Access for All? The promise and problems of universalism.


  • John Clarke


In what follows, I explore why the question of ‘access for all’ is both important and difficult. Beginning by treating it as a contested claim, I will consider some of its political, institutional and professional implications. What do I mean by saying that access for all is a contested claim? First of all, it is a claim – a demand that access for all needs to be created. It is a claim about change. To demand ‘access for all’ is to speak about, and speak against, social conditions that are unjust, unequal or excluding. At its simplest, then, to claim ‘access for all’ is to address social arrangements in which all people do not have access. Secondly, it is a claim made by – or on behalf of – specific social groups against their experience of exclusion, marginalization or subordination. I have added these other terms because I think that ‘exclusion’ is too simple, and too problematic, a term to capture all the aspects of unjust social arrangements that produce claims for ‘access’.1 Access is a demand to be treated equitably in relation to a range of valued social resources, conditions and relationships. It is a claim to be a member: of the society, the polity or the nation. It is a claim to be a citizen: to possess rights and the capacity to make legitimate demands on the state. It is a claim on the apparatuses and agencies that sustain social citizenship: citizenship brings with it access to benefits, services and rights of ‘fair dealing’ or ‘fair treatment’. As this last point suggests, it is a claim about equality: the expectation that all citizens will be dealt with by public agencies in ways that are not discriminatory or oppressive.