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Laurent J.G. van der Maesen

The recently published report by Wolfgang Beck exploring the role of social cohesion in European policies (Beck, 2001) is of interest for the European Foundation on Social Quality. Indeed, in the Foundation second book, ‘Social Quality: A Vision for Europe’, the analysis of social cohesion is seen as a priority in the strengthening of the theoretical basis of social quality (Beck et al., 2001). The editors of this last book emphasise the fact that defining the substance of social cohesion is a delicate matter. Because of its long scientific and political history the concept has been, up to now, connected with a wide range of other concepts with related connotations, such as inclusion, exclusion, integration, disintegration, and social dissolution. Contrary to many studies on social cohesion, the way they approach social cohesion as one of the four components of social quality is not restricted to the strength or weakness of primary social relationships (Lockwood, 1999). It is connected with processes of differentiation, which create a manifold of subsystems that cannot be directly linked as such with the logic of social structures such as families, households and associations. As a result the individual subject is forced to react in a multi-inclusive way. This is becoming now even more complex since, because of the explosive development of communication technologies, the pace and place of social relationships are changing. (Beck et al., 2001: 343) In this contribution we will present some elements of Beck’s report and we shall connect these with herewith-related parts of the Foundation’s second book.

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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

This article reviews the development of social quality indicators and the challenges ahead. First, through a review of recent Asian and Australian work carried out on social quality indicators, and the World Bank related work on “social development indicators,” the article argues that social quality indicators research should move beyond the empirical level of particular policy areas. Therefore, it should be guided by a clear methodological perspective regarding the role of indicators as part of a social quality theory (SQT) and their relation to the social quality approach (SQA). Second, the article opens a debate about the rationale behind distinguishing between three different functions of social quality indicators. Indicators should address the change in the conditional factors in daily life, as manifested in its economic, socio-political, socio-cultural and environmental dimensions, in order to examine the consequences of general trends and contradictions in (1) societal circumstances, (2) the development (or lack of development) toward sustainability, and (3) the related issue of sustainable urban development. Before 2010 social quality scholars mainly concentrated on the first issue. Recently, however, they are approaching all three issues. It is essential to delve deeper into SQT and the SQA for understanding these three issues separately and integrally. This has implications for the nature of social quality indicators and their comparison to those of other mainstream approaches; the article introduces this agenda of work.

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Addressing Marine Plastic Pollution

The Plastic Soup Foundation and the Four-Dimensional Application of the Social Quality Approach

Laurent J. G. van der Maesen

Plastic pollution has become a pressing environmental problem. An increasing mass of plastic products ends up in oceans and landfills. One international grassroots organization—the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF)—tries to influence politics and policies of governments and businesses that can be held responsible for this pollution. In Michiel Roscam Abbing’s recent book Plastic Soup Atlas of the World, the current problematique of plastic pollution is presented from a broad perspective and in a highly accessible way. This article’s main objective is to investigate, first, what can be learned from the PSF’s history and context and, second, whether this knowledge can deliver points of departure for enhancing the social quality approach to become functional for addressing environmental questions from the perspective of societal changes.

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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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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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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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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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Wolfgang Beck and Laurent J.G. van der Maesen

In this article we will focus on the political role of citizens in the ongoing process of European unification. The standard interpretations of unification suggest that this process is the outcome of a force of intrinsic necessity. Paving the way for the internal market, monetary and fiscal harmonisation should, therefore, lead to the formation of a political community. We do not accept such a post-Hegelian interpretation, however. This process is a consequence of chosen political priorities. In our opinion these should prioritise the development of political relations, referring to democratically based values in order to determine the starting points for economic, welfare and cultural policies. But, according to Fritz Scharpf, this has not been the case. The politics of the Union have paved the way for the free market system - mainly as a response to the principle of profit maximising - resulting in a decline, in the long run, of the politics with which to develop conditions for a political community.

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Ka Lin, Des Gasper, and Laurent J.G. van der Maesen

In the current globalized world, societal trends, problems, and challenges come not only from national states but also from beyond. These trends, problems, and challenges include international migration, human traffi cking, pandemics such as HIV, environmental pollution, and terrorism, presenting risks for the progress of human society and for world peace. Therefore, they are, or should be, subject to forms of global governance. This issue of the International Journal of Social Quality includes several papers to discuss these issues as important topics in social quality studies.