chapter  1
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2 The individual’s experience

This chapter will focus on agency and the individual’s experience of social exclusion. Whilst it is evident that the three levels are inextricably linked, the purpose of this section is to disentangle the experience of the socially excluded from the community and wider society in order to understand and explore the process of exclusion/inclusion for the individual. Social exclusion has a number of dimensions including the economic (concerned with income, employment and the labour market and the production of and/or access to goods and services including housing, health and education), the social (including participation in decision-making and opportunity for social participation), the political (civil and political rights and citizenship) and the spatial. Each of these can be related to the individual and the individual’s relationship with the State and society (Bhalla and Lapeyre 1997). An individual who is not socially excluded is not necessarily ‘included’.

Likewise, social inclusion does not imply social connectedness. Social connectedness refers to the relationships people have with others and the community (Ministry of Social Development 2007). The process of social connectedness is linked to social fabric and capital whereby multiple dimensions interact to create connectedness. Whilst an individual may be excluded, they may also experience strong social networks and connections. The mechanisms that influence social exclusion are linked to one’s social capital. Social capital is a collective notion with its origins in individual behaviour, attitudes and predispositions (Brehm and Rahn 1997). Social capital facilitates individuals to gain (or lose) access to resources (Szreter and Woolcock 2004). It can be conceptualised as one of the building blocks that bond together individuals and communities. We return to this issue in Chapter 1.5. Social exclusion of individuals is often based on assumptions of deviant

behaviour and has often been conceptualised in terms of an ‘underclass’ which is confined to behavioural or biological representation of the lowest stratum of society (Martin 2004). The ‘excluded’ have traditionally included, but are not limited to, the unemployed, the poorly educated, the homeless, single parents, those with a disability, mental illness or substance use problem and criminals. Social exclusion has its roots in the labour market and economic wealth where an individual was either ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’. The

deserving were seen as those unable to support themselves such as the sick and elderly and the undeserving were those who in theory should have been able to support themselves. The latter group are assumed to be one or more of idle, lazy and criminal, and were subjected to punitive policies of control designed to force them into employment and self-sufficiency. This labelling can be seen throughout history and is evident in the English Poor Law Act of 1601 (Alcock 1997). However, over time, and as a result of welfare reform, the distinction of the excluded has shifted. The individual’s experience or process of exclusion may be voluntary or

involuntary (Burchardt et al. 1999). The latter refers to the ‘otherness’ of individuals that experience disadvantage due to gender, age, ability, employment status, government policy or legislation, social norms and values and so forth. The voluntarily excluded refers to those individuals who choose to exclude or disconnect themselves from society. Burchardt et al. (1999) propose five dimensions by which to measure an individual’s social exclusion: participation in activities of consumption, savings, production, politics and social. These are influenced by an individual’s characteristics (e.g. health or education levels), life events, characteristics of the area in which one lives, and social, civil and political institutions of society. Chapter 2.14 by Barter-Godfrey and Taket returns to the issues of othering, marginalisation and pathways to exclusion in health. The excluded are not a homogenous group; rather they are heterogeneous,

crossing sociological lines, beliefs, cultures, political or religious affiliation and so forth. As such it is difficult and problematic to identify and describe the excluded in definitive terms. Individuals may experience exclusion in some aspects or times of their lives but in others feel complete inclusion. Whilst the critical realist approach allows for the empirical testing of theories of social exclusion, such an approach must first recognise that the language of exclusion and inclusion implies a dualism whereby one is either included or excluded. Such language is suggestive of people being excluded in relation to a particular variable or factor (O’Reilly 2005). Of course this raises the question of, if one is not excluded does that mean one is included? Rather than such a dualistic approach, exclusion should be seen as a continuum whereby individuals are positioned along a fluid continuum of absolute inclusion through to absolute exclusion, in terms of specific contexts. Thus, the positioning of any particular individual at a particular time in a particular context can be characterised as a multiple combination of inclusion and exclusion. Individual agency operates at the micro-level in social exclusion and con-

nection. The focus often is on the present experience of being socially excluded or connected and the behaviours, values, preferences and psychological factors associated with individual inclusion or exclusion. Status, class and consequence of life-choices are conceptualised as both the pathways to, and outcomes of, social exclusion. Bhalla and Lapeyre (1997) posit that individual citizens have the right to a certain basic standard of living and the right to participate in the major social and occupational institutions of the society.

Their arguments link individual behaviour, capacity for action and structural constraints and suggest that social exclusion occurs when individuals suffer from disadvantage and are unable to secure these social rights (Bhalla and Lapeyre 1997). Young (n.d.) posits that there are three basic positions in relation to agency. First, the victim blaming approach whereby the individual is ‘blamed’ for their own exclusion. Then there is the failure of the system, lack of employment opportunities, and thereby a lack of role models, which lead to social isolation. This is explored further by Stagnitti and Jennings in Chapter 2.8 in which they demonstrate how improving the reading skills of disadvantaged children lead to much greater levels of connectedness for whole families. The final position is that which sees the downsizing of industry, the stigmatisation of the workless, and the stereotyping of an underclass which is criminogenic, drug ridden with images which are frequently racialised and prejudiced as actively creating the excluded (Young n.d.). It is important to recognise that each of these three positions offers room for the exercise of individual agency; however there are often different moral understandings in operation in the different discourses attached to these positions (O’Reilly 2005).