Practising Social Inclusion

A Book Review

Ann Taket, Beth R. Crisp, Melissa Graham, Lisa Hanna, Sophie Goldingay, Linda Wilson

Routledge, New York, 2014

311 pp., ISBN 978-0-415-53107 $48.75 (paperback)

This is where the left right divide often pivots. Should we bother with the wellbeing of people who are affected by disadvantage or should we leave it up to them. Ergo, is social disadvantage the fault of the individual or a structural issue. Pretty obviously both but we’ll tend to cluster around ‘yes, a humane sophisticated and wealthy society should attempt to ameliorate the worst of structural disadvantage’ and ‘no, we can’t afford to help people who don’t help themselves and shouldn’t be indulging in a ‘nanny state’.

This book is for people who observe the structural issues that trap some people, families and communities and believe that reducing these impediments is an essential social and economic investment.

Taket et al’s (2009) previous volume Theorising Social Inclusion looked at the dynamics of structural and cultural inclusion and exclusion. In this new volume they make a worthy contribution to the task of  providing signposts to action.

The 20 chapters are grouped in seven parts: Introduction (Scoping social inclusion practice), Practising inclusion in policy, Practising inclusion in service design, Practising inclusion in service delivery, Practising inclusion in community life, Practising inclusion in research and the Conclusion (Implementing the social inclusion agenda).

In Part 5, Inclusive service development the chapter by Pollock and Taket,  Exploring a whole-of-organisation approach in the community service sector there is a detailed indication of the type of methodology required to address disadvantage at the organisational level. This is rather lovely in how it brings into focus the paternalistic and disrespectful way many of our human services are delivered. Not that the chapter critiques others but it does specify the processes and challenges of being mindful and purposeful in the attempt to be inclusive across three programmes in a large non-government organisation. Six months to build the required relationships and engagement alone. Straight up it is clear the impediments to being inclusive; the expense of the time required alone, it is so much easier to just dump a programme on top of those in need and then if it doesn’t work blame them.

The challenges of using ‘experts by experience’ in a service development or research team are shared and grappled with here and in Wilson and Campain’s, chapter 16 Recognising the value of social relationships as a process of inclusive research. In this latter they describe how inclusion could be somewhat marginal according to the ability of some of the people involved, but that marginal  involvement itself was valuable.

I was also taken by Foster and Freeman’s chapter 17  Examining the notion of informed consent and lessons learned for increasing inclusion among marginalised research groups. In particular the observation that formal Participant Information Statements and Participant Consent Forms ‘can stifle participant recruitment’ in the wider population, quite aside from any desire to include ‘minority or socially excluded groups  (who) are underrepresented in Western research’. They make a case for further training for ethics committees to understand alternative forms of consent especially in non-invasive social science research.

Practising Social Inclusion is a singularly useful volume for those genuinely interested in the lived experience of people who are affected by disadvantages of all types, and actually want to involve them in the process of collecting and using that knowledge.

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