12 March 2015
By calling for a pledge to ‘leave no-one behind’ as the first principle of the post-2015 development agenda, the UN High Level Panel report places social justice at the heart of the new agenda, emphasising the need to reach the most vulnerable, not just the largest number of people. But, at the same time, the principle raises important questions about what we mean by ‘inclusion’: how we come to define it in theory and also how we may end up applying it in practice.
During a recent workshop hosted by ESID we discovered that while inclusion is a commonly used term, it is being used in very different ways by different scholars and practitioners, with little consensus. These discussions were continued in India, both in a conference organised by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and then at a Centre for Poverty Research seminar. So what do we mean by inclusion? And what are the implications of its implementation?
A means or an end?
While few would question inclusion as an intrinsically good thing, the fact is this concept is often used instrumentally. This is particularly relevant in the context of development projects; for example, by making sure that everyone has access to a particular public good which donors, NGOs or governments may seek to provide. The instrumental significance of inclusion has been made clear by explicit concerns that the MDG targets were realised by picking the “low-hanging fruit”. In practice, however, there are few examples of genuinely inclusive state programmes, but many examples of groups that are being left out of developmental policies.
We have to be critical of the view that inclusion is a simple and unambiguous concept. The notion of “adverse incorporation” draws our attention to the terms in which inclusion is realised, which may be particularly disadvantageous to some of the most marginalised groups. In Visakhapatnam (India), for example, informal settlement dwellers were moved from inner city locations and placed on the periphery of the city, without services, in the neighbourhood of Madhurwada. Although formally a developmental goal was reached by moving them into permanent housing, in practice this resulted in a loss of livelihoods, as well as limited access to the provision of basic services, due to a lack of bulk infrastructure.
Identity or socioeconomic status?
Another issue of contention with regards to inclusion is a potential focus on the incorporation of specific groups in order to combat social exclusion. This brings the concept into the realm of identity politics, which permeates ESID’s research on the politics of recognition. It requires us to acknowledge the reality that different groups have different needs, and face differing levels of discrimination. In the case of toilets, for example, alternative designs may be needed according to factors such as levels of mobility and cultural preferences, and discriminatory norms and values. A “one size fits all” approach to sanitation fails to take account of the diversity of needs and circumstances within any given population.
Moreover, it is not just a case of recognising that diverse approaches to sanitation are required to take account of diverse needs, it is also necessary to recognise a holistic and integrated approach to basic services. Improved sanitation, for example, requires improved access to water and waste management. But many factors may influence these decisions, such as ideologies about the deservingness of different groups, and the availability of sufficient resources to accommodate variation in need.
Can there be inclusion without politics?
Democracy may be lauded for offering “one person, one vote”, and might in fact be seen as central to political inclusion. However, it is probably better understood as the beginning, rather than the endpoint of inclusive politics. Even with democracy, exclusion continues for those such as the street homeless in Thailand, who can only vote if they have a formal registered address. Voting may also be denied due to intimidation and forcible exclusion, or higher orders of government may overrule local democratic choice. For a recent example, see the commitment of the new state government in Delhi to end evictions (surely an inclusive practice): the courts may eventually overrule this commitment – and large amounts of land are in fact owned by the central government, over which local government has little control. At a more general level, some electoral systems like “first-past-the-post” do little to address minority interests.
What about representation vs. direct participation? Is representation an adequate form of political inclusion in spite of potential weaknesses in electoral systems? It is widely recognised that political inclusion may require much more participatory forms of representation – both in respect of formal levels of government, such as city and state decision making, and in terms of state programming. However, this can also be hard to achieve. State governments in India passed the Community Participation Act to access the $17 billion of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) funding, but we have not been able to find anyone who argues that this commitment to participation on paper has been taken seriously.
However a willingness at the programme level to work with community organisations has transformed urban development options. In Pune, for example, community groups have been involved in informal settlement upgrading, and women-led neighbourhood groups have been able to incrementally improve their homes, financed by state support though JNNURM.
Development or something larger?
As a basis for making claims, being part of something and having a feeling of belonging may be more important than the material lack often associated with poverty. Perhaps the emphasis on inclusion is important because it legitimates such a sense of belonging, and builds confidence to make claims on social justice. Conceptions of inclusion can take different forms – political voice, economic participation, social engagement. Some argue that these are not always compatible, but others may consider them to be complementary.
Perhaps inclusion is more appropriate as a concept for discussing social justice, rather than development. Is there agreement between citizens and the state about the type and level of inclusion that is expected within society? According to Rawls’ theory of justice, a social minimum is required to prevent the ‘strains of commitment’ from being excessive; but how should the package of basic needs be determined?.
ESID’s engagement with the idea of inclusion is in fact producing more questions than answers. However, our researchers and partners agree that this is a valuable starting point for continued discussion on many important issues. We have not reached a consensus on the meaning and use of the term ‘inclusion’, and it is certainly necessary to define what we mean by it in the context of our own research. But the intrinsic complexity and nuance of the concept should not detract from trying to engage with it: in one way or another, inclusion remains an aspiration for people all over the world, and any agenda for development or social justice needs to come to terms with it.