Social exclusion is generally defined as “the systematic and multidimensional deprivation (social, political, economical, and cultural) of certain groups within a society”. These deprivations are typically interlocking and exist to some degree in all societies. Excluded groups lack access to opportunities, resources and services as well as voice and power to change their situations. As a social process deep rooted power relations as well as sociocultural institutions (understood as formal laws and policies, informal social norms, values, and beliefs) that enable or constrain human interaction lie at the core of social exclusion.
Social exclusion and its multidimensional facets can be addressed best through integrated approaches, consisting of a variety of activities and policies, as well as collaborations between different stakeholders, and making interventions at different levels. As such a crosscutting issue, social inclusion cannot be achieved by utilizing this method step by step. Rather it is achieved through awareness raising and a change of consciousness among, a) the practitioners to design, plan and implement activities more inclusively and b) among the beneficiaries to actively overcome barriers to social inclusion in the long-term. Since deep-rooted social norms and values can create barriers to inclusion it is difficult to bring expected social change in a short time span. Therefore, social exclusion requires a long-term strategic response on the part of all concerned stakeholders. They need to demonstrate a broad commitment to equality and human rights so that people’s beliefs and values change for the better.
The social inclusion strategy aims to assist practitioners in
- better understanding the complex processes of social exclusion and transformation and
- in designing, implementing, and steering conceptualized and cross-cutting and targeted interventions to enable the most deprived and vulnerable groups of society to step out of the poverty circle and to improve their dignity, self-confidence, and socioeconomic status. In this regard, social exclusion is perceived as a cause and reinforcing factor of poverty at the same time. The notion of social inclusion, thus, functions as an entry point to work towards poverty reduction, equity and equality.
This method stems from the lively discussion among academia and practitioners on the concepts of social in- and exclusion and their linkage to other concepts such as poverty, inequality, deprivation and citizenship. The discussion gained momentum in the 1990s, initially picking up issues of social disintegration in Europe but soon incorporated consideration in southern contexts – albeit the transferability of the concept is still being critically discussed. It is worthwhile mentioning that manifold concepts and definitions of social in- and exclusion exist, depending on the contexts, as well as on ideological and theoretical perspective.