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date: 17 August 2017

Social Inclusion

Summary and Keywords

Social inclusion is a well-meaning concept with something of a chequered history. Its beginnings were in the attempt by France to find a way of dealing with the social dislocation associated with transitioning from an agrarian to an urban society. The view promulgated was that some people were being pushed to the margins and thereby excluded in this process. From these origins the term was picked up and deployed in Europe, the United Kingdom, and other countries seeking to find ways of including people deemed excluded from participation in society as a result of social dislocation. Where the difficulties have arisen with the term is in conceptualizing where the “causation” resides—in individuals and their alleged deficiencies; or in the way societies are organized and structured that produce situations of inequality in the first place, where some people remain on the periphery. Where the former interpretation is adopted, the policy attempts that follow are reparative and designed to try and mend the bonds that bind people to society, and which are seen as having been disrupted. The attempt is to try and help those who are excluded to transgress the exclusionary boundaries holding them back. In the second interpretation, the focus is upon the way in which power is deployed in producing exclusionary social structures. Envisaging how structural impediments operate, as well as doing something about it, has been much more problematic than in the former case.

When applied to educational contexts, there have been some major policy initiatives in respect to social inclusion, around the following: (i) school-to-work transition programs that aim to make young people “work ready” and hence obviate their becoming disconnected from the economy—that is to say, through labor market initiatives; (ii) educational re-engagement programs designed to reconnect young people who have prematurely terminated their schooling through having “dropped out,” by putting them back into situations of learning that will lead them to further education or employment; and (iii) area-based interventions or initiatives that target broad-based forms of strategic social assistance (education, housing, health, welfare, employment) to whole neighborhoods and communities to assist them in rectifying protracted historical spatial forms of exclusion. There remain many tensions and controversies as to which approach to social inclusion is the most efficacious way of tackling social exclusion, and major research is still needed to provide a more sociologically informed approach to social inclusion.

Keywords: individual deficits, structural impediments, transgressing invisible boundaries, sociological thinking, educational re-engagement, school-to-work transition, area-based interventions

Where Does the Term Social Inclusion Come From?

A useful starting point into the discussion of social inclusion is to articulate what Allman (2013) referred to as a “sociological lens” (p. 9) from within which to posit what he referred to as a “sociology of inclusion.” In pursuit of such a perspective, Allman argues that societies are always organized into hierarchies of some kind, and invoking Pocock (1957), he points to “inclusion and exclusion [as being] features of all hierarchies” (p. 1). In other words, social inclusion and exclusion are not an inevitable or natural state of affairs—they come about because of choices made about the way societies are constructed. As Sibley (1995) put it, there are “landscapes of exclusion” and these are reflections of the way power works, and with certain effects. This perspective was not always the accepted version, because inclusion and exclusion were made to seem as if they were common sense or the “natural order” of things (Allman, 2013, p. 2), something that should be accepted and taken for granted and not contested.

It is possible to locate and position the adoption of the term social inclusion, at least in a policy sense, in the European attempt to confront the fact that some social groups are “put at” a disadvantage. As Allman (2013) notes, the term social inclusion seems to have its origins “in France in the 1970s when the economically disadvantaged began to be described as the excluded” (Silver, 1995, p. 7; emphasis in original). The attempt seemingly, as Wilson (2006) put it, was to envisage poverty as “no longer [being] seen as economic deprivation but [rather as a] part of a pattern of disadvantage” (p. 338). According to this view, particular groups were not to be blamed for their predicament, but rather were envisaged as being actively excluded from participation in society, and that what needed to be done in policy terms, was a restoration of “cohesion” or a “re-assimilation” of the bonds of “solidarity” that had become ruptured (Wilson, 2006, p. 338). As Allman (2013) argued, this constituted a major shift in perspective in that poverty was no longer seen as being exclusively as a result of individual defects or deficiencies that resided in the individual, but rather it was the result of the marginalization of certain groups from “mainstream society” (p. 7). The way Davies (2005) put it was that the poor were no longer regarded as being simply economically deprived, but they had become “disconnected from mainstream society in ways that went beyond poverty” (p. 4).

Tracing this French connection of social exclusion, Allman (2013) points to the polarization and dislocation that occurred in “France’s postwar [WW 2] transition from a largely agrarian society to an urban one” and the large numbers of people who were “excluded from opportunities to join the labour force” (p. 8). The proximal origin of the term social inclusion was, therefore, a reference to those people and groups who were being pushed to the margins of society and as a result were increasingly being seen as “social problems” (p. 8).

The European origin of the term social exclusion, and its obverse, social inclusion, has its roots in the attempt by the European Union to provide a more comprehensive and expansive way of envisaging and measuring poverty than the “single income number” approach used in Anglo countries including the United States (Silver & Miller, 2003, p. 1). In essence, the European view seeks to move beyond a narrow income deficiency or “income poverty” view, to try instead to ascertain the “non-monetary aspects of deprivation” (Silver & Miller, 2003, p. 3) that might enable the development of approaches and policies for those people who are “excluded” or “left out of mainstream society and left behind in a globalizing economy” (Silver & Miller, 2003, p. 1).

What is occurring here is a shift in emphasis from regarding poverty as being an income distributional problem, to regarding it instead as being a form of “exclusion” in which the underlying issue is “a relational process of declining participation, solidarity, and access” (Silver & Miller, 2003, p. 3). This quite different inflection has important implications for how to tackle the issue.

The meaning and understanding of social exclusion also varies markedly from country to country. In France, for example, the use of the word poverty that has undertones of individual shortcomings is seen as demeaning and something of a misnomer. The reason for this is that in France there is a strong historical tradition of social solidarity in which there are strong mutual obligations between the individual and society. Social exclusion is seen there as resulting from a “rupture of the social bond” or “solidarity” (Silver & Miller, 2003, p. 3) between citizen and society. In other words, social exclusion occurs in France, when society fails to fulfill its social obligations to its citizens. This is quite different from the United States where people on the margins, or deemed to be below the “poverty line,” are argued to be in poverty because they possess some defect or deficiency located in them as individuals.

While the European-derived notion of social exclusion has subsequently “found its way into the lexicon of all major governance institutions” (O’Brien & Penna, 2008, p. 48), the focus has tended to be largely upon an “integrationist” approach. That is to say, social exclusion is understood from within a “vocabulary of disadvantage” (Room, 1995), to be a problem “encompassing both a lack of adequate resources and a lack of integration into key social institutions” (O’Brien & Penna, 2008, p. 84). As Cameron and Palan (2004) observe, over the years the discourse has shifted from being broadly concerned with social problems accompanying dislocation, to the “primacy of economic deprivation” (p. 136, cited in O’Brien & Penna, 2008, p. 86), and the associated need to “reform educational and welfare institutions” to ensure “access to economic resources particularly labour markets” (O’Brien & Penna, 2008, p. 86). What is interesting about this O’Brien and Penna (2008) say is that “whilst ‘exclusion’ is often discursively framed as ‘economic deprivation’ the debate emphasises institutional reforms rather than distributional divisions” (p. 86, emphasis in original). Thus envisaged, the problem is conceived as one of “institutional failure rather than gross inequality per se” (p. 86), and this qualitative distinction has important policy implications.

Although the European Union adopted and disseminated more widely the French terminology of social exclusion, as Silver and Miller (2003) describe it, the meaning changed somewhat to focus both on deprivation arising from an insufficiency of resources, as well as “an inability to exercise social rights as citizens” (p. 8). What this amounted to in reality was a shift of “attention away from excluded groups and towards the responsibilities of the entire society,” often summarized in the term “social cohesion” (p. 10). In practical terms this shift of emphasis meant that policies had to provide the excluded with “access, participation and ‘voice’ rather than making them passive recipients of material assistance” (p. 10). In short, excluded groups were centrally included in developing solutions to their exclusion. This emphasis was also reflected in the way the Blair New Labour government in the United Kingdom, in 1997, developed a “social exclusion unit” located within the prime minister’s office (and subsequently closed in 2010) to give a high priority to these matters (p. 6). This emphasis also changed thinking to embrace the multidimensionality of social disadvantage, and to the fact that it had to be dealt with bureaucratically in less disjointed or unconnected ways. Families with complex problems requiring support, instead of having to “make the rounds among many bureaucracies operating in different ways,” were dealt with in “one-stop service centers” in what was described as “joined-up policies for joined-up problems” (p. 14).

What is interesting to note here is that the defining of who is “excluded” resides largely with national and supranational agencies, government departments, non-government organizations, policy makers, and consultants engaged by them. The irony with this is that there is considerable consternation and contestation from within the very groups who are classified, affected, and who are supposed to benefit from such categorization, due to their “exclusion” from “having a say” around their classification—see, for example, Beresford and Croft (1995). Addressing this classificatory issue more broadly, Brown (2006) in her “regulating aversion,” presents the larger argument with which to go beyond the seemingly benevolent and benign notion of “tolerance” implied by inclusion, and to see it instead as an individual and collective struggle over identity, citizenship, and civilization. A nice illustration of how the resistance to these “classificatory struggles” are played out in Britain is provided by Tyler (2013, 2015). What these struggles represent, Dowling and Harvie (2014) argue, is what Hall, Critcher, Hefferson, Clarke, and Roberts (1978) refer to as an “ideological displacement,” as “structural conditions of a deep social, political and economic crisis” are portrayed as pathological forms of “individual behaviours” (Dowling & Harvie, 2014, p. 872). In Tyler’s (2013) terminology, those who are “made abject” by these forms of classificatory exclusion and “disposability,” respond through their own particular “imaginative engagement with dissent against the neoliberal consensus” (p. 4), and she provides some powerful illustrative case studies of what this looks like in her Revolting Subjects.

Definitional Problems With Social Inclusion

Discussions about social exclusion, and how to bring about its corollary social inclusion, tend to be fairly messy, and a source of controversy and debate (see, for example, Davies, 2005; O’Reilly, 2005).

Levitas (1998) argues that “the term social exclusion is intrinsically problematic. It represents the primary significant division between an included majority and an excluded minority” (p. 7). Her problem with this bifurcation is that it renders invisible the process by which power and privilege operates such that some people are included and others are “discursively placed outside [of] society” (p. 7). For Levitas (1998), the consensual discourse that separates people into these “overly homogenous” albeit arbitrary groups, presents a far too “rosy” picture because it obfuscates a model “in which inequality and poverty are pathological and residual, rather than endemic” (p. 7). The deficit view of those who fall outside of the boundary of society, makes exclusion appear to be “an essentially peripheral problem existing at the boundary of society” (p. 7), rather than being symptomatic of the unequal way in which society is constructed, sustained, and maintained. Even more worrying, Levitas (1998) argues, is that the social exclusion discourse leads to “minimalist” solutions in which all that is required are better ways for those who are excluded to make the transition across the boundary so as to become “insider(s)” rather than “outsider(s),” leaving the unequal society that produced them “largely uninterrogated” (p. 7).

Broadly speaking, social inclusion refers to attempts to include “the excluded” (Byrne, 2009[2005], p. 151), but it is not quite that straightforward. As Silver (1994) puts it, “the notion of exclusion calls for an account of inclusion” (p. 541), or what Byrne (2009[2005]) refers to as “action against exclusion” (p. 14).

However, to understand the meaning of inclusion, we first need to be clear about what we take “exclusion” to mean, and doing this begs the question “exclusion from what?” (Silver, 1994, p. 541). Hoggett (1997) has argued, and this is a point also made by Cameron (2006), that there is a localized spatial dimension to social exclusion. The way Hoggett (1997) framed it was that in the academic and policy research literatures there is an abbreviated way of referring to social inclusion in which “the idea of community has nearly always been used as a form of shorthand for the socially excluded” (p. 11). While poverty and marginalization have always been featured as an undeniable part of social exclusion, there is also a sense in which those who are “excluded” are also seen as outsiders that do not belong. As Cameron (2006) added, there are however limits to how far a term can be defined by its opposite: “The academic debate on social exclusion has been relatively silent on its assumed corollary . . . [in which] the nature and meaning of social inclusion is merely implied or assumed” (p. 396). In other words, “social inclusion tends to be defined only negatively within the exclusion literature—i.e., as ‘not social exclusion’” (p. 396). As a way out of this seemingly unhelpful situation of defining something by “exception,” Veit-Wilson (1998) makes what is a very important distinction between two qualitatively different ways of thinking about exclusion—a “weak” and a “strong” version:

In the ‘weak’ version of this discourse, the solutions lie in altering these excluded peoples’ handicapping characteristics and enhancing their integration into dominant society. ‘Stronger’ forms of this discourse also emphasise the role of those who are doing the excluding and therefore aim for solutions which reduce the powers of exclusion.

(p. 45)

When the focus is placed upon “exclusion as the exception” (Cameron, 2006, p. 401), which is really what the “weak version” amounts to, then this amounts to a form of policy making akin to a “one-way street,” where what is focused upon are the “personal deficits of the poor and marginalized” (p. 401) who are simultaneously blamed for their predicament, while at the same time they are portrayed as being responsible for their own rehabilitation and integration into the larger society.

One of the things that tends to be emphasized in the “weak version” of social exclusion, and its policy corollary social inclusion, is a focus on “changing the circumstances of the excluded individuals so they are pushed over the line rather than changing existing structural inequalities affecting both included and excluded” (Nevile, 2006, p. 84). A common example of this, and that might be seen as a fairly instrumental response, are policies designed to shift those who have become excluded from the workforce, into “paid employment” (Nevile, 2006, p. 83) through what are often termed welfare-to-work programs.

The Relevance of Social Inclusion to Education

Consistent with the dominant meaning of social inclusion as having to do with fixing ruptures in the social fabric whereby some people have become excluded, in Anglo countries like the United Kingdom and Australia, the prevailing emphasis has been upon constructing an ensemble of policies designed to construct transitions or pathways into paid employment for young people who, for whatever reasons, have become excluded or are “at risk” of becoming so.

What has tended to occur then is the evolution of policies and strategies that display a number of underlying commonalities. For illustrative purposes, I will deal with three of them.

School-to-Work Educational Programs

School-to-work transitions are, broadly speaking, about developing vocational pathways for young people deemed as being non-academic and best suited to forms of education that lead them to working with their hands. The argument being made within this labor market view of social inclusion is that large numbers of young people are being left behind or excluded because of “family failings” (Gillies, 2012, p. 93), as a consequence of not having the requisite skills to enable them to make the transition from school into productive paid work. They need assistance through more clearly articulated and supported pathways. Sometimes the not-so-well-disguised agenda here is more about correcting malfunctions in the labor market than it is about repairing individual young people (see, for example, Chadderton & Colley, 2012). Raffe (2003) makes the point that “metaphors of travel and movement have pervaded policy and research on youth transitions” (p. 3) and he alludes to the “niches, pathways, trajectories and navigations” noted by Evans and Furlong (1997; see also Furlong, 2009, p. 343). In the 1960s the emphasis was upon fitting young people so that they could be slotted into labor market “niches” that were occurring as a result of rapid economic growth. With economic downturns, the metaphor changed to that of “pathways” conceived to be a way of ensuring that the most vulnerable young people were strategically steered from education into work. By the 1980s, the metaphor had shifted its research emphasis to that of “trajectories” as a way of describing the more complex and less linear ways young people were making more complicated transitions. By the 1990s, the metaphor had morphed yet again to that of “navigations” in which the emphasis was focused on the “opportunities” and resources being seized upon by young people themselves in making decisions within “constraints” (Raffe, 2003, p. 3). By 2015, Wyn and White (2015) argue that “the orthodoxy of youth transitions may have out lasted its usefulness” (p. 39).

Chadderton and Colley (2012) show from their research in England, that neoliberal policies have dramatically shifted the responsibility for young people making transitions to work, from the welfare state post the global financial crisis, to one in a context of hardening austerity measures in which young people themselves are now blamed because of their fecklessness as the impediment to the restoration of economic prosperity, as evidenced by the “growth of unemployment and precarious, low-paid work” (p. 330). As Colley and Hodkinson (2001) point out in other research, the genesis of this thinking lies paradoxically in the British Labour government’s Social Exclusion Unit (1999) report Bridging the Gap: New Opportunities for 16–18 Year Olds. The way Colley and Hodkinson (2001) put it, “Despite appearing to reinstate a concern for the social, it locates the causes of non-participation primarily within individuals and their personal deficits” with “deep-seated structural inequalities [. . . being] rendered invisible” (p. 335).

Simmons, Thompson, and Russell’s (2014) two-year ethnographic study of 24 marginalized NEET [not in employment, education or training] young people in work transition programs in post-industrial Britain, led them to conclude that contrary to popular belief, the disadvantaged youth they studied, far from being lazy, lacking in ambition, trouble-makers, or out of control, generally had “quite traditional aspirations, for a job, a home and a family life” (p. 2). Their problem lay in that they had become caught up in a conceptualization of “marginality” that resulted in them being placed in forms of education and training that amounted to them being “warehouse[d]” until some point in time when “the labour market has need of them” (p. 3). Where their research led them to was to a jettisoning of their original presumption “that doing something must be better than nothing” with regard to transitioning to work, to the more informed view that “poor,” temporary, short-term, revolving or “churning” (p. 228) forms of work with no future, “seemed little better [and possibly] even worse than exclusion” for the disadvantaged young people they studied (p. 219).

The point to be taken from all of this is that social inclusion has undergone a dramatic transformation (even reversal) of meaning, within the dominant labor market view of social inclusion.

Re-Engagement Programs for Young People Who Have “Dropped Out” of School

A second major theme within the educational social inclusion literature falls within the ambit of making re-entry into education possible for young people, mainly those from backgrounds designated as “disadvantaged,” who have found schools to be alienating places, and who are unable to develop a sense of attachment or “belonging.” These are young people who have been “eased” out or “propelled” out of school and who are not in learning or work. These programs are designed to lead these young people back into learning, and to become credentialed, and therefore attractive to employers. The irony is that these young people are often rehabilitated by deploying a very different set of educational and pedagogical conditions, quite contrary to those that caused them to become exiled in the first place.

McFadden (1996) has referred to such programs generically as “second chance” forms of education because of the way they are targeted at young people “considered previous failures in mainstream education” (p. 87). Indicative of the magnitude of this problem, Bridgeland, DiLulio, and Morison (2006) have referred to those young people who fall within the final stage of disengagement from schooling commonly known as “dropouts,” as constituting in the United States, a “silent epidemic,” so large is the problem of alienation and “disengagement” from schooling in that country. Second chance programs—or as they are sometimes known, educational re-entry, re-engagement, or even alternative schools—have become a major policy option for educational recuperation in most Western countries (see Thomson & Pennacchia, 2014). Engagement with, and success in, schooling, has long been regarded as essential to the well-being of young people, and it has been a prominent focus of international agencies like the OECD since the early 2000s (see Willms, 2003). The argument made is that reconnecting young people who have prematurely terminated their education, has a number of individual and social benefits that, broadly speaking, coalesce around them leading more satisfying and rewarding lives as a consequence. They become less inclined to be unemployed, be involved in crime or substance abuse, less likely to be homeless, and are likely to experience improved mental and physical health. It is also argued that as a consequence of their education they are more likely to be active citizens in the sense of adding to the national skills base, which presumably will contribute in a positive way to enhanced international economic competiveness.

The broad thrust of research into the nature and effect of re-engaging disengaged young people with education and learning, has tended to seek answers to three questions (see Smyth, Down, & McInerney, 2010; Smyth & McInerney, 2012; Smyth, McInerney, & Fish, 2013a, 2013b; Smyth & Robinson, 2015; te Riele, 2014):

  1. (i) What are the proximal or precipitating “causes” of young people becoming disconnected from schooling? That is to say, what were the conditions that led them to becoming propelled out of school?

  2. (ii) What is the nature of the conditions and the circumstances that have “enabled” them to resume their learning, and how do these conditions differ from the ones that led to them becoming “exiled” in the first place? That is to say, what is the relational and pedagogical nature of the recuperative conditions favorable to young people resuming learning?

  3. (iii) What have been the “effects” on their lives, of re-entry into learning—on their self-efficacy, vocational prospects, further education, feelings of connectedness to communities, and their general health and well-being?

Some of the most informative commentaries and research on educational re-engagement have come out of Australia (Hayes, 2011; McGregor, Martin, te Riele, & Hayes, 2015; McGregor & Mills, 2012; Mills & McGregor, 2013; Mills, Renshaw, & Zipin, 2013) and for good reasons (see Lamb, Jackson, Walstab, & Huo, 2015). A combination of factors seems to conspire to collectively contribute to disconnection from schooling—something that has become particularly exacerbated in the Australian context, with some parts of the country having less than 50% of young people completing secondary schooling—including a high level of rurality and remoteness; complex problems for indigenous first nations people (Keddie, 2013); declining regional areas due to globalization and the collapse of regional towns; historical areas of concentrated poverty; and, de-industrialization in large urban cities; along with the embrace of the neoliberal educational cascade (see Connell, 2013) that has been more pronounced in Australia than in almost any other country—all contribute to this form of social exclusion that takes the form of disengagement or disconnection from school.

Australian research on student re-engagement with learning tends to broadly adopt a sociological perspective (although not always, see, for example, KPMG, 2009), in contrast to the U.S. literature that is mostly of a psychological persuasion in its quest to locate and identify “risk factors” (Alexander, Entwisle, & Kabbani, 2001; Carver, Lewis, & Tice, 2010) that inhere in individual young people and their behavior (see, for example, Centre for Mental Health in Schools, UCLA, 2008), and tends to not have social inclusion as its primary focus. The American orientation is also in contrast to the United Kingdom, where many examples can readily be found that envisage educational re-engagement as an aspect of social inclusion. For example, Gallagher’s (2011) research in Belfast, Northern Ireland, of a center that operates against the background of a “somewhat fragile peace process” and that uses educational re-engagement as a way of benefiting socially disadvantaged young people who have been excluded from school and who “have yet to benefit from the peace process” (p. 445), is one example.

Area-Based Restorative Initiatives

A third major research theme on how to tackle social inclusion in the early 2000s, at least in the United Kingdom, and also followed in Australia (Department of Human Services, 2002), has been around what was termed “area-based initiatives” or neighborhood renewal approaches. The policy argument has been that poverty and exclusion have a spatial dimension to them, and the way to deal with these was through targeted “third way” or “joined-up” government approaches, which in effect that wrapped themselves around and enveloped “vulnerable” young people and repaired the deficits in their backgrounds, neighborhoods, and communities. According to Lupton (2010), this kind of thinking constituted a recognition that “educational disadvantage and educational outcomes are spatially patterned, and that the central state has a responsibility to correct this” (p. 111). The focus was on red-lining areas deemed to have the most exacerbated “disadvantage” and the most protracted histories as residualized or ghettoized communities that had been left out, and seeking to rehabilitate them by concentrated attempts to break the cycle of deprivation and poverty. Central to this approach was the view that previous endeavors had failed to improve the lives and situations of young and old in these afflicted communities because of dysfunctional and uncoordinated approaches on the part of government agencies. What was needed was a focus on the “clients” and their needs, and this had to be delivered as close to the point of need as possible—in the community. It was an approach that was well meaning but highly predicated on deficit views of the disadvantaged, and it was seen as part of a strategy to move people from their state of exclusion on the margins of society and into the mainstream. This area approach in Britain took the form of neighborhood renewal as expressed in the document emanating from the Social Exclusion Unit, entitled Bringing Britain Together: A National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal (SEU, 1998). The rationale, according to Lupton, citing from the SEU (2001) policy document, was “ameliorative” not “transformative”—“not to eliminate neighborhood disparities nor to turn all neighborhoods into ones that could be self sustaining without need for additional public spending, but to reduce differences between neighborhoods such that in 10-20 years ‘no-one should be seriously disadvantaged by where they live’”(SEU, 2001, emphasis added by Lupton, 2013, p. 3). According to Lupton (2013), neighborhood renewal was not primarily about economic regeneration but rather “It was clearly rooted in concerns about social exclusion and the multiple, interacting causes of deprivation and its rationale appeared to be social justice, in the sense of greater equity in the distribution of services, opportunities, and economic and social goods” (p. 3). Invoking the document at the time, Lupton summarized the intent thus: “‘people on low incomes should not have to suffer conditions and services that are failing and so different from what the rest of the population receives’ (SEU, 2001, p. 8). A particularly strong emphasis was placed on living conditions—crime and neighborhood environments, such that “‘all neighborhoods in the country should be free of fear,’ and ‘we should not have neighborhoods where so many people’s number one priority is to move out’” (SEU, 2001, p. 24) (p. 3).

As Smyth and McInerney (2014) note of the Australian variant of Neighbourhood Renewal, as enacted in the state of Victoria, the initiative was designed to alleviate growing inequality by overcoming fragmentary approaches by government through “building more cohesive communities and reducing inequalities” (Klein, 2004, p. 21). The intent in Victoria, like its counterpart in Britain, was to “re-engage communities that are excluded from the political mainstream” (Klein, 2004, p. 28) by linking social investment by government to a six-point “joined up” or “whole of government” approach designed to do the following:

  • Increase people’s pride and participation in their community.

  • Lift employment and learning opportunities and expand local economies.

  • Enhance housing and physical environment.

  • Improve personal safety and reduce crime.

  • Promote health and well-being.

  • Increase access to services and improve government responsiveness. (Klein, 2004, p. 21)

Parallel and related to the neighborhood renewal approach in England were Educational Action Zones (EAZs), which in the words of the policy document at the time—were to be the “standard bearers in a new crusade uniting business, schools, local educational authorities and parents to modernize education in areas of social deprivation” (DfEE, 1998a, 1998b). The theory behind EAZs, and they had earlier counterparts in France (see Bénaboua, Kramarz, & Prost, 2009), was that people suffering deprivation experience social injustice of three types—“economic,” “cultural,” and “associational” (Power & Gewirtz, 2001, p. 39)—and that what is required to address these multiple forms of exclusion are processes that increase participation from within communities and neighborhoods through “bottom up” (p. 39) approaches. What was, and remains contentious about EAZs and place-based interventions generally (see Power, Rees, & Taylor, 2005), as a way of promoting social inclusion, is that they are heavily presaged by the view that enhancing the participation of the “excluded,” along with more effective service delivery, will enable these people to transgress and surmount the exclusionary boundary that is impeding them. This kind of thinking can also be seen in the notion of the full-service extended idea (Dyson, 2011; Raffo & Dyson, 2007) that coordinated one-stop service hubs attached to schools and that provided health, housing, welfare, employment, and other support services—would enable excluded people, especially the young, to break through the restraints confronting them. In summary, the rationale as put by Raffo and Dyson (2007) for full-service extended schools was that

(i) Schools in ‘disadvantaged’ communities working in isolation cannot bring about change on their own—the school needs to be made ‘the hub of change’ (274); (ii) people in local communities need to be involved in decision-making; (iii) learning opportunities preferably of a lifelong kind across age groups through a ‘Community Learning Centre’ (274) need to be made available; (iv) to kick start the paid employment trajectory, job opportunities that are attentive to difficulties being experienced need to be provided (274); and (v) improvement occurs through raising ‘confidence, self-esteem and sense of control that would impact on children in local families and hence on learning within the school’ (274).

(Smyth & McInerney, 2014, p. 288).

Even in the early stages in Britain, researchers were expressing major reservations about the efficacy of area-based initiatives. Parkinson (1998), in a study of comparative programs in Europe—in France in over 200 cities, Netherlands 26 cities, Denmark 6 cities, and Ireland 38 cities—concluded that there were major strategic challenges in making this approach work, among them that the “overall architecture of urban policy [which was] becoming increasingly confused” (p. 4), with considerable difficulties in mobilizing the resources, securing inter-agency support, and maintaining the political will—all of which did not augur well. His conclusion:

Area-based programmes are valuable ways of addressing the problem of social exclusion once it has emerged. But in responding to social exclusion, the wider comparative lesson is that prevention, rather than cure, is the more intelligent strategy.

(Parkinson, 1998, p. 4)

Notwithstanding the perceived benefits of tackling school-related forms of social inclusion through more inclusionary approaches of “joined up” ways, Halpin, Dickson, Power, Whitty and Gerwirtz’s (2004) research into EAZs in England found that it was not that the approach “is a poor one, but rather that its implementation ‘at the street level’ presents enormous challenges” (p. 83)—including “long-standing structural compartmentalisation of agencies . . . strong boundary maintenance that hinders effective welfare provision . . . limited amounts of funds . . . [and] the dominant nature of partnership agreements” (p. 83). At the heart of the problem, Halpin and his colleagues highlighted the inability of schools and policy makers to develop “‘real’ as opposed to mere ‘paper’ partnerships” (p. 84) in a wider policy context that was actively promoting a process of pitting schools against each other in a marketized quest to attract students. As they concluded, trying to promote collaboration between schools and other agencies to improve the educational lives of disadvantaged children in such a “quasi-market infrastructure and its associated culture of school choice is . . . antithetical to this form of joined-up activity . . .” (p. 84).

Some of the Unresolved Tensions and Remaining Research Questions Within a Social Inclusion Approach to Education

While many of the initiatives alluded to here, especially in relation to those cited from the United Kingdom, might have the seemingly enlightened appearance of addressing young people’s needs and vulnerabilities as expressed in the form of social exclusion, simultaneous and contradictory legislative strategies such as those embodied in the “Anti-social behaviour orders” in the Crime and Disorder Act (UK Government, 2000 [1998]), have had the reverse effect of shifting the focus and blame away from the vulnerabilities afflicting young lives, by recasting exclusion as having to do with young people’s behavior and social responsibility.

The research cited here has identified that the problem with social inclusion in the context of education is not that it is not a well-meaning idea, but rather that it has deep conceptual and practical problems associated with it. As alluded to at the start, the major unresolved tension in the area of social inclusion is between the “weak” and the “strong” version—that is to say, the version that would have us believe that the core problem is one of altering “handicapping characteristics” of people with a view to enabling them to cross some invisible social boundary, and a “stronger” version that argues that what has to be confronted are issues of how power is deployed, by whom, in what ways, and with what exclusionary effects. This gives rise to a number of questions that need to be addressed, such as the following:

  • What conditions will have to be brought into existence to make it possible for a shift of research emphasis from “weak” versions of social inclusion, to ones that have an overwhelming focus on the “strong” version?

  • Given the current level of policy incoherence that rhetorically proclaims a commitment to social inclusion in education, while demonstrably propagating highly damaging and exclusionary policies on the lives of young people—how are we to deal with this empirically and politically?

  • More to the point, how are we going to undertake research that cries out for sociologically informed perspectives to uncover the meaning of what it means to be included, in an environment that is interested only in listening to and supporting forms of research that measure and calibrate the problem?

  • Finally, the research that still remains to be done is of a kind that casts light from the vantage point of those who are excluded based on the following: who is excluded, about what, by whom, in what ways, and with what consequences; and more importantly, what does it feel like to finally be included, after a lifetime of exclusion?

What still remains to be done then, is to carry forward the critiques of social inclusion that raise the question alluded to by Bowring (2000) about the “shame-inducing failure” (p. 315) of groups deemed as not complying with dominant social conventions. If that broader critique is “constrained to defend the conventions of existing society, it is in danger of leaving the cultural hegemony of capitalism intact” (Bowring, 2000, p. 327)—which is to say, leaving uninterrupted the power of the very groups who do the defining of what constitutes “exclusion.” Of necessity, disrupting this will have to involve much more, the voices of those who have hitherto been excluded.


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