The promotion of 'inclusive citizenship', through which the disadvantaged engage in collective struggles for justice and recognition, has been attracting growing attention as a solution to chronic poverty. This paper problematises this formulation by drawing on a case of landless squatters (sukumbasis) in Western Nepal. Underlying the notion of 'inclusive citizenship' is a teleological view assuming that it is attained when social exclusion is countervailed through the extension of full citizenship to marginal groups. This orderly worldview is flawed, however, in that it disregards the intermingling between exclusion and inclusion. The case study shows that the sukumbasis' collective actions were bound to draw a line between 'us' and 'them' thereby privileging some squatters over 'immanent others' who are not entirely outside the realm of association, but are positioned as those lacking the properties required of fully-fledged citizens. Moreover, while claiming rights as citizens, the sukumbasis were ironically compelled to conform to the dominant social norms which had placed them at a disadvantage. However, these 'unintended' outcomes arising from the double-edged nature of the sukumbasis' struggles did not subjugate them outright to constrained positions, but also played into their hands.
The arbitrary nature of group formation, demarcating the outside from the inside, allowed 'immanent others' to question this and to put forward claims for inclusion. Moreover, the disciplinary power contained within the notion of citizenship itself not only imposed particular norms of civility on the sukumbasis, but also served as leverage for them to gain due recognition as citizens. It is therefore crucial for proponents of 'inclusive citizenship' to heed the contingent and unpredictable nature of collective actions. Contrary to a view commonly held by advocates of 'inclusive citizenship', assetlessness and the denial of voices do not necessarily go hand in hand. To avoid imposing outsiders' presumptions on the uncertainty and complexity surrounding the lives of the deprived, an 'ascending' approach is called for to delve into the micro-level inconspicuous practices of the chronically poor. Outside agencies should seek to devise strategies that capitalise on and make up for the opportunities and the limitations arising from their day-to-day struggles.
‘Inclusive citizenship’ for the chronically poor: exploring the inclusion-exclusion nexus in collective struggles. CPRC Working Paper 96, Manchester: IDPM/Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC), UK, ISBN: 1-904049-95-8, iv + 24 pp.