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Social wellbeing and aspirational social planning

We offer a simple four-fold typology of the 'social goods' that comprise social wellbeing: *conviviality; social engagement; justice;* and *safety.*
When we make wellbeing more explicit in our conversations, we’re deliberately taking stock of what really matters in life, more specifically social wellbeing is about the many ways in which society matters to us. But can we say clearly and explicitly exactly which aspects or which functions of the society we really care about? You see, society can matter in a negative way or in a positive way. Our social environment matters negatively if it’s unfair or unsafe. And it matters positively if it’s lively or cooperative and caring. And there’s a further useful distinction to be made between instrumental and intrinsic value of society. Instrumentally, social processes matter because they make good or bad things happen.
The concept of social capital is an example of an instrumental way of thinking about society. Social capital matters because it facilitates economic cooperation and the flow of information. Communities and organisations and even nations need to be well organised in order to produce goods efficiently and to protect people’s wealth and safety. However, it’s crucial, really crucial, to remember that society is also intrinsically valuable. Our friendships, the social climate of our communities, and our organisations, these are actually part of our wellbeing. We’re very dependent on other people and on our social institutions and cultural traditions for all aspects of our wellbeing.
We feel well, we develop self-esteem and a sense of coherence or purpose in life only if other people observe and hear and approve and recognise our various achievements and our identity claims. But it’s not just that we depend on other people to have our wellbeing and our identity supported, we’re all of us co-responsible for lots of other people’s wellbeing. Social wellbeing then is about the co-production of the ability to feel well and to feel that our lives are good.
And critics of the wellbeing approach often argue that the pursuit of happiness is egoistic or that the promotion of well-being is individualistic, but we can offer a really strong moral answers to those criticisms if we put our emphasis on social wellbeing, if we develop a clear understanding of what social wellbeing actually means. When we raise our wellbeing concerns to the social level, however, we’re faced with important challenges in trying to define what social goods and social progress are. Most people in most organisations like to think of themselves as progressive in some way. But remarkably few have found clear and systematic ways of identifying social objectives that are aspirational.
It’s much easier to identify social pathologies and remedial action and minimal standards, such as human rights, than it is to point a way towards a really excellent society. So we’d like to recommend a very simple model that could enable people to map out the important contributions they can make to social wellbeing. This identifies a simple set of the main categories of social goods. These are broad labels that are widely recognised as important social values in all cultures, namely conviviality, social engagement, justice and safety. These four categories interact with one another, sometimes in synergy and sometimes involving trade-offs. Conviviality is the most essential component that allows all the others to function.
People need to love or at least respect and recognise other people in order to feel that there are common interests and a common sense of belonging. Feeling that you’re part of a good, well-organized community of like-minded people is crucial for our well-being. But there’s also a more practical need for collective action, which requires social engagement. A good society inspires and allows people to participate in the decisions and in the actions that make a good life possible. Conviviality and engagement are more aspirational than justice and safety, which are more cautious kinds of social objectives, but which are nonetheless of vital importance.
Generally, people want to live in societies that are fair for everyone and which other people can be trusted to be nonviolent, not to cheat, and to provide support when needed. Safety is about predictability, security, and sustainability. We also recommend that if you want to understand how social wellbeing happens, if you want to map out your roles in making it happen, you should distinguish these social goods at different levels. At the micro level, we can observe the sociability and empathy involved in interpersonal relationships and families and look also at engagement fairness and safety at that level. At in-between levels, we also need to consider how these same social goods manifest in local organisations, local networks, and communities.
Higher still, at macro level, we can monitor and promote social goods in national institutions and international organisations and in the world as a whole. Your organisation may want to develop its own model of social being using different categories from the ones that we’ve used. There’s no correct way to do this. But in this course, we strongly recommend that when you consider your social responsibilities, that you bear in mind these two distinctions that we started with. You need to look at not just social harms, but also as social goods. And you must respect and appreciate the intrinsic value of social processes, rather than seeing society as merely a means for achieving other ends.
And when you engage with the themes in this course, we also ask that you pay careful attention to the ways in which different levels of social reality are related, from interpersonal relationships, right the way up to national and international levels.

Although most of us have no trouble identifying components or domains of personal wellbeing (bodily health, psychological health, etc), it is less easy to link the concept of wellbeing with specific kinds of desirable social quality. The term ‘social’ is often abused, delinked from its core meaning and instead used as a euphemism for social disadvantages or for residual goods that are undervalued by the market economy.

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Social Wellbeing

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