Social exclusion is a powerful concept, not because of its analytical clarity which is conspicuously lacking, but because of its flexibility. At an individual level, it mobilizes personal fears of being excluded or left out, which reach back into childhood as well as having immediate reference. At a political level, it has a broad appeal, both to those who value increased participation and those who seek greater social control. Crucially, social exclusion facilitates a shift between the different discourses in which it is embedded, so that the contested meaning of social exclusion now lies at the heart of political debate. The boundaries of this debate are set both by the real configuration of political forces and by the language in which it takes place. That language reflects and reproduces underlying ideas about what society is and how it works. The character of the new political discourse very clearly reflects the language of Durkheim, with its appeal to social integration, solidarity and social cohesion. What is less immediately obvious is that the model of social process embedded in contemporary political thought is also fundamentally Durkheimian; in a deep, as well as a superficial way, we live in a new Durkheimian hegemony. This is true of all three discourses of exclusion, despite their profound differences.
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