Human Well-Being and Social Structures: Relating the Universal and the Local

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There exists a contradiction between the domination of postmodernism and cultural relativism in intellectual life and the universalism and globalism dominant in the real world of institutions and politics. In this topsy-turvy world, core values and needs are relative and local, while means and policies are global and universal. This article contributes to those challenging this world-view. The first part looks at human well-being and contrasts the intellectual case for a universalist understanding of all people's capabilities and the case for localism, respect for people's values and knowledges, before exploring theoretical attempts to reconcile the two. The second part turns to the world of institutions and structures. It considers ideas of globalization as a universal trajectory before moving on to defend multi-level and middle-range frameworks. The article concludes by arguing for a clearer distinction between universal needs, local need satisfiers and subjective understandings, together with a comparative middle-range theory to explain contemporary success and failure in improving human well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-311
Number of pages23
JournalGlobal Social Policy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • Migration (O150)
  • Human Development
  • and Operations
  • General Welfare (I310)
  • Economic Development
  • Human Resources
  • Formation
  • Income Distribution
  • International Economic Order
  • Institutions
  • Design


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