Some basic assumptions on the social quality theory

Traditional European ‘thinking’ and ‘policy-making’ to address societal challenges is related to a non-defendable supposed duality between the ‘economic’ and the non-defined ‘social’. In the current dominant Western economic approach utilitarian assumptions function as point of departure resulting in neo liberal market approaches.

Social quality thinking emerged from a wider humanist tradition. It may be appreciated as an alternative to this individualistic and utilitarian orientation, by theorising the noun ‘the social’. This is geared to overcome a major weakness of social (including economic) sciences, namely the paradox that the term “social” itself actually is not defined anywhere. According our theory, ‘the social’ is the outcome of the dialectic between processes of self-realisation of people (as social beings) and the formation of collective identities.

This is realised in the interplay of two basic tensions: (1) the horizontal (between systems and communities) and (2) the vertical (between the change of societal complexities and biographical developments). The outcomes refer to the productive and reproductive relationships of people. In our view “economics” is an aspect of ‘the social’. The endless changes in the outcomes of this dialectic can be analytically distinguished by three set of factors and their instruments, assembling the social quality architecture.

constitutional factors
conditional factors
(opportunities + contingencies)
normative factors
personal (human) security
social recognition
social responsiveness
personal (human) capacity

instruments of profiles
for the qualification of the changes
of the conditional factors

socio-economic security
social cohesion
social inclusion
social empowerment

instruments of indicators
for understanding the changes
of the conditional factors

social justice (equity)
equal value
human dignity

instruments of criteria
to judge the outcomes of the linking of
the changes of the conditional
and the constitutional factors

(cognitive, emotional) (objective) (ethical)

This approach transcends traditional Western discourses (f.i. concerning the welfare state and the European Social Model) in three ways:

  • All twelve concepts of this social quality architecture are related to the definition of ‘the social’ and therefore all are intrinsically related. For Europe, not only ‘cohesion’ is important but all domains of the three sets of factors are equally crucial,
  • This approach clearly distinguishes an individual, a societal and an ethical aspect. Such a distinction is unique and refers explicitly to the social empowerment of people in societal circumstances which can be analysed with the normative factors.
  • The instruments of these three sets of factors are a device to analyse the results of the interference of the above mentioned dialectic and the interplay between two basic tensions, expressed in overall sustainability, in the change of societal complexities and sustainable urban development as well as their interrelationships.

In project collaboration with

ISS, Part of Erasmus University - The Hague, the Netherlands

EURISPES - Institute of Political, Economic and Social Studies - Rome, Italy

Zhejiang University - Hangzhou, China