Jones, P.H. (2017). Social Ecologies of Flourishing. Author Preprint. 1
Social Ecologies of Flourishing: Designing Conditions that Sustain Culture
OCAD University, Toronto, Canada
Flourishing, Social sustainability, Cultural innovation, Global problematique, Socioecological system
“When a culture is rich enough and inherently complex enough to afford redundancy of nurturers, but
eliminates them as an extravagance or loses their cultural services thought heedlessness of what is lost,
the consequence is self-inflicted cultural genocide.” Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead.
Jane Jacobs published her final work in 2004, as a coda to her contributions to the design of urban
environments, thriving local economies, and in fact what we might see as cultural development. Her
observations have unfolded much as she anticipated, and by any reasonable account Western cultures
have unravelled far beyond her moderate exemplars from the early 2000’s. Since then Western cultures,
Anglo-American and European, have struggled through a global (Western) financial crisis of their own
making, twelve years of the “global war on terror,” the rise of a new Cold War against Russia in response
to energy concession rights, the new media hegemony of five internet giants, devolution of journalism
and broadcast media into a small number of politically homogeneous corporate media owners, and the
recent Middle Eastern refugee crisis. These problem systems reflect the outcomes of policy choices of
neoliberal governance, and directly erode cultural viability or the possibility of societal flourishing
among defined human cultures. The foreseeable side effects and social breakdowns from these macro-
level dislocations, including economic globalization (Saul, 2005) and austerity programs have led to
significant distress on both urban and traditional settlements, and their associated cultures. Jacobs
chose the unit of observation of “culture” precisely to make the case that human flourishing expresses
at the level of culture, and not the society or settlement. I consider Jacobs’ argument a plea for
sustaining cultural viability, also the central concern of this essay.
Cultural sustainability can be addressed as the concern for ensuring the continuity of human cultures as
self-organizing social structures to ensure the future viability of human generations within groups
associated by settlements, arts, religion and cosmological beliefs, and the continuity of knowledge
practices. If social research believes the cultures comprising civilization to be at risk to modernization
and globalism, then we have normative, ontological, and empirical responsibilities to confront the issues
in this crisis and present alternative design proposals that might yield preferable outcomes to cultural
collapse and the imminent destruction of human knowledges, practices, languages, and at forms
associated with these cultures. Due significantly to global capital inequities, and the concomitant
displacement of settlements and populations, human cultures have never been at more risk of a
collapse that would break the continuity of intergenerational learning and nurturing of tacit practices
that define cultures in human societies worldwide.
Jones, P.H. (2017). Social Ecologies of Flourishing. Author Preprint. 2
Both culture and sustainability are contested terms across disciplines, to the point of rejection in some
discourses. From a systemic design perspective, these definitional challenges are necessary and implicit
in any problem framing. In the framework that follows, the object of sustainability is to achieve
flourishing, a value pursued by individual and social processes within a societal ecology that policies and
education can define and measure. We might say cultural flourishing is found when people representing
a given culture, a group of people bound by identity and self-production of historical values and
symbolic meanings, articulate their culture as viable into the foreseeable future and are not threatened
by external forces.
Can we Design Societies for Cultural Flourishing?
A central sociological concern addresses the meaning and articulation of flourishing in relevant social
contexts, in globalized societies, and the cultures eroded by globalization. A foundation for
understanding the social, individual and societal factors of human flourishing is sought to enable
committed actors to contribute to sustainment of cultures and the individuals claiming inclusion in a
culture. The following framework and proposal aims to enable sociopolitical actors – policy makers,
planners and designers, decision makers, as well as social scientists and engaged citizens – to facilitate
the design of research, policies and services to sustain cultural flourishing.
Cultural sustainability was placed on the global agenda by the UN World Commission on Culture and
Development (1995), which stated the position that cultural resources must be sustained for the long-
term needs of future generations. Among these resources are farming and food preparation, health and
caring knowledge, the full range of arts, music and creative expressive practices, religious practices and
customs, aboriginal and developed crafts and practices, unique forms of knowledge and ways of
learning, languages, dialects and communicative practices, regional political and business practices, and
numerous other forms of knowledge.
The concept of flourishing entails “a good life” and the sustainment of human and all life (Ehrenfeld
2008). In this proposal flourishing is extended to the sustainment of culture. Cultures in many
settlements are threatened by nation-level disruptions resulting in distressed migration, in the structural
loss of traditional craft and trades from global trade regimes, and the risk of loss of traditions, languages
and cultural knowledge practices from the fragmentation of “modern” living arrangements that isolate
individuals from indigenous or originating contexts. Among the many risks of the Anthropocene, cultural
erosion is perhaps not considered as serious as the erosion of coastal settlements from sea level rise due
to climate and oceanic ecological changes. The perceived threat or loss of cultural coherence is
expressed by both migrants and settled communities in the transnational migration resulting from the
dislocation of populations in Middle Eastern counties. Climate migration will foreseeably be a much
more significant and permanent force for dislocation and innumerable cultural forms and practices may
be at existential risk over a long period of continuous movement and resettlement.
Design proposals have not at all resolved the dilemma of a global, modernist sustainable development
agenda rooted within a neoliberal political economy, on one hand, and on the other, multiple aligned
citizen environmental movements. We have continuous incremental policy proposals (such as the Kyoto
Accord), industrial sustainability agreements (private supply chain governance), and scientific proposals,
all based largely on the framing of science as “matters of fact.” The redefinition of sustainability as a
concern for flourishing shifts the responsibility for decision making from evidence-based policy toward
betterment and amelioration, which are not policy or activist goals. Latour (2008) raised the distinction
of designing for “matters of concern” as opposed to matters of fact in societal problems:
Jones, P.H. (2017). Social Ecologies of Flourishing. Author Preprint. 3
“If the whole fabric of our earthly existence has to be redesigned in excruciating details; if for each detail
the question of good and bad has to be raised; if every aspect has become a disputed matter of concern
and can no longer be stabilized as an indisputable matter of fact; then we are obviously entering into a
completely new political territory” (2008, p. 11).
For the question of flourishing we are challenged to revaluate the meaning of culture to stakeholders
across cultures of concern. As Latour also contends, we must now extend the question of design to
politics. The senior issue, and a more complex design problem, is nothing less than whether historical
geographically-located cultures can be sustained in the face of (human-made) global challenges.
A theory of social action must be sufficiently responsive to the complex and unknowable relationships of
community and collective behaviour. An inadequate theory of change with respect to desired societal
outcomes might result in ineffective and inconsequential actions addressed to the wrong issues, for
example the attempts to show progress on climate change by reporting on effects measures rather than
taking the political action necessary to ameliorate large-scale industrial causes.
Over the recent decade, designers and design schools have responded to the perceived necessity for
socially engaged design by developing practices for social innovation and designing services for “bottom
of the pyramid” innovations. Converging forces from 2008 included the economic deflation caused by
the collapse of global malinvestment and the resulting massive unemployment after the global financial
crisis, followed by sovereign debt crises. Since then, widespread disenchantment with globalization, the
dislocating effects of European monetary union and distressed migration within Europe have eroded the
vitality of and support for traditional and emerging human cultures. During this period design schools
and leaders in the field recognized the necessity of advanced design practices to play facilitative roles in
strategic communication and the framing of proposals for transformative change in communities and
organizations. The design community signified this recognition with the signing of the Kyoto Design
Declaration in March 2008 (Cumulus, 2008). Design has since entered previously under-represented
sectors such as healthcare, government and international development, and in some schools and
regions these social sectors are the fastest-growing area of design contribution.
A systemic perspective is necessary to revalue culture as a social category and a locus of action. We
adopt social systems perspectives (Luhmann, 1997, Christakis and Bausch, 2006), with the polticall
informed consideration of reflexive modernization (Beck, Bonss & Lau, 2003) and critical realism
(Mingers, 2002). These frames share a view that humanity faces common continuing planetary
problems, such as determined by the Anthropocene era (Crutzen, 2002), that might demand future
solidarities among members of cultural identities. The observation is advanced that that cultural
solidarity enables critical sustainability behaviors, including survivability and nurturing knowledge, to
form within human groups facing common existential crises.
Luhmann (1997) pronounced that solidarity had waned as a cultural value as the stratification of market
economies assumed precedence prior to modernism. He declared the Enlightenment value of
“happiness” was likewise relegated to the mythos of history. Mingers (2002) critiqued and supported
Luhmann’s essential function of societal self-organization which underpins the reproduction of culture.
Mingers leaves it an open question as to whether societies self-organize within an environment that
consists of other societies. His analysis opens the door to the present inquiry, which proposes design
outcomes or goals for the harmonious relationship of cultures within societies.
Jones, P.H. (2017). Social Ecologies of Flourishing. Author Preprint. 4
The function of solidarity, or belonging to a culture as a self-organizing societal system provides a
knowable starting point for the design of flourishing societies. Luhmann defined society as “a social
system that can change its form of primary internal differentiation,” as an autopoietic (self-organizing by
self-reproducing) system of social systems. Relating this to cultural flourishing, we can show how
flourishing emerges within the components of culture as a social system, from the individual psychic
system to the relations within a bioregional ecosystem. We might therefore constitute a functional
purpose of flourishing around which science, culture, and politics could potentially agree. While
solidarity cannot be expected at every level of a societal system, the recognition of solidarity appears
necessary to define the identity of a member of a culture. However at the level of society, we might
propose that a cultural commons model consistent with polycentric governance (Ostrom, 2009) is
adopted for the aims of flourishing.
Perspectives on Modernist Sustainability
In the history of social science’s development from the pre-modern era, classical sociology conventionally
defined a “successful” society without respect to human stewardship of the environment (Durkheim,
1982). We now recognize we cannot isolate the definition of a flourishing society from a specific, located
human settlement with its own history, population dynamics, economics, and its position in a situated
The strong sustainability view of environmental management has evolved and converged with the
emerging view toward social sustainability (Colantonio, 2007; Colantonio & Dixon, 2011). The idealized
proposal of flourishing is further articulated as a reflexive project, consistent with the institutional
redesign sought by reflexive modernization (Beck et al., 2003; Law & Urry, 2004). Weak sustainability (or
sustainable development as normally defined) adheres to the modernist principles of technological
mastery and control of social and natural circumstances. The first era of modernism sought to control
nature and to manage capital flows in an industrialized economy. It assumed clear boundaries between
nature and society. The second era of modernism, inherent in the reflexive position, rejoins human
societies to the natural world, and redefines humanity’s plurality of roles within the realism of a
bounded ecology. Here reflexivity recognizes the multiplicity of boundaries, the multiple claims to
knowledge, our real limits to action, the limits of resources and their management, and of institutional
systems and governance. Reflexive modernization offers a multi-perspectival view of the sustainability
predicament, recognizing that desired future states such as flourishing will be negotiated within
institutions that are themselves limited and in constant reformation. The meanings of flourishing and of
the beneficent outcomes of social design are not shared as universal aims.
The predominant understanding in modern cultures has been that “society is separate from the
environment” an industrial era view not aligned with the reality of natural science. However, claims to
scientific validity are no longer authoritative in political arguments. Climate change, energy production,
population health, and the functions of economies have become shared cultural constructs, subject to
restructuring. With respect to a cultural agency, everything “designed” becomes socially negotiated
across a multiplicity of boundaries, as those boundaries are themselves redrawn or questioned as claims
Jones, P.H. (2017). Social Ecologies of Flourishing. Author Preprint. 5
“Second modernity” calls into question the assumed goals, goods and continuation of modern
progressive projects. Ascribed social structures such as modeled in Figure 1 (the developmental model
of flourishing) are vulnerable to competing claims and are contingent on perceived value and received
utility. While significant social change and policy shifts are inherent to modernism, reflexive modernism
requires rethinking how social meaning is constructed. Social behaviour is reflexively shaped by our
collective, pluralized understandings of the world as experienced and learned.
Reflexive modernization emerges as a theoretical frame supportive of “current consensus in related
[natural science] disciplines” (Barkow, 2006, p.29) necessary for moving toward flourishing or strong
sustainability. It also promotes a critical social reflection on action across the boundaries of a social
ecosystem, encouraging a removed position from self-interest. We gain more thoughtful outcomes from
scientific knowledge by questioning the validity of objectivist reasoning, or “matters of fact,” as we
discover that actors become polarized when faced with definitive propositions. While reflexive
modernization acknowledges all disciplinary views as valid within their own epistemologies, it asserts a
social theory that human action must follow from subjective agreement on decisions based on a
multiplicity of values. Coordinated action on shared problems does not follow from promotion of
scientific or objective facts, but from “matters of concern” (Latour, 2008). The lack of agreement with
respect to “matters of fact” in sustainability science reveals the crux of the problem identified by Latour
as value conflicts between stakeholder commitments and mindsets.
Societal Flourishing as Sustainability
There are no single common definitions of flourishing we can limit to the current model. Ehrenfeld
(2008) provides guidance for flourishing as a context for strong sustainability as “the possibility that
human and other life can flourish on this planet forever.” The outcome which “sustainability” must
sustain is flourishing. The conditions for flourishing are distributed across literatures and contexts, but
well defined by Fredrickson and Losada (2005, p. 678) as “to live within an optimal range of human
functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience.”
The qualities that contribute to human flourishing have been identified as those most beneficial and
socially desirable experiences assumed to be nearly universal across the forms of human settlement. Yet
each human sciences discipline distinguishes the function of flourishing differently. For psychologists,
flourishing measures the engagement and personal growth of the individual in society (Keyes, 2002). For
health planners and sociologists, flourishing qualifies the well-being of members of a society (Marks and
Thompson, 2006). The functions of flourishing associated with an organization are related more to the
values identified as system inputs (ecosystem services and stocks) and outputs (social and economic
value), as opposed to values for health and well-being directly. The starting point for a comprehensive
cultural definition of flourishing might integrate these definitions into a meaningful social system, as
they would entail systemic relationships between the individual human, the social units of relationship,
the structure of communities, and the solidarities that define allegiance to culture.
Jones, P.H. (2017). Social Ecologies of Flourishing. Author Preprint. 6
Individual and Social Flourishing
Keyes (2002) defines flourishing as a composite of individual qualities that in aggregate demonstrate a
healthy sense of well-being. He distinguishes six dimensions of psychological well-being indicative of a
positive dynamic, as opposed to “languishing” or the downward spiral of negative trends. These include:
Positive relations with others
Purpose in life
These six criteria are supported by research in mental health and studies of well-being in workplaces
and school contexts. These criteria for individual well-being may be significantly co-determined by
social reinforcement, and individual flourishing irrespective of social determinants is not reducible to
isolated measures. Depending on cultural and social group affiliation and personal history and
preferences, social determinants may be significant criteria for individual well-being. Keyes (1998, 2002)
further evaluated the social dimensions of individual flourishing with respect to publicly accessible social
criteria, including the following five functions:
While these factors may represent an individual’s social well-being as reflected by participation in their
society and culture, the contribution to overall flourishing is defined as an internal, subjective response
to stimuli and social activity. Yet any measure of a flourishing society ought to account for the society’s
support for the possibility of achieving coherence, actualization, integration, and other conditions.
With respect to the relationship of an individual to their community and society, we might introduce the
provision of care, or the concern for the conservation of health and growth in a person or a collective.
We can define self-care as an extended attribute of individual flourishing, and social care as the caring
for one’s social groups and communities.
At the aggregate, community level of flourishing the values associated with livable cities and
communities are developed by Gilroy (2008) and Timmer & Seymoar (2005). While their research into
the social flourishing associated with healthy aging cannot be reduced to a set of community principles,
their core principles of liveability are pertinent, including equity, dignity, accessibility, conviviality,
participation and empowerment.
At the societal level we can identify flourishing communities as the social composite of institutions and
organizations that satisfy human needs and co-produce value. The community level consists of many
factors which we can identify based on research and initial models. Several authors define the social
sustainability of cities or communities as equitable, diverse, conducive to the social integration of
multiple cultures, while improving quality of life (Sachs, 1999;; Barron and Gauntlett, 2002). Stren and
Polese (2000) proposed an early definition of social sustainability, as (for a city):
Jones, P.H. (2017). Social Ecologies of Flourishing. Author Preprint. 7
“development and/or growth that is compatible with the harmonious evolution of civil society fostering
an environment conducive to the compatible cohabitation of culturally and socially diverse groups while
at the same time encouraging social integration, with improvements in the quality of life for all segments
of the population.”
McKenzie (2004, p. 12) advanced the definition that social sustainability expresses a “life-enhancing
condition within communities, and a process within communities that can achieve that condition” and
suggested several proposals for social sustainability in communities as:
Equity of access to key services (health, education, transport, housing and recreation)
Cultural resilience, wherein “positive aspects of disparate cultures are valued and
Widespread political participation of citizens
Mechanisms for a community to collectively identify its strengths and needs
McKenzie posits a cultural function to transmit awareness of social sustainability from one generation to
the next, and a sense of community to maintain that transmission. These functions might be
reconceived as cultural aspects of flourishing, consistent with Throsby’s (2003) definition of cultural
capital. Throsby defines intergenerational equity as a key source of cultural capital, the stock of cultural
resources inherited from ancestral heritage, a significant value found in indigenous principles of culture.
Six principles for managing cultural capital are defined, all of which are found in indigenous cultures:
1. Material and non-material well-being
2. Inter-generational equity
3. Intra- generational equity
4. Maintenance of diversity
5. Precautionary principle
6. Maintenance of cultural systems and interdependence
Across these definitions there are several other factors we might consider and evaluate, including:
Positive community role
Shared respect for common law
Respect for commons
These factors defining conditions for social and individual flourishing are not yet integrated or measured
by regional statistical samples. Case studies across these research areas are not analyzed by common
variables. Empirical evaluations have not been made for the selection and development of these factors.
These factors are selected by their support in the literature and presented as design proposals for
consideration as values for designing conditions for flourishing cultures and societies.
Jones, P.H. (2017). Social Ecologies of Flourishing. Author Preprint. 8
Models and Methods
Design and Planning Methodologies
Cultural sustainability or flourishing can be presented as organizing collective actions to achieve
flourishing “within a culture,” which can be framed in numerous terms of identity and belonging, from
highly local arts cultures to historically-defined national and ethnic cultures. The boundaries of a culture
defined for diverse urban and social planning purposes may be circumscribed by the bioregion (such as a
watershed and incorporates settlements), a municipality, a subculture/enclave within a larger urban
settlement, or an organization/institution with a persistent identity. A national culture might be too
large as a social system boundary, unless the nation was a contained population with a strong
historically distinct identity.
While cultures can be conceived as (Luhmann) social systems, we can argue that flourishing cultures
require a settlement context, a geographical location that corresponds to cultural or heritage assets and
values. A culture should be construed as a socioecological system (Trist and Murray, 1997), even when
considering technological cultures such as startup communities or workplaces. Design actions will be
proposed toward commons projects, such as the resolution of shared ecosystem or cultural services
(such as historically shared park lands, fishing stocks, and heritage assets such as ancient churches and
monuments). The culture at large would rarely be at issue – the emergent, and often “crisis” concern
may initiate the opportunity for cultural design. The opportunity to frame an intervention as a designing
situation provides the necessary point of engagement with the socioecological design approach.
Different engagement methods are appropriate for flourishing design contexts. The Transition Town
(Smith, 2011), and transition design movements (Irwin, 2015) have championed localized alternatives to
neoliberal and capitalist structures and living arrangements, consistent with many of the criteria for
flourishing. While transition movements have not demonstrated a cultural sustainability orientation, the
restoration of local governance and community self-organizing are consistent with cultural flourishing.
The inherent complexity and non-representability of cultural contexts may require hybrid approaches.
Several methodologies have been perfected for multi-stakeholder collaborative planning for larger-scale
social systems that cross cultural and organizational boundaries. A range of participatory planning
methods, from normative planning (Özbekhan, 1969) to Oasis ( Wheatley and Frieze, 2011) to
collaborative foresight (Weigand, et al, 2014) methodologies are proposed as an integration of collective
action and participatory design consistent with a stakeholder design in a cultural context.
Collaborative planning for a flourishing society may be framed as a redirective design proposal (Fry,
2008) wherein a deliberate shift in practice and values enables community members to define mutually
desired outcomes that may not be achievable by conventional planning.
Social Flourishing in an Ecosystem Model
We represent the criteria and relationships for flourishing drawn from research in a social system model
based on Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) socioecological theory of human development. Figure 1 presents this
structure of social systems entailing the individual, extending from family and community contexts to
the boundaries of a cultural system. These are arranged topologically from the microsystem to the
macrosystem (in Bronfenbrenner’s terms).
The social ecology crosses multiple units of analysis and mediates between levels of individual,
community and cultural relationships. A given settlement (and its cultures) entails a socioecological
system people and resources, their assets and common resources, and their relationships. This
Jones, P.H. (2017). Social Ecologies of Flourishing. Author Preprint. 9
socioecological model represents four social contexts related by proximity and temporality to persons.
The four contexts are arranged topologically from the microsystem to the macrosystem, and contained
within a natural ecosystem. The labels within each ring denote qualities of flourishing specified from
sources at that unit of analysis and associated with each contained social system. The successive social
systems are described in the figure in proximal relationship with one another:
Figure 1. Socioecological Model of Flourishing System Conditions.
Microsystem – The set of relations of a person to their immediate social context. For an adult citizen in
their community, this entails their family and close relatives, their close relations and immediate social
groups. As consistent with Keyes’ (2002) definition of individual flourishing, the microsystem criteria
include individual well-being and social cohesion and inclusion. The values and measurable attributes
consistent with individual flourishing are indicated in the diagram, ranging from self-acceptance to
influence. These values are demonstrated by interactions between interpersonal relationships.
Mesosystem – The mesosystem includes individual microsystems and represents a stage in social
development. The mesosystem entails social systems that reinforce engagement in society (and
cultures), yet it is not an aggregate of individuals. The meso level of the social ecosystem contains the
Jones, P.H. (2017). Social Ecologies of Flourishing. Author Preprint. 10
workplace, schools (for younger people) and community or service organizations. In the diagram,
flourishing criteria associated here include the Keyes (2002) criteria for personal social flourishing. These
are consistent with behaviors in proximal communities, ranging from neighborhood to businesses and
cultural organizations, where aspects such as social coherence and integration become observable in
complex social relations.
Exosystem – The exosystem level includes processes occurring between the different settings in a
culture, and that do not directly affect the individual but influence social systems which a person
participates in. These include the organizations and community institutions that all individuals within a
social boundary would understand as “part of society.” Two exosystems are distinguished for definition
purposes, as they entail different values they might identify with flourishing. The organizational
exosystem entails the network of business relations that affect a workplace and work life (which is itself
in the microsystem) and a community exosystem which includes local institutions accessible within the
experience of the individual. The McKenzie (2004) criteria of social flourishing (equity of access, inter-
generational equity, cultural resilience, political participation, etc.) may be measured as outcomes of
successful development at this level.
Macrosystem – A society and its cultures may be described as macrosystems in the societal flourishing
model. The macrosystem defines the enduring archetypes and “blueprints” for societal functions that
are repeatable across contexts. Bronfenbrenner expressed the macrosystem as the experienced
patterns in a society and its subcultures that influence belief systems, lifestyles, and the contexts for
social interchange. The macrosystem includes institutional, infrastructure, media, and information
structures that are expressed in relationship to an individual within the contained levels. Values and
beliefs about one’s culture and politics are formed in exposure to the larger macrosystem, and it might
be seen as the location where emerging views of cultural and social flourishing as relevant values would
be discovered and assessed. One’s views of human rights, our “place in the world” as situated persons,
and the rights of nature would be framed by the cultural frames expressed through the macrosystem.
Ecosystem – The final system ring necessarily includes the natural ecosystem, which was not defined as
a boundary or social system by Bronfenbrenner, but is required as a necessary spatial-ecosystem
boundary and an inclusive system entailing the entire cultural social system. While micro-macro systems
can change in value and influence over time with human interaction, the natural ecosystem changes
both independently of social behavior and with direct and indirect human activities as a complex
adaptive system (Levin, 1998). A regional bio-ecosystem is implicated in the life and development of all
people within settlements, as productive and agricultural activities are located within definable
watersheds and are components and effectors in resilient ecosystems. A regional ecosystem is highly
interdependent through emergent effects of direct and indirect perturbation from organized commerce,
extraction, agriculture, and settlements. The ecosystem level provides cultural services (landscapes,
riparian areas, terrains, forests and woodlands, natural features) as sources for human cultural
development. Regional and national values, identities and spiritual beliefs are related to and drawn from
natural surroundings implicated in human histories.
Regardless of whether or not we, or humans in any societies, are cognizant and responsible as reciprocal
participants in an ecosystem, the local and regional ecosystems by all scientific and moral rights define
the living boundaries for human development, flourishing and culture. A comprehensive view of social
flourishing might be considered as incomplete without explicit inclusion of the natural sources and
contributions to cultural development, health, lifestyle, food systems, and social identities.
Jones, P.H. (2017). Social Ecologies of Flourishing. Author Preprint. 11
Human cultures will be facing the struggle for sustainability within the very long ecological cycles of the
Anthropocene era. This struggle implicates the stewardship of regional ecosystems as living systems that
ultimately determine all the human sources and system conditions of flourishing. Recent models of
ecosystemic behavior (Heffernan, et al 2014) suggest the function of hierarchical-scaling ecosystems as
natural macrosystems that inclusively integrate all bio-ecosystems contained within its boundaries, from
continental to regional to local watersheds.
The human necessity to form socially sustainable communities and societies, toward the possibility for
flourishing, has never been more pressing. The globalization of all consumption trends, energy and food
production, immigration in search of human social conditions, placeless service provision, and the
financialization of sovereign economies have exalted modernist values across nations and contexts.
However, the planetary limits to growth and continuous critical problems identified as existential threats
in 1970, at the peak of modernism, have manifested as untenable in the era many geologists and social
scientists name as the Anthropocene.
In the near future we might observe that the modern era ended after nearly destroying the
differentiated human cultures that have evolved from the medieval and Enlightenment periods. The
commercial Internet has colonized the early cottage industries of Web 1.0 and has reduced the
argument of cultures have attempted to reject. Corporations and resilient organizations can in many
ways plan and protect themselves from the consequences of extreme climate dynamics, distressed
migration, wage and job declines, and the many systemic effects from unethical political and societal
governance. However, members of local communities, cities and political settlements are embedded in
the lived reality of many collective choices and their resilience remains precarious in the face of
disruptive exogenous change.
While we tend to treat culture as the outcome and aggregate of innumerable Individual choices,
anthropological theories of culture reveal that culture displays as a collective practice by related
individuals over long periods of time. With the continuous progression of modernism flattening the
variations of cultures around the world, many traditional and regional cultures have become vulnerable
to loss of knowledge, skills, practices, and languages and ultimately the loss of meaning in human
societies. The losses of culture result in the loss of adaptable survivability that culture is theorized to
represent. When human cultures and our systems of governance fail together, slowly, but in concert
with the human erosion of capitalism, the family of human civilization is at risk.
The effects of the global problematique are most significantly experienced “at home,” among one’s
closest circles, as suggested by the microsystem of individual flourishing. Yet the awareness and
necessity for organizing action in response to these conditions takes place in forms of legitimated
community and participatory governance. Community-centered and transformative design practices
(and participatory action research) have become widely accepted and involved in all scales of citizen-led
innovation and community building. Design leaders such as Thackara (2006, 2015) and Heller and Vienne
(2003) have promoted engaged alternatives to professionalized design and methodological design
practices to authentically participate in ecosystem restoration and cultural enhancement. Recently,
comprehensive design approaches supported by research and new design education have developed to
address the inherent problem complexity and stakeholder conflicts consistent with diverse communities
and policy change. The last decade has seen the evolution of redirective design (Fry, 2009), transition
Jones, P.H. (2017). Social Ecologies of Flourishing. Author Preprint. 12
design (Irwin, Kossof and Tonkinwise, 2015), and systemic design (Jones, 2015, 2014) modes as
proposals for advancing design responses toward flourishing and socially-engaged education informing
The urgency for collective and policy action has led to numerous design-led proposals and methods,
conferences and now at least three decades of ecological design approaches. The relatively
circumscribed methods for collective action in cultural flourishing, while not developed with cases in this
article due to scope, are suggested to implement flourishing in cultural settings that have the capacity to
self-identify and self-organized as a social action movement.
We might recognize many societies with challenged cultures have limited alternatives to support the
citizen engagement to develop practices and systems for flourishing. The framework for flourishing
cultures is proposed to develop models from social science criteria for formulating policy, facilitating
civil society dialogues, co-designing community ecosystems, and organizing governance for inclusive
participation in the creation of desirable social futures.
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