Thoughts on a good society
by Katy Goldstraw
Current discussion of a good society takes place in a period of profound global change, and there is no agreement about what a good society would look like. In a global context where poverty is increasing, local economies are facing challenges of social cohesion, poverty and inequality, and both national and local systems are facing new political economies, it is important to consider alternative visions of a good society. This September Local Economy published a special issue, edited by myself (Katy Goldstraw) and John Diamond. This themed issue evaluates the contested concept of a good society.
Contributions to the special issue have been informed by current research into this controversial concept. The papers are from a variety of perspectives and present visions that might be situated within youth work, community development, childcare and social policy in Wales, and economic inequality. All the authors have either led, or participated in, research commissioned by the Webb Memorial Trust. The special issue poses fundamental questions about how, in the current socio-economic context, we understand and define the role of the state in support of society’s most vulnerable.
A core theme of the special issue is the broader and contested notion of a good society. Global uncertainty seems to leave little space for reflective exploration of visions of a good society. Yet through uncertainty, creativity can emerge, and it is this creativity, this envisioning of what a new and better version of society might look like, that this Local Economy special issue seeks to capture. The special issue is intended not simply to be another philosophical discussion of what a good society might look or feel like but to offer practical approaches to building a good society. These approaches will no doubt be contested but in offering practical suggestions we can help to nurture debate and enliven democracy.
The special issue examines economic inequality and security in a post-Brexit society. While the importance of non-cash elements in reducing economic inequality is highlighted by O’Connor, Orton and Somra link economic inequality to reduced freedom. They argue that principles of security and freedom have been characterised as opposing choices but a good society would be based on seeing them as interdependent. I (Goldstraw) evaluate creative challenges, developed via participatory research with civil society organisations, reflecting on the role of emancipatory research – research that has empowerment of research participants within its core approach – in developing a good society. Calder’s article imagines what a society where children’s life chances are really equal might look like.
Goldstraw and Calder’s imaginings of a good society suggest a vision from which to develop possible future social policy. Social policy approaches to the creation of a good society are examined by Knight and Hughes. Knight evaluates how we might power a good society, examining the role of agency. Hughes’ article explores if there is a desire to overturn the predominant individualism of the neoliberal era to reignite the notion of the common good.
Two articles from Neil McInroy of CLES (Centre for Local Economic Strategies) and Hugh Ellis of the Town and Country Planning Association consider practical options for developing alternative visions for a good society. The first, from McInroy, considers what a good local economy might look like, with a core economy framed around strong anchor institutions. The second article, from Ellis, considers a local economy from a town and country planning perspective, reflecting on the role of land tax in promoting (or otherwise) equity.
In summary, this collection of articles offers a critical examination of the contested notion of good in a post-Brexit society, considering economic inequality, emancipatory research and the role of individualisation and agency in a good society. In line with the priorities of Local Economy, this special issue brings together policy analysts, researchers and practitioners concerned with local economic policies and social justice. It reflects Local Economy’s aims to make research addressing a good society accessible to all working in the broad field of local economic development and social change.
Dr Katy Goldstraw has recently completed a post-doctoral research fellowship in participatory research at Edge Hill University. She will begin a lectureship at Wolverhampton University in the autumn.
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