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Laurent J.G. van der Maesen

This issue is dedicated to two general topics that play a central role in social quality thinking and its policy application. The first is how to sharpen the social quality approach (SQA) as an intellectual instrument to understand the nature and rationale of political/legal, economic, cultural, and environmental processes in societies that aim to cope with their interpretations of mainstream contemporary challenges. The distinction between these processes concerns the main subject of the procedural framework of the SQA (IASQ 2019). The second is how to use social quality indicators for conceiving of the consequences of these processes in communities and cities. This concerns a main subject of the analytical framework of SQA. The connection of these main themes of the SQA is increasingly becoming the crucial challenge for, in particular, the theoretical reflection on thinking and acting for the increase of social quality in communities, cities, and countries. Instead of old and new ideas about individual happiness, the crucial challenge is inspired by ideas about “a good society,” as discussed by antique Greek philosophers.

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Laurent J.G. van der Maesen

During the preparation of this issue of the International Journal of Social Quality, the authors were confronted with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. This event thoroughly transcends the issue of the health of people as such. It affects almost all living conditions and the all-encompassing challenge of the sustainability of human life on earth, including flora and fauna. An emerging hypothesis is that pandemics like this one are partly determined by the nature of the current modern ways of life, which drastically disturb the balance of ecological systems. Inevitably, citizens, policymakers, and scientists are confronted with extremely complex challenges that—logically—must be approached in comprehensive ways. In this issue, four articles are published that are—in preliminary form—connected with the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Concluding Remarks

A “Social Quality Observatory” for Central and Eastern European Countries?

Laurent J. G. van der Maesen

The Amsterdam Declaration on Social Quality, 1997

More than twenty years ago many European scholars started with the development of a new theory and its application with a declaration, the first paragraph of which follows here:

Respect for the fundamental human dignity of all citizens requires us to declare that we do not want to see growing numbers of beggars, tramps and homeless in the cities of Europe. Nor can we countenance a Europe with large numbers of unemployed, growing numbers of poor people and those who have only limited access to health care and social services. These and many other negative indicators demonstrate the current inadequacy of Europe to provide social quality for all its citizens.

At that time, it was signed by one thousand scholars from Western, Central, and Eastern European countries (). Since then societal relationships have changed, also due the radical new techniques for communication and also miscommunication. This thematic issue of the International Journal of Social Quality tries to explain the new challenges for, among other things, the contemporary state of affairs of the theory and application of social quality. In this case, we are talking about the SQT and the SQA as they apply to Central and Eastern European countries. With this in mind, how can we interpret this declaration of more than twenty years ago?

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Editorial

Social Quality, Environmental Challenges, and Indicators

Laurent J. G. van der Maesen

The first three articles of this issue are dedicated to aspects of the current debate about and the praxis of environmental questions, and thus of the ecosystems. The fourth article concerns the application of social quality indicators in China. The gaining hypothesis is that a disconnection of the social quality approach of daily circumstances in Japan, Russia, China, Europe, the Americas, Africa, or India from environmental processes results into anachronisms. Without a global consciousness of the unequal consequences of these environmental processes, people in rich countries may be tempted to positively judge the nature of the social quality of their localities or country “as such.” Unknown remains that, seen from a global perspective, macrodetermined reasons for the positive outcomes in rich countries may go at the expense of ecosystems. They may cause, also because of the exportation of substantial elements of problematic (and partly environmental) aspects of the dominant production and reproduction relationships, serious forms of exploitation. Under the same conditions (ceteris paribus), this attack on ecosystems, as well as this exportation and exploitation cause increasingly declining social quality of daily circumstances in poor countries and regions. This will also result into an increase of “climate refugees.” Because of advancing technologically driven transformations—especially regarding communications systems—the interdependencies of countries between the West and the East, as well as between the North and the South, accelerate. Autarkic situations are becoming, or have already been for a long time, a myth.

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Laurent J.G. van der Maesen

The challenge of sustainability of all forms of life on this planet concerns directly the actors, agencies, and other forms of the sociopolitical/legal dimension of societies. This has been confirmed by all members of the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) in the past decade, who said to follow the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the UN (2015). As argued by Marco Ricceri (2019), with the Paris Agreement in mind, these member states presented a self-imposed and relevant assignment, which will or should function as their frame of reference. His analysis of the recent history of this platform was also based on the current characteristics of the social quality approach which also are relevant for this editorial (IASQ 2019).

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Editorial Introduction

The Cases of Germany and the United Kingdom

Harry G. J. Nijhuis and Laurent J.G. van der Maesen

In the following studies, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the resilience of communities and the formation of civic activism in Germany and the United Kingdom is analyzed and discussed. In the German study, the expected impact on existing volunteer organizations is explored. In the UK study, by analyzing quantitative data pertaining to (about the determinants of) different categories of mutual aid groups (MAGs) interpretations are made concerning resilience, agility, and civic activist potentialities.

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Editorial Introduction

The Cases of Pakistan and the United States

Harry G. J. Nijhuis and Laurent J.G. van der Maesen

The two case studies of Part IV are based on interviews with poor, disadvantaged families in Lahore (Pakistan) and Cincinnati (United States). These analyses in the sociocultural and welfare dimension address the subjective experiences of how the lockdowns resulting from COVID-19 impacted the quality of the circumstances of their daily lives. The analyses of Part III primarily also were oriented around the sociocultural and welfare dimension. They, among others, regarded the impact of the pandemic on community resilience and agency in the United Kingdom and Germany to sustain supportive networks in their respective “civil societies.” By also exploring political “civic activism” and the impact on “democratic resilience,” the observations and discussions here though have become primarily focused on the sociopolitical and legal dimension.

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Editorial Introduction

The Cases of Japan, Australia, and the United States

Harry G. J. Nijhuis and Laurent J.G. van der Maesen

As has been extensively shown in this thematic issue, the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded many frictions and shortcomings of quite different natures in various societal fields. Moreover, many problems that has previously been latent and not easy to observe have risen to the surface. In this part, three quite diverging problematics, compounded and exposed by the COVID-19 crisis, are studied and discussed. In order to reveal general patterns, in this introduction we try to reveal what—in an ontological and epistemological sense—precisely their nature is, and how they relate to the studies in the other parts of this thematic issue.

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Editorial Introduction

The Cases of India, South Africa, and Brazil

Harry G. J. Nijhuis and Laurent J.G. van der Maesen

In this introduction, the cases of India, South Africa, and Brazil are connected. The contributions from these countries, in different ways, discuss the dramatic moral impacts of government approaches to the pandemic. The three countries are part of the BRICS platform, in which Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa participate. With 40 percent of the world's population, the BRICS platform concerns a substantial part of the world. The principles of the platform and its mutual “economic, political, cultural an environmental philosophy” are summarized by . The members support the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), and they will contribute to the quality of global development. At the 13th BRICS Summit in September 2021, the New Delhi Declaration was presented (BRICS 2021). This declaration conveys a thorough normative mission statement. It therefore renders an interesting common frame of reference from which to analyze and judge the contributions from the three countries, as well as from China and Russia.

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Editorial Introduction

The Cases of Italy and China

Harry G. J. Nijhuis and Laurent J.G. van der Maesen

The cases of Italy and China make for an interesting comparison because they represent quite different governance approaches to the pandemic. These differences may be instructive for the in-depth comprehension of the nature and the impact of government approaches to resolving crises. The two regions notably do share common histories in the spread of pandemics. The first cases of COVID-19 in Asia and Europe were registered in China in December 2019, and in Italy in January 2020, respectively. The origins and initial epidemiological dynamics of the pandemic, though, are still unclear and are the subject of scientific discussion (; ). In the thirteenth century, the spread of “the plague” (Yersinia Pestis) is assumed to have spread from the Asiatic steppes to Venice, at that time a powerful city-state with intensive transcontinental commercial activity into Asia through the Silk Road (). It is interesting to note that the socioenvironmental and ecological dynamics of the origins and initial spread of COVID are still unknown. As stated in the Editorial of this issue, this fact reads as an argument to pay ample attention to the interferences with the sociopolitical and legal, socioeconomic and financial, and sociocultural and welfare dimensions.