Social inclusion/exclusion

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There is no society which does not have rules of inclusion or exclusion affecting the access of certain groups of people in different spheres of activity. The question is how these rules are generated, legitimized and changed. Generally the distinction between inclusion and exclusion indicates the degree in which individuals have - and use - the chance to participate in different spheres of social and cultural life. Inclusion and exclusion of a person is related to subsystems such as law, economy (labour and ware market), education, health and social security. The terms also indicate a person’s membership or non-membership of a community. Most societies legitimize the exclusion of children and youngsters from areas in which only adults have the accountability. The division of labour also generates inclusion of professionals to specific disciplines and commit professional access to adequate level of education and training. One of the most important risks to be excluded is poverty because it reduces the person’s capability to afford the conditions of economic participation in those subsystems and also the opportunities in social space. Poverty can force the interdependency between less quality of daily consuming, clothing, health care and education and the conditions to be or become a respected member in different parts of a community especially in the private sector. Another part of the risk to be excluded is cultural distinctions and prejudices which generate borders to membership. Further groups who run a risk to be marginalized and excluded are people with handicaps. United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) is encouraging the nation to undertake more efforts of inclusion, self-advocacy and participation.

Although social exclusion, in particular, is widely used concept both in the field of social sciences and in current European policy rhetoric, there is no general agreement on the content and use of the term. On the contrary, it has been demonstrated how different meanings of social exclusion are embedded in conflicting political ideologies with different understandings of the phenomenon which, in turn, has resulted in different political programmes. Within the context of empirical research, social exclusion has been examined from the points of view of social structure, social groups or individuals. From the first-mentioned point of view, the changes in the whole society, which are resulting to exclusion of individuals and certain social groups (financial recession, crisis of the welfare state etc.) are examined. When exclusion is studied on the level of social groups, the research tends to be more sectoral, focusing on a specific population identified as being at risk of exclusion such as the long-term unemployed or school dropouts. From the individual perspective, social exclusion is typically examined as a life-historical phenomenon; as the accumulation of different excluding disadvantages in the person’s life-course. These are ideal-typical approaches and in the GOETE project, the concepts of social exclusion and inclusion are understood in a way that these three levels are all taken into account in the studies. In other words, although concentrating mainly on individual life-courses, the starting point is the fact that individuals cannot have life-courses which are separable from the society and social groups of which they are part.

Social exclusion is a broader term than poverty because it refers not only to the economical/material aspect but also to deficiencies in others – informational, educational, social, cultural … Social inclusion/exclusion is about access to the resources of social power in different forms. Social exclusion results in poorer use of educational resources but at the same time educational systems function as social stratification or gate keepers in regulating access to other social resources. While on the declarative level educational systems are supposed to serve as compensative mechanisms for making social differences smaller, they often re/produce differences in power and differential access to social resources. That is why analyzing social inclusion/exclusion in the educational spheres is so important.


Byrne, David (1999) Social Exclusion. Buckingham & Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Christian, Julie/Abrams, Dominic/ Gordon, David (2001): Multidisciplinary Handbook of Social Exclusion Research. Hobeken John Wiley & Sons.

Grace Sue/Gravestock Phil (2009). Inclusion and Diversity (Meeting the Needs of All the Students). New York and London, Routledge.

Jahnukainen, Markku & Järvinen, Tero (2005) Risk Factors and Survival Routes: Social exclusion as a life-historical phenomenon. Disability & Society 20 (6), pp. 669-682.

Lopez Blasco, Andreu/ McNeish,Wallace/Walther, Andreas (2003). Young people and contradictions of inclusion. (Towards Integrated Transitions Policies in Europe). Bristol, The Policy Press.

MacDonald, R. (2003). Youth, the 'Underclass' and Social Exclusion. London: Routledge.

Roche, Jeremy/Tucker, Stanley/Thomson, Rachel/ Flynn, Rony (2004). Youth in society. London: SAGE.

Silver, Hilary (1994) Social Exclusion and Social Solidarity: Three paradigms. International Llaabour Review 133, pp. 531-578.

(Rainer Treptow, Tero Järvinen and Alenka Kobolt)