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One sociological definition of social exclusion is as follows:

Social exclusion is 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.[1]

Another definition of this sociological term is as follows:

The outcome of multiple deprivations that prevent individuals or groups from participating fully in the economic, social, and political life of the society in which they live.

An inherent problem with the term, however, is the tendency of its use by practitioners who define it to fit their argument.[2] It is a term used widely in the United Kingdom and Europe, and was first utilized in France.[3] It is used across disciplines including education, sociology, psychology, politics and economics.

Social exclusion is evident In deprived communities, it is harder for people to engage fully in society. In such communities, weak social networking limits the circulation about information about jobs, political activities, and community events. But many social workers believe that exclusion in the countryside is as great as, if not greater than, that in cities. In rural areas there is less access to goods, services and facilities, making life difficult in many respects.


Most of the characteristics listed in the following paragraphs are present together in studies of social exclusion, due to exclusion's multidimensionality. One of the best descriptions of social exclusion and social inclusion are that they are on a continuum on a vertical plane below and above the 'social horizon'; they have a ten-phase modulating ("phase" because they increase and decrease [modulate] with time) social structure: race, geographic location, class structure, globalization, social issues, personal habits and appearance, education, religion, economics and politics. The following descriptions are very limiting and do not cover the whole gamut of social exclusion and social inclusion.

Social exclusion relates to the alienation or disenfranchisement of certain people within a society. It is often connected to a person's social class, educational status, relationships in childhood[4] and living standards and how these might affect access to various opportunities. It also applies to some degree to people with a disability, to minority men and women of all races, to the elderly, and to youth (Youth Exclusion). Anyone who deviates in any perceived way from the norm of a population may become subject to coarse or subtle forms of social exclusion. Additionally, communities may self-exclude by removing themselves physically from the larger community, for example, in the gated community model.


Whilst recognising the multi-dimensionality of exclusion, policy work undertaken at European Union level focuses on unemployment as a key cause of, or at least correlating with, social exclusion. This is because in modern societies, paid work is not only the principal source of income with which to buy services, but is also the fount of individuals' identity and feeling of self-worth. Most people's social networks and sense of embeddedness in society also revolve around their work. Many of the indicators of extreme social exclusion, such as poverty and homelessness, depend on monetary income which is normally derived from work. Much policy to reduce exclusion thus focuses on the labour market:

  • On the one hand, to make individuals at risk of exclusion more attractive to employers, i.e. more "employable".
  • On the other hand, to encourage (and/or oblige) employers to be more inclusive in their employment policies.

The EU's EQUAL Community Initiative investigated ways to increase the inclusiveness of the labour market. Work on social exclusion more broadly is carried out through the [Open Method of Coordination (OMC) among the Member State governments.

In some circumstances, transport may be a factor in social exclusion - for instance, if lack of access to public transport or a vehicle prevents a person from getting to a job, training course, job centre or doctor's surgery. Some schemes therefore promote accessibility, for instance:

  • By ensuring public transport is available, which is particularly relevant for women.
  • By subsidising the purchase of a scooter, which is relevant to young people living in rural areas.


“Social exclusion is about the inability of our society to keep all groups and individuals within reach of what we expect as a society...[or] to realise their full potential."[5]

"Whatever the content and criteria of social membership, socially excluded groups and individuals lack capacity or access to social opportunity.[6].

To be "excluded from society" can take various relative senses, but social exclusion is usually defined as more than a simple economic phenomenon: it also has consequences on the social, symbolic field.

"Women of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Caribbean descent [in Britain] are doing well in schools but are still being penalised in the workplace...80-89% of 16-year-olds from those ethnic groups wanted to work full-time...but they were up to four times more likely to be jobless."[7]

Philosopher Axel Honneth thus speaks of a "struggle for recognition", which he attempts to theorize through Hegel's philosophy. In this sense, to be socially excluded is to be deprived from social recognition and social value. In the sphere of politics, social recognition is obtained by full citizenship; in the economic sphere (in capitalism) it means being paid enough to be able to participate fully in the life of the community.

This concept can be gleaned from considering examples of the "social integration crisis: poverty, professional exclusion or marginalization, social and civic disenfranchisement, absence or weakening of support networks, frequent inter-cultural conflicts",[8] These relate not only to gender, race and disability, but also to crime:

"Social exclusion is a major cause of crime and re-offending. Removing the right to vote increases social exclusion by signalling to serving prisoners that, at least for the duration of their sentence, they are dead to society. The additional punishment of disenfranchisement is not a deterrent. There is no evidence to suggest that criminals are deterred from offending behaviour by the threat of losing the right to vote.....(and) the notion of civic death for sentenced prisoners isolates still further those who are already on the margins of society and encourages them to be seen as alien to the communities to which they will return on release".[9]

Links between exclusion and other issues

The problem of social exclusion is usually tied to that of equal opportunity, as some people are more subject to such exclusion than others. Marginalisation of certain groups is a problem even in many economically more developed countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, where the majority of the population enjoys considerable economic and social opportunities.

Since social exclusion may lead to one being deprived of one's citizenship, some authors (Philippe Van Parijs, Jean-Marc Ferry, Alain Caillé, André Gorz and Axel Wolz) have proposed a basic income, which would impede exclusion from citizenship. The concept of a Universal Unconditional Income, or social salary, has been disseminated notably by the Green movement in Germany.

In the last few years, there has been research focused on possible connections between exclusion and brain function. Studies published by the University of Georgia and San Diego State University found that exclusion can lead to diminished brain functioning and poor decision making. Such studies corroborate with earlier beliefs of sociologists. The effect of exclusion may likely correlate with such things as substance abuse and crime.

Social inclusion

Social inclusion, the converse of social exclusion, is affirmative action to change the circumstances and habits that lead to (or have led to) social exclusion.

Social Inclusion is a strategy to combat social exclusion, but without making reparations or amends for past wrongs as in Affirmative Action. It is the coordinated response to the very complex system of problems known as social exclusion. The notion of social inclusion can vary, according to the type of strategies organisations adopt.

Social exclusion is a concept used in many parts of the world outside of the United States to characterise contemporary forms of social disadvantage. Dr. Lynn Todman, director of the Institute on Social Exclusion at the Adler School of Professional Psychology, suggests that social exclusion refers to processes in which individuals and entire communities of people are systematically blocked from rights, opportunities and resources (e.g. housing, employment, healthcare, civic engagement, democratic participation and due process) that are normally available to members of American society and which are key to social integration.


Sociologists see strong links between crime and social exclusion in industrialized societies such as the United States. Growing crime rates may reflect the fact that a growing number of people do not feel valued in the societies in which they live. The socially excluded population cannot meet the standards of economic status and consumption that are promoted within society. Therefore legitimate means are bypassed in favor of illegal ones. Crime is favored over the political system or community organization. Young people increasingly grow up without guidance and support from the adult population. Young people also face diminishing job opportunities to sustain a livelihood. This can cause a sense of willingness to turn to illegitimate means os sustaining a desired lifestyle.

See also


  1. Hilary Silver, “Social Exclusion: Comparative Analysis of Europe and Middle East Youth,” Middle East Youth Initiative Working Paper (September 2007), p. 15
  2. Understanding Social Exclusion, ed. Hills, Le Grand & Piachaud 2002, Oxford University Press)
  3. Hilary Silver, “Social Exclusion and Social Solidarity.” International Labour Review 133, nos. 5-6 (1994): 531-78.
  4. The Salvation Army: The Seeds of Exclusion (2008)
  5. Social exclusion in the UK
  6. Hilary Silver, “Social Exclusion: Comparative Analysis of Europe and Middle East Youth,” Middle East Youth Initiative Working Paper (September 2007)
  7. BBC NEWS | UK | Career worries for minority women
  8. Situation of single parent households headed by women
  9. Barred from Voting: the Right to Vote for Sentenced Prisoners [dead link]


University of Georgia (2006, November 9). Social Exclusion Changes Brain Function And Can Lead To Poor Decision-making. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 29, 2008, from /releases/2006/11/061108154256.htm

Giddens, Anthony, and Anthony Giddens. Introduction to Sociology. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2009. Print.

  • Applebaum, Richard P., Carr, deborah, Duneier, Mitchell, Giddens, Anthony. "Introduction to Sociology Seventh Edition" 2009.

External links

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