Different Meanings to Different People
I was going to blog about the role of education in social inclusion. A recent BBC (BBC, June 2019) report about the educational backgrounds of the United Kingdom “elites”, a study undertaken by The Sutton Trust and Social Mobility Commission stirred my curiosity. I am a firm believer in giving everybody access to the same opportunities to unlock their potential, not only for their own benefit but also for the benefit of society. When reviewing public comments and tons of available studies, I felt like peeling layers off a very complex topic. I realised some foundation-laying is needed before a discussion of how social exclusion may look like.
Inclusion, generally viewed as antonym and the goal of exclusion, is defined in Collins Dictionary as “the act of making all groups of people within a society feel valued and important. “It is simple and concise. However, readers from cultural contexts other than the authors of Collins Dictionary (Anglo – American), may differ in their understanding of this term. Hence, in the case of social exclusion, oversimplification may lead to conflicting assumptions and ultimately to unwanted consequences. In 1994, Hilary Silver warns in her often-cited study (ILO, 1994): “Prior to recasting social exclusion as a general phenomenon or a scientific concept transcending national and political contexts, the values underlying its usage should be made explicit in order to clarify the implicit objectives of anti-exclusion policies.”
To put it plainly, our idea of social exclusion is shaped by the society we live in. The various ways exclusion expresses itself in people's lives makes morally sensitive observers uncomfortable and lead to public outcry. If such actions infer into other cultural and political areas, it is often met with resistance for many reasons. One reason may just be that the concern expressed by the protest is not perceived as social exclusion. Should we, therefore “turn a blind eye” to what we perceive as wrong? To answer this question, a better understanding is needed. Silver's study is quite an eye-opener, literally.
The many facets
Most studies trace the origin of the term “social exclusion” to French history, particularly to French revolutionary history and Republican thought (Silver, 1994). Unlike in the United Kingdom, the establishment of social security by the State was not a result of poverty and working-class struggles but seen “as the perfection of Republican Democracy and the collective responsibility of any citizen suffering from the failures of the State” (Silver, 1994). Behind all of this was the revolutionary idea of solidarity which makes the State responsible for providing subsistence to its citizens who in return have to work and participate in public life. From its origin, “solidarity developed into a logical, secular moral system of rights and duties underlying future policies” (Silver, 1994). As a result, the State assimilated regional, national, cultural and religious organisations to subordinate their interests to form a single distinctive civilisation. This contrasted greatly with the Anglo-Saxon concept of social contract where the State has minimal influence and pluralism is valued. Subsequently, the notion of social integration and the causes of social exclusion are very different if not opposed in two geographically close European cultures. Silver extracted the three paradigms solidarity, specialisation and monopoly to attribute causes of social exclusion within the respective political and cultural contexts.
Interestingly, Silver observed that the term “social exclusion” is far more often used in France than in English-speaking countries. Exclusion in French Republican ideology occurs when solidarity breaks down. This is the case when individuals cease to be tied to the national consensus held together by “vertically interrelated mediating institutions”. Hence social exclusion, the loosening of the “social bond” between individuals and society threatens social cohesion. Integration or inclusion measures either target the subordination of excluded groups or an adjustment by the dominant group.
In Anglo-American liberalism, exclusion is a consequence of specialisation. In contrast to the group-oriented solidarity, specialisation results from differences in individuals. Individual preferences, cooperation and competition between individuals lead to the formation of structures like markets, associations, etc. Liberalism is expressed in the “voluntary exchange between autonomous individuals with their own interests and motivations.” (Silver). The social structures consist of interdependent separate “spheres” in which individuals are free to shift alliances encouraging “cultural and political pluralism”. Within this ideological framework, exclusion could be the result of “inadequate separation of social spheres”, the introduction of rules detrimental to the social sphere or the prevention of free movement and exchange between spheres. When individual freedom of choice is exercised, the integration of society takes place through affiliations and loyalties across groups. Hence, discrimination arises when individuals are prevented from exercising their freedom of choice by groups setting boundaries. Group and market competition as well as the liberal State should protect individual rights.
Exclusion, as seen by another European Left ideology, is inflicted by group monopoly. In the “social-democratic or conflict theory”, a group uses the interplay of class, status and political power to serve its interests. Institutions and cultural distinctions are used to keep others out against their will and thereby perpetuate inequality. Hence, a socially delimited group monopolises scarce resources which also “creates a bond of common interest between otherwise unequal insiders” (Silver). This form of exclusion is addressed through citizenship and extending full participation in the community to outsiders.
Exclusion plus Inclusion = Zero?
To conclude, it has been fascinating to discover the different meanings of an apparently simple term “exclusion” in different European ideological contexts. However, the underlying ideologies are ideals. Silver stresses that societies and cultures have different meanings for “belonging”. Subsequently, defining exclusion as the opposite of social integration may not be helpful. Silver explains: “the problem with considering the reverse of exclusion is that such a concept implies that a clear political consensus exists within nation-states as to the nature and bases of citizenship, integration, and membership of society.” One may just watch political debates in national governments to realise that there is no national consensus and “fighting exclusion means different things to different people”.
This quandary inevitably impacts the ability to define cross-national indicators to measure social exclusion. Further, it highlights that accepting a definition of social inclusion also means accepting the theoretical and ideological “baggage” as Silver calls it.
International Labour Review, Vol. 133, 1994/5-6: Social exclusion and social solidarity: Three paradigms, by Hilary Silver