Social Inclusion as a Substitute for Equal Treatment as the Means for Just Outcomes in Anti-Discrimination Efforts: A Response to Hugh Collins

7 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2005

Date Written: March 2006


Hugh Collins, Social Inclusion: A Better Approach to Equality Issues? advances our understandings of the difficulties of reconciling two measures of equality: equality of treatment, administered on an individual basis, and equality of outcome, administered on a group basis. The problem he poses is a real one in the Western world on both sides of the Atlantic and perhaps far beyond. As he says, this debate plays a important role in liberal democratic legal system because [i]t marks a commitment to eliminate the privileges of status or caste, and to establish a democratic republic of equal citizens. To that end, this debate is of global importances. Major shifts in the elimination of status or caste in world moments such as the last century's end of apartheid in South Africa, the end of the caste system in India, and the nineteenth century's abolition of slavery in the United States have historical lessons about the relative success of these commitments to equality.

Like Douglas Rae's book, Equalities, Collins identifies the elusiveness of the concept of equality when used in context. The term, equality responds to different scales of evaluation. Therefore there are equalities (plural) rather than equality (singular). The equalities, for example, include equal treatment, equal opportunity, equal respect, equal result, and equal process. If we utilize equality on a scale of equal treatment, are we also maintaining the scale of equal opportunity? If we utilize equality on a scale of equal treatment, are we also producing equality of distributional result in the target pool?

Both Collins' and Rae's assessments agree that the answer is no.

It is rare in practice that theoretical ideals of the equality of opportunity converge with the equality of treatment AND with the equality of distributional result in the target pool. When in those rare instances, the measures of equality do converge, we consider ourselves fortunate in achieving justice. When they do not, we engage in a perennial debate about whether one or the other of the equalities is the trump value in being true to the principle and achieving the goal.

Within that larger debate, Collins advocates that a social inclusion principle trump equal treatment, but for reasons that I will line out, it's not clear that social inclusion attains that theoretical perfection of convergence between equalities in the several spheres of justice, nor that it produces the just result of the nature that we all yearn for.

The problem that social inclusion presents is that it speaks in terms of the intervention of selective counter-privileging as a remedy to the accumulated effects of centuries of unfair privileging. The distributional consequences of this selective meeting privilege with privilege in the name of inclusion hardly undo the past, nor do they de-privilege those who have historically enjoyed its benefits. The distributional consequences of Collins' proposal of selectively privileging the historically disadvantaged are also only selective, rather than given to everyone in the class. In short, Social inclusion sounds great if it means bringing everyone to the table, but if there is not room for everyone at the table, it does not allocate the empty seats in any way we would consider fair, and it does nothing to question the legitimacy of those already seated. Thus, the problem with selective social inclusion to coin a phrase is that it is both under and over-inclusive.

Keywords: society, race, equality, inclusion, social exclusion, discrimination

JEL Classification: K1, K31, K40

Suggested Citation

VanderVelde, Lea S., Social Inclusion as a Substitute for Equal Treatment as the Means for Just Outcomes in Anti-Discrimination Efforts: A Response to Hugh Collins (March 2006). University of Iowa College of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Lea S. VanderVelde (Contact Author)

University of Iowa - College of Law ( email )

Melrose and Byington
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States

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