The Aetiology of Social Exclusion

Paulus Zulu | PASS Academician

The Aetiology of Social Exclusion

1         Introduction

In the Weberian sense social exclusion or social closure refers to: “the process by which social collectivities seek to maximise rewards by restricting access to resources to a limited circle of eligibles” (Frank Parkins: 1974: 44). In socio-political terms this implies that the excluded have no access to “a certain basic standard of living and to participation in the major social and occupational opportunities of society” (Room et al., 1992: 14: Quoted in Omtzigt: 2009: 4). This is an instance of active and constitutive exclusion where the purpose is to close social and economic opportunities to outsiders with the nature and extent of closure “determining the general character of the distributive system” (Parkins: Op Cit: 44). Weber’s is a case of deliberate active exclusion. Toddman refers to this kind of exclusion as “...a consequence of the discriminatory decisions and actions undertaken by, for instance, a society’s political, social and economic majority and/or elite who, by acting in their own self-interest (e.g. retaining for themselves material, cultural, symbolic and other privileges) exclude the other members in society” (quoted by Omtzigt: 2009: 19). There are instances of passive exclusion where circumstances such as economic depression, as mentioned in the documents by the Social Exclusion Knowledge Network (SEKN), may force large numbers or groups of people out of employment, therefore excluding them. In this instance the exclusion is not deliberate, although structurally certain groups are the first in the firing line of exclusion. And it is generally the marginalised, whose exclusion in the first instance was a result of the deliberate quest by the insiders to restrict opportunities and resources to a limited circle of eligibles, who fall into this trap.

The material consequences of social exclusion are that excluded individuals or groups are denied participation in the social, economic and cultural networks in society, and because of that they become less than citizens. Hence, Dirk-Jan Omtzigt’s reference to Plato’s hierarchical society, which maintained that women and slaves “should have neither any political nor any social rights” (Omtzigt: 2009: 3) locates these two sub groups at the bottom of the social hierarchy of less than citizens. While this might sound extreme, it is a fact that in contemporary society there are still mechanisms of social closure that precisely exclude segments of society from the resources of citizenship thus rendering them second or third class citizens, or for that matter, as was the case in apartheid South Africa, officially non-citizens. It is this form of active social exclusion that this paper wishes to address, although fully conscious that, in consequence, any form of exclusion has moral and practical implications on the excluded, including their life chances.

Weber’s conception immediately draws in a relational dimension to exclusion wherein differentials or inequalities between insiders and outsiders exist and, in the words of Amartya Sen, outsiders experience a “capability deprivation” (Amartya Sen: quoted in SEKN 2008). The capability approach immediately ushers in the multi-dimensional nature of inequalities and by implication, social closure, including its instrumental nature or corrosive disadvantage i.e. a situation where one variable resulting from social closure has multiple disadvantages. For example, in instances where social closure leads to capability poverty, the implications for health, education, the acquisition of skills and consequently employability, are so severe that poverty reduction becomes very difficult if not near impossible. There is, however, a moral or social justice dimension to social exclusion, because the motivational dimension of social closure is that it contributes significantly to the insiders’ enjoyment of resources at the expense of the excluded. Insiders enjoy a virtuous circle of fortunes. “The advantage held by global and national elites resides not only in their vast fortunes, but also in the freedom they enjoy in other domains – in political influence, in geographical mobility, their room for legal manoeuvre, in security and in access to knowledge and influence” (Tania Burchardt and Rod Hick: CASE/201: January 2017: 8). The two authors continue: “Crucially, they do not necessarily need to actualise these freedoms in order to secure advantage, the capability is often sufficient” (Ibid). The reverse is equally true of the excluded.

The essence of active social exclusion lies in the capacity to increase the capability space for insiders while simultaneously constraining the same space for outsiders. The functional space thus expands or decreases depending on which side of the divide one is, and herein lies the moral issue but also the immense potential for conflict. “Indeed, several aspects of advantage, especially at the extreme, are manifested by the ability (if not the actuality) of exercising power over others, possibly to their detriment” (Burchardt and Hick: 2017: 8). The aetiology of social exclusion is best articulated in Weber’s exposé of the concept where power relations enable those in power to single out “certain social or physical attributes as the justificatory basis of exclusion” (Ibid). It is through the process of justification that the exclusionary forces or groups legitimise exclusion by drawing on the normative resources in society to justify and sustain the position. For example, in South Africa, colonialism and later apartheid invoked race and its cultural attributes as the basis for racial discrimination which excluded those who did not belong to the white race from political participation upon which access to social and economic power was predicated. In an attempt at legitimation, both systems drew on western scientific and technological advancement to justify white supremacy. Inherent in social exclusion are two negative outcomes: the creation of inequalities and the capability deprivation, both of which have political and moral outcomes with great potential, politically for social instability and ultimately upheaval, and morally for capability deprivation. Rationally, closure strategies, because of the relational dimension in the process, include “not only those of an exclusionary kind, but also those adopted by the excluded themselves as a direct response to their status as outsiders” (Parkins: Op Cit: 45). Perhaps it is this aspect which also deserves great attention, as mechanics of inclusion are functionally dependent on the collective consciousness of the excluded.

Perhaps one body that has conducted exhaustive work on social exclusion is the Social Exclusion Knowledge Network (SEKN), albeit this has been almost entirely from a health perspective, which could have limited the conception to a specific emphasis, particularly on the relational experience with poverty as the central expression in a multiplicity of variables. For instance, Chambers emphasises deprivation as central to the explanation of social exclusion.

“Deprivation as poor people perceive it has many dimensions, including not only lack of income and wealth, but also social inferiority, physical weakness, disability and sickness, vulnerability, physical and social isolation, powerlessness and humiliation… In practice, much of this wide spectrum of deprivation and ill-being is covered by the common use of the word poverty. {However}, poverty is then defined as low income, or often as low consumption, which is more easily and reliably measured. Surveys are carried out and poverty lines constructed. This limits much of the analysis of poverty to one dimension that has been measured” (Quoted in SEKN: 2008: 32).

Chambers describes a static or relational conception of social exclusion as the cause of a particular existential experience. The conception does not go beyond what individuals or groups experience or live through as a result of closure, but rather limits the reality to capability deprivation. Amartya Sen goes beyond this conception and builds in a transformational dimension where excluded segments can change their lot and gain a sense of belonging. Sen posits:

At all levels of development the three essential capabilities for human development are for people to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable and to have a decent standard of living. If these three basic capabilities are not achieved, many choices are simply not available and many opportunities remain inaccessible. But the realm of human development goes further: essential areas of choice, valued by people, range from political, economic and social opportunities for being creative and productive to enjoying self-respect, empowerment and a sense of belonging to a community” (Quoted in SEKN: 2008: 33: Taken from UNDP: 2007b).

A useful conception of social exclusion which enables the construction of an appropriate or rational aetiology and management of the process in its all-embracing form locates social exclusion as overarching with multi-dimensional attributes or ramifications, but also possessing relational properties, and finally with causal linkages between various forms of deprivation. Omtzigt quotes Duffy as well as Walker, and Walker as providing what amounts to an almost most succinct definition of social exclusion as:

“the inability to participate effectively in economic, social, political and cultural life, alienation and distance from the mainstream society” (Duffy 1995) or “the dynamic process of being shut out… from any social, economic, political and cultural systems which determine the social integration of a person in society” {Walker and Walker: 1997: 8} (Omtzigt: 2009: 7).

If social exclusion is a function of unequal social relationships characterised by differential power relations, i.e. the product of the way societies are organised, the notion of agency is inherent in the definition. Also, there is consensus that social exclusion is not static, but rather a dynamic process. Dynamism and agency also imply the routes of escape by the excluded groups, pathways which gatherings like this can explore since the purpose of this conference is not only to examine and analyse exclusionary processes, but rather also to investigate mechanisms of transforming the lot of the excluded and marginalised, i.e. processes of bringing about social inclusion.

2         The Aetiology of Social Exclusion

2.1      Causes of Social Exclusion

Silver, in Omtzigt, sums up the difficulty of apportioning causes to social exclusion most aptly noting that “consensus on social exclusion as multi-dimensional does not mean agreement on which dimensions are operative” (Omtzigt: 2009: 18). However, this notwithstanding, Omtzigt suggests two approaches to the causes of social exclusion: the agency approach, i.e. who excludes the excluded; and the social institutional approach: locating the causes in the “organisation and operation of societal institutions and systems” {Omtzigt: 19}. In the same publication, Omtzigt cites Atkinson and Davoudi (2000) who provide “a framework for organising and understanding the main institutional causes of social exclusion” where failure in any one of them causes social exclusion. The subsystems are:

·      The democratic and legal systems which foster civic integration;

·      The labour market which fosters economic integration;

·      The social welfare system which aids social integration; and

·      The family and community system which enables inter personal integration.

What is noticeable in Atkinson and Davoudi is that the first three sub systems in this list are, in Webber’s words, indicative of “the general character of the distributive system” (Parkins: Op Cit: 44), and therefore, locate the state or the dominant segments in the state in the position of agency. However, circumstances might lie beyond the control of an individual entity including the state as indicated in the Report of the European Commission (2000-2001), which cites structural causes as:

·      Globalisation, evolutions in technology and industrial restructuring as causes of changes in the labour market that alter the relative balance between job security and flexibility thus marginalising the least adaptable groups;

·      Expansion of the knowledge society which may marginalise the technologically illiterate;

·      Socio-demographic changes;

·      Territorialism or geographic bias and polarisation of development, e.g. the urban- rural dichotomy.

While one cannot attribute exclusion to an active agent in the above instances, what is not debatable is that it is the vulnerable that are susceptible to exclusion in all instances thus making their exclusion more of a chain reaction than an independent phenomenon.

2.1      Manifestations of Social Exclusion

It is clear from the conceptualisation advanced above that social exclusion is neither a neutral phenomenon nor an accidental incident inflicted upon a section of humanity by divine intervention or an act of fate, but rather a function of competition over limited resources controlled through a system of power relations in society. Because of this, the language of social exclusion varies in line with the desired diagnosis in order to influence and control policy directives. The anatomy of deliberate social exclusion can be traced using a theoretical model or framework where finite or limited resources in society give rise to competition with the allocation or distribution processes being a function of power relations existing at a point in time. Segments or groups in society organise themselves along lines of protective interest groups to derive maximum benefits from the allocative and distributive processes. Those groups which, because of whatever political or cultural variables, as advantage, gain ascendancy and capitalise on these variables creating a system which facilitates the maximisation of resources and rewards by restricting access to themselves as eligibles. Once the system is entrenched, social closure acts as an independent, almost autonomous, variable with consequences of social inequalities where excluded groups are vulnerable. Vulnerability or risk proneness where excluded groups and individuals are at risk of the other ills of exclusion which manifest in poverty, poor social capital, limited or poor access to finite resources, becomes the outcome or dependent variable.

This asymmetry in power relations creates mobilisation of bias, where those excluded become more marginalised. The consequence is that not only are the excluded left out of mainstream society, but also that their vulnerability is exacerbated. Hence, any of the manifestations of vulnerability or risk proneness can be a direct or indirect dependent variable of social exclusion. The dependent variables can and usually interact among themselves to generate further outcomes. For instance, limited or poor access to resources such as paid work, land and other primary resources producing attributes such as education and training may result in poverty, which in turn may generate vulnerability to other ills. The cycle becomes vicious with the result that escape from the predicament becomes only possible when conditions that created social closure in the first instance are transformed. A complete aetiology of social closure entails dealing not only with the anatomy, but also with each of the dependent variables particularly measuring and explaining their vicious interactions and coexistence. Similarly, managing social closure requires dismantling the system of social closure itself.

3         Measuring Social Exclusion

In essence, there are more divided societies than others, and to the extent that social exclusion is a feature of divided societies, there are degrees of exclusion. However, to measure social exclusion empirically would constitute a mammoth task whereas some indicators can be subjected to measurement. The World Bank adopted Amartya Sen’s capability approach to measure four forms of capital (labour force, consumption, wealth accumulation and social functions) whose absence is most likely to cause social exclusion, or as Omtzigt puts it “that can affect an individual’s well-being, economic fortunes, poverty and inclusion”, and cites Sen who maintains that individuals excluded from these could be considered excluded.  Because of the relative or relational conception of human exclusion, variations in measurement occur across different societies. For instance, in more economically developed countries, such as in Europe, measuring social exclusion usually entails a different set of indicators than say, those used in Latin America, Africa and the Asian countries. In economically developed countries, non-economic indicators such as service exclusion, non-participation in social activities, social isolation, poor social support and disengagement form part of the indicators used in measuring social exclusion, in addition to poverty, not in paid work and jobless households (Gordon et al., Panzas et al. quoted in SEKN: Background Paper 1: 2008). Similarly, the same publication cites Buchard et al. who produced a multi-dimensional measure incorporating consumption (the capacity to participate in the purchase of goods and services), production (the capacity to participate in economically or socially valuable services), political engagement (participation in local or national decision making) and social interaction (integration with family, friends and neighbours) as measures of social exclusion in Britain. European measures of social exclusion almost follow the same pattern. In developing countries, basic indicators such as life expectancy at birth, access to education and material living standards (purchasing power parity and income) constitute the basic indicators, and measures such as democracy, human rights and inequalities or equity are often excluded or probably deemed a luxury.

While there is no single validated measure of social exclusion, probably because of the different emphases on what constitutes social exclusion, there are diagnostic instruments such as the Human Development Index developed by Amartya Sen and Maybug ul Haq in 1990 which provides a good estimate of the extent of human achievement across three dimensions of human development: length of healthy life (life expectancy at birth), education (adult literacy and enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education); and material living standards (purchasing power parity and income). There is also the Human Poverty Index, which measures the extent of deprivation. While not exhaustive, for instance, the Human Development Index does not include indicators such as respect for human rights, democracy or inequality, “it does provide a powerful tool for looking at inequities in the conditions for human development around the globe, particularly in the economic and to a lesser extent the political and social domain” (SEKN: 2208: 46). Although the Human Development Index uses different indicators from those used by the Hunan Poverty Index, and each uses a different calculation formula, both measure human deprivation in similar basic dimensions. Further, social closure is contingent upon the approach used in its definition hence indicators are bound to vary across paradigms or conceptions.

4         Existential Experiences in Social Exclusion

4.1      A Sense of Powerlessness

Gaventa recalls an incident where, together with a community organiser, they had climbed a narrow path to a mountain cabin to talk to a retired miner about joining with others in a lawsuit challenging the low taxation of the corporate coal property that surrounded the miner’s home. After listening attentively to the account of the local injustices that Gaventa and other students had “discovered”, the miner showed no surprise, as he had known of the inequities since the land of his father had been expropriated by the coal lords (Zulu P: 2001). Similarly, in present South Africa, pensioners stripped of their meagre stipends by corrupt consultants who have used the pensions’ database to market high interest loans to pensioners, probably in collusion with the political elite in charge of the distributive process, are only too grateful to receive the crumbs and praise the ruling political party for its generosity, paying little attention to the fact that when 17 million beneficiaries in a population of 55 million are on the state security grant system, this is in itself a serious indictment to the distributive system in the first place.

While providing temporary relief, social security may and usually keeps recipients in a state of perpetual dependency because it is by definition a non-productive enterprise. Not engaged in production, recipients of social grants depend on inadequate and poorly-managed state services and become even more voiceless as the included well-to-do patronise well-managed private services such as private schools, hospitals and other amenities which shield them from the experiences of the poor. This, for instance, has become a norm in South Africa, where delivery of social services has been privatised through the elite patronage of private health and education systems as well as the ghettoization of residential space. The result has been that the rich, particularly the politically connected, are isolated from the daily travails of ordinary folk. What is worse is that the situation deprives the excluded of the development of what Gramsci refers to as the organic intellectuals of the underclass.

Given these power configurations the excluded fall into a syndrome that Gaventa refers to as “the syndrome of the powerless”, where “power works to develop and maintain the quiescence of the powerless. Rebellion, as a corollary, may emerge as power relations are altered. Together, patterns of power and powerlessness can keep issues from arising, grievances from being voiced and interests from being recognised” (Gaventa J: 1980: VII). Experiences of exclusion have common features: vulnerability and demoralisation, which lead to voicelessness.

4.2      A Demonstration of the Anatomy of Social Exclusion: The African Experience

Probably in very few places in the world are inequalities and the resultant turmoil arising from social exclusion more glaring as is the case in Sub-Saharan Africa. The anatomy of social exclusion is not difficult to explain in this region. First the colonial system imposed an exclusionary system where colonisers comprised the insiders, and the colonised indigenous people constituted the outsiders or the excluded, leading to resistance organised by liberation movements. When liberation movements assumed power, the elite in the same movements gradually took over the mantle of insiders and through an elaborate system of political nepotism and clientelage, created a new bourgeois class, which preyed on the limited state resources. To maintain the system, a new form of social closure developed where connectedness to the ruling elite generally organised through the former liberation movement turned into the governing party. In this instance the elite, to use the words of Saraceno, “use social closure to restrict access of outsiders to valued resources (such as jobs, good benefits, education, urban locations, valued patterns of consumption)” (Quoted by Omtzigt: 19). The elite misuse state resources for their benefit further impoverishing the masses, resulting in societies afflicted with a social closure of a special type, where political affinity constitutes the divide. It is a well-documented fact that Sub-Saharan Africa has become the basket case of the world, living off foreign aid while the elite splash in conspicuous consumption. The resulting divisions have constantly thrown African states into political turmoil accompanied by extreme poverty and powerlessness.

Social exclusion is not new in Africa. As early as the beginning of the 1960s Frantz Fanon described what he termed “the pitfalls of national consciousness” (Frantz Fanon: 1961). “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness” is a chapter in Fanon’s book entitled Les Damnés de la Terre, translated into The Wretched of the Earth. The chapter is a pessimistic warning of the possibility of a national revolutionary consciousness turning into an instrument of power for the post independent elite to transform itself into a profiteering caste. In this instance, the national bourgeoisie “decays into a sort of little greedy caste, avid and voracious, with a mind of a huckster, only too glad to accept the dividends that the former colonial power hands out to it” (Leo Zuling: 16). And accept the dividends has the African ruling elite done, one evidence among numerous others being Mobutu of the Congo with millions in currency secretly shipped abroad, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe with his shopping sprees in South Asia while Zimbabwe is without food, and lately the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa with the sudden and widespread ownership of farms by cabinet ministers, members of provincial executive councils and other political notables in the midst of landlessness. The tragedy, were it not so conspicuous as a reflection of the ruling psyche, is that in Zimbabwe and in the Congo citizens have been turned into political refugees in other countries. In South Africa most of these farms lie unproductive in the face of landlessness. One glaring piece of evidence is the abandoned pigs lying dead or dying from hunger and thirst on the farm of the National Council of Provinces’ chairperson, Thandi Modise. The tragic incident was splashed on national television as recently as 2014, the twentieth year of South Africa’s democracy. Referring to the weaknesses of the post-revolutionary ruling elite, Frantz Fanon posits: “This traditional weakness, which is almost congenial to the national consciousness of underdeveloped countries, is not solely the result of the mutilation of the colonised people by the colonial regime. It is also the result of the intellectual laziness of the national middle class, or its spiritual penury, and of the profoundly cosmopolitan mould that its mind is set in” (Franz Fanon: in Ben Turok Ed: 2011: 86).

Africa’s social exclusion is a function of the greed of the ruling elite, a deliberate strategy to restrict access to resources to a limited circle of eligibles where the ruling elite and their families, including supporting cronies, feast while the masses starve. Politics provides an avenue for amassing wealth and social service suffers, with the result that the excluded masses develop a sense of existential helplessness to the extent that they constitute the voting cannon fodder in one-party-dominant political systems. It took the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to engender democracy through conditionality in awarding international loans and foreign aid as Africa languished in poverty and the elite needed relief to avoid revolutions by the starving masses. Despite this, democracy in Africa is, in a number of instances, a sham as election rigging is almost the order of the day. Admittedly there are efforts to break the spiral of social exclusion. but this has been at huge costs as the legacy of exclusion follows victims for generations.

5         Tackling Social Exclusion

5.1      Organising against Social Exclusion

In the aftermath of decolonisation and emancipation in the second and third world, social exclusion, manifested particularly through the condition of poverty, seemed to be on the rise. The world’s hopes had rested on the premise that international colonialism had disturbed the tempo of colonial populations particularly through the exploitation of resources and the cultural dislocation of native institutions under the auspices of modernisation. However, emancipation had brought in a predatory elite that preyed on the resources of the emancipated countries leaving social exclusion, especially poverty, intact if not worse than before. That drew in international interest first in tackling poverty and secondly in dealing with inequality in the distribution of resources as functional, if not causal, to poverty. Concepts such as structural adjustment programmes that hoped to facilitate first participation and ultimately democratisation gained salience. With regard to the economy, the Washington Consensus became the buzzword, whereas the Millennium Development Goals emanating from the Millennium Summit of 2000 attempted to promote inclusion in the socio-economic, health and demographic spheres. The Millennium Development Goals were further precipitated by the growth in international sensitivity to poverty and its attendant ills, particularly arising from globalisation. In the second and third world countries the excluded were vulnerable first to international exploitation, secondly to a greedy and predatory elite and thirdly to natural disasters. Currently, there is a new discourse to deal with social exclusion in the form of Sustainable Development Goals that are more expansive than the original eight targeted in 2000.

While the international community displayed sensitivity to social exclusion, country-level initiatives, both in developed and in developing countries, were also taking place. For instance, between 1997 and 2001 a dedicated Social Exclusion Unit located in the office of the Prime Minister and entrusted with developing policies to cater for the socially excluded groups was established in England. As typical of developed countries, social exclusion in this instance referred mainly to passive exclusion, where circumstances rather than the human agency rendered individuals excluded. The work of the Unit included mechanisms of reintegration of the excluded particularly into the labour market. Because of the conceptualisation of social exclusion, the Unit’s work focussed on economic indicators such as increased employment, tax and benefit policies. In Australia the Labour State Government established South Australia’s Social Inclusion Initiative, modelled along the lines of the English Social Exclusion Unit and also focussing on passive exclusion rather than human-engineered exclusion.

Africa is also active in the field of social integration, particularly economic inclusion. For instance, in Nigeria, a National Poverty Eradication Programme was initiated in 2001-2002 with the objective of co-ordinating and monitoring the anti-poverty eradication policy whose focus included: the Youth Empowerment Scheme, the Rural Infrastructure Development Scheme, the Social Welfare Services Scheme and the Natural Resources Development and Conservation Scheme. The Programme encompasses all 36 states in Nigeria with monitoring committees in all 774 local government areas (SEKN: 2008). As the focus areas indicate, the Programme reached the youth and the unemployed and provided a variety of services including training in entrepreneurship in the fields of agriculture and transport, as well as providing financial capital through micro finance and credit schemes. Critique on the Nigerian undertaking is that the Programme has had very little impact on structural inequalities in the country and also that there is inadequate community participation on the scheme. The National Social Protection Strategy in Ghana was developed with the involvement of UNICEF, the World Bank, UNDP, DFID and is “an umbrella term for policies, programmes and institutions addressing social inequality, poor health, economic crisis, vulnerability, and exclusion which attempt to protect individuals and their households from poverty and deprivation” (SEKN: 2008: 136). The programme was to be piloted between 2007 and 2012. In a mid-term evaluation of four sub-programmes directed at poverty relief under the National Social Protection Strategy, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung concluded, “while the efforts are notable, there is still a lot of hard work to do to sustain an efficient scheme which offers benefits to all Ghanaians”, while a briefing pamphlet by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection maintained that the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty Programme (LEAP) experienced limited reach and weak linkages to other pro-poor interventions.

At the continental or inter-state level, Africa, with probably the most excluded sector of society in terms of magnitude and scale, set up an MDG Steering Group “to translate existing commitments into tangible progress in every African country” (Australian Lutheran World Service). By 2007 the Steering Group put forth its recommendations following its monitoring and evaluation work. This was pertinent as besides international aid towards achieving the MDGs, Africa was also experiencing positive economic growth above the world’s average.

A glance at most of the anti-social exclusion programmes undertaken on a country basis shows that it is the governments that initiate programmes and predictably there are limitations that arise from a conception of social exclusion first as a circumstantial shortcoming or malfunction in a system, rather than a function of deliberate power relations where exclusion is an intended strategy to maintain the system. Donor countries and agencies fall into this perceptual trap partly because it is harder to displace a social system than to attend to a perceived malady, and partly because donors would not want to undermine the sovereignty of governments. This has particularly been the case regarding donor aid to developing countries which are more afflicted by intentional social exclusion compared to their developed counterparts, where social exclusion is generally a function of the lag in historical relationships than of deliberate preying on resources by the political elite. Under such a conception, social exclusion is often interpreted in poverty terms, hence inclusion strategies address the poverty element which could only be a symptom of deeper systemic operations. At the root of the causes of social exclusion lies the deliberate intention to restrict access to limited resources using power relations as leverage. Admittedly, there are results, which give relief to the symptoms but inequalities remain to perpetuate social exclusion that gave rise to the symptoms in the first place.

5.2      Social Movements in Social Exclusion

Social movements arise out of a realisation, a consciousness by a segment of society that there is an asymmetry in social relations and that this asymmetry comes about as a result of inequalities in the distribution of power and its attendant resources. Social movements against social exclusion generally articulate their demands in the language of participation. In general, this happens because of the failure of institutions of political intermediation in the polity, which include governments, parliament, political parties, pressure and interest groups as well as the media, as exist in plural societies. A comprehensive ideology of appeal to the excluded is conjunctural. It develops from a consciousness of existing material conditions and is articulated in the language of the moral precepts of the day. This paper takes the view that of all agents against social exclusion, social movements have probably the greatest potential to transform systemic power relations and consequently eradicate social exclusion. The greatest advantage enjoyed by social movements lies in their cross-cutting membership and cross-cutting multiplicity of functions. Generally, they are referred to as broad churches, are in touch with communities and their needs and draw huge support through the networking system, including from academics and other power brokers.

In Latin America SEKN avers that social movements were: “influential in the political changes which resulted in centre-left governments being elected in many Latin American countries since 1999, including for example, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador” (SEKN :2008: 141). The publication goes on to state that social movements are involved in actions seeking to address all the four exclusionary dimensions highlighted in the SEKN model: the social, economic, political and the cultural dimensions of exclusion, thus transcending the narrow conceptions of social exclusion. Moreover, social movements have the capacity to focus not only on macro socio-political changes but also to tackle specific exclusions, such as gender, and specific resource exclusions. For instance, in Brazil, the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST) “in arguing for action more radical than the programmes based on subsidies for the poor, advocating instead structural rural reform underpinned by a new economic development model centred on an internal market” (SEKN: Op Cit: 142).

South Africa is another case in point where social movements, because of their conception of social exclusion in power relations terms, have had greater impact on the provision of social services than if a narrow definition were adopted. For instance The Treatment Action Campaign, a social movement organised against the government’s prevarication in distributing anti-viral treatment drugs to pregnant women afflicted with AIDS in order to prevent transmission from mothers to children, succeeded not only in getting the treatment distributed, but also in the Constitutional Court ruling in favour of the right of pregnant women in public health institutions not only to receive anti-viral treatment, but also to have access to comprehensive health care which included counselling and other psychological services. Similarly, the #Fees Must Fall Movement, a university students’ movement campaigning for free education at university level has, in a short time, succeeded in the government expanding the educational assistance net to include almost 80% of the university student population. While focussing on university fees, the movement has operated from a broader premise of equitable budgeting by the state, where the country’s priorities and not the narrow interests of the government form the basis of the distributive system. In this way, the movement’s campaign is predicated on a broader concept of social exclusion, where access to higher education constitutes the springboard to universal social inclusion.

5.3      Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)

The SEKN publication (2008) lists a number of NGOs, in different countries, that have advocated for social inclusion of marginalised groups such as indigenous communities and street children in Canada, aborigines in Australia and sufferers from HIV/AIDS in Kenya. The paper goes on to focus on NGO action in Bangladesh, particularly that of the Grameen Bank, which is “engaged in a wide range of activities focussing on reversing exclusionary processes with various partners, including other civil society organisations, the government, international donors and private sector organisations” (SEKN: 2008: 150). The Bank provides, inter alia, micro-credit services to poor groups, advice on health, and training in income-generation skills. There are accounts of NGO work in other countries like Ghana, and of international philanthropic NGOs, for instance, OXFAM, Christian Aid, the European Anti-Poverty Network, EURORAD, AFRORAD, and the Commonwealth Foundation with regional and international affiliations and programmes. What is significant about NGOs is that they provide material and human resources to various formations, including social movements, should this be necessary, thus performing the huge role of providing capacity to community and civic organisations.

5.4      Strategies of Tackling Social Exclusion

Strategies to tackle social exclusion are mainly determined and shaped by conceptions of social exclusion and, as a consequence, evoke different sets of policies towards inclusion. Two sets of conceptions, the static and the dynamic, lead to discourses that inform policy on and strategies of inclusion. The conception of social exclusion as a state experienced by particular groups encourages isolation of the experience, leading to targeting that experience independently of the synergy from other experiences derived from a common root cause. For instance, tackling poverty as a state leads to policies and strategies which overlook the disadvantages of variables such as participation, shortage of skills etc. which collectively may result in unemployment with poverty as the ultimate outcome. Policies which adopt selectivity and conditionality belong to this category, where targeted groups selected through a means test are “rehabilitated” by means of short-term remedies such as cash transfers in the case of poverty, in the hope that “rehabilitated” individuals and groups will be energised to develop long-term mechanisms of generating livelihoods. The SEKN attributes such policies to practices in the Northern Hemisphere adopted by organisations such as the Department for International Development (DFID) in the United Kingdom and also by agencies of the United Nations, for instance, the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

A number of countries have adopted social security policies deemed to alleviate poverty and enable recipients to be included in mainstream society. Admittedly, the relief is noticeable as the mechanisms increase household assets and may trigger wider multiplier effects. For instance, in South Africa the social grant system has enabled recipients to feed themselves, send children to school, clothe them and, in addition, recipients feel that they are party of the wider society. The same occurs with respect to access to social services such as in health and education, where means-tested policies have resulted in wider coverage. However, critics of selected means-tested policies maintain that besides the fact that transferred assets are by definition limited and intended only as relief, in the main the system neglects other key dimensions of social exclusion, including the political and cultural dimensions. Further, social security practices have great potential for fraud, lead to poor governance, and can lead to perverse incentives for eligibility, and above all “targeted policies may reduce absolute poverty and disadvantage but leave inequalities between the poorest and the rest of society unchanged or, in the worst situations, widening” (SEKN: 2008: 175).

It is evident from the above critique that targeted policies of social exclusion do not ipso facto reduce or eliminate social exclusion, but rather offer temporary palliative treatment to a relational situation that goes deeper than the isolated variable targeted for treatment. Worse, in some instances they can create dependency on the perceived benefactors, thus exacerbating the very exclusion they intended to remedy in the first instance. For example, take instances when conditionality seeks to increase participation in the labour market as what some countries refer to as the extended public works programmes, where government creates temporary projects to relieve unemployment. The temporariness of such projects neglects sustainability, thus encouraging further dependency on the perceived benefactor. As stated in the SEKN publication, “Conditionality can therefore be argued to create a form of second class inclusion and/or citizenship undermining any attempt to create greater social cohesion” (SEKN: 2008: 176).

The second approach to tackling social exclusion derives from a conception of social exclusion as a relational dynamic and multi-dimensional process driven by unequal power relations operating in a particular society. The main assumption behind this approach is that social exclusion is both cumulative and multi-dimensional, therefore, an improvement in one dimension affects the other dimensions as well. Sen’s capability approach is developmental and fits in well within this paradigm where access to one service has a ripple effect on the other services. For instance, access to education is considered as the most pivotal capability as it in turn imparts skills that promote or facilitate employability. Employment does not only enhance participation in the consumption of goods, but also participation in the resources necessary for consumption such as participation in social, political and cultural activities.

Policies emanating from this conception take cognisance of the universal imperative, i.e. emphasise universal provision of social services such as education, health, and social security funded through the national fiscus. As a consequence of these policies, a number of countries have legislated for increased spending in these fundamental functions to facilitate universal access to the services, thus reducing the quality gap in services between the rich and the poor and facilitating sustained development. As SEKN maintains: “Universal welfare systems played a key role in the economic and social development of OECD countries by reducing poverty, reversing exclusionary processes, promoting social cohesion and improving population health” (SEKN: 2008: 172).

Omtzigt traces the development of social inclusion in the European Community between 1989 and 2000, when the Lisbon Agreement resolved on the following “objectives and activities” to combat social exclusion:

·      To facilitate participation in employment and access to all resources, rights, goods and services;

·      To prevent the risk of exclusion;

·      To help the most vulnerable;

·      To mobilize all relevant bodies” (Omtzigt: 2009: 27)

The sum total, according to Omtzigt is that the Agreement recognised the four key processes that would lead to the elimination of social exclusion: “participation, prevention, assistance and political mobilisation”. Omtzigt continues: “So rather than concentrating on access to the labour market only, emphasis is placed on access to social services, (with social protection, housing, health, education and justice, among others, expressly mentioned)” (Ibid). The success of the Lisbon Agreement is probably a reflection of the tenacity of social exclusion as a function of power relations, rather than a flaw in the conceptual framework to eliminate inequalities arising from social exclusion.

6         Conclusion

The thrust of the discourse in this paper lies in the distinction between social exclusion as social engineering and social exclusion as a fortuitous state, where individuals and groups find themselves in a position where they are separated or isolated from mainstream society. In the former, the cause of social exclusion is deliberate and exclusion takes a multivariate or multidimensional character, whereas in the latter, because it is circumstantial, it generally manifest in or affects one variable or aspect of life through which it is identifiable irrespective of the complexity. For instance, while poverty may take a number of dimensions, the main distinguishing variable is economic incapacity. The tackling of social exclusion depends on how the latter is conceived or defined, but this is crucial as the remedy is conceptually dependent. The cause has to be identified, otherwise the solution is incomplete and may only yield unsustainable results.

The causes of social exclusion are mainly political, and this is significant to the understanding of the resultant inequalities, particularly in the developing world. Because the cases are mainly political, this makes it difficult to tackle social exclusion. However, suffering and potential instability are incremental. Over the past decades, especially in the new millennium, there have been increasing attempts at managing and minimising social exclusion and these have been partly successful, depending on the nature of social exclusion and the capability of the forces of social integration. Where social exclusion has been most tenacious, it has been in developing countries because of the political causes, the multi-dimensionality and the complexity of outcomes – the poverty, the existential helplessness and the powerlessness of victims.

Finally the sensitisation of the international community to social exclusion, the awakening of the excluded themselves and the organisation of the forces against social exclusion, essentially the social movements and civil society organisations, point to a new direction in the fight against social exclusion. The main partnerships against social exclusion have entailed collaboration at the official level between governments or between donor organisations and governments or NGOs. The success of social movements such as the Latin American ones, the Treatment Action Campaign and the #Fees Must Fall movements in South Africa points to a new direction where synergy between diagnosis and treatment can best be realised. And it is this new energy that forces of change could harness to strengthen the new partnership against social exclusion.



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