Most studies of living conditions in rural areas have offered essentially static snapshots. Social exclusion is a multi-dimensional, dynamic concept which emphasizes the processes of change through which individuals or groups are excluded from the mainstream of society and their life-chances reduced. This article considers social exclusion in the context of the principal forces operating on and within rural areas of Britain, including global restructuring and the changing role of the State and supra-national institutions. A framework of four systems of social exclusion and inclusion is proposed, following Reimer (personal communication, 1998), according to the means by which resources and status are allocated in society. This used to structure a presentation of the results of several recent empirical studies which provide evidence of the processes and system failures lying behind social exclusion in rural Britain. A number of research issues are identified concerning how these processes vary between areas, how they connect to the broader forces operating at macro and meso levels, and how local action is associated with attempts to resist social exclusion.