This paper addresses several ambiguities in the social exclusion literature that fuel the common criticism that the concept is redundant with respect to already existing poverty approaches, particularly more multidimensional and processual approaches such as relative or capability deprivation. It is argued that these ambiguities arise from the fact that social exclusion is generally not differentiated from poverty, even though it is widely acknowledged that social exclusion can occur in the absence of poverty. In order to resolve these ambiguities, I propose a re-conceptualisation of social exclusion in a way that is not grounded with reference to norms and thus is not dependent on poverty for definition. Social exclusion is defined as structural, institutional or agentive processes of repulsion or obstruction. This definition is meant to give attention to processes of disadvantage (i.e. exclusionary processes), which can occur across a social hierarchy from any social position, rather than states of deprivation (i.e. the excluded) occurring at the bottom of a social hierarchy. I argue that this resolves most of the contention surrounding the concept. However, it also requires making a decisive shift of analytical dimension and abandoning much of the conceptual baggage that surrounds the term. In other words, if the social exclusion approach is to provide analytical value-added over and above the relative and capability deprivation approaches, it must be differentiated from poverty, thereby drawing attention to vertically-occurring processes that are not captured by the horizontal conceptualisation of poverty. This understanding is important because it corrects the common implicit tendency in much of the literature to blame inequality-induced conflict on the poor, even though we know that conflict usually involves considerable elite participation. An understanding of exclusion that is not anchored in poverty is therefore an important step in theorising why the non-poor may also come to be aggrieved by rising inequality.

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London School of Economics and Political Science
ISS Staff Group 4: Rural Development, Environment and Population
London School of Economics and Political Science. Development Studies Institute. Working Paper Series
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Fischer, A. M. (2008). Resolving the Theoretical Ambiguities of Social Exclusion with reference to Polarisation and Conflict. London School of Economics and Political Science. Development Studies Institute. Working Paper Series (Vol. 8–90, pp. 1–31). Retrieved from