Social Justice, Education, and Identity

By Carol Vincent | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

Education and community health

Identity, social justice and lifestyle issues in communities

Lyn Tett


Social exclusion and social justice

'Social exclusion' has come into common parlance recently, particularly through its use in a number of EU, UK and Scottish policy documents (CEC, 2000; DfEE, 1998; Scottish Executive, 1998).

[However,] the excluded do not constitute a defined group in the population: there is no single clear-cut definition of 'social exclusion'. Categories such as the 'unskilled', 'ethnic minorities', 'the unemployed' cover a range of circumstances.… So 'exclusion' does not bring a precise target into view but a range of associated issues.

(OECD, 1999:15-16)

Generally the term has been associated with the long-established and deep-rooted problems of poverty and unemployment that have been exacerbated by growing social and economic inequalities. In response to these problems the stated aim of the social inclusion policies of governments that are designed to bring about social justice is to ensure that all citizens, whatever their social or economic background, have opportunities to participate fully in society and enjoy a high quality of life. These rather bland and meaningless phrases have been used to argue that education and lifelong learning have a central role to play in this process. This is because it is suggested that lifelong learning programmes have the potential to 'change people's lives, even transform them' (Fryer 1997:24) and give excluded people an economic and political voice through participation in the labour market and enhanced citizenship.

The part that the state is to play in combating social exclusion and promoting lifelong learning is, however, more ambiguous. The impact of globalising tendencies in the economy and culture and the associated trends towards individualism and declining support for welfarism have led governments to seek the promotion of more active and engaged citizens. The goal of policy is now to change behaviour in civil society (individuals and organisations) rather than simply provide a service. As Rhodes (1996:655) has argued, the management of contemporary states involves '"less government" (or less rowing) but "more governance" (or

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