BTW, Speaking about justice…

Thinking about social exclusion

Posted on: October 14, 2010

3rd week into my research, first task is to understand social exclusion. What, how, who, why… all things social exclusion. So, most of the posts from now on will be very much related to my research: How/whether political decentralisation promote inclusion in health policies.

To begin with, I have found a topic guide for Social Exclusion from Governance and Social Development Resource Centre (Uni. Birmingham) updated July 2010. Document available  here.

I get the sense that most of the measurement and identification are economic/financial related, which then cascades to impacting health, education, etc. Understandably, efforts to explain the usefulness of the concept have taken off from efforts of poverty alleviation, therefore focusing more on economic aspect of human development.

Reading Amartya Sen (2000) “Social Exclusion: Concept, Application and Scrutiny”, similar notion arise. That social exclusion takes off from economy. For this one, perhaps this is due to Sen’s area of expertise. But this piece is written for ADB, which deals with issues of governance as well, not just economics. Thinking about social exclusion primarily from economic capability undermines other aspects of human development.

Sen relates social exclusion as deprivation of capabilities, and that social exclusion can be seen both as process and product. I see his arguments put emphasis on the idea that inclusion is into valuable activities, or that inclusion will create access to something of value. Without this inclusion, freedoms are limited because of lack/absence of possessions (asset, income, etc). His elaboration on inclusion in politics & education are directed towards people’s ability to work.

My problem with this:

  1. Freedom has a price tag.
  2. Possession coming from work is highly dependant on formal work. Education and health promoting the chances of someone getting into the job market. This implies that a person’s wellbeing is less likely to happen outside established systems, institutions, structures. Which is probably true to some degree, but people can be involved in economic activities via artistic abilities which are not necessarily harnessed through formal education. Or fishing/farming/manual work…
  3. If exclusion is highly ‘economic’, and the focus is on developing “operating people”, what about the disabled? Or old people? What is the value of their (in)capability, if any? To simply breathe??
  4. Value is a social construct; therefore what is valuable also shifts depending on power or social contract. Social exclusion faces existing dispute on definition, putting “value” into the mix would make it even more difficult for any agreement on definition, aspect, scope, process, product, relevance. Unless the agreement is that there is no agreement.

Sen also explained that the philosophical ground for his thinking about social exclusion is based on the French value on liberty, equality and fraternity. Efforts to promote inclusion is mainly based on the notion of equality, therefore identifying excluded groups can help target policies to include these groups into a ‘mainstream’. He also explained that it doesn’t really matter where ideas come from, they have relevance.

I agree that they have relevance, however:

  1. As much as ideas exchange between “east” and “west”, learning from best practices in both worlds, inclusion becomes a way for uniformity, not for freedom/equality. Instead of promoting freedom & equality, social exclusion will be limiting freedom & equality.
  2. If the implication is uniformity as opposed to equality/freedom, this will be difficult for policies to become relevant in different settings, not just social but also physical/geographical.
  3. Grounding social exclusion on economy & western enlightenment will have to face debates from critical perspectives, especially anti-hegemonic movements, to which it will be difficult to say that this is not ideological imperialism.

 So here’s what I think.

  1. Social exclusion measurement/identification is useful for identification purposes.  However, some critical reflection must be put into what tools are used as measurement could deliberately be constructed to “categorise”, not to identify as is.
  2. Upon identification of excluded groups (whatever exclusion measures used – e.g. poverty, health, education, social labels), we are faced with two options: include them into “standard” or tailor new set of policies/standards that are relevant to their specific needs. This is where decentralization comes in.
  3. Instead of using economy as ground for social exclusion, perhaps we should think about exclusion from non-economic aspects of wellbeing, specifically health. This will be relevant for developed/developing countries, all age group, gender, sexual/religious orientation.
  4. By thinking about social exclusion from “life”, this will be tied to governmental population design, emerging health technologies, not just access to care but also in promotion of public health through for example clean water, community services, etc. It relieves pressure on labour market creation/poverty alleviation/economic policies, putting more emphasis on human development and how they utilise opportunities in their local setting. Inclusion in politics will have effect on the next generation, as it will/might affect decisions on having children.
  5. Further point of concern will come from the social construction of health.

Any comments from you?


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Lishia Erza

Searching for answers about life, these are the ones I have found.

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