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social exclusion

  A situation in which certain members of a society are, or become, separated from much that comprises the normal \'round\' of living and working within that society. While often envisaged in abstractly social terms, relative to the levels of material resources, well-being and social activity typical of most citizens within a society, exclusion can also be thought of as a situation which is simultaneously social and spatial. Indeed, excluded individuals will tend to slip outside, or even become unwelcome visitors within, those spaces which come to be regarded as the loci of \'mainstream\' social life (e.g. middle-class suburbs, up-market shopping malls, prime public space).

The notion of \'social exclusion\' has recently been popularized in a policy sense, initially through its widespread use in a European context and more recently through the establishment by the British government of a Social Exclusion Unit. The working definition favoured in policy circles becomes: \'the outcome of processes and/or factors which bar access to participation in civil society\' (Eisenstadt and Witcher, 1998, p. 6). The emphasis goes beyond conventional income-based indicators of poverty, and incorporates additional issues such as \'access to legal justice, the labour market and political processes\'. (Criticisms have arisen from those who regard this new emphasis on \'the socially excluded\' as simply revising older, prejudicial notions such as the underclass and the \'undeserving poor\': e.g. Samers, 1998.) Interestingly, policy analysts and others are noting that \'[s]ocial exclusion may have a geographical dimension\', leading them to highlight the experiences of individuals, groups and communities who are socially and spatially \'isolated\' in one way or another. (See poverty, geography of; and also Philo, 1995.) There are important links here to academic work on \'financial exclusion\', which stresses the growing withdrawal of financial assistance from certain peoples and places as a result of an insistent \'restructuring for profit\' by banks, building societies, insurance agencies and other financial services (see Fuller, 1998; Leyshon and Thrift, 1995).

An academic geographical concern for socio-spatial exclusion predates the current upshot of policy interest, though, and can be traced to Sibley\'s innovative Outsiders in urban societies (Sibley, 1981). Through substantive studies of \'Gypsies\', \'travellers\' and the North American Inuit, Sibley anticipated a new tradition of research into excluded minority (\'other\') social groupings which has greatly enlarged the purview of social geography (Philo, 1986). All manner of peoples who stand outside of the socio-spatial \'mainstream\', on whatever grounds, have now had their \'exclusionary geographies\' traced, critiqued and theorized (and perhaps alternatives suggested): and it is hence possible to identify works in this vein tackling women, people of colour, sexual \'dissidents\', children and elderly people, disabled and chronically ill people, unemployed and homeless people, people with particular religious, political and other world-views, and many others. Commonly, these are peoples who suffer stigmatization because of who they are, what they do and how they look, and who are thereby positioned on socio-spatial margins, both through their own choices (to avoid hostility) and because of wilful pressures on them to do so (as exerted by an unaccommodating \'mainstream\'). Various attempts have been made to conceptualize the forces underlying such socio-spatial exclusion, notably Sibley\'s (1995) Geographies of exclusion, which deploys psychoanalytic arguments about the inherent will of the \'self\' to distance itself from all that it perceives as \'other\' (as alien, impure, polluting and \'abject\'). Sibley speculates that such psychodynamics, as fostered in individual psyches, then translate into wider socio-spatial configurations which set up lines of socio-spatial exclusion between \'selves\' who reckon themselves to be essentially similar (\'the same\') and those identified as fundamentally \'other\' (and who suffer from being \'othered\'). (See also psychoanalytic theory, geography and; also Wilton, 1998.) A recent theme issue of Geoforum (Sibley, 1998) brings together many of these substantive and conceptual themes, as well as referencing the recent policy interest in social exclusion. (CP)

References Eisenstadt, N. and Witcher, S. 1998: Social exclusion and poverty. Outlook: The Quarterly Journal of the National Council of Voluntary Child Care Organisations, no. 1: 6-7. Fuller, D. 1998: Credit union development: financial inclusion and exclusion. Geoforum 29: 145-58. Leyshon, A. and Thrift, N.J. 1995: Geographies of financial exclusion: financial abandonment in Britain and the United States. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 20: 312-41. Philo, C. 1986: \'The Same and the Other\': on geographies, madness and \'outsiders\'. Loughborough: Loughborough University of Technology, Department of Geography, Occasional Paper, no. 11. Philo, C., ed., 1995: Off the map: the social geography of poverty in the UK. London: Child Poverty Action Group. Samers, M. 1998: Immigration, \'ethnic minorities\' and \'social exclusion\' in the European Union: a critical perspective. Geoforum 29: 123-44. Sibley, D. 1981: Outsiders in urban societies. Oxford: Blackwell. Sibley, D. 1995: Geographies of exclusion: society and difference in the west. London: Routledge. Sibley, D., ed., 1998: Theme issue on \'Social Exclusion\'. Geoforum 29: no. 2. Wilton, R.D. 1998: The constitution of difference: space and psyche in landscapes of exclusion. Geoforum 29: 173-85.



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