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Social justice and the city: The new 'liberal formulation'

This article examines the discourse on social exclusion/inclusion, social cohesion and social capital that, while hotly debated within academia, has been adopted uncritically by New Labour in the UK. Within the context of urban outcomes, the author investigates how concepts such as social inequality, poverty and class have been replaced with the notions of competitiveness, social cohesion, social exclusion and social capital. Urban problems have been redefined as stemming from a lack of social cohesion that leads to social and economic exclusion. The author suggests that though these terms have yet to be fully tested empirically, they have been taken up as foundations for policies on cities in the UK. Social Exclusion now underpins the whole agenda of the Labour government. Its conservative tone echoes US support for the ideas of civic engagement and communitarianism with their emphasis on the duties of the individual to succeed without government support. In speeches, Tony Blair has linked social capital and social exclusion by saying it is about "prospects, and networks and life chances." Therefore social exclusion stems from a lack of social capital (the networks) that contributes to opportunity and "life chances." The author also contends that the discourse on social cohesion has failed to articulate what it might look like in the real world. On the plus side, social exclusion is a more multi-dimensional concept than poverty or deprivation.