The Core Concept of Social Sustainability: Can we Cut the Gordian Knot?

By Tim F. Liao.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Of the four dimensions of sustainability, the social dimension is arguably the least understood and the most confusing. Unlike the environmental, the economical, and the cultural dimension, where relatively clearer definitions exist, social sustainability, depending on to whom one addresses the question, can be defined in a myriad of ways in popular sources, by academics, and in the corporate world. Are all these various facets equally important? It is a messy, difficult issue, seemingly unsolvable like a challenging knot. The purpose of this paper is to cut the Gordian knot by offering a core concept of social sustainability in structural inequality, achieved by separating sustainability issues from the goals of development, subsuming certain dimensions under other realms of sustainability, including them in new dimensions, and reducing the remaining social issues to a core centered around inequality. Indeed, economic development over the last century has led to environmental consequences. Similarly, the most important social consequences resulting from development can, and often do, manifest in structural inequality, which not only makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, but also stratifies along the lines of gender, race, ethnicity, nativity, religion, and other social groupings. The paper discusses a way for understanding and empirically measuring social sustainability in terms of structural inequality, or rather, structural equality.

Keywords: Social Sustainability, Structural Inequality, Development

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp.123-138. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 633.026KB).

Prof. Tim F. Liao

Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois, USA

Tim F. Liao is Professor of Sociology and Statistics and has served as Head of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He previously taught at Peking Language Institute, the University of Georgia, and the University of Essex in the UK. He has a broad, cross-disciplinary interests. His recent research focuses on structural inequality and its conceptualization and measurement. He has lived or visited more than 20 nations, has done research on five societies, has held formal academic appointments in three educational systems, and speaks three and three-quarter languages.


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