Thursday, October 18, 2007



Social Inclusion, Citizenship and Diversity

By Professor Anver Saloojee, Department of Politics and School of Public Administration, Ryerson Polytechnic University.

The utility of the concept social inclusion will depend on the extent and degree to which it successfully deals with social exclusion and the extent to which it promotes social cohesion in a society that is fractured along numerous fault lines.

It was quite clear from the one focus group I attended, that while social inclusion mattered, what matted more to the participants was to engage in a dialogue about the various manifestations of racism as important expressions of social exclusion. For the participants a discussion of social inclusion had to await a more fulsome discussion of racism, sexism and poverty. Thus for social inclusion to matter, for it to resonate, it must provide space for a discussion of oppression and discrimination. Social inclusion has to take its rightful place not along a continuum (from exclusion to inclusion), but as emerging out of a thorough analysis of exclusion. It has to simultaneously transcending the limits of essentialism, critique hierarchies of oppression and promote a transformative agenda that links together the various, often disparate struggles against oppression, inequality and injustices. And the glue that would bind these social movements together is a kind of inclusion that would lead to the creation of a more just and equitable society. In this conceptualization, social inclusion can provide a coherent critique of the multiple forms of social injustices and the concomitant institutional policies and practices.

Social Inclusion as a critique of Social Exclusion:

As we are all aware, the origin of social exclusion terminology can be traced back to France in the early 1970s as a response to the problems of sustaining adequate living conditions for those left behind by economic growth (Ebersold 1998). By 1989 European Economic Community (EEC) began to link social exclusion with inadequate realization of social rights. In 1990 the European Observatory on National Policies for Combating Social Exclusion was established to look at “the basic rights of citizenship to a basic standard of living and to participation in major social and economic opportunities in society” (Cousins as cited in Barata 2000: 1).

The concept of social exclusion is highly compelling because it speaks the language of oppression and enables the marginalized and the victimized to give voice and expression to the way in which they experience globalization, the way in which they experience market forces and the way in which they experience liberal democratic society. The concept of social exclusion resonates with many including those who:

· Are denied access to the valued goods and services in society because of their race, gender, religion, disability etc,

· Lack adequate resources to be effective, contributing members of society; and

· Those who are not recognized as full and equal participants in society.

The roots of exclusion are deep, historical and indeed are continually reproduced in both old and new ways in contemporary society. Freiler has identified multiple and varied sources of exclusion including:

· Structural/economic (iniquitous economic conditions; low wages, dual and segregated labour markets etc);

· Historical oppression (colonialism);

· Discrimination

· The absence of legal/political recognition

· Institutional/civic non acceptance;

· Self-exclusion (Freiler, 2001: 13).

Walker and Walker comment on the wide scope of social exclusion and define it as “a comprehensive formulation, which refers to the dynamic process of being shut out, fully or partially, from any of the social, economic, political or cultural systems which determine the social integration of a person in a society” (Walker and Walker, 1997: 8). Exclusion is very much a lived experience and can be quantified. For Rogers (1995: 45) this dynamic process of being shut out can be diagnosed and measured as patterns of exclusion which affect individuals and groups in six key areas:

· Exclusion from goods and services including material goods and services (education healthcare etc);

· Labour market exclusions (unemployment, underemployment and employment in low paying unstable employment);

· Exclusion from land (homelessness, housing and unsettled land claims);

· Exclusion from security including physical security;

· Exclusion from human rights (discrimination, non-acceptance by mainstream culture); and

· Exclusion from macro-economic development strategy (the adverse effects of the market and restructuring policies. In the developing world this would also include the effects of structural adjustment policies).

Clearly, exclusion results in economic, social, political and cultural disadvantage. Those who are included have access to valued goods and services in society while those who are excluded do not. In turn, those who are disadvantaged, marginalized and “Othered” in society do not have access to valued goods and services and are consequently excluded. There is therefore a mutually reinforcing relationship between exclusion and disadvantage and it is necessary to both unpack that relationship and to address each of its multiple manifestations in order to break what I would call the “vicious cycle of exclusion and disadvantage”. The answer to this lies with political struggle.

The structural processes of exclusion have engendered in those excluded the struggle for legitimacy and “place claiming. This is the dawn of a new type of politics. The struggle for example, by ethno-racial communities for the redistribution of power and resources takes a non-class specific dimension. And herein lies the political value of social inclusion. It posits the radical alternative to exclusion and is a viable political (and if you will public policy) response to exclusion. The politics of difference, identity politics is about an inclusive democracy that places issues of inclusivity and social justice at the heart of the urban question. The city in the era of globalization is the locus of economic, political and administrative power. It is also the locus of citizenship and it is essential to recognize that the very definition of the public sphere and citizenship in the urban environment is contested by marginalized groups. There is no single public sphere, no single acceptable notion of citizenship and no single notion of social cohesion. There are instead multiple “counterpublic” spheres in which marginalized groups develop their own sense of cohesion to contest oppression, discrimination and exclusion. According to Fraser:

historiography records that members of subordinated social groups - women, workers, people of colour, and gays and lesbians - have repeatedly found it advantageous to constitute alternative publics…subaltern counterpublics in order to signal that they are parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests and needs. (Fraser, 1996: 123).

These counterpublics posit a different understanding of space, citizenship and social cohesion. And in positing this different and alternate understanding, they are challenging the dominant discourse and accentuating the politics of difference that puts issues of inequality and social justice at the heart of a reclaimed social inclusion. When marginalized groups contest notions of rights and conceptions of citizenship they are simultaneously seeking an alternative. It is in housing, and employment, it is service delivery and in political and administrative representation that these issues are hotly contested and the quest for an alternative is sought. And the alternative is about much more than simply the removal of barriers to their participation as equals free from discrimination.

Social Inclusion and Citizenship

In the narrow sense citizenship is exclusionary. It is about who is a citizen of a nation state and what bundle of rights that citizen can exercise and it is about what that citizen is entitled to as a member of the nation state. In the realm of formal equality the laws, the constitutions, the human rights codes proclaim the equality of all citizens. In this realm, it is just that citizens should be equally entitled to certain rights typically associated with a democracy - the right to vote, to freedom of association, freedom of religion etc.

Social Inclusion forces us to go beyond the realm of formal equality and into the realm of substantive equality which is characterized by discrimination, exclusion and inequality. Social inclusion begins from the premise that it is democratic citizenship that is at risk when a society fails to develop the talents and capacities of all its members. The move to social inclusion is eroded when the rights of minorities are not respected and accommodated and minorities feel “Othered”. For social inclusion there is no contradiction between democratic citizenship and differentiated citizenship (where people can hold dual and even multiple loyalties).

In response to this reality there arose a demand among advocates for minority rights that laws and policies that were blind to differences could, despite their intentions be discriminatory. It was the Abella report that advanced the notion that equality does not mean sameness and that equality means that we have to treat differences differently. Advancing minority rights it is argued by some will have a corrosive effect on “citizenship”. It will politicize ethnicity and race and detract from the emergence of a national identity. Further it will lead to hyphenation and ultimately only reinforce the very exclusion that minority rights advocates were fighting against. What these critics fail to appreciate is the significant power and privilege enjoyed by the majority and denied to others because of their race, disability or gender. This is what Weinfeld was referring to: “…the ideals behind the rhetoric of multiculturalism have not been attained…Canadian native people and other non-whites continue to be victimized, a fact reflected in economic inequality or in patterns of social exclusion, abuse, and degredation” (Weinfeld, 1981: 69).

It is the pervasiveness of prejudice directed at disadvantaged groups and the widespread existence of discrimination that have contributed to the fragmentation, hyphenation and insularity. The major contributing factors to what Bibby calls "mosaic madness" is not the demands of minority groups rather it is the existence of racism and sexism. Racial minority groups are the latest in a long line of equity seeking groups who are tapping into the broader liberal commitment to equality and social justice. The Supreme Court of Canada noted that minority rights do not erode democratic citizenship, rather “The accommodation of differences is the essence of true equality” (cited by Kymlicka and Norman 1999: 33).

The value of social inclusion is that it fully capable of meeting the greatest challenges posed by diversity - to build on the traditions of equality espoused in liberalism and to move to the incorporation of the ideals of anti racism and anti-discrimination as core ideals exemplifying national values. Social inclusion is capable of this because it is about respect for differences and it is about the removal of barriers to effective and equitable participation in all spheres of public life. And it about more than this. It is about engaging in inclusive practices, it is about continuous evaluations of institutional, laws, policies, and practices to ensure that they promote social inclusion. Thus it is about evaluation for the purpose of public accountability.

Social Inclusion and Social Cohesion

Social cohesion is clearly not the same as social inclusion. The former does not necessarily ensure the latter, for multiple forms of exclusion can exist in a cohesive society. Nonetheless, the crucial questions persists: cohesion around what vision and inclusion to what? Are we talking about assimilation? Is this a new way of managing state minority relation? Is this “Anglo conformity” or even “multiculturalism” in a new guise? As Kymlicka and Norman point out there have been major disputes both about the legitimacy of assimilation as a way of eliminating differences, and about multiculturalism as the official recognition of differences (1999: 14-16). Social inclusion recognizes that identity formation is a complex phenomenon. For example, identity formation and social cohesion of immigrant groups in the urban environment is mediated by their histories in the sending countries, state in the host country and its multicultural practices, and is also mediated by the reality of discrimination and exclusion. In the case of Canada, an official policy of multicultural is an attempt by the state to significantly determine the nature of state /minority relations within a liberal tradition that promotes equality. The state through its multicultural policies encourages group social cohesion (preservation of cultured and language). Retention of cultural, linguistic and religious differences in a multicultural society is important in celebrating differences. However it became readily apparent to many groups that while they were developing internal social cohesion they were, at a broader level, consigned to the margins and excluded from the centres of decision making. Minority culture was not seen as part of the mainstream culture. Further there was appearing on the political horizon a backlash against celebrating difference. The dominant discourse was being framed around issues of national unity and whether unity can be forged through promoting differences.

In 1999 the City of Toronto, released a report that identity formation and social cohesion in the city was being eroded by the exclusion and marginalization experienced by many immigrant groups: “If the situation [of underrepresentation in decision making] is not addressed, as well as the incidents of hate activity and discriminatory practices and prejudicial attitudes that unfortunately continue to plague our city. It can only lead to a growing sense of frustration. (Toronto Star, June 7, 1999). Discrimination, prejudice, exclusion, marginalization in an ostensibly multicultural, multiracial city forms the context in which the search for identity and social cohesion is experienced. Representation and participation is public institutions and civic life is critical to the development of social cohesion but they constitute only one important indicator of social inclusion.

This recognition of exclusion and discrimination then prompted a reflexive or what Castells calls a “defensive” assertion of identity (Castells, 1997). The assertion of an identity against discrimination and exclusion in turn creates a sense of social cohesion that is no longer rooted simply in the desire to hold on to that which is unique. Rather social cohesion cuts across inter group identity and intra group solidarity to challenge the dominant discourse. This is precisely what Giddens is referring to when he talks of “dialogic democracy” based on a mutual respect, a shared understanding of the effects of exclusion and marginalization and the emergence of solidarity: “Dialogic democracy…concerns furthering of cultural cosmopolitanism and is a prime building block of that connection of autonomy and solidarity…dialogic democracy encourages the democratization of democracy within the sphere of the liberal-democratic polity.” (Giddens, 112).

Social inclusion is precisely about this democratization of democracy. By developing a new way of approaching old problems, by positing a radically different conception of citizenship and community, by arguing for new measures of accountability, by providing the impetus for the emergences of new modes of evaluations of public policies, by arguing for increased representation and participation by marginalized groups and above all by encouraging the development of skills talents and capacities of all social inclusion will democratize democracy.

The growth of the multicultural multiracial nation therefore is producing the conditions for the emergence of a new sense of social inclusion, what David Held calls a “cosmopolitan democracy” (Held, 1995: 226-231) that recognizes differences, respects differences and that argues for substantive equality and not just formal equality.

Making Social Inclusion Compelling

Benick and Saloojee (1996) defined an inclusive learning environment as one that “fosters the full personal, academic and professional development of all students. It is one that is free of harassment and discrimination … it is about respecting students and valuing them as partners… “ (1996: 2). Despite its narrow focus this definition comes close to Freiler’s notion of social inclusion as a process that encourages the development of talents, skills and capacities necessary for children and youth to participate in the social and economic mainstream of community life (2001: 8-10). What makes a discourse on social inclusion more compelling than one on exclusion is the following:

· Social inclusion is the political response to exclusion. Most analyses of racism and sexism for example, focus on the removal of systemic barriers to effective participation and focus on equality of opportunity. These analyses tend to be essentialist and consequently are unable to develop a comprehensive vision that cuts across all the areas of injustice. Social inclusion is about more that the removal of barriers it is about the comprehensive vision that includes all.

· Social inclusion is proactive. It is about anti-discrimination. It is not about the passive protection of rights it is about the active intervention to promote rights and it confers responsibility on the state to adopt policies that will ensure social inclusion of all members of society (not just formal citizens, or consumers or taxpayers or clients).

· Social inclusion, by virtue of the fact that it is both process and outcome can hold governments and institutions accountable for their policies. The yardstick by which to measure good government therefore becomes the extent to which it advances the wellbeing of the most vulnerable and the most marginalized in society.

· Social inclusion is about advocacy and transformation. It is about the political struggle and the political will to remove barriers to full and equitable participation in society by all. Further the vision of social inclusion is a positive vision that binds its proponents and adherents to action.

· Social inclusion is embracing. It posits a notion of democratic citizenship as opposed to formal citizenship. Democratic citizens possess rights and entitlements by virtue of their being a part of the polity not by virtue of their formal status (as immigrants, refugees, or citizens).

Social inclusion is about social cohesion plus, it is about citizenship plus, it is about the removal of barriers plus, it is anti-essentialist plus, it is about rights and responsibilities plus, it is about accommodation of differences plus, it is about democracy plus, and it is about a new way of thinking about the problems of injustice, inequalities and exclusion plus. It is the combination of the various pluses that make the discourse on social inclusion so incredibly exciting.


The intersection of an anti-oppression discourse with social inclusion as process and outcome is incredibly powerful impetus to social change and social cohesion. It presents a radical alternative to the dominant discourse that is steeped in liberal notions of formal equality. In the context of accommodating differences and promoting heterogeneous social cohesion there is space for the state to intervene to ensure equal treatment (equality of opportunity). Within a liberal discourse, a societal commitment to equality of opportunity ensures that all members of society are provided with the opportunity to develop their talents and capacities and secure the valued goods and services free from discrimination.

In the urban environment this requires a fundamental movement from tolerating diverse cultures to recognizing and respecting them. Social inclusion is fully capable of both recognizing the politics of difference and transcending its narrow confines precisely because it embrace an inclusive vision that suggests common purpose and shared community can be achieved through inter-group solidarity. Coalition politics comprising groups representing the “counterpublics” is now producing the conditions for the vision of social inclusion to be embraced more readily. There has never been a better time to embrace the concept of social inclusion than now. September 11 has demonstrated to us the fragility of a nation built on tolerance. We will be a much stronger country if we embrace social inclusion as a transformative tool and as a normative ideal.(

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