The children in the dialogue are confronted with a very sensitive issue: a relative of Dan’s lives in a building where all the inhabitants have received notice of eviction: some of them for having defaulted on their rent payments, but some of them just because the decision has been made to evict them. The children in the dialogue explore the complex web of reasons for, and consequences of, this situation. This emotionally-charged dialogue suggests the complexity of the theme, as well as the social stigma attached to exclusion and poverty.
Social exclusion can be defined (while not forgetting the various ways in which the term can be used) as the process whereby individuals and entire groups of people are denied access to the resources that are essential for participating in the social, economic, and political activities of society as a whole. The process of social exclusion is primarily engendered by poverty and low income, but there are other contributing factors, such as discrimination, low education, and poor living conditions. Socially excluded people are cut off from institutions and services, social networks, and educational opportunities.
Ghettos (poor enclaves): The term ‘ghetto’ refers to a spatially-defined part of an urban unit where there is a concentration of people of the same ethnicity, race, social status, or cultural and religious affiliation. Originally it was applied to the segregated Jewish neighbourhoods in European cities. The term ‘ghetto’ is closely tied to the concept of segregation, which is generally understood to mean the process whereby groups of people who are in some way “different” are relegated to spatially-confined enclaves, while simultaneously they are usually prevented from participating with the rest of the population in other levels of social interaction (often only specifically-defined forms of economic interaction are available, while the remaining spheres of social life proceed separately). In the case of institutionalised segregation we speak of apartheid. But the inhabitants of a ghetto need not necessarily be assembled on the basis of ethnicity or some cultural category, but can also arise on the basis of low socio-economic status (which can also arise as a secondary result of segregation: so-called ethnicised poverty). Sociopathological phenomena accrue in poor enclaves.
The culture of poverty is a concept of the American anthropologist Oscar Lewis, the basis of which is the claim that people living in an environment of poverty on the margins of a market society can under certain circumstances create their own specific sub-culture, which is passed on from generation to generation. Regardless of where it occurs, this sub-culture possesses the following features (among others):
Author’s note: these definitions are drawn from the website: http://www.integracniprogramy.cz
The theme of the dialogue is social exclusion. In this process, certain inhabitants or individuals are excluded as a group and relegated to the margins of society, where they are cut off from the resources that society has created to regulate and advance the societal and social lives of its members. Those who inhabit the margins of a society thus become ‘second-class’ citizens. This phenomenon holds specific consequences for family life and the life of individuals who live in social exclusion, and also for the rest of society.
Today we make a distinction between absolute poverty and the subjective component of poverty. Absolute poverty is defined as the shortage of resources to maintain the physical and social life of an individual. Relative poverty is a concept implying a relationship to the general living standards of society (the EU, for example, defines relative poverty as 50% of the average income).
This is a phenomenon which occurs in modern industrialised and urban societies on every continent. Ghettos have grown up on the outskirts of big cities in France, North America, and South America and Asia. One of the ways in which the internal mechanisms of life in the ghetto can be described is with the concept of the culture of poverty. With this concept it is possible to describe the situation in ghettos today as a universal phenomenon – tied not to an ethnic characteristic, but to life in a certain social situation.
What is social exclusion?
Clearly, then, this phenomenon does not affect mainly ‘the poor’, but is also a threat, for example, to the elderly, mothers on maternity leave, members of minorities, people released from prison, and others.
What course does the process of social exclusion take?
Spatial exclusion is the most visible feature in the public space. It relates to where people reside: urban neighbourhoods, streets, or even individual buildings, which are typically run down; where the housing is of low quality and physically cut off from access to regular services, like shops, police stations, authorities, schools, and so on. They are often ‘horror’ houses, designated by the authorities as localities for rent defaulters and socially vulnerable groups and so on. Generally these locations turn into ‘bad addresses’. This designation has an obvious stigmatising effect on the inhabitants. At the same time, housing in these localities is expensive. These costs stem from the greater consumption of energy in badly insulated buildings, spatial inaccessibility, and high ‘market’ rents.
Economic exclusion is linked to the exclusion of ghetto inhabitants from the labour market. This makes them dependent on social benefits and illegal work. This situation is created from without, by discrimination in the labour market and the lack of job opportunities, and also from within, through debt and the loss of work habits.
Cultural exclusion refers to obstructed access to education, knowledge, and skills recognised and necessary for life in society. In practice children from ‘problem Roma families’ are placed in ‘practical’ schools intended for children with low-level mental disabilities. These children then complete a programme of education that provides them with none of the basic skills for successfully joining the labour market. In these schools only a limited study curriculum is applied, which deepens the problem of low education for the next generation. In most cases the parents of these children themselves have low education and are often also functionally illiterate. This kind of illiteracy means the inability to work with numbers (simple arithmetic and so on), to look for and use information, and to understand texts. Functional literacy is also inherently linked to the ability to communicate in a foreign language.
For these children and their parents, education thus becomes a less important or inaccessible ‘accessory’ for adulthood, and also represents an obstacle to joining the structures of society and to functioning in these structures (especially the labour market).
It is also possible to speak of social exclusion in the sense of constricted social contacts. People living in ghettos have a much smaller number of contacts beyond the limits of a narrowly-defined circle of neighbours, most often with officials, teachers, and so on. This leaves them cut off from a fundamental component of success in society – social capital. The social ‘horizons’ of these people are limited to the type of social patterns that are defined and acquired from their contacts with neighbours in similar situations in life. They do not come into contact with representatives of the majority, except for officials and teachers. Another, and often the most common, source of information on the majority tends to be the ‘distorted’ image on the television screen.
Finally, there is also symbolic exclusion, which involves relationships with the majority society and the characteristics that this society ascribes to people living in ghettos. The people are usually labelled as rent defaulters, slackers, and misfits. The individual ascribed these characteristics are then treated according to them, despite the fact that the description is false and based solely on skin colour. We then talk of stigmatisation occurring on the basis of social status, ethnicity, and skin colour.
An important element here is adaptation to the conditions of social exclusion on the part of those who are living in this situation. A typical aspect of the life strategies applied in their everyday lives is their adaptation to the opportunities life in the ghetto has to offer.
This is above all a rational behaviour in the ghetto environment. The rules that apply in this environment are somewhat different from those in the rest of society. The ghetto forms a vicious cycle, in which the family occupies a very different role as the basic component of solidarity and as a protective ‘network’ for family members. The ineffective behaviour that, coupled with discrimination, in the public space cause and intensifies the poverty of individual and families, derives externally from these networks.
Simply put, within the individual family network the resources obtained by individual members are shared. Every action that would reap a greater benefit for an individual is thus reduced. Education does not pay because the increased income derived from higher education will also be used by the remaining members of the ‘network’. This brings us to the seemingly illogical omission of education as a strategy to elevate one’s life or the life of one’s children. The situation with work and other areas operates similarly. The family becomes a trap that functions not only as a resource in a situation of threat, but also as the cause of the lesser incentive to solve problems individually. Preference is given to activities that bring quick gain and that can be immediately put to use for the needs of the family. Together with discrimination, which in the public space minimises opportunities for work, the circle of poverty closes in on the people trapped in it. Poverty combined with the limited opportunities for assertion of one’s legal rights in the localities (the police are rarely present in these neighbourhoods, instead leaving conflicts to be solved within the framework of the community meaning that a strong family is what guarantees protection; the situation is similar in cases of discrimination, which officials almost never prosecute) lead to the emergence of criminal behaviour as a source of subsistence and an accepted way of life. At this point the ghetto becomes a source of major problems for other members of society. The economic burden combined with other social problems (criminality, drugs, hygiene, health risks, and so on) make this problem on the periphery a serious issue for society as a whole.
How do ghettos form?
The Roma and the socially vulnerable became the primary candidates for the label of rent defaulters since the Velvet Revolution (1989). In the previous regime these people had mainly worked in less qualified jobs as auxiliary manpower in industry. In the new conditions they were the first to be fired and end up unemployed. The social system was still just evolving and these people fell into a spiral of debt, welfare dependence, and discrimination. Further development replicated the situation in other states. The frustrations of people suffering from these problems grew, as did criminality and dependence on benefits and the grey economy.
These mechanisms associated with housing also became a means by which private real estate owners were able to get rid of unwanted tenants. Socially vulnerable families in most cases accepted offers to move out of their category 4 flat (with a long-term lease) and in exchange move into a higher category replacement flat (with a fixed-term lease, e.g., for one year) along with financial compensation in the amount of several months’ wages. These families were thus moved hundreds of kilometres away into communities where real estate companies bought cheap forms of housing like municipal flats. This, for example, is how the ghettos formed at Janov in Lítvínov, many whose resident families used to live, for example, in Prague and Central Bohemia.
The flats obtained by these means are quickly sold and reconstructed. The ejected families were cut off from all their ties and found themselves many kilometres from where they used to call home. In municipalities where these families are found there is an accumulation of social problems, and the social situation in the ghettos usually deteriorates further. Finally, conflict between ghetto inhabitants and the people living in the surrounding area escalates.
The places where ghettos gradually formed in the Czech Republic are those municipalities which in the past, typically had a large share of heavy industry and a demand for cheap labour. These included the country’s large industrial centres: northern Moravia – the Ostrava region, northern Bohemia – Ústí nad Labem, Litvínov, Most, Central Bohemia, Kladno, and so on. The first socially-excluded people also emerged from the ranks of agricultural labours and rural inhabitants. Those from the former Sudeten regions moved to cities in the 1990s in search of work (e.g. Kladno, Liberec, Pilsen, Prague, etc.).
What is life like in the ghetto?
Who lives in the ghettos?
Social exclusion can be viewed as a problem of the Roma in terms of how it relates to discrimination. Skin colour is a common reason why they are denied employment by employers, denied tenancy, required to pay higher rents or bail, have to work illegally, and so on.
Discrimination and stigmatisation are key components in the development of social exclusion. However, another component is the economy that forms around these localities. These activities yield revenue for the company coffers and budgets of many organisations.
Non-payment of employer contribution payments, extravagant rents in buildings owned in the localities and at lodging houses, the withholding of benefits over the long term: these activities are not just a burden to socially excluded people, but are an obstacle to the elimination of ghettoes and a burden on the social system as a whole. These are determinants that ghetto inhabitants cannot eliminate themselves.
Where is the way out of the ghetto?
Story 1 From: M. Brož – P. Kintlová – L. Toušek. Kdo drží Černého Petra: Sociální vyloučení v Liberci, Plzni a Ústí nad Labem. Praha: Člověk v tísni, 2007.
Story 2 PRAGUE: Iveta Balogová lived in a municipal tenement building for years. She made her rent payments regularly, and there were no particular problems with anyone in her family. Nevertheless, she and another seven faultless parties are slated to become clients in housing with an accompanying social programme.
From: M. Brož – P. Kintlová – L. Toušek. Kdo drží Černého Petra: Sociální vyloučení v Liberci, Plzni a Ústí nad Labem. Praha: Člověk v tísni, 2007.
PRAGUE: Iveta Balogová lived in a municipal tenement building for years. She made her rent payments regularly, and there were no particular problems with anyone in her family. Nevertheless, she and another seven faultless parties are slated to become clients in housing with an accompanying social programme.
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