Usually, exclusion is based on social identity (gender, ethnicity, caste, age, geographic region, economic status, etc.). People may be born into an excluded group or become excluded due to changes of circumstances (e.g. migration) and chronic process (e.g. poverty and unemployment). As much as individuals have different, overlapping, reinforcing and even contesting social identities, they are also entrenched in multiple levels of in- and exclusion according to the context that determines identities as privileged and others as deprived. Thus, we usually face a complex potential for privilege or deprivation. The concept of social inclusion should, therefore, not be conceptualized in a binary logic; that one is either included or excluded, nor that inclusion per se is good, or exclusion per se is bad. Rather, it should be seen that people are included or excluded in relation to different variables and the processes of in- and exclusion, these, are best recognized as a continuum with in- and exclusion at its poles. Social exclusion itself may have manifold characteristics. It can take place
- formally (by law) or informally (deep rooted informal social norms, values, beliefs);
- deliberately or unintentionally;
- self-imposed or imposed from the outside;
- hidden or visible; and
- in a variety of different arenas to differing degrees (individual, household/family, community, village, region, nation etc.).
Due to the multidimensional facets and processes that lead to social exclusion, deprived groups can’t be identified by only a single criterion. Additional qualifications, criteria and further questions are essential, whether integration or inclusion is always desirable and how inclusion of ones may produce exclusion of others. For practitioners it is indispensable to thoroughly assess the context and to design the interventions appropriately. This method provides some guidance on this crucial task.
Its utilisation and potential results can be twofold:
a) Mainstreaming social inclusion as a cross-cutting issue so that
- institutional barriers to social inclusion within ones own organization are removed; marginalized groups take up decision making powers within “the system”, and
- sector interventions in general do not reinforce social exclusion but become more oriented towards relief provision and equity promotion.
b) Designing interventions that directly address social exclusion as a recognized socioeconomic development constraint
- providing excluded groups access to assets, capabilities and opportunities so that they can sustain and improve minimum livelihood security and lay the foundation for upward mobility (economic / livelihood empowerment);
- providing space and opportunities so that excluded groups can develop voice, confidence and capabilities to engage on an equal footing with the socially and economically better-off people and to influence and hold accountable the institutions that affect them (social / mobilization empowerment);
- removing formal and informal institutional barriers to inclusion within the society, at the system and policy levels so that all groups in society gain equal access to development opportunities without discrimination in any form. This requires changes of the “opportunity structure” within groups and individuals seek to “exercise their agency” i.e. actively influencing and challenging socioeconomic power relations and the structural context that supports or constraints their development opportunities.
The process of social inclusion may be initiated and supported from outside. However, eventually it must become a process from within, which is owned by different power groups in the society (through a “coalition for change”), since deep rooted formal and informal social values, norms, beliefs and identities may need to be renegotiated during the course of social transformation.