Social Exclusion theory first came up in the political realm of France during the 1960s. The term was used to describe new social problems and those who were poor after post-war economic growth had begun to slow down in Europe (Ottmann, 2010). Since then the theory has evolved to describe a variety of social groups and individuals, as well as encompass various forms of social disadvantage.
Today the theory describes that exclusion happens when a group is disenfranchised and denied political, economic, cultural and social opportunities. This could be affiliated with a variety of areas such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, political affiliation, class, income and geographic location.
Disenfranchisement is a term used when describing exclusion. It describes exclusion as multi-dimensional process that detaches individuals and groups from social relations and institutions which are part of the prescribed activities in a society. It is also created when you combine a variety of factors that come from both informal and formal areas of society. This could include social customs, prejudices and social mis-trust.
A Continuum of Experience
Social exclusion is a multi-dimensional process and affects individuals and groups at varying degrees. Literature describes that exclusion exists on a continuum and is based on a variety of factors. There are various points to the degree of exclusion that an individual, group or community may encounter and this can shift as they engage in society.
At a societal level exclusion reflects inadequate social cohesion and integration. Experiencing exclusion is closely related to poverty. However, a main component of exclusion theory is that it cannot be reduced to a lack of material resources available to participate in a society but that it is an issue of who is in or out. All forms of social exclusion point to a decline of social solidarity and can undermine the welfare state (Ottmann, 2010).
It is difficult to find a single unifying theme that encompasses all the possible categories of social exclusion. This has been one of the challenges for policy creation when trying to address a very multi-faceted circumstance. The definitions can change based on the world-view that is being utilized or the context (individual, community, international). Definitions also focus on wether it is internal or external exclusion (please see section on current discourse).
One definition provided by the United Nations Development Program describes Social Exclusion as the following:
Individuals, social groups, or geographical areas can be considered socially excluded if they experience political, economic and/or social disadvantages, lack of confidence, a sense of powerlessness or a degree of social alienation, resulting from a combination of interrelated problems, such as regional disparities, unemployment, poor professional or social skills, low incomes, poorhousing, high crime and violence levels or identification with a minority group.