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Problems with "bridging the gap": the reversal of structure and agency in addressing social exclusion

Colley, Helen and Hodkinson, Phil (2001) Problems with "bridging the gap": the reversal of structure and agency in addressing social exclusion. Critical social policy, 21 (3). pp. 335-359. ISSN 0261-0183

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Abstract

The Social Exclusion Unit's Report Bridging the Gap has had a major influence on the British government's policy towards socially excluded young people. This article argues, however, that the Report contains fundamental contradictions in its analysis of non-participation in learning and the solutions proposed. Despite appearing to re-instate a concern for the social, it locates the causes of non-participation primarily within individuals and their personal deficits. Yet it denies individuality and diversity by representing the socially excluded as stereotyped categories. In a flawed move, the Report presents non-participation not just in correlation to a raft of other social problems, but as cause to their effect. Deep-seated structural inequalities are rendered invisible, as social exclusion is addressed through a strongly individualistic strategy based on personal agency. At the same time, measures to enhance individual agency, notably the new 'ConneXions' service, are formulated within a prescriptive structural framework. Structure and agency are thus reversed in current English policy approaches. While such approaches will doubtless assist some young people, there is a significant risk that they may make things worse for others.

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