In the final article of this issue, Giovanni Polcini presents the Italian approach of the “rule of law,” promoted by its governmental institutions in multilateral fora on priority areas related to the struggle against global crime, drugs, money laundering, and terrorism. We must distinguish this from “rule by law.” According to Polcini, the first is dedicated—in order to pave the way for a just and fair society—to counter the abuse of power by authorities and to build new legally oriented societal circumstances. The latter may be used for political reasons to oppress or discriminate against people and avoid accountability under the guise of formality, legality, and legitimacy. It is argued that the rule of law delivers a concrete basis from which to eradicate poverty, to fight discrimination and exclusion, and to protect the environment, also by providing predictability. Polcini then refers to the statement of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), located in Rome and affiliated with the United Nations, whose members argue that the rule of law is no longer optional but the very heart of the development toward sustainability (IDLO 2015). It addresses the needs that are expressed in the socioeconomic/financial, the sociopolitical/legal, the sociocultural/welfare, and the socioenvironmental dimensions of societies. Therefore, it is (according to Polcini) also an intrinsic as well as instrumental value to economic sustainability as an aspect of the encompassing sustainability of human existence. That means that by applying the rule of law, developments in the socioeconomic/financial dimension will really support the overall sustainability. These outcomes should be locally owned and tailored to local needs. Polcini remarks that this also refers to the essence of the 1948 Constitution of the Italian Republic—namely, to place the individual at the heart of the regulation of human relationships. This form of reasoning is attractive for clarifying and deepening the so-called normative factors of the social quality approach, a theme that remained until now behind the scenes. Yet, without a fundamental insight into societal processes with which to contribute to a greater solidarity, justice, human dignity, and capacity to act (e.g., as citizens) in a responsible way, we cannot make conclusions about the increase or decrease of social quality at a specific time at a specific place.

With the focus on the rule of law, the current issue of our journal stimulates the dialogue about a highly relevant societal aspect of the sociopolitical/legal dimension. In this issue, this may happen by reflecting the content of the first four articles through the lens of the orientation on the rule of law. These four articles are outcomes of social quality projects in Ukraine, a comparison between four Scandinavian and four Eastern European countries, in the Netherlands, and in China, respectively. In the first article, Zuzana Novakova discusses the problematique of the current circumstances in Ukraine with regard to the four dimensions of its societal circumstances, introducing a new distinction in the social quality approach. She—and the Ukrainian National Platform—underpin Polcini’s argument. The platform argues that one of the most urgent priorities is to strengthen the rule of law and anticorruption mechanisms for combatting “the prevalence of informal, often corrupt, practices of influence, which … is difficult to eradicate without significant renewal of the judiciary and prosecutorial corps” (UNP 2017: 7).

In the second article, Ferenc Bódi, Jenő Zsolt and Péter Róbert measure and compare outcomes of processes resulting in an increase of social capacity or anomie between four Scandinavian countries and four Eastern European countries seen from the social quality perspective. The authors note insufficient employment possibilities and a lack of fair incomes in the latter countries. According to Jochen Bittner (2017), this may explain—in connection with the fear of immigrant flows of Muslim refugees—a feeling that the West fails to completely integrate Central and Eastern Europe:

Across all four countries, leading politicians agitate against the European Union, portraying it is an imposing, undemocratic force, even as the second coming of the Soviet Union … [but reversed] while liberalizing their economies, they have forgotten to liberalize their minds. East and West need to engage in couples of therapy soon. Otherwise, Brexit might eventually look like one of Europe’s minor problems.

This remark was especially relevant in March 2018, when about sixty-five thousand people were demonstrating in the capital of Slovakia against the destructive consequences of the ongoing corruption—even more than the number of protesters in the Velvet Revolution in 1989. It is a cry for the development and application of a real rule of law in this country (Holtland 2018).

In the third article, Harry Nijhuis explores the development of appropriate conceptualizations of public health and, more importantly, what adequate practices and methodologies are to be applied in today’s societal context. Referring to experiences in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, he argues that the neoliberal individualistic ontology is not suited for dealing with practices that concern collective processes. Notions about what is true (objective traceable), what is truthful (subjective recognizable), and what is just (ethical orientation) need to be taken on board for creating solutions for interpersonal and societal complex health issues. This is not to align with the neoliberal assumptions. Nijhuis’s empirically based explanation refers to a social quality–oriented project in the borough of Laak of the city of The Hague.

In the fourth article, Xu Yanhui and Gong Ziyu argue that in the traditional understanding of poverty, noneconomic aspects and dynamic characteristics are neglected. The question of truth and justice go beyond the matter of income. This article examines the influence of social quality and community capacity on Chinese urban residents’ capability poverty, a concept that refers to Amartya Sen’s theory. This theme has affinity with the second article (Bódi et al.) by accentuating the difference between resources (for people) and possibilities (of people) to better cope with their circumstances. Community capacity as a concept is related to the older concept of community development. This theme has affinity with the third article (Nijhuis) by accentuating the role of communities to elaborate their circumstances according their needs and suppositions. They explain the nature and application of their indicators in their empirical research and demonstrate that community capacity construction or community empowerment—for them, a synonym—will change capability deprivation and poverty in the broader sense of the word. In other words, it makes sense to connect ideas, theories, and practices of community empowerment with the rule of law as well.

Giovanni Sartori (1965) explained this in his well-known study Democrazia Definizioni. His main point was the connection between political freedom and juridical freedom, resulting into the formula “liberty under law”:

Basically, the legal solution to the problem of freedom can be sought in two very different directions: either in rule by legislators or in the rule of law. In the first approach law consists of written rules which are enacted by legislative bodies; that is, law is legislated law. In the second, law is something to be discovered by judges; it is juridical law.

(1965: 290)
Because of the change of societal circumstances, past centuries witnessed rising skepticism about the value of the juridical protection of liberty. Can we accept anymore the idea by Montesquieu that we are free because we are subject to “civil law”? Which laws are “civic laws”? And what is law? In response, Sartori argues:

In the course of time the ancient word for law has become the English (and the Italian and French) word for justice. In short, ius is both “law” and “right.” That is to say that law has not been conceived as any general rule which is enforced by a sovereign (iussum), but as that rule which embodies and expresses the community’s sense of justice (iustum). In other words, law was has been thought of not only as any norm that has the “form” of law, but also the “content”, i.e., as that norm which also has the value and the quality of being just.

(307)
But in recent circumstances, law is not always—or, less and less—a fact that is qualified by a value (a ius that is iustum), resulting in the following consequences:

According to the purely formal definition, a law without righteousness is nonetheless law. Therefore, legislation can be crudely tyrannical and yet not only be called legal but also be respected as lawful … [For this reason] the founding fathers of liberal [according Northern American interpretation: democratic] constitutionalism had in mind—in relation to the legislative process—to bring the rule of law into the State itself … but constitutionalism changed … from a system based on the rule of law to a system centered on the rule of legislation.

(308–309)
With this in mind, we must ask ourselves how to interpret the current concept of the rule of law compared to its interpretation applied in recent history. Did it change de facto into “rule by law”?
This referral to Sartori’s study demonstrates some confusion about the “rule of law” and at the same time stimulates us to conceive it in a very broad (and especially historical) perspective, enabling us to conclude that the rule of law really concerns the heart of other matters, for instance, the development toward sustainability. The rationale of this remark is explained in Noam Chomsky’s (2017) Requiem for the American Dream. As an impressionist painter of the late nineteenth century—taking on board a manifold of empirical evidences—Chomsky presents the reader with how the American dream will be destructed by the application of egocentric hedonistic orientations, strengthened with politics of the current government as a decisive follower of it. With the US tax law of December 2017, the taxes that are paid by the very wealthy are reduced substantially. Therefore, the indirect tax burden on the rest of the population will increase soon (Chomsky 2017: 55). As Paul Krugman (2018) argues, the new law causes the need for entitling reform that implies cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, and drastically reducing the recovery of the neglected infrastructure: “So the message to middle-class taxpayers is if you think you were helped by the tax cut, think again. [US President] Donald Trump and his allies pretended to give you a gift, but they gave themselves and their wealthy patrons much bigger gifts.” Many times in his book, Chomsky refers to the impact of the Scottish moral philosopher and political economist Adam Smith:

The tendencies that we’ve been describing within American society, unless reversed, will create an extremely ugly society. A society that’s based on Adam Smith’s vile maxim, “All for ourselves, nothing for anyone else,” the New Spirit of the Age, “gain wealth, forgetting all but self,” a society in which normal human instincts and emotions of sympathy, solidarity, mutual support, in which they’re driven out … If a society is based on control by private wealth, it will reflect those values—values of greed and the desire to maximize personal gain at the expense of others.

(2017: 143)
The most adequate way to put the power into the hands of the narrow sector of wealth is to prioritize the market instrument and to restrict the role of the government (the sociopolitical/legal dimension) to the support of market activities (88). This dimension and both other dimensions (sociocultural/welfare and socioenvironmental) are handmaidens of the socioeconomic/financial dimension. Chomsky refers to the concept of “plutonomy” as introduced by one of the biggest banks in the United States, Citigroup, as the new category in the world with substantial wealth. According to its mouthpieces, the plutonomy are the main drivers of the economy on the global level. Its actors all over the world are stimulated to maximize profit: “But from the point of view of the masters of mankind, it doesn’t matter much [what happens] as long as we make plenty of profit tomorrow, who cares if our grandchildren won’t have a world to live in? It’s related to the attitude toward the country altogether” (54). The representatives of the plutonomy buy the election outcomes with big money without reflecting the principles of the founders of the United States. The outcomes should increase their power and get them more and more financial support, as happens with the new tax law (101). Chomsky remarks:

Goldman Sachs, one of the main perpetrators of the financial crisis [in 2008], is now so wealthy—thanks to government bailouts, taxpayer bailouts—that they’re preparing for the next crisis … Pouring more cash in their hands is not in order to increase investment, or, as the term that’s used, “jobs”—that’s just a euphemism—it’s simply in order to increase the extraordinary concentration of wealth and with it stagnation for the rest of the population.

(56)
In this most powerful country in world history, the support given to the plutonomy is guaranteed for decades by its Republican Party,

which has become the most dangerous organization in world history … is this an exaggeration? Consider what we have just been witnessing. The winning candidate [in 2016] calls for rapid increase in use of fossil fuels, including coal; dismantling of [climate] regulations; rejection of help to developing countries that are seeking to move to sustainable energy; and in general, racing to the cliff as fast as possible.

(143–144)
Chomsky makes a plea to dismantle the illegitimate authority by the plutonomy, to rethink the ideas of the Enlightenment and classical liberal thought and to pave the way for decision-making instruments in the hands of people who are concerned with the decisions and their impact:

And, in fact, progress over the years—what we all thankfully recognized as progress—has been just that … Take, say, freedom of speech, one of the real achievements of American society—we’re first in the world in that. It’s not truly guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, in the Constitution. Freedom of speech issues began to come to the supreme Court in the early twentieth century.

(47–48)
Notwithstanding some exaggerations (for example, the United States as the society with the first freedom of speech), we are stimulated to make two remarks. First, Chomsky presents a rather particular interpretation of the opinion of Adam Smith. In The Wealth of Nations, Smith argued that an accent on individual interests will not contribute to the collective interest as well. Politics should prevent the former from being converted into purely egocentric behavior. Smith explained that all people must care for the material and immaterial wealth of their societies (Röd 1984: 357). In this way, the political economist and poet Alexander Gray discussed the brilliant Smith in 1931. He explained that Smith is under no illusions regarding the consequences of unrestrained selfishness (Gray 1961: 152). The a priori element in Smith is, according to Gray, that there is “a natural order, appointed by a wise Providence in which self-interest will supply also the necessary drive to make the machine [the natural order] go, and will also so act as to produce equilibrium between contending forces” (125). His unfounded assumption—that the gossamer connection of the outcomes of the pursuit of individual interest will lead to an optimal situation for society—is taken over and elaborated further by Vilfredo Pareto (1976; see also Henderson 1967). Therefore, what Chomsky perceives in the present is not inspired but only stimulated implicitly by Smith or Pareto. If this conclusion is true, we must rethink the present in order to understand why Chomsky’s observations really happen.

The second point is that he does not reflect or explain the existing laws, which at the end of the day defend present property rights that conflict with any sense of justice. This is also the case in, for example, Thomas Piketty’s famous work Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Chomsky as well as Piketty are strongly engaged with the consequences of the increasing economic inequality in all continents. In the case of Piketty (2014), he is preoccupied with the difference in the return of capital (r) and the economic growth (g), without analyzing the complex relationships between r and g and all factors that influence this, as well as the role for the change in inequality. Neither he nor Chomsky are dedicated to propositions and assumptions underlying (legal) politics in the past centuries that paved the way for current suppositions and practices concerning property and property rights. Existing laws are an outcome of processes in the sociopolitical/legal dimension. This dimension was and became more and more—because of the increasing dominance of neoliberally based interests—subjected to socioeconomic/financial interests. With presenting the rule of law—and with the understanding of law as norm and as content of law, with the value and the quality of being just (see Sartori: 307)—we must rethink the present and the outcomes of assumptions underlining suppositions of property rights as point of departure for the strengthening of the plutonomy. Without a change of these assumptions, the development toward the overall sustainability will be impossible.

In that case, everything on Earth will remain subjected to the commodification as condition for making profit with global market mechanisms. Worthwhile for this rethinking is the study by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick about the process resulting into the Early American Republic. The authors have shown that United States’ founders (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, etc.) used the work by famous representatives of the French Enlightenment and the Scottish Renaissance more or less as their basic equipment. Not only for them but for all their followers as well, it was a condition for approaching public questions in a responsible way (Elkins and McKitrick 1995: 84). Very fruitful for their attention was their interest in the austere simplicity of the Roman Republic: “The imagery of the Latin classics had penetrated their lives, words, thoughts, and acts in endless ways ever since they could remember. The almanacs of the day, with lines from Horace, Virgil, and Ovid, had sung the praises of virtuous husbandry” (48). This may be appreciated as a sharp contradiction with the tweets of the highest level of the current administration of the United States. Notwithstanding this impressive heritage, “the amount of attention and discussion given to the judiciary in the Constitutional Convention was only a fraction of that devoted to the executive and legislative branches” (64). Both historians logically analyzed what since the end of the eighteenth century happened and thus not what did not happen. The latter concerns the elaboration of principles and their rational for changing and developing productive and reproductive relationships. And this remark refers to the subject matter of the rule of law as conceived by, for example, Sartori.

In the first article, Zuzana Novakova explores the current problematique of Ukraine, a condition for understanding the heuristic meaning of the distinction and the mutual dialectic between four essential societal dimensions: the socioeconomic/financial, the sociopolitical/legal, the sociocultural/welfare, and the socioenvironmental dimension of societal life. The Ukrainian society is passing through multiple parallel transitions in which the old is dying and the new is not yet born. But what is being born will never be fully grasped without understanding these dialectics. How can the way be paved for the rule of law as pleaded by the Ukrainian National Platform without understanding the outcomes of this dialectic? The way in which the EU’s Support Group for Ukraine tries to stimulate development with huge investments is remarkable: it presents best practices from the European Union and tries to assist their operationalization in Ukraine in all four dimensions, in order to “modernize” the institutional settings in all dimensions. But this is being done without articulating the nature of the problematique as an outcome of the dialectic or reciprocity between these dimensions. Neither does it articulate the existing problematique in the EU as demonstrated in these examples (EC 2016; EC and HR 2017). This article’s challenge is to reflect the recent set of reforms in the Ukrainian context and to locate these within the four constitutive dimensions of societal life. Novakova applies elements of the social quality framework to analyze processes in these dimensions in such a way that the outcomes will deliver points of departure for clarifying the reciprocity of these processes. She highlights that it is necessary go beyond the traditional dichotomization of the “economic” and the “social” in policy design. This means in fact a dichotomization between the “economic” and a “black box,” preventing rational clarifications of these processes. A founded clarification delivers a perspective to the importance of the development in all four dimensions that play a primary role in the change of the productive and reproductive relationships in the daily circumstances of residents of Ukraine. This is a condition for recognizing the lack of the current quality of “the social” in this country. In the context of Ukraine’s multiple transitions, it is important to go beyond nonrelated and fragmented approaches, or superficial parallels with developments in surrounding countries, EU member states, and Russia. According to Gianfranco Tamburelli (2016), this is necessary to overcome the crisis in Ukraine as well.

In the second article, Ferenc Bódi, Jenő Zsolt, and Péter Róbert present the outcomes of their empirical research with which to compare specific societal characteristics in four Scandinavian countries and four Eastern European countries. These characteristics concern in their terms “social capacity” and “subjective well-being,” seen from the perspective of the social quality approach. They explain these concepts and are further dedicated to the connection of micro and macro approaches and hereupon based indicators to measure or understand the societal realities to which these concepts refer. At the micro level, the sixth round of the European Social Survey (ESS) data from 2012 were used; the macro-level indicators in connection with development and objective well-being were taken from the Eurostat Regions database and the 2011 population census. The authors argue that the two country groups provide an excellent possibility to examine what capacities and qualities the former socialist countries have twenty-five years after the regime change, compared to the Scandinavian countries. The predecessor of this journal, the European Journal of Social Quality, published two articles about how the European Union stimulated the integration with Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic since their accession to the EU. The grand old lady of social policy in Hungary, Zsuzsa Ferge, explained that during the first stage of accession, a different approach is applied. Compared to Western countries, this was in many respects close to the original neoliberal World Bank agenda. She concluded:

The weakening of the [existing Western EU approach] in the member countries may antagonize their citizens who may then use the accession countries as scapegoats. If the EU members do not follow the monetarist recipe the gap will grow between East and West. The accession countries may decrease the level of their public commitments, and they may create new institutions such as two-tier, disintegrative system of health or education, or destroy institutions which might ultimately become conditions of admittance.

(2001: 9)
Ferge (1992) had explained earlier her worry about the possibilities for a genuine welfare benefit system in, especially, Eastern European countries because of the outcomes of ongoing transformations in the 1970s and 1980s. Some years later, the Hungarian scholar Gábor Juhász concluded that “the rationalization and simplification of the [applied] open method of coordination [by the EU] also has the potential to decrease the importance of particular fields [health, income security, education, etc.]. This could weaken EU’s influence on national social policies of its member states” (2006: 106). In their study ten years later, Bódi and colleagues conclude that especially in the Eastern European countries, employment possibilities and fair income are urgently needed. Compared to Scandinavian countries, the four Eastern European countries are seriously lagging behind, and this prevent the strengthening of social quality. Second, because of these main characteristics of the socioeconomic/financial dimension, processes in the three other dimensions are being influenced negatively by these and many other characteristics. The subject matter of the rule of law is not really addressed, in part because of past EU politics. This leads to an unattractive accent on the rule by law in the sense of Polcini. And as Novakova concludes, the daily circumstances in Ukraine are much more deprived.

In the third article, Harry Nijhuis discusses the question of public health, its origin, the theoretical and practical development in recent decades, and the real current challenges—namely, to be functional for people as actors in complex societal circumstances. The article is partially based on applied strategies to cope with these circumstances in the borough of Laak in The Hague. These strategies were strongly influenced by the social quality approach in the past decade and financed by the European Commission and the municipality of The Hague (EFSQ 2015). According to Nijhuis, the essential aspect is that in the slipstream of neoliberal transformations, services in the context of public health have become increasingly individualist in orientation. Government and other financing institutions like insurance companies (in his example, from the Netherlands) have adopted a new public management as methodology of choice to plan and control the arrangement with providers. At the same time, we may notice in many countries an emergence of a new generation of citizen collectives organizing themselves in “commons” or “cooperatives” to be able to play a responsible role for changing their daily circumstances. This supposes—in line with the first article—a comprehensive approach of these circumstances in order to go beyond the individualistically oriented competition toward understanding how to reach well-balanced forms of cooperation. Societal complexity questions “the market” as the mechanism of choice for arranging effective and just provisions of care, prevention, and promotion of health.

In fact, Nijhuis goes beyond the featherlight theoretical distinction between state, market, and civil society. In all four relevant dimensions of societal complexities, we can recognize different types of actors: from the side of politeia (most of them from political systems), the oikos (most of them from economic systems), the civitas (most of them from community systems), and the agora as place of deliberative communicative interactions. Relevant is also academia, which is related in transparent and mostly nontransparent way with actors of the politeia and oikos, and mostly less functional for the civitas. Nijhuis presents examples from the daily reality of the borough of Laak how the representatives from these different backgrounds operate. This raises the concern that changes are necessary for paving the way for a participative public health, one that will strengthen the possibilities (or capabilities) of citizens to cope with their circumstances. With this in mind, Nijhuis extends the original definition of Charles-Edward Winslow from 1922, as discussed by William Darrow, participative public health should be or is “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health and efficiency through organized community efforts and informed decision making” (2015: 29). The agora on the community level is the place for their communicative interactions, a condition for cooperatives of citizens to cope with actors from the politeia and oikos in a transparent way. In other words, the agora as conceived in the social quality approach is the medium to change forms of top-down government into governance as an outcome of the dialectic between by law determined equal positioned actors. This should be the challenge of elaborating the rule of law.

In the article by Yanhui Xu and Ziyu Gong, the connections of themes—namely, social quality, community capacity, and capability poverty—are theorized, and this is made suitable for empirical research. Many issues discussed in previous articles come into the spotlight in a new way and are projected at the daily circumstances of different communities in different districts of the Shenzhen city of the Guangdong Province, where 1,149 questionnaires were retrieved. Seen from the social quality perspective, this is the most recent voluminous empirical social quality research in Asia. According to the researchers, the “social quality factor” and the “community capacity factor” are the two principal explanatory variables in this article. With regard to the first, they applied the proposed ninety-five indicators concerning the four conditional factors of social quality (Van der Maesen and Walker 2012). The second predictive variable is community capacity, where (taking into account advantages and deficiencies of various index systems proposed by many scholars) this research chooses measurement items following the work of Ronald Labonte and Glenn Laverack (2001) for whom there are nine capacities dominating the development of community. Xu and Gong argue that the orientation on poverty is stimulated by the fact that there were at least fifty million impoverished people in urban areas in China at the end of 2011, and that the number keeps increasing. This is also the outcome of the 2013 UNDP study about sustainable cities in China; nearly 310 million more people are expected to migrate from rural to urban areas. The politics and policies applied thus far should be changed urgently:

The current performance evaluation system for local governance is focused mainly on economic growth, with little attention to resource conservation, environmental protection and social development, and there are no incentives for sustainable planning and development. The current system of organizations and regulations has given the government great discretionary power, and failed to establish checks and balances, and systems of monitoring and supervision. This often leads to the “principal agent problem” for state-owned assets.

(UNDP 2013: 89)
Besides the manifold of policy strategies to enhance the (material) position of millions Chinese people, the question is raised—referring to Amartya Sen—if an important cause of enduring poverty is the deprivation of basic capabilities to obtain chances of survival. As a consequence, how do we motivate subjective initiatives and improve the survival of impoverished people with strengthening the community capacity? Both authors interpret the latter concept as social empowerment that delivers a strong affinity of Sen’s capability theory and the social quality theory with regard to this aspect. One of the conclusions is that although rapid economic growth can make contributions to poverty alleviation, there is no convicting proof that it will necessarily bring about high social quality. The coexistence of advanced economy and capability poverty is not a rare phenomenon in developed countries. The government must guarantee citizens’ access to societally organized services for education, health care, environmental protection, and so on in addition to economic growth. This can improve the chances that individuals and families get rid of poverty in the broader sense of the word (material and immaterial) and live a dignified life. Their final conclusion is that motivating people’s potentiality and improving their personal abilities through social empowerment—one of the conditional factors of social quality—should be given high priority in every anti-poverty policy. Instead of directly offering materials and money, the role of government in enhancing and guaranteeing personal capabilities is mainly supportive.

The final article by Giovanni Polcini has already been discussed. Argued is that its theme—the rule of law in the broader sense—is essential for discussing the outcomes of processes within each of the four dimensions (many times referred to earlier) and especially for discussing the outcomes of the dialectics of these processes. All previous articles explain mostly implicitly the immense importance of this theme. But seen from his perspective, Polcini expresses in conclusions his affinity with these articles, even though the actual articles were not known to him when he wrote his contribution. He states that introducing and spreading new values at the community and organizational levels is an essential aggregator both for capacity building and institution building. This is not always easy, but it is an essential part of sustainable human development. Spreading common values is crucial to prevent the tendency of decision makers uniting around a policy without questioning basic assumptions.

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(formerly The European Journal of Social Quality)

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