About CeSoB

About CeSoB (available as pdf-version)

CeSoB – Center for Social Sustainability – is a non-profit development center that aims to promote social sustainability in the welfare society and its different communities. CESOB wishes to contribute to the development of social sustainability in practice, and based on this to create a theoretical basis for social sustainability in the welfare state’s various domains.

In order to realize this purpose, CeSoB offers partnership and collaboration with stakeholders to develop and assure quality of sustainable environments for relationships, learning, and leadership. Stakeholders could include, for example; child care, schools, social services and local authorities.

CeSoB works based on ten quality parameters that can be applied in practice in order to develop practice. Concretely this means that the stakeholder is interested in developing and strengthening social sustainability in practice (for example in relation to that institution’s primary target groups – children, youth, or socially vulnerable populations), in relation to cooperation with colleagues or in relation to management or leadership, where the precise relation of mutual obligation is a key parameter in social sustainability.

A partnership could focus on, for example, a quality check by a local company over a period of time where they set goals for further development of social sustainability in that institution – for social capital. CeSoB’s quality parameters can be flexible and sensitive to each individual institutions identity and purpose. Therefore, cooperation will be influence by social sustainability’s key parameter – a mutual committed relationship.

CeSoB provides its expertise and contributes to quality assurance and the development of social sustainability free of charge, because the center is specifically designed to promote social sustainability in the welfare state and its various communities.

Sustainable pedagogy is about mutually responsible relationships

Hans Månsson
Center for Social Sustainability – Denmark

We are living in a so-called hyper-complex society, where complexity is growing exponentially and unavoidably. That means that development has undergone a sharp change of pace – from a calm jog to a rocket speed. The speed of development within IT-technology and network communication is one example of this tendency, which is irreversible and impossible to stop. At the same time, diversity in society is increasing based on a number of different parameters. Therefore – the challenges of diversity are present in social discourse, and the concept of community is correspondingly threatened. We are talking about social cohesion.

It is presumable that a large population of society profits/benefits from the many opportunities that are available – for example, Danish society – which has the ability to take advantage of the new opportunities that are available for the common good. But for a smaller number of people, the increasing complexity and diversity means that the ability to orient themselves and have this type of overview deteriorates. This is not necessarily because the minority does something wrong, or because they aren’t good enough people – if anything it is because from a biological perspective, people are created to live a more relaxed and manageable life, which can be difficult to create in today’s world.

Jens Rasmussen described in 1997 the challenge that individual people are faced with:
“…the perspective that is it no longer possible to find one place where the modern person can feel at home, where he or she can ‘find themselves’ and develop his/her ‘natural’ identity. In general we are strangers – a “socially lost individual”…Identity has become something that should be experienced – something that is a constant challenge, and must continually be renegotiated. ( ”Socialization and Learning in Reflective Modernity.” Copenhagen: Young Pedagogues. 1997.Page 71 f.).

The pressure on people in society has increased greatly in the last 15 years. For example, the number of children referred to special education or other social/special arrangements has exploded. This increase is primarily within categories of behavior or ‘identity’-related challenges, while the number of children within traditional special education categories (for example, reading difficulties or mentally challenged diagnoses) remains generally unchanged. This indicates that it is not just a coincidence of the time period, but also a direct or indirect relationship between the exponential increase in diversity in society, and the increase of children referred for special help based on ‘adjustment’ problems (here in quotation marks because the conflict between the individual and the environment is always mutual).

In that way it is possible to see – without anyone’s intentional malice – a polarization between those who can still go the distance, and those who are lost – either voluntarily or under protest. In this way, the social debate has become more sympathetic over the past few decades – from being characterized by consensus about the importance of showing solidarity and demonstrating good citizenship as an ‘us’ (understood as those of us who drive in the fast lane), and ‘them’ (understood as those who drove into a ditch), where those who are ‘us’ increasingly perceive ‘them’ as an expense, an irritation, a burden. In this ‘conversation culture’ we can see a concrete form of political decisions in a variety of debates (integration, unemployment, poverty, etc.) about how much or how little we should account for people who have difficulty participating based on general requirements – for example in the labor market.

This development is counterproductive and unsustainable, and confirms both traditional and modern sociology’s ideas about the collapse of the (welfare-) society as we know it. There seems to be an alarming need for a more future-oriented agenda on a political and charitable level that enables a more thorough discussion of the hyper-complex society’s paradoxes, and how they can be remedied.

The increased diversity and complexity is here to stay. To fight against it would be like Don Quixotes’ vain (although noble) struggle against windmills. However, action should be taken in relation to the ways we handle and articulate these expansive developments. The traditional “us versus them” approach reduces the complexity by breaking down complex systems into smaller pieces that seem more comprehensible and manageable. The rationale is that when the differences between people in the greater community become too fragmented, the smaller groups combine into smaller communities, which are characterized by greater uniformity based on selected characteristics – also known as differentiation. This development can be very concretely observed in the Danish public school system, where many children are still perceived as so different from the current perception of ‘normal’ that they are offered alternative education or other special offers outside the classroom.

It is suggested that this characteristic applies especially to children and youth with difficulties in relationship to their identity, attention, activity, impulsivity, behavior, contact, and well-being – which has contributed to the enormous increase in special educational assistance in schools. Regardless of whether these difficulties are a result of constitutional or contextual factors (or a combination of both), it is evident that it has become more and more difficult for children and youth in Denmark today to orient themselves, to handle the many opportunities available, or to make choices in relation to a glittering and changing world.

If a child is born today with particular difficulty in processing input from the world, it has naturally become a greater challenge compared to the 1950’s and 1960’s when I was a child. A the same time, the academic requirements for students at different grade levels have been narrowed and tightened in the last 15 years based on the findings that Danish school children perform lower in Danish language and mathematics than countries to which we typically compare ourselves. This development should also be seen in connection to the fact that society is also placing higher demands on each individuals’ qualifications and abilities – where primary, secondary, and further education is crucial for an active and accomplished participation in society. The only problem is that more and more children and youth are left behind, partly because they feel that the academic requirements for each educational level exceed their abilities, and partly because consideration for well-being in the classroom tends to be sacrificed on the altar of academics. When Danish teachers experience a student in their 3-grade class who more and more often disrupts the teaching, it could be because he has not yet ‘cracked the reading code’ (like most of his classmates have already). This teacher will then be more inclined to refer that particular student to special education outside of the classroom. On paper, it is because it is ‘for the student’s own sake’ – but in reality, is maybe 3 more to calm the class in order to achieve the learning objectives set for 3rd graders in that subject. Although psychologically understandable, it is not necessarily an acceptable reaction – at least not without a closer analysis of why the student reacts how he does, and finding out if there is a way for the teacher to assist the students’ reaction strategies.

This development poses enormous challenges to pedagogy. How can cohesion and community participation be maintained, and how can society continue to develop for the common good while at the same time meeting and challenging the individual’s uniqueness and potential (for example, academically, professionally, socially, linguistically, and culturally)?

I think that there is a need to construct and develop a more complex pedagogy that can better accommodate and manage this rapidly increasing complexity. I will tentatively call this more nuanced and complex pedagogical approach “Sustainable Pedagogy”, because the greater aim is to tackle some of the fundamental paradoxical problems that a hyper-complex society creates and amplifies. The introduction of social sustainability pedagogy can be seen as an attempt to join together with one of the currently most articulated concepts, namely ‘inclusion’. In my view, inclusion is most often viewed from a simplified premise that it is achieved by reducing its opposite – exclusion. According to traditional definition, inclusion is: “…a process that will help to minimize and eliminate the most active exclusion factors in the lives of children and youth. Inclusion is simply to avoid exclusion.” (Bent Madsen. In: Inclusion pedagogy – to know the factors of exclusion to develop a pedagogy of inclusion. Hans Reitzels Publishing, 2009. p. 13)

But just as it is wrong to focus on children’s deficiencies as opposed to their strengths and possibilities in regards to individuals, it is also wrong to only focus on factors of exclusion as opposed to inclusion in regards to analyzing and influencing change in a social community. Socially sustainable pedagogy is not defined in relation to its opposite – but instead by a description of the basic conditions necessary for a social community where everyone can actively participate regardless of their differences.

My understanding of sustainability in pedagogy is about a mutual obligation to recognize and acknowledge each other. There is an expectation that everyone should have the opportunity to actively participate, regardless of the social context – and that everyone is obligated to do their best and take responsibility for their own and others’ well-being and learning. If everyone participates in a community that is based on a mutual sense of responsibility to themselves and others, then there is a realistic possibility to strengthen the cohesion of a variety of social arenas – for example public schools, childcare institutions, youth education, the workplace, and society as a whole.

The recent decades have focused on an appreciative pedagogical approach among educators and teachers, which is honorable, but the critical issue here is the recognition of reciprocity. Appreciation should be built on relationships that are equally valuable, not just ‘equal’ – because the placement between a student and a teacher is typically different in relation to knowledge and position within the context of the school – but both are equally valuable. An equal relationship involves mutual appreciation, which places special demands on both parties. In school, for example, it is about the relationships between the teacher and the students, as well as among the students themselves, compared to similar relationships in childcare between pedagogues and children, and among the children. The same principle applies to the relationship between the parent and the child.

Educator’s primary duty is to scaffold the toddler from a high degree of dependence over to a young adult with full independence, to the best of their ability and in virtue of their experience and knowledge of learning and development. The gradual expansion of this mutually connected relationship is a constantly present indicator for the educator – and eventually for the child/young adult themselves.

The recent decades of study and research of children’s early development demonstrates that children are born with a social nature – which, if met with openness, sensitivity and communicative parents/caregivers from birth, can be the foundation of a strong and mutually binding relationship from the moment a child opens his/her eyes for the first time. The adult – parent or professional – is the significant other, who has critical importance for the small child’s journey from dependence to autonomy, and the development of strong relationships.

K. E. Løgstrup wrote powerfully about the important characteristics of these relationships:
”The individual has never had anything to do with another person without holding a part of their life in his hand. It can be very little – a passing feeling, a moment you can choose to nourish or let wilt, a connection you can pursue or withdraw from. But it can also be frighteningly large – so much so that the individual is responsible for whether the other’s life is successful or not.” (The Ethical Challenge. Gyldendal, 1956. p.56)

Therefore, sustainable pedagogy is about being mutually responsible to each other, so that the individual’s competencies and potential can be developed and unfold for the good of themselves, and for the common good. Herein lays a fundamentally ecological perspective – understood as the basic view that the individual is embedded in a variety of systemic contexts and levels. We have as individuals, and as a community, responsibility for ourselves, to each other, and ultimately for the state of the world.


CeSoB is also involved in research, including cooperation with Ph.D. projects and Master’s theses – such as the collection of empirical data and academic discussion – both nationally and internationally.
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