(Re)framing education exclusion and inclusion discourses: limits and possibilities

13 Sep 2016

Social injustice is a feature of all human relationships and is present in all societies. How one talks to it and about it, however, is notoriously difficult, because implicit in the language one uses and the assumptions that underlie one?s language are frameworks of reference which, inevitably, find their origins in one or other understanding of the world and the people within. As a result of this realisation, discussion of the concept of social exclusion is underway in numerous contexts to assess its value in expanding understandings of injustice and inequality. 1 While the concept is ?celebrated? in the North and has led to the introduction of Social Exclusion units in all UK government departments, its usage is less common in the South where very much more specific phenomena are made the subject of policy attention. Betts (2001: 2) argues, to illustrate the point, that the discourse of poverty ?provides a much more powerful frame? (Betts 2001: 2) for many countries. In South Africa, the new government has deliberately established gender and affirmative action units. The primary question being posed in the South is whether indeed the concept of social exclusion adds value to understandings of complex phenomena such as poverty (de Haan 2000). The primary purpose of this article is to look at how discourses of inclusion and exclusion have been conceptualised and appropriated. It argues that the main conceptual weakness of current understandings is their failure to adequately engage with social justice concerns. The article begins with some caveats in contextualising the discussion. In the second part, it moves to a review of some of the important debates around educational inclusion and exclusion, and traces the roots of the concept in education to debates in special education needs (SEN). The third part of the article foregrounds concerns of equity in current discourse and specifically critiques two approaches to inclusion: the citizenship approach and the multicultural approach. This leads to the development of the ?interlocking framework?, which has the potential to provide a more encompassing approach. The fourth and concluding section focuses on issues of policy and examines the discourse of policy that underpins the ways in which the concepts are framed.