Social Exclusion and Inclusion in Japan: Policy Challenge for a More Inclusive Civil Society

By Abe, Kiyoshi; Furukawa, Akira et al. | Contributions to Nepalese Studies, January 2010 | Go to article overview

Social Exclusion and Inclusion in Japan: Policy Challenge for a More Inclusive Civil Society


Abe, Kiyoshi, Furukawa, Akira, Kosaka, Kenji, Contributions to Nepalese Studies


Concepts of social exclusion and inclusion

Significance of the concept of social exclusion: In the age of globalization, both underdeveloped and overdeveloped countries face serious socio-political problems. Of course, the specific features of those problems differ among regions and countries, but common trends characterize the troubles and suffering that many people face under runaway globalization.

Recently, the concept of "social exclusion" has attracted great interest in the field of sociology and its broader related disciplines (e.g., social work, social policy studies, criminology, surveillance studies). Although there is no single accepted definition of social exclusion, and the policy implications of research on social inclusion tend to differ by field, the general idea of inclusion/exclusion is becoming common conceptual ground for social scientific investigations aimed at clarifying the mechanisms that cause sociopolitical problems in contemporary globalized societies.

For example, David Byrne's four-volume collection Social Exclusion (part of the "Critical Concepts in Sociology" series published by Routledge) discusses how and why the concept of social exclusion has become regarded as so significant to sociological inquiry today (2). The academic coverage of the book is very wide, and the socio-political issues discussed in each volume of the series span a great variety of topics. Although one could get the impression that almost any socio-political problem can be considered a form of social exclusion in the broader sense of inequality, the construct must be viewed in the context of the structural problems of contemporary societies.

Why has this concept become so popular in social scientific investigations? One reason is that the rapid spread of globalization has brought about or accentuated scores of social problems in both underdeveloped and overdeveloped countries. Certainly, the problem of social exclusion is not new. In fact, it is considered one of the most serious problems facing advanced societies, especially where the ideal of equality (in both opportunity and outcome) is politically sought after. However, with the global hegemony of neoliberalism, which defines freedom only in terms of opportunity, social exclusion and disparity seem to be increasing dramatically at a global scale.

Another reason that the concept of social exclusion has become popular is that it provides a critical lens to assess contemporary societies. In other words, the concept is not only descriptive and analytical, but also normative for research on social problems. It can facilitate both the scientific analysis and normative critique of the globalized world, and thus is likely to remain as a significant tool for social scientific investigation.

Social inclusion as a policy agenda: It seems that the concept of social exclusion can be used as a springboard for policy intervention backed by social scientific research. Sociological investigations that analyze exclusion clarify the conditions of those who are excluded from society, and thus open a dialogue on what policies may be needed to lessen hardship and improve the well-being of those people. Although how and to what extent such people are considered excluded differs depending on the political standpoints of researchers, any research on social exclusion will inevitably have policy implications. In this sense, academic discussion of social exclusion may be linked to political intervention via socio-economic policies.

The role of social scientific research and investigation (how and to what extent it should shape actual policy) has long been a point of contention. Some say that academic activity should be kept separate from the political process to maintain independence from political or economic influences. Others insist that a much closer relationship or partnership between academia and policymaking would be indispensable to social investigators to fulfill their professional role. …

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