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

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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.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-138
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Social Sustainability
  • Development
  • Structural Inequality


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