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Social Exclusion, Vulnerability and Food Security

Levitas et al. (2007) define social exclusion as “a complex and multidimensional process. It involves the lack or denial of resources, rights, goods and services, and the inability to participate in the normal relationships and activities, available to the majority of people in a society, whether in economic, social, cultural or political arenas. It affects both the quality of life of individuals and the equity and cohesion of society as a whole”. Kurzban and Leary (2001) state that stigmatization or social exclusion arises because individuals or groups possess particular characteristics that exclude them from the norms of society. This could be not only financial but also racial or caste (Steele and Aronson 1995) and in respect of sub-culture of violence, criminality, drug dependence and squalor (Beall 2002).

Generally, social exclusion is related to poverty and this relationship is a relatively recent phenomenon (e.g., Lenoir 1974; Townsend 1979; Levitas 1996, 2000, 2005). Lenoir (1974) spoke of the “excluded” community in France which includes persons suffering from poverty, deprivation, and physical and mental conditions and those deemed to be social misfits or out of social norms (such as single parents, women households, etc.). This social exclusion creates conditions of resource deprivation, with none or limited access to resources, exposure to social, financial and environmental risks, and food insecurity and inadequate food storage (Yodmani 2001).

Vulnerability has been holistically defined as “an aggregate measure of human welfare that integrates environmental, social, economic and political exposure to a range of potential harmful perturbations” (Downing 1992). Yet the studied concept of vulnerability assumes that vulnerability remains a static state of play. However, vulnerable groups can move in and out of vulnerability in as much as individuals and groups may not be vulnerable, socially excluded or poor all the time (Yaqub 2000; Morduch 1994).

With regard to food security (as determined by World Food Summit 1996), the relational factors are integral to food security for vulnerable individuals, especially as food meets more than an hunger need as in many countries food is part of social ritualization such as celebrations or funerals. Also importantly, vulnerable groups, by the nature of their vulnerability, are subject to adverse food supply effects, for example crop failure or no access to hygienic food outlets (Dreze and Sen 1989, 1990).

However, not all vulnerable individuals are equally vulnerable to hunger. In fact, it is not always the vulnerable who have a food security risk. Sen’s (1981) notion is that of different commodity bundles or mixes of food sources derived from one’s own production, labour or market exchanges, and donations or relief. However, if the concept of vulnerability is confined to shocks that affect food supply, access, production or retention, then it opens up the arena of vulnerability to all that suffer this, irrespective of the conditions of birth or social grouping. In other words, non-vulnerable groups can become vulnerable at any given time.

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