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Methodological discussions to undergird the AUC lecture series
Cairo, 01 September 2000  -- In commenting about the lecture series that has just been announced by AUC, Ismail Serageldin said that while the topics would be of general interest and the material would be presented in a manner accessible to the general public, there were very important technical and methodological underpinnings to his analysis and his statements. Serageldin also informed us that barring his taking on another job in the spring (most probably related to the Library of Alexandria) he would give an advanced seminar at AUC on methodological issues. Among those topics that he discussed as possibilities in such an advanced seminars were the following:

Methodological discussions:

(Related to the AUC lecture series, the technical considerations were to be addressed in separate and complementary fashion)

A model of social change:

A dynamic model of social change is proposed drawing upon the foundations of Coleman’s theory of social action and the notions of transactions

A model of cultural change:

A three tiered model of cultural change is proposed. The universality of the model is promoted, but as a conceptual not a measurement tool.

The measurement of sustainability:

Eschewing the widespread definition of sustainability as meeting needs, the notion of sustainability as opportunity is proposed. Moving to stock versus flow arguments, the new approach is based on four kinds of capital: manmade, natural, human and social capital. The approach, already applied several times to worldwide estimates, challenges conventional economic measurements and brings about important shifts in the meaning of sustainable policy.

On Social Capital:

Of the four kinds of capital, the most controversial remains social capital. Preliminary efforts at conceptualization and measurement lead to interesting results.

The valuation of cultural heritage:

Going beyond tangible commercial exploitation value, can we measure the value of cultural heritage to a group? a nation? The world?

To some extent standard urban economics analysis techniques can be used, but the cultural heritage nature of conservation investments in historic cities, however, adds a dimension that standard urban economics is ill-equipped to address. Many of the benefits of cultural heritage do not enter markets, or do so only imperfectly. But methods and approaches to measuring such benefits do exist and have been applied, drawing insight from environmental economics, which has been studying similar problems for some time.

The approach to risk analysis:

Faulty conceptual thinking leads people to try to avoid all risks. A more reasoned comparative approach is more correct and more promising, but it has its own pitfalls. Hw does one undertake meaningful risk assessment to help guide policy in this world of imperfect knowledge and difficult political tradeoffs?

The meaning of measurement:

Approaching the issue of measurement has its own conceptual issues. Some fairly simple questions can be dramatically revealing about underlying assumptions in the use of certain indicators. The impact of what we choose to use as an indicator, and how we choose to measure it can have enormous impacts on the resulting conclusions and policy prescriptions.

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