging the existence of social exclusion as a denial in opportunities for economic progress, René Lenoir sought variables aside from, self induced “irresponsible behavior”. In Lenoir’s, Les exclus: Un français sur dix [The excluded: One Frenchman out of ten], excluded peoples, les exclus, were those citizens separated from mainstream society because of factors like disability, mental illness and poverty (Lenoir, 1974).

Béland elaborates that, although Lenoir’s social exclusion is where our modern use of the term emerged, the prevalence of modern social problems like long-term unemployment combined with growing concerns about racism and discrimination, have altered the meaning of social exclusion. The imperative notion to gain, arising out of the evolution of the term’s definition, is that social exclusion’s existence is rarely debated. Proceeding Klanfer and Lenoir’s works, researchers and civic advocates across the globe have spent the last three decades engaged in debates on the social implications of social exclusion. Béland states that the modern social exclusion paradigm revolves around how a lack of social integration, relates to limited access to labor market opportunities. Some state that an individual’s segregation, or social exclusion, from community and civic opportunities has no weight on their ability to maintain long-term employment. Others state that, not addressing policies to combat racism and social exclusion leads to increased long-term unemployment in addition to crime. Regardless of the position, several things can be concluded of social exclusion discussions.

Sir Tony Atkinson an academic based at Oxford University, argued in a 1998 article, that in discussions of social exclusion, three main themes recur:

v  Relativity - Social exclusion is relative to the norms and expectations of society at a particular point in time;

v  Agency - Social exclusion is caused by an act of some individual, group, or institution. A person may exclude themselves by choice or they may be excluded by the decisions of other people, organizations or institutions;

v  Dynamics - People are excluded not just because of current circumstances (e.g., unemployment /underemployment), but because they have little prospects for the future. “Social exclusion may apply across generations.”
In his article, Social Exclusion, Unemployment, and Poverty, Atkinson makes several conclusions in regards to social exclusion; (1) Since Social exclusion is not just a matter for one government department, the setting up of the inter-departmental Social Exclusion Unit is essential, (2) government policy can make a difference, and (3) economic analysis, for all its limitations, does have a useful role to play in illuminating the different elements of social exclusion.

As has been previously noted, one purpose of this blog is to link concepts and theory to modern practice and application. Upon reviewing introductory readings and research on social exclusion, I have begun to ponder how to apply this to our third sector (non profit)’s mission and strategies. Rather than engage in the paradigm debate of social exclusion implications, I seek to incorporate/address the preceding concepts in our organizations growth strategies.

In consideration of Sir Atkinson’s conclusions, I see it imperative that we address such concerns on a civic organization level. In spirit of linking concepts to practice, I move that our organization establish something in essence of a Social Exclusion Unit, strategize a policy to mend social exclusion, and promote analysis to understand the different elements of our areas' elements of social exclusion.  I would like to publically thank Sir Atkinson and Dr.Béland for their recent work in this field, and highly encourgae the reading of their works through the links provided in this post. 

Oscar Duran: President

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