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Putting social sustainability into practice – Close the gap and get lost in translation

Conference contribution
Authors Sara Brorström
Daniela Argento
Giuseppe Grossi
Published in 21th International Research Society on Public Management Conference, Edinburgh
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Business Administration
Language en
Keywords smart city, social sustainability, theoretical translation, practical translation
Subject categories Business Administration

Abstract

Relevance Nowadays cities face the great and overlapping challenges of urbanization and social fragmentation. Policy makers and city managers plan and build “smarter cities” by experimenting new forms of governance (Meijer and Bolívar, 2016). However, good intentions, especially in terms of ensuring sustainability, are not always realized in practice. Various actors interpret the meaning of becoming smarter and more sustainable in different ways (Brorström, 2015). Consequently, in complex city networks there is the constant risk for a gap between “what is being said” and “what is actually done” with detrimental effects on the sustainable and smart city development. Significance It is argued that social sustainability is the dimension in which contemporary cities face greatest challenges (Gerometta et al., 2005; Cassier and Kesteloot, 2012). Social sustainability is often associated with urban planning and design principles, such as density, sustainable transport, and greening, which may not necessarily lead to sustainable outcomes, suggesting that social sustainability might be difficult to achieve (Eizenberg and Jabareen, 2017). This paper contributes to such debates given that there is a lack of research that addresses social sustainability (Dempsey et al., 2009; Kim and Larsen, 2016) in the smart city scenario. Theory, Research Question and Method By combining elements of Latour’s (1987) Actor Network Theory (ANT) with literature on the various dimensions of sustainability (Vallance et al., 2011), this paper aims to investigate how gaps in the implementation of social sustainability city strategies emerge, and how those gaps are dealt with by various actors involved. The research questions addressed in this paper are: what gaps emerge when social sustainability strategies are implemented in practice? What are the effects of those gaps on city management and strategy? We focus on how social sustainability, as was put out by a smart strategy in the city of Gothenburg in Sweden, is turned into practice, translated by the actors involved in its concretization, and then potentially altered the way the city is being managed. We therefore consider two different projects within the city of Gothenburg and focus on how the concept of social sustainability was interpreted in different ways, thus leading to different actions, even though it was derived from the same strategy. The data collection is based on interviews with key-actors and observations of meetings. Results The findings suggest that when the concept of social sustainability is vaguely defined in plans, it becomes even vaguer when put into practice. Actors negotiate and activate complex processes of translation which lead to the transformation of the original concept of social sustainability. This is possible in the case of a lack of management, or when different parts of the organization need different steering mechanisms. This can further lead to the definition of performance measurement systems that try to measure social sustainability, which are used in a way that suits the interpretations made by specific actors. The case of Gothenburg shows how social sustainability can be turned into an organizational issue, being at the same time “lost” during the process of its translation into practice.

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Utskriftsdatum: 2019-11-19