A few weeks ago I attended the first annual conference for the Integrated Network for Social Sustainability in Charlotte, NC along with some members of my research group from Syracuse University. The conference engaged interdisciplinary experts in active discussions on social sustainability. Some of the topics covered include:
- How do you define social sustainability?
- What is useful about this definition? What is missing?
- What projects have supported and promoted social sustainability? How did they achieve this?
Participants included academics from technical and social sciences, community leaders, and government officials. Over the course of two days, I learned about interesting case studies on social sustainability, gained valuable insight on my own research, and participated in great discussions on what social sustainability really means and how it can be measured and achieved (or if this is even possible). Though several definitions that were brought forward shared many common elements, most participants agreed that social sustainability is relative to the culture and goals of each community, thus a universal definition may be more limiting than it is useful. On the other hand, many pointed out that without a common shared definition, we may never know if we are truly working to achieve the same goals. This concept will likely be explored by one of the principal investigators for the network who is a linguist and will be analyzing the conference discussions.
I was one of about seven or so graduate students at the conference. Normally graduate students and not invited to conferences such as this one. However, we added new perspectives to the discussions and many of us were able to discover ways in which social sustainability intersects with our research projects. I am lucky to have had this opportunity to learn about how to build a network of experts like INSS, and I will likely seek out other such groups that will expand my professional network.