Tag Archives: Social exclusion

Topography & Cultural Exclusion

Lough Lene, Ireland. A traditional view of the island. Wikipedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

In the October 2010 issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Dr Sergei Shubin explores the sociological and topographical history of cultural exclusion in the Republic of Ireland and the Russian Federation – two nations with remarkably similar agricultural and industrial narratives. Shubin’s work concerns the processes and infrastructures of cultural exclusion and isolation within societies. History has, perhaps unfortunately, imbued both Ireland and Russia with images of idealised, utopian rural life. Such perceptions marginalized contemporary understanding of poverty and helped erode long-standing folk traditions.  Dr Shubin effectively applies the notion of ‘cultural capital’ – a paradigm first discussed by Pierre Bourdieu and Jean Claude Passeron in Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (1977) – to the analysis of historical and contemporary social hierarchies. Rural poverty, Dr Shubin notes, is part of a much broader cultural past that has allowed some to prosper, while others are caught in a vicious cycle of debt, abuse, isolation, and exclusion.

An intrinsic part of this issue lies with topographical geography. Although immensely varied, the Russian landscape is defined by a relatively standard framework. Expansive urban agglomerations are connected by major thruways (e.g. Moscow to St Petersburg; Rostov-na-Donu to Volgograd). Smaller communities are dotted in the rural countryside that lies between. This geographical arrangement is advantageous for class and cultural distinction, and ultimately, discrimination. A similar situation exists in Ireland. Roughly speaking, one can divide the rural/urban organization of island into quarters. The eastern and southern quarters are relatively wealthy and cosmopolitan. The northwestern quarter, however (as well as the region surrounding the Aran Islands), faces away from the rest of the British Isles and mainland Europe, and remains rural, sparsely populated, and low-income. In both Russia and Ireland, a sharp urban/rural divide exists, determining personal incomes, material wealth, access to domestic and foreign goods, and health.

Discussions of cultural exclusion are by no means limited to Russia and Ireland. The current controversy of the French Republic’s dealings with Roma migrants reflects long-standing cultural tensions between native-born French citizens and immigrants, who are often forced into undesirable jobs or in positions far from major cities. As Dr Shubin pointedly argued, relegation is a particularly effective mean of excluding certain cultural groups, ‘limit[ing] an individual’s cultural resources and forc[ing] people to take up less desirable positions in the community’. Le Monde recently highlighted inter-governmental confusion over the legality of the forced deportations. Yet the Roma fiasco hints at a much more deeply-rooted issue in France. Article 1 of the French Constitution declares that, ‘France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion’. Yet, Article 2 begins by clearly stating that French is the national language’. Over generations, this distinction has established a strong dichotomy between “French” and “non-French” constituents in the national culture. Is it possible for France to embrace multi-ethnicity as part of its national identity? Or will cultural exclusion continue to inhibit immigrants, second-generation families, and non-French speaking peoples?

Sergei Shubin, ‘Cultural Exclusion and Rural Poverty in Ireland and Russia‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 no. 3 (Oct., 2010): pp. 555-570.

‘L’opposition dénonce les “dérapages” de Sarkozy‘, Le Monde 19 September 2010.

‘Constitution of October 4, 1958’, The National Assembly in the French Institutions, accessed 19 September 2010.

‘Q&A: France Roma Expulsions’, BBC News, 15 September 2010, accessed 19 September 2010.

Unsustainable extremes? Geographies of wealth

by Jayne Glass

In April 2010 the Sunday Times newspaper reported that the wealth of the richest 1000 people in the UK had risen by an average of £77 million each in just one year, to now stand at £335.5 billion.  Earlier in the year, the ‘Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK’ report presented a startling analysis of how unequal Britain’s wealth has become: the richest 10% of the population are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10% of society. The report finds that the government failed to ‘plug the gap’ between the poorest and richest in society in the 1980s.

In an ‘early view’ article in The Geographical Journal, Danny Dorling analyses inequality trends and  suggests there were key times when the trends changed direction.  However, he also finds that is hard to identify when a government changed from the trend data.  As a result, Dorling suggests that three main parties offer very similar solutions to the issue of reducing inequality and therefore it seems unlikely that voting will make much of a difference. Instead, political parties need to rethink how they will tackle growing issues of inequality that have led to such unsustainable extremes of wealth in the UK.

Read BBC News: ‘Super-rich become wealthier again’ (24 April 2010)

Read The Guardian: ‘Unequal Britain: richest 10 % are now 100 times better off than the poorest’ (27 January 2010)

Read ‘An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK’ (report commissioned by Harriet Harman, published January 2010)

Read Dorling, D. (early view) All connected? Geographies of race, death, wealth, votes and births. The Geographical Journal.

Mortgaged: geographies of the financial crisis

A 2009 paper by Manuel Aalbers surveys the geographies of the global financial crisis, the impacts of which continue to be felt. The crisis began with failures in the market for US residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS), where so-called “subprime mortgages” issued to higher-risk borrowers were re-packaged and re-sold as groups of mortgages, with under-priced risk and over-estimated returns. Grouping the mortgages was supposed to average out the risk attached to individual mortgages, but Wall Street banks originating the securities had little incentive to take sufficient account of the economy-wide risks involved. In addition, much subprime lending took the form of predatory lending to vulnerable communities, with higher interest rates and fees, abusive terms and conditions, and failure to take account of the borrower’s ability to repay. As a result the economic downturn turned into a financial and foreclosure crisis hitting the poorest US communities hardest.

Outside the US, many RMBS were sold to institutional investors without sufficient explanation of the risks, and Aalbers gives the small Norwegian town of Narvik as an example, losing millions of dollars of investments which had been intended to support the construction of new municipal facilities. Much larger sums have been lost by other European institutional investors. There is relatively little Europe can do in the short term to counter these losses; one reaction has been to restrict access of US banks to the bond sales of European governments, so that these lose the relevant commission.

View the Aalbers (2009) article here Aalbers, Manuel (2009), “Geographies of the financial crisis“, Area, Volume 41, Issue 1, Pages 34-42

Elena Moya, The Guardian: Europe bars Wall Street banks from government bond sales Elena Moya, The Guardian, 8 March 2010, “Europe bars Wall Street banks from government bond sales

Robin de la Motte

UK financial exclusion and a possible Post Office Bank

Financial exclusion has since the 1990s been recognised as a significant problem in the UK, with local physical access to financial institutions particularly important for those less mobile and less able to access financial services indirectly via the telephone and internet. The number of bank branches in the UK has declined significantly since the 1980s, and the change in the spatial distribution has contributed to financial exclusion. A 2008 paper by Andrew Leyshon, Shaun French and Paola Signoretta looked at the geography of bank and building society branch closure in the UK, concluding that less affluent areas were “shouldering a disproportionate share of net branch closure”.

In 2001 the Government allowed the Post Office to provide access to some financial services under the Universal Bank project, aimed at tackling financial exclusion. Leyshon et al noted that “[p]erhaps the most significant new distribution channel for financial services has been neither the telephone nor the Internet but the partial integration of the Post Office into the British financial services industry.” Ironically, the cost of this integration, along with Post Office branches becoming substitutes for participating banks’ own branches, may have contributed to more bank branch closures. This would be less of a concern if the Post Office network itself had not lost substantial numbers of branches, with 18,400 in 1999 reduced to 14,500 in 2008 and 12,000 in 2010.

In the runup to the May 2010 General Election, the then Labour government announced that if re-elected it would turn the Post Office into the “People’s Bank”, with a full range of financial services. This policy was supported by the Liberal Democrats, and subsequently appeared in the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat government’s coalition agreement. It was unclear how the proposals would affect the Post Office’s existing relationship with the Bank of Ireland, which was contracted to run the Post Office’s financial services until 2020. Besides expanding access to financial services, expanding the Post Office’s revenue from financial services might reduce branch closures.

View the Orford et al (2009) article hereLeyshon et al (2008), “Financial exclusion and the geography of bank and building society branch closure in Britain“, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Volume 33, Issue 4, Pages 447-465
Jackie Ashley, The Guardian: Post offices can kickstart Labour's radical agendaJackie Ashley, The Guardian, 21 March 2010, “Post offices can kickstart Labour’s radical agenda
Guardian: Coalition plans for Post Office Bank cause bafflementJill Treanor, The Guardian, 20 May 2010, “Coalition plans for Post Office Bank cause bafflement

Robin de la Motte

Pondering Poverty

by Fiona Ferbrache

“Poverty” was a word we heard several times during recent election campaigning, and it is a concept centralized by the European Union this year as 2010 has been marked as the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion within its borders.  The Europa website reports an anticipated 17% of EU citizens have such limited resources that they are unable to afford basics.  To tackle this, the European Commission has laid down guiding principles and objectives around which 26 member states have implemented their own programs.  What role might Geographers play in combating poverty?

A fairly significant role, according to Millbourne in Geography Compass.  In a critical review of geographic research into poverty and welfare, he reports that the last decade has been shaped by an impressive growth of work but that the opportunities for academics to engage geographies of poverty beyond the academy have remained marginal.  He highlights the beneficial ways in which sophisticated geographic understanding could contribute to policy and media debates, drawing attention to the need to unbound poverty from its association with inner-city areas and to attend to a more regional focus which considers poverty occurring in suburbs and rural areas too.  What we do all seem to agree on, geographers, media and the EU, is that poverty and social exclusion are ‘unacceptable’ in contemporary society.

View the Read about how the incident affected the local communities so far at BBC News Connect to the Europa website page

View the Read about how the incident affected the local communities so far at BBC News Read Millbourne’s paper in Geography Compass

Tackling social exclusion

by Jayne Glass

Although the EU is one of the richest areas in the world, 17% of EU citizens have very limited financial resources  and unemployment stands at around 10%.  Recognising the negative impacts deprivation can have on people’s ability to engage fully in society, 2010 is ‘European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion’.  EU leaders are finalising a new 10-year strategy to tackle issues ranging from the fragmentation of families to the difficulties faced by people with disabilities when looking for work.  One solution for tackling social exclusion lies in the setting up of more ‘social enterprises’; businesses that trade for social and environmental purposes.

Research in Area by Sarah-Anne Muñoz suggests that geographers have the opportunity to engage with social enterprise research, using their skills to fill gaps in knowledge about social enterprise in the UK.  By mapping the spatial distribution of social enterprises and exploring the reasons for their locations, those responsible for reducing social exclusion would have a richer understanding of the sector’s development, successes and failures.  Linking social enterprise to theories of space and place would also generate research that could explore the role of social enterprise in the creation of new economic and empowerment spaces.

Read The Guardian article ‘EU must act now to reduce poverty’ (30 April 2010)

European Commission website on ‘European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion 2010’

‘Towards a geographic research agenda for social enterprise’ by Sarah-Anne Muñoz in Area [Early view 2010]