The central aims of this article are, first, to theoretically explore the relationship between social quality (in particular, the conditional factor of social empowerment) and participatory democracy. This uses the democratic dialectic (Bernard 1999) as a normative guide to assess democratic values. Second, the article describes how this theoretical discussion of the social quality of participatory democracy can be operationalized in critical qualitative sociological research. This offers a new direction for social quality research, which has thus far involved theoretical development and the establishment and use of statistical indicators (Beck et al. 1998, 2001; van der Maesen and Walker 2012). The findings of two empirical case studies are called in as evidence that, to different extents, participatory democratic settings can be socially empowering. This research suggests implications for the full realization of social quality in existing liberal and social democratic societies.
Indicators, Reality, and Problems
Li Wei and Cui Yan
China has entered a new phase of development. Living standards have significantly improved as the economy grows. Socioeconomic security, social cohesion, social inclusion, and social empowerment have all strengthened, but the social quality level is not quite satisfactory. First, many think the low “social security” cannot provide sufficient protection. Second, low social trust and lack of social belief and value system greatly affect social cohesion. Third, to cope with social discrimination and realize better tolerance, social inclusion must be addressed. People have the strongest sense of unfairness for wealth and income gaps as well as right and entitlement differences between urban and rural areas. In addition, low political efficacy and low levels of social and political participation indicate weak social empowerment in China.
The Core of Social Quality
Fundamentally, the Social Quality Approach (SQA) takes up a topic that runs like a thread through philosophy and social science, namely the tensions between two fields. The one field stretches between ‘individual and society’, the other stretches between ‘institutions and communities’. What the present approach distinguishes from these two is that it seriously goes beyond delivering a new interpretation of the world, aiming instead on delivering a – theoretically founded – instrument for political action. However, political action here aims on dealing with the fundamental challenge of a society as an integrated system, being based on the objective and subjective dimensions of socially acting individuals. To speak of ‘socially acting individuals’ means to acknowledge the interdependency of acting individuals, their independence and at the same time the dependence of the individuals from a society which they shape through their own action.
Xu Yanhui and Gong Ziyu
to them (social inclusion). Third, collectively accepted values and norms should promote the formation of communities (social cohesion). Finally, individuals must be able to interact with others (social empowerment). Each of these conditional factors
The Social Quality Approach
Ren Liying and Zou Yuchin
explicit intention to define what a good society is, it formulates four conditional factors of social quality, namely, socioeconomic security, social cohesion, social inclusion, and social empowerment. Furthermore, it formulates four constitutional factors
Ian Mahoney and Tony Kearon
experienced within towns and cities like Stoke-on-Trent means that there are consistently low levels of economic security, social cohesion, social inclusion, and social empowerment—core conditional components of a “decent society.” Underpinned by chronic
Summary of the Dutch National Report
Pia Steffens and Chris R. J. de Neubourg
This paper presents a first set of data for the theoretical elements that have been developed for Social Quality in the Netherlands. The four social quality conditional factors (Socio-economic Security, Social Cohesion, Social Inclusion and Social Empowerment) will be addressed in an individual paragraph. The last paragraph describes a recent policy initiative that is relevant from the perspective of Social Quality. Emphasis is placed on the fact that policy initiatives frequently constitute a trade off between different components of Social Quality and benefits and costs have to be weighed carefully.
The social quality approach (SQA) can be considered as a specific collective representation that has the possibilities to be used as a policy instrument, thus as a method of social, cultural and economic change. The SQA contains important conditional factors: socioeconomic security, social cohesion, social inclusion and social empowerment. These factors seem to be in the first place objectives of social and economic change. In reference to the constructionalist factors, this article also analyses the specific nature of collective representations and their many variations. They are regarded as fundamental elements in social quality studies. In the last part, this study assesses the relevance of social quality studies and their usefulness in relation with various issues in a democratic society or in societies that are on the road towards a democratic future.
Reflecting on the Context and the Conditional Factors
Heloísa Perista, Pedro Perista, and Isabel Baptista
Emphasising the ‘dialectic of self-realisation and the formation of collective identities’, the social quality theory becomes operative through four distinct, though interrelated, conditional factors: socio-economic security, social cohesion, social inclusion and social empowerment. Needless to say, such a formulation intends to create the grounds for a theory highly sensible to societal change. This article intends to give account of that societal change over the last few years on the grounds of the Portuguese historical context, and focusing on specificity reflected by the national context of social quality in comparison with the European (EU-15) context. This article comprises three main sections. The first one presents the relevant aspects of the Portuguese context regarding social quality. The second section summarises the key findings reflecting the specificity of the national situation regarding the four conditional factors of social quality and its domains. The third and last section reports a good practice and points out possible ways to stimulate social quality in the country.
The concept of social quality has been operationalized in terms of four component dimensions: social inclusion, social cohesion, socio-economic security and social empowerment. This article argues that inclusion and cohesion are aspects of the same underlying social construct. Societies are cohesive to the extent that they are bound by relationships of solidarity; people are included when they are part of solidaristic social networks. Where there is cohesion, there is solidarity, and where there is solidarity, there is inclusion. It follows that the attempt to define social quality in terms of a formal distinction between inclusion and cohesion is doomed to failure. They cannot be treated as distinct elements, and the attempt to distinguish them has led to double-counting.