“Sorry you can’t sit with us”: Exclusion and Belonging

Sometimes, Geography overlaps with other disciplines, such as sociology. This post gives a brief over view on Geographies of exclusion and belonging; concepts which straddle both discipline.

What is Exclusion?

Exclusion is being left out. It is being denied the same rights other people get. Its being told you can’t go somewhere or do something. Exclusion sucks.

Certain groups are more likely to be excluded than others. Donna Haraway (1988) points out that there is this ‘master subject’- White, Middle Class, Western, Heterosexual Men. Anyone falling outside this tends to be excluded in one way or another, whether its because you are a woman, a lesbian, an ethnic minority or living in poverty.

Sometimes, these things overlap, so you can be doubly, triply etc excluded. For example, Takacs David (2002) claims that as an “economically challenged, a woman, of color, who is queer…I would fit in the platinum category if one compares my marginality to a credit card”. Basically she is pretty much as excluded as it gets. Exclusion is a complicated matter, and I will discuss it in more detail in future blog posts.

Trying to find the least depressing image of exclusion. Photo Credit: Upstate’s Choice Insurance

What is Belonging?

Belonging is one of those words we all think we know what it means, but could probably never provide a definition for. We often associate ideas of belonging with being at home. But home can be a pretty unpleasant place for victims of domestic abuse, who probably do not feel like that is where they belong. Antonsich (2010) sees belonging as feeling at home in place, and where your many identities are accepted. This to me, is one of the best and clearest ideas of belonging I have read (and I have read a lot!). Belonging could be our home, it could be a sports club, a group of friends, a certain spot on a quiet beach… it is highly subjective.

However, in order to establish who does belong, we also draw up clear boundaries about who does not belong. Random strangers do not belong in the home. Children do not belong on a spa getaway. Homeless people do not belong inside a Chanel store. This leaves many groups excluded from interacting with spaces they often have just as much right to as anyone else. Not belonging and feeling excluded are unpleasant feelings that can ultimately end up with those being excluded facing racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism…. you get the picture. It’s not very nice.

How do we study this through Geography?

Let’s take a classic Geography example. The shopping mall. Most of the time we collect data on the land use, talk about clone towns and cities or about the decline of independent retailers. If thinking about exclusion, we can go one step further. Look at all the adverts in the shop windows, particularly those of couples. Notice anything? They are pretty much all white, heterosexual, able bodied individuals. How do you think that makes LGBTQ shoppers feel? Or disabled shoppers? Or anyone who isn’t white? Probably a bit uncomfortable. As thought they aren’t welcome. As though they don’t belong. As though they are excluded. This is not a nice feeling and they may even be put of shopping and interacting with this space (see the spatial/geographical element coming through?).

The Shopping Mall. Photo Credit: The Romania Journal

Why is it important?

Say we take our findings from this shopping mall, and present it to the council or the company the runs the mall. We say “You need to increase you inclusivity on your advertisements”. Imagine they listen. They change their posters so that across the mall all types of people are represented. There are gay couples in the photos. One of the women in a clothes window is in a wheelchair. Someone from another ethnic background is featured in a shot in an underwear shop window.  These people, who felt excluded and left out are now able to feel more included. As though the mall recognizes there are other people in the world besides white, able, heterosexual people. Perhaps people who are bigoted are outraged at first, but maybe over time they get used to these images. Bit by bit, society begins to accept and represent that there are a whole range of people out there. Maybe they begin to accept it a bit more. A small step such as creating a more inclusive atmosphere in a shopping mall can contribute towards the development of society.




Antonsich, M. (2010) ‘Searching for Belonging- An Analytical Framework’, Geography Compass, 4 (6), pp.644-659

David, T. (2002) ‘Positionality, Epistemology, and Social Justice in the Classroom’, Social Justice, 29 (4), pp.168-181

Haraway, D. (1988) ‘Situated knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective’, Feminist Studies, 14 (3), pp. 575-599



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