What is Social Exclusion?

In the Autumn of 2018, I joined the Master’s Degree Programme in Social Exclusion as one of the first group of students in the programme. Two years later, in 2020 I graduated and began working as a Project Assistant to the programme, helping to develop it as it entered into its third academic year with its third group of new students. Having gone through the Masters, both as a student and as staff, I thought I would take a moment to share some of my thoughts and experiences on how to understand this complicated term ‘social exclusion’.

The first step to understanding the term ‘social exclusion’ is to define it. Herein begins the struggle to encompass the term as a single entity as it can be broken down and defined in numerous complex ways; as is evident by the scholarly inability to reduce it to a single universal definition. A good definition to begin to understand it is the United Nations’ definition: “social exclusion describes a state in which individuals are unable to participate fully in economic, social, political and cultural life, as well as the process leading to and sustaining such a state” (United Nations 2016:18). Scholars such as Levitas et.al. (2007:9) and Popay et.al. (2008:2) further add to this definition by including that social exclusion is a complex, dynamic, and multi-dimensional process, driven by unequal power distributions in society, across four main dimensions – social, political, economic and cultural – that persists across different levels of society. Resources are thus accessed differently as a result of such processes, resulting in exclusions to participation in societal arenas. It is worth noting that the term has changed in meaning over the decades, as the notion of society has grown to encompass aspects of the ever-globalizing world.

Having navigated some definitions of social exclusion, perhaps it is best to give examples of social exclusion to better understand the complexity of the term. Perhaps a more relatable example of social exclusion would be that of labour market participation. Take for instance, an immigrant who migrates to a new country that has an entirely new language. One hindrance to labour market participation may be on the basis of language skills and competency, whereby employers choose not to hire an individual who does not possess sufficient language competency. On its own, this example may seem common practice on the basis of employment requirements for numerous reasons of their own. However, it is a good one to show the complexity and multi-dimensional aspects of social exclusion as it will be shown. In the first instance, exclusion occurs on the basis of employability until the individual can attain the necessary skills to engage in social participation. This period of attainment of the minimum required social capital is one of exclusion by which the individual is unable to access the resources of the country, as contrasted by other individuals who possessed higher levels of social capital (social capital in this case being sufficient language skills). This inability to access resources, as we have seen in the examples above, reflect an unspoken, unequal power distribution whereupon the attainment of such skills, for the most part, is left to the individual to attain the minimum required social capital in order to be included in social processes. This is further complicated if said individual applied to numerous jobs, all of which returned the same result on the basis of language competency. The added effect of numerous attempts may well be an intrinsic one, in the form of an internalised perception of being excluded. This takes on numerous forms and can include such things as race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, etc. if the individual were to perceive these as factors hindering their employability. This internalised exclusion may have added effects to the individual’s access to resources such as, and certainly not limited to, a withdrawal from participation on the basis of feeling excluded. Exclusion in this case, results from the individual’s own feeling of being excluded, which may apply thereafter to participation in such things as simply walking down a street due to such feelings.

This very generalised example can be broken down in numerous ways, however, the key point observable here, is that social exclusion can be very complex and must be looked at via the processes by which it is fuelled. It can be seen from many lenses, and many interpretations. Herein rests the problem with attaining a uniform definition of the term as it is for the most part, very specific to individuals, events, and cases; no two of which can be said to be exactly the same and thus defined as such. That is not to say, however, that studies of social exclusion are impossible. On the contrary, it is in the complexity of it that makes social exclusion worth studying. By understanding the dynamism of it, can we begin to work on finding ways of promoting and implementing practices of social inclusion!


Levitas, Ruth. Pantazis, Christina. Fahmy, Eldin. Gordon, David. Lloyd, Eva. Patsios, Demi (2007). The Multi-Dimensional Analysis of Social Exclusion. Department of Sociology and School for Social Policy Townsend Centre for the International Study of Poverty and Bristol Institute for Public Affairs: University of Bristol. 1-75. <http://www.bris.ac.uk/poverty/downloads/socialexclusion/multidimensional.pdf>. 

Popay, Jennie, Escorel, Sarah. Hernández, Mario. Johnston, Heidi. Mathieson, Jane. Rispel, Laetitia. (2008). Understanding and Tackling Social Exclusion: Final Report to the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health From the Social Exclusion Knowledge Network. 1-207. <https://www.who.int/social_determinants/knowledge_networks/final_reports/sekn_final%20report_042008.pdf?ua=1>. 

United Nations (2016). Report on the World Social Situation 2016. In Leaving no one behind: the imperative of inclusive development. United Nations Publication. 

Teachers and Staff (2021-2022)

In this post, I will be introducing you to the people involved with the Social Exclusion Master’s Degree Programme. I will breakdown the personnel as well as their contribution to making the programme what it is.

Aminkeng Alemanji Atabong (Amin) is the face that you will be familiar with having gone through the interview process before your acceptance into SoEx. He is head of programme and university teacher, and you will therefore get to know him quite well throughout the duration of your studies at Åbo Akademi. Amin will also be teaching numerous courses throughout the two years of your studies: Social Exclusion: Key Approaches; Seminar I: English Language and Academic skills for Studies in Social Exclusion; Seminar II: Methods for Studies of Social Exclusion; The Geography of Social Exclusion; and Race, Racism and Antiracism. His office is located in Arken and he will be available to contact should you require assistance at any point in your degree studies.

As stated in a previous post, SoEx consists of specializations in history, philosophy, gender studies, study of religions (and theology). During your studies you will come to know of your specialization requirements much better, and so too the personnel. For now however, I will provide a quick introduction to the teachers and staff behind SoEx. Professor Holger Weiss is a professor of General History at Åbo Akademi who will be teaching the course Social Exclusion in a Historical Perspective in the first semester. Laura Hellsten is a post-doctoral researcher, project researcher, and research associate who will be teaching the course Social Exclusion: Patterns of Oppression and Resistance. Camilla Kronqvist is a University teacher at the Philosophy department who will be teaching the course Social Exclusion in a Philosophical Perspective. Francis Benyah is a doctoral student in the faculty of Faculty of Arts, Psychology and Theology, in the Study of Religions, who will be teaching the course Social Exclusion, Religion and Lifeviews: Main Perspectives.  Leonardo Da Costa Custódio is a Doctor of social sciences, post-doctoral researcher and co-founder of the ARMA Alliance, and he will be teaching the course Communication, Media Activism and Social Change. Finally, Sarah Mattila is a university teacher at the English Language department in Åbo, who will be teaching Seminar I: English Language and Academic skills for Studies in Social Exclusion, alongside Amin in the first semester.

Some important personnel in the programme to keep in mind and be aware of are Pia-Maria Gardberg who will be your Study Adviser through the duration of your studies and will provide study guidance and counselling. Sanna Westerlund is the Academic Affairs Coordinator and will be able to assist with issues related to education and studies, or will be able to direct you to someone who will be able to assist you with your specific issue. Martins Kwazema is a Project Asistant to the SoEx programme, and a doctoral candidate at the Faculty of Arts, Psychology and Theology. Lastly, Khushal Naik is a Project Assistant to the SoEx programme, and a doctoral student in the Faculty of Arts, Psychology and Theology. The Project Assistants will be working alongside Amin to help coordinate the programme to ensure students get the best out of their time during their degree studies.

Racial Justice, Racial Equity, and Anti-Racism Reading List

Starting September 2021 – May 2022 we will be suggesting one book monthly as our recommended reading of the month. This monthly reading recommendation will cumulatively represent our Racial Justice, Racial Equity and Antiracism Reading list. This reading list is a starting place to find resources that speak to racial justice, racial equity, and anti-racism.

Our hope is that this reading list could be adopted by the university as The Åbo Akademi Racial Justice, Racial Equity, and Anti-Racism Reading List.

Please send us your book suggestion @ socialex@abo.fi/ aminkeng.atabong@abo.fi so that we can collectively build this initiative.

Students and staff of Social Exclusion are responsible for this initiative and will appreciate the support of everyone at the faculty and ÅAU to make this initiative a success.

SoEx Specializations

The Master’s Degree in Social Exclusion allows students to learn about the phenomenon of Social Exclusion from various perspectives. Key among these perspectives are the four areas of specialization offered at the Faculty of Arts, Psychology and Theology: gender studies, philosophy, studies of religion (or theology), and history. An easy way to think of these specializations is to think of them as a ‘minor’ to your ‘major’ subject of Social Exclusion. Whilst you will be learning about Social Exclusion from the focused perspective of your chosen ‘minor’, you will not be an expert in that field as your major subject is Social Exclusion.

I will now breakdown what it means to specialize in each of the four specializations. A specialization in gender studies “offers insights into a variety of societal and cultural phenomena and teaches critical, creative, analytical thinking around questions of marginalization and empowerment”. A philosophy specialization affords students the possibility to “hone their skills in expressing themselves in speech and writing” whilst also learning to how to think about the phenomenon of social exclusion. Study of religions “deals with religion in the past and present from various viewpoints, including purely historical studies, comparative studies and studies in the psychology, sociology, anthropology and pedagogy of religion.” Alternatively, Theology “is a discipline that studies various forms of religious phenomena from the viewpoint of Christian tradition.” In both the study of religions and theology, students will study social exclusion through a focus on the religions and lifeviews of socially excluded individuals. Finally, in the history specialization “you will not only be studying individual events, but also learn how to reveal the bigger picture within the details” to various cases of social exclusion.

Throughout the duration of the two year degree studies, students will be exposed to materials which will both educate and inform them about how social exclusion persists as a multifaceted and multidimensional phenomenon in the contemporary world. For this reason, these four specializations offer critical insights across a wide domain of topics, and utilize specialized materials to accomplish this through a multidisciplinary, and an interdisciplinary approach. Whilst students will eventually be required to choose one area of specialization in their second year, they will be introduced to the four areas of specialization throughout their two years through introductory courses in the first year and specialization courses in both years.

In the first year, students will take courses designed to introduce them to the specialization (in addition to specialization specific courses). These courses are: Social Exclusion in a Historical Perspective, Social Exclusion, Religion and Lifeviews, Social Exclusion in a Philosophical Perspective, and Diversity, Equality, Inclusion. Course descriptions and content and be found in the StudieHandboken.

Structure of the Degree Programme

The Master’s Degree Programme in Social Exclusion offers two pathways to Master’s education, the Master of Arts or Master of Theology. Keep in mind however, that the Master of Theology requires applicants to have a background in studies of religion, theology, or similar. Applicants should note this difference and be mindful of this difference when applying to the programme.

Whilst both options can be applied to, admission is awarded only to one option. For example, if you were to apply to both the Master of Arts and the Master of Theology, admission will be awarded on the basis of only one of these two options for Master’s studies. That is to reiterate, you can apply for both options. Students can recieve admissions for both tracks. However, they have to select one at the end.

The structure of Master’s studies consists of 120 ECTS (or credits) to be completed over the two years. They are broken down as follows:

  • Master’s Thesis – 30 ECTS
  • Mandatory Courses – 60 ECTS
  • Specialization Courses – 20 ECTS
  • Free studies – 10 ECTS

The strength of the programme rests in its four key specializations: gender studies, philosophy, studies of religion (or theology), and history. Over the course of the two years, students will be exposed to the phenomenon of Social Exclusion from the perspective of the four key areas of specialization. This will be explained in more detail in a further post.

The current structure of the programme (2020-2022) is broken down as follows. In the first year, you will complete 70 ECTS. This will be comprised of seven courses in the first semester (35 ECTS) in autumn and seven courses in the second semester (35 ECTS) in the winter. The current structure and courses available during the first year are broken down thusly:

  • Semester 1: 7 Courses – 35 ECTS
    • Period 1:
      • Social Exclusion Key Approaches (5 ECTS)
      • Seminar 1 – Academic skills and English skills (2.5 ECTS)
      • Communication, Media Activism, and Social Change (5 ECTS)
      • Specialization Course 1 (5 ECTS)
    • Period 2:
      • Seminar 1 – Academic skills and English skills (2.5 ECTS)
      • Social Exclusion in a historical perspective (5 ECTS)
      • Social Exclusion, Religion and Lifeviews (5 ECTS)
      • Specialization Course 2 (5 ECTS)
    • Semester 2: 7 Courses – 35 ECTS
      • Period 3:
        • Geography of Social Exclusion (5 ECTS)
        • Social Exclusion – Patterns of Oppression & Resistance (5 ECTS)
        • Free Studies 1
        • Free Studies 2
      • Period 4:
        • Race, Racism & Antiracism (5 ECTS)
        • Social Exclusion in a Philosophical Perspective (5 ECTS)
        • Diversity, Equality, Inclusion (5 ECTS)

At the end of the first year, students will be asked to declare their intention to which specialization they have chosen to specialize in. They will also be asked for their preliminary thoughts of a thesis topic which will help to determine supervision for their theses in the second year. Please note that the thesis topic can be changed in the future, and will be developed further during the second year seminar. The second year will consist of four courses (20 ECTS) and the master’s thesis (30 ECTS). The structure is as follows:

  • Year 2 (50 ECTS) = 4 Courses (20 ECTS) + Master’s Thesis (30 ECTS)
    • Seminar 2 – Methods for studies in Social Exclusion (5 ECTS)
    • Introduction to Intercultural Communication (5 ECTS)
    • Specialization course 3 (5 ECTS)
    • Specialization 4 (5 ECTS)
    • Master’s Thesis (30 ECTS)

Upon successful completion of all 120 ECTS, you will be awarded either a Master of Arts or Master of Theology within the Master’s Degree Programme in Social Exclusion at Åbo Akademi.

Welcome to Social Exclusion MA @ ÅAU!

This is the official blog for the Social Exclusion Master’s Degree Programme. Here you will find important information about the Social Exclusion (SoEx) Programme, in addition to content created by the students of SoEX themselves.  We strive to keep the content as up to date as possible, and it is worth noting that information about specific courses can and will be subject to change in the future as they are updated. Further information about specific courses can be found on the Student handbook (Studiehandboken).

If you are interested in knowing more about the programme, you can find further information our official webpage, or you can reach us by email at socialex@abo.fi. You can also find us on social media on Facebook and Twitter.

The contents of this blog and associated media are intended for academic purposes only and is a platform to share the contents of the Degree Programme, thus we ask that contents published in these posts will not be misused for purposes other than for its intended purposes.

We look forward to sharing more about Social Exclusion!

If you are interested in contributing to the blog please contact one of the following:

  • Programme email – socialex@abo.fi
  • Jasmin Slimani – jasmin.slimani@abo.fi
  • Amin –  aminkeng.atabong@abo.fi