Academic journal article Development and Society

Comparing Social Quality and Social Harmony from a Governance Perspective

Academic journal article Development and Society

Comparing Social Quality and Social Harmony from a Governance Perspective

Article excerpt

This article compares the concept of social quality with the concept of social harmony from a governance perspective. It confines the comparative analysis on the concept of social quality to the one initiated by scholars associated with the European Foundation of Social Quality and the concept of social harmony on the official discourse by the present political leaders on mainland China. The article has two major parts; the first part looks at the conceptualization and underlying meanings of both concepts against their different contextual, institutional backgrounds and societal developmental stages. The second part explores how Europe and China can learn from each other on the basis of four common themes - developmental, theoretical coherence, social responsibility, and measurement.

Keywords: Social Quality, Social Harmony, Governance, Comparative Social Policy, Welfare Development


This article takes a governance perspective to compare the concepts of social quality and social harmony. European social policy scholars have recently begun to find social quality an appealing concept for the European social model. Their interest arises out of concern for the unequal relationship between social policy and economic policy, i.e., that social policy is subordinate to economic policy (Walker, 2005: 12; Maesen v.d. and Walker, 2008) and, if unchanged, the current course of the European social model will aspire, at best, to minimum social standards (Walker, 2005: 17). These are European concerns, at least on the part of social quality scholars, but not those societies in general where the predominant idea is economic and social policy is synonymous with the pursuit of economic growth (Holliday, 2000; Walker and Wong, 2009).

In contrast, the concept of social harmony that emerges in the East, particularly in the Chinese context, is essentially about how conflicts and contradictions among people and government, classes, ethnic groups, and cultures can be settled peacefully (Ai, 2008; Gulsen, 2001; Lai, Wang and Tok, 2007; Lekagul, 2006; Tamthai, 2006; UNESCO, 2004). These are essentially a governance issue. For example, China is worried about increasing the income gap, uneven development, and growing tensions between government and its people due to rampant corruption among its lower-level cadres (Ai, 2008: 144; Lai, Wang and Tok, 2007: 6-7; Saich, 2007); Thailand is concerned about ethnic and religious conflicts (Lekagul, 2006), and Turkey about the tension between government and the people (Gulsen, 2001). In other words, management of social conflicts is about life-threatening issues and basic governance of a society; in one author's words, it is about establishing "built-in mechanisms to deal with conflicts" and letting people "feel in control of their destiny and so are more willing to work with each other..." (Tamthai, 2006: 10). Hence, the concept of social harmony reflects a basic concern in any society - how can a society function normally without interruption by conflicts and contradictions? This is fundamentally different from the concerns underlying the concept of social quality, which is not about the normal operation of a society, but how good a society is.

Moreover, unlike the concern underlying social quality, the concept of social harmony does not explicitly or directly imply anything about the quality of the standard of a society other than relational. In the case of China today, social harmony is also associated with a xiaokang society, literally meaning a small welfare or moderately well-off society in which the living standard is barely of survival but not wealthy (He, 2003; Wong, 2009). In other words, China's aim is not about establishing a good society with quality social and economic life but on making its people live in cooperation with mutual trust; a better life implies, in the case of a xiaokang society, a simple life that satisfies basic survival needs, a humble goal to aspire to. …

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