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What do we mean by exclusion?


What is exclusion?

Kelly Lynn Mulvey, Corey Boswell and Jiali Zheng state that ”although peer rejection and exclusion are often due to interpersonal reasons, both can also be the result of negative intergroup relations or interaction with others who do not share one’s group membership” [1].

To better understand this, Babken Babajanian and Jessica Hagen-Zanker designed the following diagram for a study conducted for the Overseas Development Institute:

Diagram showing dimensions and drivers of social exclusion

Dimensions and drivers of social exclusion [2].

In this diagram, the research illustrates three kinds of exclusion within society as a whole, as well as its interrelationship with dynamics and contexts such as human capabilities, governance issues, public policies and the institutions which uphold them, the informal norms and practices found within any community or society, and so on.

Earlier we asked you to think about what ‘exclusion’ means to you. Perhaps you could pause now and reflect on that and consider if any of the external and internal conditions outlined in the outer circle of the diagram had a role to play.

In addition, tell us if you have experienced any of the three forms of exclusion. For some, exclusion means being refused a passport to visit or spend time in a country other than your own because of perceived threats; for others, it could be deeply personal, such as when family relationships and closeness are navigated, affecting how comfortable you feel to be all of yourself or not.

Exclusion is context specific and varies in degree. There may be economic reasons: not having financial resources to access schooling, healthcare or when visiting a museum is a luxury against the daily costs of life. Babajanian and Hagen-Zanker would place those within the “life course vulnerabilities” factors.

It may also be social: when belonging to a minority group in a community in which the dominant social norms are drawn from another community different to your own determines how you behave. We see this in societies where people who identify as LGBTQI+ are not recognised and are actively and subtly discouraged from being fully themselves.

Sometimes the exclusionary practices are subtle and not immediately obvious, except to those who experience them. Perhaps it is a signage which addresses only two genders or perhaps an exhibition and public program assumes there are only two genders or that families are constituted only by a mother and father with children. These could fit in either the “informal norms and practices” where matters are not formalized or written into a constitution or law, but are nevertheless exercised. They can also be practices which are held within governance systems, legal norms and rights and at public policy levels.

These norms determine who is included and excluded from certain resources in a systemic way, as illustrated by the forms of exclusion in the centre of the circle. An example of this was when a time single mothers were not recognized and therefore did not qualify for social grants.


1. Causes and consequences of social exclusion and peer rejection among children and adolescents, Kelly Lynn Mulvey et al., Summer 2017 (last accessed on 18/10/2021).
2. Social protection and social exclusion:an analytical framework to assess links, Jessica Hagen-Zanker and Babken Babajanian, Overseas Development Institute, 2012.

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