Social exclusion as a concept has its origins in France (Murard, 2002). The excluded (les exclus) referred to those people who were excluded from the main forms of French society and as a result lived on the margins. In many cases, this was quite literally so, as new housing developments were established at the periphery of towns and cities. The rioting in the suburbs of Paris and other French cities in late December 2005/early January 2006 provides evidence of this, as well as some of its consequences. The terminology became adopted within the European Union, and it soon established itself as a broad term to refer to people who lived on the margins, and who either were, or perceived themselves to be, excluded (European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, 1995).
For those who live on the margins of society, the continuing process of being excluded becomes a daily reality. Individual experiences underline the nature of the exclusion. There is a case, however, for moving beyond the individual to explore how social exclusion is defined.
Burchardt (2000a) argues that an individual is socially excluded if he or she does not participate to a reasonable degree over time in certain activities of his or her society, where this is for reasons beyond his or her control, and where he or she would like to participate. The definition becomes non-specific and inclusion or exclusion results from an individual preference. For example, if there were no desire to participate, using Burchardt’s definition there would be no ‘exclusion’.
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