The Surprise of the Social

Looking at texts that talk about sustainable development, we come across the classical representation of it being the area where the economic, ecological and social aspects meet and are in balance.
Image  from Wikimedia Commons

For me the relationship between economic and ecological is quite evident, but... what about the social aspects? Personally I had not given it much thought. I associated it with welfare: trying to meet the basic needs of everyone. That remains a difficult task to achieve. But what happens when a country already meets the basic needs of its entire population? What is social welfare then? What are your social needs when you know that, whatever you do, you won't go hungry or pass a harsh winter on the street?

The first studio course I took in my masters program focused on the social aspect of sustainability. This took me completely by surprise... because in my head eco-design and social design were different areas. The studio was mainly about public participation in remodeling and improving social housing projects from the 70 ... with a strong focus on segregation and stigmatization of the area, whose inhabitants are mostly immigrates or refugees of various nationalities. 

So I came to the impression that social welfare in Sweden is associated with the challenge of living harmoniously in multi cultural community. Or to try to expand their social benefits to disadvantaged communities in other countries through many international aid organizations. Of course, now I see that there is a lot to be done around social problems in Sweden as well, but as far as basic needs are concerned, the population is very well off.

 On top of that change, to a more global perspective, I saw another difference that I found very interesting. In a lecture at our first studio, someone presented a new approach of how the three dimensions of sustainability are related to each other. They do not present the 3 aspects as equally important. Instead the ecological dimension is where we inhabit. Social wellbeing, rather than a set of fixed goals to achieve, is the ultimate goal of human development, where economy is just the means to achieve that objective. I found it fantastic, it makes perfect sense to me ... So I tried to do a graph to visualize the concept.

This idea was developed in a course called "Study of scenarios for the city of Kungälv" by Professor Elisabeth Undenäs, at least, that is how I heard about it. Unfortunately the first question that arises is this: Is it true that economy is a tool for achieving social welfare? Isn't it that people today use social capital to achieve economic well-being instead?

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