Social Inclusion and Local Practices of Belonging

Rob Garbutt


Social inclusion has been conceptualised as having two key aspects: distributional aspects relating to access to resources including employment, and relational aspects which concern the connections between people and the wider society. While both are important, the emphasis in Australian social inclusion policy has been on distributional aspects. This paper focuses on the relational aspects of social inclusion, and argues that it is critically important to include relational considerations in social inclusion policy.

Central to the relational aspects of social inclusion is achieving a sense of belonging, particularly at the everyday, local level. Belonging in this everyday sense can be thought of as an ongoing project achieved through everyday practices, rather than solely in terms of membership of a group. While many such practices, for example regularly engaging in team sports, are accepted ways of establishing and maintaining belonging, for others in a community practices of belonging may necessitate disrupting or at least broadening the established norms of how one belongs.

To ground this discussion of inclusion and belonging, this paper draws on practices of belonging in a regional community. Established norms of belonging are examined through the idea of ‘being a local’, a way of belonging that appears to be based on membership. The paper then turns to two local projects which disrupt the exclusive bounds of local membership and establish new and inclusive practices of belonging. To conclude, parallels are drawn between the boundaries which define ‘the social’ in social inclusion and ‘the local community’ in being a local, to argue for the importance of including relational aspects of social inclusion within social inclusion policy debates and program formulation.


local; localism; Australia; belonging; social inclusion

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