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“The Contexts of Social Inclusion” by Hilary Silver


In this extract, we have summarized some of the key concepts and issues raised by Hilary Silver . Should you wish to read the lengthier article, please find it in the ‘See also‘ section below.

This article is a dense but invaluable deep dive into understanding ‘exclusion’ and its opposite ‘inclusion’. Firstly, she argues that it is difficult, and perhaps futile to try to understand the one (exclusion) in isolation from the other (inclusion). When we ask ourselves what ‘exclusion’ is, we are drawn into thinking about what we mean by ‘inclusion’.

Secondly, Silver shows that ‘exclusion’ and ‘inclusion’ are very much tied to local contexts. She argues that a generalized and non-specific idea of the two concepts is pointless and not very fruitful for building transformative and sustainable societies.

Silver emphasizes the need to understand the relationship between the economic, social and political dimensions of exclusion and thus inclusion. As the thrust and focus of the article is very much on the relationship between local contexts and the understanding of exclusion and inclusion, let’s spend some time unpacking what these various factors are.

As practitioners wishing to enhance and implement inclusive practices, it is vital to understand that the concepts that define an ideal inclusive society can vary by country and by region. For example, what may be a shared understanding in northern countries, such as the United States of America, Canada or the United Kingdom, may be very different from understandings in the Middle East, North Africa or the Caribbean. That can be broken down even further into national or country levels, or local municipal contexts.

She also notes that different places have different histories, cultures, institutions and social structures. These specific, place-bound histories and cultures have an influence on the economic, social and political dimensions of social exclusion and the interplay among them. Therefore, for interpreting exclusion and inclusion, and also the expectations which people may have for inclusion, it is necessary to conduct a careful analysis of the relationships between a place, its histories, cultures, social structures and so on in relation to the economic, social and political life of the peoples of and in that place.

Related to this notion of ‘place’, the location where one lives can shape one’s access to resources and opportunities. Social inclusion is thus spatially uneven. She provides detailed examples of communities within the lower ranks in specific societies, such as low caste orders in India and Japan, where place in many instances determines status, access to resources and exclusion from rights. This example could be extended to include an analysis of the ways in which marginalized groups, such as minority Indigenous peoples, members of the LGBTQI+ community, people with disabilities, often find themselves living in economically defined places which in turn reiterate and emphasize exclusion in job markets, school access, etc.

Silver also cautions that openness, such as through globalization, can jeopardize valued identities, group ways of life, and the feeling of being at home. Assimilation often means acculturation or the end of group practices, solidarity, and beliefs. This is not only applicable to Indigenous peoples within their place of home, but also groups of people who, through migration, forced or otherwise, become members of a society where the majority dictates ‘fitting in’ as a condition for ‘belonging’ rather than encouraging cultural diversity.

Over to you

What are the contexts of exclusion at the local, regional and national levels where you live? What mechanisms and inclusion projects do you know of? Please comment below and engage with the other participants.


Silver, H., The Contexts of Social Inclusion, Working Papers 144, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2015.
Babajanian,B. and Hagen-Zanker, J., Social protection and social exclusion:an analytical framework to assess links, Overseas Development Institute, 2012.

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