Some Critical Reflections on the Measurement of Social Sustainability and Well-Being in Complex Societies
2. The Subtle and Problematic Nature of Social Measurement
3. The Complexity of Modern Societies
4. A Structural Point of View on the Measurement of Social Sustainability and Well-Being
- It must be acknowledged that not all of the dimensions involved in the description of society can be actually and meaningfully quantified in order to get neat and unambiguous pictures of them. This is clearly expressed by Amartya Sen, with reference to well-being and inequality measurement : “Indeed, the nature of interpersonal comparisons of well-being as well as the task of inequality evaluation as a discipline may admit incompleteness as a regular part of the respective exercises. Both well-being and inequality are broad and partly opaque concepts. Trying to reflect them in the form of totally complete and clear-cut orderings can do less than justice to the nature of these concepts. There is a real danger of overprecision here.” Indeed, the general tendency to quantification, somehow imitating natural sciences, puts aside that in the social sciences numerical precision is often just a computational artifact and that elementary indicators are often expressed in different metrics and refer to non-homogeneous concepts, making final aggregated scores hardly interpretable, due to the absence of a common reference scale;
- The definitional uncertainty and the doubtful validity of many social measurement processes unveil that the attempt to monitor social sustainability, by precisely measuring social processes, is definitely fragile. In the vagueness of the correspondence between social measures and the corresponding social traits, divergent and unpredictable evolutions of the social system are hidden, making it risky to founding policy-making on precise quantification and making it preferable to rely on more robust views;
- Given the deep interdependence of social life domains, it is dangerous to focus on single aspects of well-being and sustainability, as if they could be isolated from the others; indeed, optimizing “locally” may well be “globally” inefficient, leading to unwanted and unexpected consequences, on the system as a whole.
5. Structural Approach to Synthesis: A Few Examples on Well-Being Data
5.1. Principal Component Aggregation
5.2. Semantic Maps of Well-Being
5.3. Well-Being and Partial Orders
5.4. Final Remark
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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Arcagni, A.; Fattore, M.; Maggino, F.; Vittadini, G. Some Critical Reflections on the Measurement of Social Sustainability and Well-Being in Complex Societies. Sustainability 2021, 13, 12679. https://doi.org/10.3390/su132212679
Arcagni A, Fattore M, Maggino F, Vittadini G. Some Critical Reflections on the Measurement of Social Sustainability and Well-Being in Complex Societies. Sustainability. 2021; 13(22):12679. https://doi.org/10.3390/su132212679Chicago/Turabian Style
Arcagni, Alberto, Marco Fattore, Filomena Maggino, and Giorgio Vittadini. 2021. "Some Critical Reflections on the Measurement of Social Sustainability and Well-Being in Complex Societies" Sustainability 13, no. 22: 12679. https://doi.org/10.3390/su132212679