Elaboration of the Theory of Social Quality

December 2020

The Reciprocity between Processes in and between Three Fields and the Judgement of the Outcomes – an Introduction

This brief representation of the current state of the social quality theory (SQT) and the social quality approach (SQA) is based, first, on the outcomes of the IAFQ’s third book on social quality, namely: Social Quality: From Theory to Indicators, published in 2012. Second, it may be further appreciated as a provisional improvement and elaboration as presented in Working Paper nr 17, based on a manifold of projects since 2012 in Europe, Asia and Australia. It was published at the end of 2019. Argument for this publication was the invitation by the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, to present ideas about the application of the SQT in Ukraine. This Academy looked for opportunities to contribute to the social quality in this country. From many sides social quality scholars contributed to the completion of this working paper. Third, it is based on the recent study of a social quality project group, with which to pave the way for a connection at an abstract level of natural and human sciences as overarching point of departure for interdisciplinary work and to contribute to the deepening of the SQT with one and the same movement.

Two of the main goals of SQA as outcomes of the SQT:

  • to pave the way for analyzing societal complexities (first field) and to understand the results of this for also the daily urban contexts nowadays (second field), and the consequences for eco-systems (third field), and vice versa. For academics – who will be the focus of this theory – this presupposes an ontological and epistemologically conceptual framework, that allows an unequivocal embedding for herewith relevant scientific disciplines as condition for interdisciplinarity. This should pave the way for a comprehensive understanding of the reciprocity of processes in and between these fields. These processes concern four essential societal dimensions: the socioeconomic/financial, the sociopolitical/legal, the sociocultural/welfare and the socioenvironmental dimensions (see Figure-3).
  • to apply the five normative factors of social quality as points of departure for the SQA for judging the outcomes of the reciprocity of processes in and between these three fields. Purpose is to pave the way for acceptable living conditions in all Continents which also contribute to the challenge of the overall sustainability. These factors are: (1) social justice (equity), implying the rule of law, (2) solidarity, (3) equal value, (4) human dignity, and (5) eco-equilibrium (see Figure 2, below).

The Theory’s Conceptual Framework Based on the Conceptualization of ‘The Social'

The Theory’s Ontological Assumptions

The theory’s ontological assumptions reject the hedonic tradition which its emphasis on the utilitarian-individualistic orientation as individual happiness and the quality of especially personal life. This is also explained in the book The Decent Society: Planning for social quality, published in 2016. This ego-centric oriented tradition refers to the work of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. Instead the theory of social quality focuses on the eudaimonic tradition, and tries to understand processes, resulting into personal expressiveness in the context of societal wholes. The purpose is to stimulate personal growth, one’s potentials and the quality of societal wholes. This approach was already manifest in the work of Aristoteles and his followers in the past centuries. A logical consequence is, that the SQT’s ambition is not to design a model for citizens, policy makers, and academics but intellectual tools for understanding the world we are living in and how to judge the outcomes of these analyses. This judgment may have clear implications for politics and policies. For example, the ultimate goal of the BRICS-platform (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) is to enhance the quality of global development (see IJSQ: Vol. 9.1, 2019). In this platform it has not been formulated how to determine what quality really means in this and how we can determine whether this quality is increasing or decreasing. And the question remains, how this is related to the overall sustainability. What has the SQT to offer for supporting this ultimate goal and to deliver an orientation to really explain what is meant with ‘quality?’ Whatever the answer may be, this theory is completely antithetic to politics which explain ‘my country first’. According to this theory, this means an outright undermining of the quality of global development and the chances of strengthening global forms of government as a condition for climate change and overall sustainability.

The Definition of ‘The Social’ and of ‘Social Quality’

From the beginning endeavors were made to develop the reciprocity between deductive (theorizing social quality) and inductive forms (analyzing changes of policy areas as public health care, employment, income distribution, housing, education, ageing) of explorations. This implied a rethinking of ‘the social’ as a new leitmotiv for a comprehensive understanding of socio-economic/financial, socio-political/legal, social-cultural/welfare and socio-environmental processes. The aim was to go beyond the fragmented discourses in Europe and beyond. As explained, advocates of social quality thinking were enabled to find some financial support at European and Dutch levels in the early 1990s as well as impressive support in kind by many universities in Europe, to organize or participate in workshops and seminars in different member states as well as to produce articles. The accent on the above mentioned reciprocity stimulated the comparative work with other approaches. The different research projects affirmed the existing fragmentation between scientific disciplines (and sub-disciplines) and serious misunderstandings of (utilitarian oriented) suppositions about the empowerment of citizens. As explained in the IASQ’s first book on social quality, namely, The Social Quality of Europe, published in 1997, all of this showed the integration of the European Union as too much a technical-economic project and, implicitly demonstrated its lack of democratic based mechanism.

A key outcome was the growing interest of policy makers at European level. As the President of the European Commission - Romano Prodi – argued in the Foreword of the IASQ’s second book, namely, Social Quality: A Vision for Europe, published in 2001, that the great merit of this theory is that it promotes an approach that goes beyond production, economic growth, employment and human protection and gives self-fulfillment for individual citizens a major role to play in the formation of collective identities. This is related with the thesis, discussed in the second book, that current dominant ‘thinking’ and ‘policy-making’ to address societal challenges is usually related to the theoretically indefensible supposed duality between the ‘economic’ and the ‘social’. This is also the case with the dominant Western economic approach. Its dominant utilitarian-individualistic assumptions function as point of departure resulting into neo-liberal market principles with as consequence the unlimited marketization of the commons of more and more aspects of eco-systems as conditions for also human existence. As a logical consequence of this paradigm, the noun and the adjective ‘social’ - and see the well-known statement by Friedrich Hayek – are without any meaning in these principles. He argued, that ‘social democracy’ is no democracy, ‘social economics’ is no economics, ‘social innovation’ is no innovation, ‘social progress’ is no progress. As a consequence, everything what is ‘not-economic’ is appreciated as handmaiden of economic processes and also financial interests.

This hereupon based duality between ‘the economic and the social’ became self-evident, due to the persistent meaninglessness of the concept of ‘the social’. During the Portuguese Presidency in 2000, the Presidency Conclusions were that the European Union has to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy of the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion as – as later explained – a productive factor. At that time, critics of this paradigm and its desolate consequences as the fundamental (and increasing) inequality and injustice and the undermining of the overall sustainability started with the second book among others to design the first contours of a new orientation.

The social quality thinking emerged from a wider humanist tradition. It may be appreciated as an alternative to the utilitarian-individualistic orientation by explaining people as ‘social beings.’ The meaning of the adjective ‘social’ is derived from the meaning of the noun or concept ‘the social’. According to its theory, this concept is defined as: “the outcome of the dialectic between processes of self-realization of people and processes resulting into the formation of collective identities”. This is geared to overcome a major weakness of the current human sciences, namely the paradox that the term ‘social’ itself - see the usual application of this adjective in: social sciences, social democracy, social-economics, social cohesion, social groups, social model, or social dimension - actually is not defined anywhere. Curiously this is also the case in recent books about economy and sustainability, which stresses the significance of taking on board ‘the social’ without any explanation what it really means. The quality of ‘the social’ or ‘social quality’ is defined in IASQ’s third book 'Social Quality: From Theory to Indicators' as: “the extent to which people are able to participate in soci(et)al relationships under conditions which enhance their well-being, capacity and individual potential. It refers to a new understanding of ‘the social’ as the outcome of the productive and reproductive relationships of people. According this interpretation, ‘economics’ is an aspect of ‘the social’ as defined in this theory. And the adjective ‘social’ used in the SQT has a specific meaning, because it is derived from the noun ‘the social’ as defined in the SQT. With this in mind, e.g. social cohesion or social justice as aspect of the SQT differs from the usual view of both concepts. The usual adjective ‘social’ is translated in the SQT into or ‘societal’ or ‘interpersonal’.

The Analytic Framework: Two Basic Tensions and the Social Quality Architecture

Two Basic Societal Tensions: The Theory’s Epistemological Assumptions

Hypothesized is, that this above mentioned dialectic between processes between the self-realization of people and the formation of collectivities will be realized in the interplay of two basic tensions, see Figure-1. First the horizontal (between systems/institutions and families/ communities) which refers to the interactions between unequal actors. Second the vertical (between the transformation of societal complexities and biographical transformations) which refers to the whole of opportunities or non-actualized possibilities, e.g. manifestations of symbols, meanings, constructions, values, norms, traditions and cognition.

Social Quality Theory, Figure 1Assumed is, that the endless changes in the outcomes of this interplay can be analytically understood by applying the instruments of the three set of factors, assembling the social quality architecture (Figure-2). In each quadrant especially one of the conditional, constitutional and normative factors play a main role. The changes of the factors of these three sets concern the point of departure for analyzing processes in the four quadrants as outcomes of the crossing of the two basic tensions as shown in Figure-1. According the SQT, the horizontal tension refers to the field of interactions between unequal actors with different outcomes on both poles. On the left pole, the interactions are concerned mainly with the relationship between individuals and the world of political and economic systems and institutions (‘Vergesellschaftung’). On the right pole, the integration concerns the daily relations between people and societal totalities such as communities and other configurations (“Vergemeinschaftung’). Between both poles there is a simultaneous reciprocity and mutuality; they are depended on each other and they are dependent of each other. The vertical tension concerns the dynamic between societal development or transformation and biographical development or transformation. In this way, the SQT goes beyond Lockwood and Habermas who are oriented on aspects of only the horizontal axe. The vertical tension refers to the field of opportunities or non-actualized possibilities (contingencies). It concerns the manifestation of symbols, meanings, constructions, values, norms, traditions and cognition on both a biographical and societal level.

The Social Quality Architecture

In Figure-2 the three sets of factors are presented, namely the constitutional, the conditional and the normative factors. Recently three eco-factors are added and signed in Figure-2 as well. As indicated in Figure-1, these three eco-factors are not related with the four quadrants, because they are not specific for the four quadrants as outcome if the crossing of both basic tensions respectively. But they concern all quadrants. Therefore they are situated in Figure-1 outside the four quadrants.

The three set of factors form (and see the IASQ’s third book, published in 2012) together the social quality architecture:

  • the constitutional (subjective and individual oriented) factors of daily life concern the degree of personal security, social recognition, social responsibility, and their personal capacities to combat situations feelings of alienation, exploitation, discrimination and degradation. Their instrument for research are social quality profiles. They have not yet been designed.
  • the conditional (objective and societal oriented) factors of daily life: the socio-economic conditions people live with: the social cohesion they experience in their communities; social inclusion to realize their civil rights; and the extent of their social empowerment to enable them to play responsible roles in society and in the processes of societal change. Their instrument for research are social quality indicators.
  • the normative (ethical oriented) factors of daily life: social justice and equity; solidarity at community, national and international level; to promote the equal value of all people and to defend; and enhance their human dignity. These also form the basic orientation to judge the outcomes of the linking of the objective and the subjective conditions. Their instrument for research is social quality criteria that have yet to be worked out.

Social Quality Theory, Figure 2As explained in the IASQ’s third book, the SQT and the SQA differs decisively from the discourse about (1) the welfare state, (2) the (European) social model, (3) social harmony, (4) quality of life, (5) social capital, or (6) capability approach. This thesis is interpreted in the drawing of Figure-1. Both, the SQT and SQA, are first and for all dedicated to understanding the dialectic between processes of self-realization of people (as citizens) and processes resulting into the formation of collectivities on the basis of the research of the changes of the constitutional and conditional factors as outcomes of these processes. Second, with help of the application of the normative factors, to judge the outcomes of these changes. It will give scholars, policy-makers and citizens tools in order to understand the changes of the daily circumstances of people and to deliver tools to change these circumstances if they are not acceptable. This is a far cry from making imaginary models, restricting to personal interpretations of daily life. Many disciplines have are oriented on subjects of this complex whole; political science, jurisprudence, economic science, cultural sciences, environmental sciences etc. But for really understanding what happens, these disciplines should be connected to each other; this demands for interdisciplinary approaches. Added can be, that furthermore:

  • All fifteen concepts of this social quality architecture are related to the definition of ‘the social’ and, therefore, all are intrinsically related to each other. Their understanding can only be derived from this intrinsicality. They have no meaning sui generis. This differs from all other approaches. This concerns at this stage also the new three factors connected with the eco-systems.
  • Different is also, that this approach clearly distinguishes and interrelates individual, societal and ethical aspects. For each are specific instruments (see Figure-2), for understanding this distinction and interrelatedness. For example, qualitative research concerning profiles will better search complex human feelings, capacities and potentials than quantitative oriented indicators’ research. By far, most SQ-research has concerned the application of social quality indicators. The application of profiles is an indispensable step for understanding the quality of daily circumstances of people.

The instruments of these three sets of factors are a device to analyze the results of the interference of the above mentioned dialectic and the interplay between two basic tensions, expressed in the transformations of the three most interesting fields, mentioned above in the Introduction, namely (1) the field of societal complexities, (2) the field of rural/urban circumstances, and (3) the field of the eco-systems. This delivers a foundation for the desired comprehensive approach.

Attention for the Overall Sustainability and the Consequences for the Analytical Framework

Thanks to the increased attention for connecting the ‘social quality theory’ (SQT) with societal oriented analyses of climate change and the overall sustainability, a fifth layer is added to each of the three sets of factors (Figure-2). The argument is that the three original sets of factors - as points of departure for enhancing and defending the general circumstances for social quality – should also contribute to the development toward the overall sustainability. This is a state of dynamic equilibrium between human actors and the whole eco-system which remains within its resilient boundaries. A high state of social quality in a certain place at certain time which undermines the overall sustainability (at other places) is a contradiction in terms. This implies also investments into sustainable urban development, encompassing citizens of all cities and metropoles, tackling the present gross inequalities between them. This may happen by e.g. supporting the transformation of cities and metropoles into pillars for both sustainability and social quality at the same time.

The consequences are quite serious. If the same standards will be made accessible for rich and poor people, all people on earth will make the same ‘ecological footprint’ (in global hectares per capita). In that case, from an ecological point of view this globe will be exhausted if the standards for at least ‘well-to-do- people’ are to be realized everywhere. However, circumstances are also changing. The European Commission summarized scenario’s which connected the effects of the equalization of standards and the new changes. The global population as such will increase at great length. At the same time there is a strong ageing of the population world-wide and an increase of migration for political-economic reasons. Therefore global energy demand will increase by around 40% with the vast majority of the growth coming from non-OECD countries such as China, India and Brazil. In absolute terms, the largest increase in energy demand will be met by coal-based power generation. Furthermore, the growth in consumption of many of the world’s main metals is also on the rise. By 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population are expected to be living in water-stressed regions. Its conclusion in 2011 is ‘incremental changes, small adjustments to the current policy framework will not do the job. In order to avoid catastrophic declines, bold ambitious and coordinated policy actions are required, and must formulated in such a way that they speak directly to citizens, in order to stimulate the emergence of a fully-fledged European[and global] mind and identity’. This stimulated – and also thanks the theoretical work on ‘sustainable urban development’ of a Dutch social quality project in The Hague - the IASQ in collaboration with the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS of the Erasmus University) to take the initiative to start a project ‘Dutch think tank about the challenge of the overall sustainability’ in order to analyze the global debate on sustainability. This resulted into Working Paper nr. 11, Development Toward Sustainability, published in 2012.

As a logical consequence of the reasoning about ‘the social’ (as presented above), this Working Paper criticized the classic distinction between the three dimensions of the sustainability as presented in the famous Brundtland Report “Our Common Future”, published by the UN in 1987. It concerns the economic, the social and the environmental dimension. From the SQT proposed is a fourfold distinction between the: socio-economic/financial, socio-political/legal, socio-cultural/welfare and socio-environmental dimensions. In this proposal, the ‘social dimension’ is changed into the socio-political/legal and the socio-cultural/welfare dimensions, because the ‘social dimension’ lacks any heuristic meaning, and regards as a black box everything what is not economic or environmental. The members of the think tank argued in above mentioned working paper, that the incessant use of this black box is not merely a minor blemish but a fundamental basic problem that brings about a misunderstanding of well-being, welfare and societal dynamics and also for what could be effective policy responses to address the change of sustainability. Notwithstanding this, all international institutions, the European Commission, the BRICS-platform, many governmental bodies and international oriented research institutes refer without any scientific hesitation to the ‘social dimension’ as the subject of analysis and policy making for developing the overall sustainability. It is a logical consequence of the untenable duality between the ‘economic’ and the ‘social’.

This form of reasoning influenced the nature of the social quality architecture. Three factors are added respectively to the set of constitutional, the set of the conditional and the set of the normative factors, as shown in Figure-2. This addition of a fifth layer to each set of factors connects the SQT with anthropomorphic caused environmental questions. As argued, these three extra eco-oriented factors concern each quadrant of Figure-1, because they dispose of an all-encompassing status. This delivers the argument to situate these three factors outside the illustration of the crossing of two basic tensions. This Dutch social quality think tank on the overall sustainability marked a new decisive direction to the SQT and SQA. This may be underpinned by the social quality Manifesto on Climate Change, published in December 2015.

The Procedural Framework Connecting the Conceptual and the Analytical Frameworks

A manifold of theoretical oriented studies and outcomes of empirical research concerning the application of social quality indicators in the International Journal of Social Quality – next to the production of new books on social quality and the publication of social quality research in other international journals – explained the increasing need for enhancing the theory. An argument for investing time into this new theoretical work came also from the side of the Institute for Economics and Forecasting of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (IEF/NASU). It invited in November 2015 the IASQ to apply the Social Quality Approach (SQA) for stimulating new politics and policies on community, city, sub-regional (provincial) and national levels of Ukraine The rationale of the theory of social quality is to design for a new theoretical based approach in order to understand the consequences of a multitude of societal processes. This invitation was in order words very welcome. Very soon the internet-project Ukraine was started to elaborate the existing analytical framework – see the IASQ’s third book – to contemporary circumstances, also in Central and Eastern European countries. Scientists participated in this from the UK, from Germany, from The Netherlands , from Italy and from Ukraine. It resulted into Working paper nr. 17, published in December 2019.

The invitation to further develop the SQA on the basis van the existing nature of the SQT makes an appeal to the capacity to explicate more strongly the important goals of the SQA, see the Introduction, namely its procedural framework:

  • To distinguish the three relevant fields for the SQA
  • To distinguish for the SQA four relevant societal dimensions
  • To analyze processes in these dimensions
  • To understand the reciprocity of these processes of these dimensions in each field,
  • To understand the reciprocity of the outcomes between the three fields
  • To apply the analytical framework (based on the conceptual framework) for analyze these processes and their reciprocal effects and to judge their outcomes

The objective of the hereupon based SQA is to contribute to daily circumstances of people in such a way that its conditional, constitutional and normative aspects are improved or fully addressed. According the ‘procedural framework’, the invitation concerns politics and policies oriented on – tentatively speaking – processes within and between four main dimensions of societal life: the socioeconomic/financial, sociopolitical/legal sociocultural/welfare and socioenvironmental dimensions. Also in accordance with the ‘procedural framework,’ this will be realized in three fields, namely, societal complexities, rural/urban circumstances, and ecosystems. This can be illustrated as is done in Figure-3, as happened in Working Paper 17 (see Introduction).


The distinction between these four dimensions with regard to the field of societal complexities has already been tentatively applied to Ukraine from the side of the ISS. Argued is, that in the past years after the Revolution of Dignity the Ukrainian society passed through multiple parallel transitions, but we are confronted with a rather fragmented reforms discussion. It is important to embed this discussion in a broader sociospatial context of societal life in post-revolution Ukraine (see the article by Zuzana Novakova in IJSQ 7.2, 2017). This led in fact to making explicit the frames of references, which play a role in the social quality theory and herewith related empirical research.

In some following SQT-studies other endeavors are made to analyze aspects of the interrelationships between the three fields and the intervening processes that take place within every dimension, attempting a primarily application of the analytical framework:

  • Starting from eco-systems as third field, this framework is applied to the case of plastic pollution of the oceans, namely how reciprocal processes in all four dimensions strengthened the ultimate consequence of this form of pollution (see IJSQ: 8, 2, 2018).
  • In this study an exploration is made of the outcomes of the first decade of the BRICS-platform (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) from the point of view of all three fields and their respective four dimensions (see the article by Marco Ricceri in IJSQ 9.1 , 2019)
  • The study about the state of Ukraine as main actor of the sociopolitical and legal dimension, initiator of main changes in the three other dimensions and the comparison with the role of the welfare states according to the dominant Western interpretation (see the article by Valeriy Heyets in IJSQ 9.1 , 2019)
  • A study, which explores the current scenario of urban agglomerations, drawing attention to the growth of populations and the process unruled urbanization that endangers the delicate balance between human settlements and the surrounding environment. This result into an increase of slums of megacities of different continents all over the world. This is explained with help of the four-dimensional approach of this field interpretation (see the article by Paolo Motta in IJSQ 10.1 , 2020).

Some of the Main Challenges of the SQT

A main challenge of the theory of social quality remains, first to deepen our understanding about which processes take place in and between the four dimensions of the selected research subject and to understand their consequences for one or more ‘fields’. It concerns the application of the procedural framework (see Figure-3). Explained in study about the contemporary urban questions (see above) is, that already nearly 26% of the urban population on earth lives in slums. And this amount will increase soon, as also demonstrated by UN-Habitat since years. It is an outcome of the reciprocity of processes in the four dimensions and will determine at the end of the day the quality of each field. And this reciprocity is not really on the academic and political agenda. If the procedural framework opens new perspectives to understand and to address also this phenomenon, the herewith related challenge will be the further elaboration of the conceptual framework and the analytical framework of the SQT and SQA as the core of Figure-3.

Natural Sciences and Human Sciences: Broadening of the Understanding of their Conceptual Frameworks as a Condition for Interdisciplinarity

This section refers to the recent work of the Dutch theoretical study-group of social quality since 2018. As explained above, in the past decade the notion has emerged that the meaning of the theory of social quality and its approach mainly depends on its functionality towards the major challenge of the world population, namely to contribute to the sustainability of human life on our planet, thus of also all flora, fauna and other natural aspects of the planet. A ground condition is that the academic world manages to overcome the existing lack of interdisciplinarity. Interdisciplinarity implies a shared overarching ontological and epistemological orientation as a science-theoretical medium to connect all disciplines, which should play a role in strengthening this sustainability. With this in mind, this study-group published in 2020 the outcomes of its work, dedicating to the hypothesis, that in mutual interaction the Evolutionary Thermodynamics (ET) as a part of natural sciences and the Theory on Social Quality (SQT) and approach (SQA) as part of human sciences may deliver points of departure for this overarching orientation. This study is published in the International Journal of Social Quality 2020,1 (free download).

Argued is, that the fragmentation between physics, other natural sciences and the human sciences continues to disturb and disrupt the development of comprehensive, coherent knowledge about the workings of processes in nature and societies. To achieve such coherent comprehension, the Spinozan starting point that Nature is a unity and needs a single explanatory approach should be valued as the fundamental ground motif for all sciences. Hypothesized is first, that the ET as connecting concept is shown to have the potential to bridge the theoretical divide between physics and other natural sciences. Inspired by this ET hypothesis, hypothesized is, second, that the SQT may dispose of the potentiality to function as a connecting concept to bridge the theoretical divide between a manifold of human sciences. Third, both conceptual frameworks may constitute tools that may connect the human sciences, biology, other natural sciences, and physics. If this makes sense, a common ground can be found for a dialogue between the diversity of natural and human sciences. This common ground delivers the overarching orientation, mentioned above.

In this study, the search for appropriate ontologies and epistemologies - and exploration of the most influential ground patterns of thought, applied in the human sciences - was unfolded. It was concluded that both ‘individualist’ and ‘collectivist’ perspectives are one-sided oriented, respectively to humans as autonomous interacting singular parts and societies as larger sui generis collectivities. The nature of processes of evolution of humans and societies is assumed to be most adequately expressed in a new understanding of ‘the social’, as happens in the SQT (see above). It was hypothesized that the SQT-expresses much affinity with the principles of ET theory. For both, dialectical evolutionary dynamics between constituting parts and larger wholes deliver a common ontological ground. Based on this dialectical pattern, living, nonliving, and human phenomena can be conceived and studied as interrelated phenomena of the Spinozan unified nature.

As outcome of the SQT’s comprehensive ontology, the human experience (the subjective), the reality of societal conditions (the objective), and the ethical aspects (the normative) are therefore part of its analytical framework. This concerns the SQT’s comprehensive epistemology. In this study the challenge is discussed to connect the SQT’s ontological and epistemological points of departure on abstract level with those of the ET’s points of departure. If reasonable, pathways leading to real interdisciplinary work between human and natural sciences may be possible. Considering the extremely complex nature of many pressing global problems, coherent scientific knowledge is urgently needed. It is a conditio sine qua non to cope with critical challenges in the world. Defending en developing the overall sustainability of nature and human existence is undoubtedly one of the most prominent issues of our time. Furthermore, already argued is that another complex issue, which stand as an inexorable sign on the wall is that of 26 percent of today’s urban world populate lives in slums, and that number will increase significantly in the future (see above). The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is yet another example of a pressing, topical global issue. This crisis painfully reveals the complex physical, biological, societal and human interferences that case far-reaching socio-economic, socio-political, socio-cultural and ecological imbalances. It is an evident threat to global overall sustainability. But sciences have developed in rather fragmented, super-specialized subcultures of expertise. The specialized products of these cultures are not accessible for common human consciousness. It has become increasingly difficult to synthesize knowledge from these subcultures into a comprehensive understanding of complex problems. Notwithstanding this, we need the outcomes of all these processes for articulating contemporary ethical standards. We need to determine what is good or wrong, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, what is ethical responsible and what not. Due to the complexity, a tiny minority has already gathered more than 50% of wealth in hands, based on juridical principles from centuries ago. These principles are not related any more with the contemporary production, distribution, consumptions systems and the new information technologies which are easy to apply for fundamental disinformation. Hypothesized is the ET and the SQT may present an example how to cope with the herewith related challenges.

New Steps with Regard to the Analytical Framework

The Conditional Factors and its Indicators: a Chinese Proposal

Most empirical social quality research up till now in Europe, Australia, Asia and also Africa is dedicated to the application of social quality indicators for understanding the change of the conditional factors in daily circumstances. In this website referrals are made to a manifold of social quality indicators projects and herewith related research since the early 2000s in Europe, Asia and Australia. See especially Working Paper 17 (see this Introduction). In September 2018 during an expert-meeting organized by CASS (Chinese Academy of social Science in Beijing) discussed are outcomes of this research and especially those in China. The conclusions were that a global oriented project-group should:

  • Analyze the outcomes thus far in all four continents since the 2000s,
  • To confront these outcomes with the renewed aspects of the theory of social quality, which are partly already a result of empirical research in the past two decades and with the current elaboration of the conceptual, the analytical and the procedural framework,
  • By connecting the first and the second to give a further elaboration of the approach for this aspect of social quality research.

Important will be the question, if these indicators (1) are instruments for measuring data as phenomena as such or (2) tools for understanding processes in daily circumstances of people. It concerns processes which constitute the objective conditions in societal formations on community, municipal or national levels. Supposed is in a theoretical oriented study about the four dimensions of the three relevant fields for SQT and SQA in 2013, that social quality indicators are not designed to monitor or measure in the traditional sense of the word. They aim to offer provisional instruments to grasp relationships on a more general and abstract level. In other words, there is a distinction between, first, indicators (or monitoring devices) as constructed by ad hoc ‘pragmatic’ procedures (see e.g. the indicators for quality of life, social capital, social development, human development) and, second, the social quality indicators that have been constructed on the basis of deductive and inductive forms or reasoning. The indicators created by ad hoc pragmatic procedures remain ad random and eclectic empirical descriptions. They may be effective for the demonstration of policy outcomes; however, to create a profonde and integrated understanding of the effect of trends and contradictions in and between the four dimensions of societal circumstances as demonstrated in the three fields (see Figure-3), such indicators are not adequate (See Van der Maesen in IJSQ 3.1, 2011). At this stage a begin should be made for starting this internationally oriented project-group in order to analyze, understand and enhance the empirical work concerning social quality indicators in the past two decades.

The Constitutional Factors and its Profiles: A Start in the Netherlands

A highly important aspect of social quality thinking is oriented on the meaning and functionality of the constitutional factors. This refers rightly to the feelings and personal experiences of people and how they play a role in processes of people’s self-realization. This is dialectically influenced by societal processes, resulting in conditional factors which are specific for a certain place and time. A very long time the elaboration of this aspect of the analytical framework remained underexposed. For the first time is made explicit in de study about the nature of social quality in the city Stoke-on-Trent in the United Kingdom. It is one of the poorest cities and with the highest number of voters for Brexit. This was rooted, at least in part, in their subjective experiences and disenchantment forged in this ongoing decline of this city. The European Union was blamed for this situation (See Mahoney and Kearon in IJSQ 8.1, 2018). This theme is also approached in Working Paper 17 (see in this Introduction). In order to make conclusions about the nature of social quality of conditional factors with help of social quality indicators (see above) at a certain place and time, it is necessary to link the outcomes of analyses about the nature of conditional factors and constitutional factors. Because the underdevelopment of the conditional factors in Stoke-on-Trent, the experiences of the research participants demonstrate also that the population lacks the means to enhance the quality of the constitutional factors. According the searchers, underpinned by chromic economic insecurity, there is considerable fragmentation of identities on a geographical level as the city continues to struggle to reinvent itself following prolonged post-industrial decline, as well as on an individual level among those who find themselves living in deprived, marginalized communities. The result is growing personal insecurity as people struggle t get on in neoliberal Britain and not longer feel the same sense of collectivity and belonging.

Just the dialectical relationship between the constitutional factors and conditional factors became the core business of the Dutch ‘Impuls Academic Collaboration Center at Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen’ since 2007. That means that more or less till 2018 this remained rather implicit. This ‘Impuls Center’ is oriented on as well academic and applied research on vulnerable people including homeless people and abused women (and recently on many other forms of vulnerability from young to old) as well as on practical personal and interpersonal health care services needed by these people. It started to incorporated the rather provisional theory about the constitutional factors for filling the gap of a scientific foundation of the application of methods and techniques for the benefit of vulnerable people. Herewith, thus from the point of view of daily circumstances of vulnerable people, Impuls started to develop a person-centered recovery-supporting intervention. Herewith it developed a great stimulus for deepening the notions about the constitutional factors. This happens in close cooperation with clients and professionals. It is called ‘Pathways to Empowerment’ (PTE).

The essence is not to coach people how to cope with their circumstances but to strengthen people themselves to cope again with their circumstances in their own way. Therefore an accent is given to the dialectic relationship between the promoting agency of vulnerable people in question and the realization of acceptable daily circumstances.Two out of the six strengths principles of PTE refer to this relationship: (1) the community is viewed as a crucial source of support and resources for clients, and (2) the primary setting for working with clients is the community; the use of institutional settings should be minimized. With this focus, the project implicitly presents in this era, with help of the SQA, a contemporary interpretation of the principles of the movement ‘Democratic Psychiatry in Italy’ from the 1970s onwards. This reversal is implemented so far in 75 care organizations in the Netherlands and the SQT became according to Impuls ‘extremely useful’. It helps also professionals to understand the circumstances and needs of clients withing a wider context (See ‘Krachtwerk’ and a summary in English.

From the side of the Impuls Center and the IASQ, in 2018 the initiative is made to start a theoretical oriented project-group to articulate the experiences of this Impuls Center since 2007. The outcomes of the study concerning the city Stoke- on-Trent (see above) worked as a source of inspiration. The purpose of this project is (1) to assist all those engaged by Impuls Center to articulate in a more explicit way the theoretical roots of their work, (2) to stimulate a theoretical debate about the meaning and functionality of the constitutional factors by connecting the original theoretical assumptions about these factors and the practices in these Dutch care organizations, (3) for paving the way to enhance in theoretical and practical sense this important part of the SQT and the SQA. The outcomes of the work of this project-group are published in the journal in 2020 and thanks to the ‘open access’ available for scholars, students and policy-makers. (See Wolf and Jonker in IJSQ 10.1, 2020). The project-group started with ‘Pathways to Empowerment’ (PTE) based on the social quality approach (SQA) and tried to answer the question why this approach proved useful in providing a comprehensive overview of factors influencing the quality of daily circumstances of citizens and therefore also of clients, including the institutional and societal processes involved and the various types of recovery that are necessary in order to promote agency and realize a life worth living.

Uncovered is the necessity to readdress the conceptualization of the constitutional factors and their dialectical interactions with conditional factors and vice versa, and all of this against the background of the normative factors. More work is needed on the key concept of personal agency because this would allow a better understanding of biographical development, self-regulations, and self-realization by which individuals can tak care of themselves and others, and by which the do have confidence and competencies to contribute to society, which is crucial for processes of recovery. This is all the more necessary because personal agency and its associated conditional real of empowerment – namely the enhancement of personal capabilities – is considered to be the core of the SQT and SQA. Therefore, Impuls emphasis the importance of the interaction of action and structure. The main thesis of Impuls is at this stage that people themselves are the main drivers of their processes of recovery and the changes in their lives. The key to recovery is personal recovery, but of all four types of recovery this appears to be the most difficult to influence with professional interventions. In the same vein, from the side of Impuls advocated is reviewing the definition of ‘social quality’ by integrating again the phrase that pertains to the reciprocity in interpersonal relations – that is ‘to influence the conditions of their own existence’. The connections with these societal conditions are the vital means through which people essentially survive, acknowledging the ‘need to belong’ can be considered one of the most powerful and pervasive of human motivations. This study on the work that has been going on for more than a decade on the application of the constitutional factors opens new horizons for the SQT.

The Normative Factors and their Criteria; and the Rule of Law in Central and Eastern European Countries as an Argument – a New Project

In the SQT the normative factors are essential in order to make normative (ethical) based judgements about the linking of the outcomes of the change of conditional factors (objective), the change of the constitutional factors (subjective) and their reciprocity. Criteria are the instruments for empirical research for underpinning these judgements. But they are not addressed and elaborated since the publication of the IASQ’s third book 9see the Introduction). But the role of the normative factors (and its criteria) should pave the way for delivering guidelines for policies and practices as well as to judge the outcomes of the linking of constitutional and conditional factors. Also this topic is discussed in Working Paper 17 (see the Introduction).

A new opening is made by the Aberdeen University with its study about ‘The Decent Society’ published in 2016. As explained in this study, based on the principles of the SQT, the decent life and society is a game whose rules need to be set in such a way that everyone benefits equally. Anything else – and most societies have advantaged and disadvantaged groups, at least in terms of affluence and often by gender, marital status, handicap, geographical location and even ethnic or religious affiliation – weakens the society’s cohesion and leads to a decent life for some but at the cost of a les than decent life for others. This book delivers points of departure to understand the reciprocity of the ethical (normative), objective (conditional) and subjective 9contitutional) based on empirical based comparison of European, Asian, African and south American countries. To further analyze the reciprocity of the three sets of factors of the SQT (see Figure-2) this book delivers a first point of departure.

Added should be the analysis of the thematic about the rule of law in the context of also the SQT. It concerns rightly the normative factors. Shortly afterwards the study about the ‘Decent Society’, a study was published in the International Journal of Social Quality about the rule of law, appreciated as a main condition for the development toward sustainability (See Polcini in IJSQ 7.2, 2017). As explained, the rule of law aims to counter the abuse of power by the authorities and to build a new legally oriented environment in a multilevel order. The rule by law, however, may be used to oppress or discriminate against people and to avoid accountability under the guise of formality, legality, and legitimacy. This study is based on experiences in Italy, with combatting corruption and the related global crime, drugs, money laundering, and terrorism. Argued is in this that the rule of law delivers a basis from which to eradicate poverty, fight discrimination and exclusion, and protect the environment. By providing predictability and certainty through a stable, transparent legal regime, economic development is promoted. By fighting discrimination and ensuring equal opportunity and equitable access to basic services, societal development is aided by the rule of law. And by strengthening the legal framework for natural resource management, fair and sustainable use of the planet is ensured.

Seen in this way, the articulated thesis is, that the rule of law is crucial and relevant to all dimensions of sustainability development: the socio-political, the socio-economic, the socio-cultural and the socio-environmental. This concerns an exploration, standing between politics and policies to strengthen the conditional and constitutional factors and the normative factors as: social justice, solidarity, human equality, human dignity and eco-equilibrium. But for understanding all statements, analytic distinctions should be made as discussed with the connection of the conceptual, the analytical and the procedural frameworks. For the first time this is proposed with a new social quality project, dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain as well as 15 years since the integration of Central and Eastern European states to the European Union. Concluded can be that meanwhile, a sense of a crisis of (neo-) liberalism penetrates this region with an ever-increasing salience. This is connected with an erosion of rule of law on the one hand and a rise of ‘anti-systemic’ radicalization on the other appear to be the common denominators, albeit taking their distinctly localized forms. This new project will result into a thematic issue of the International Journal of Social Quality, with which to initiate a decisive debate on the normative factors and their relationships with the rule of law. The latter does not yet indicate ‘content’ and this is indispensable for the acceptability of the above mentioned thesis.

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