Social exclusion and discourses of literacy and physical activity (post -16) in Scotland
In European, UK and Scottish policy social exclusion has been the main discourse of poverty and disadvantage for at least the last sixteen years. However social exclusion is a contested term and there is limited consensus about its nature and definition. Adult physical activity and adult literacy provision have been identified in policy as having a role in addressing social exclusion and so this study explored understandings of social exclusion in policy and in practitioners’ discourses about their practice in both these types of provision. I undertook an analysis of Scottish policy texts relating to social exclusion, literacy and physical activity. This showed that policy discourse about social exclusion had evolved between 1999 and 2011 from a combative to a more enabling style. It also showed an increasingly overt individualistic economic discourse established as the underpinning rationale for policy intervention. I then undertook a series of semi-structured interviews with nine literacy practitioners and seven physical activity practitioners. Using an approach informed by Critical Discourse Analysis I identified themes in the data. Practitioners’ narratives were analysed in reference to a typology, RED, MUD and SID, (Levitas, 2005) which describes the different ways social exclusion is understood in the UK. These are respectively, a redistributive discourse (RED) which links social exclusion to poverty, a discourse that deploys cultural explanations of social exclusion (MUD) and a discourse which analyses social exclusion in relation to the labour market (SID). The study indicated that social exclusion was understood and interpreted by practitioners in different ways but that a theme of economic individualism framed their discursive practices and echoed policy. The study also revealed discursive links between policy texts and practitioners’ discourses and these were more apparent in literacy practitioners’ discourses than in physical activity practitioners’ discourses. Similarities between both groups of practitioners were most evident in how they identified lack of confidence as a defining characteristic of people who experienced social exclusion and the central role of confidence building in their respective provision. My analysis showed that individual practitioners sometimes articulated simultaneously contradictory discourses about their practice however literacy practitioners’ discourses considered together were more uniform than those of physical activity practitioners. The findings illuminate the complicated and sometimes contradictory landscape of policy and practitioners’ discourses about social exclusion and their practice. They draw attention to the delimitations and constraints on practitioners’ discourses and to the need to support reflexivity in professional practice.