Profile Circles

Profile Circles provide a simple way of presenting complex data about your city, urban settlement, or region. The circular figure is divided into four domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture. Each of these domains is divided in seven subdomains, with the names of each of these subdomains read from top to bottom in the lists under each domain name. The Circle provides the basis for thinking about the domains and subdomains of social life in general.

Domains and Subdomains

Move your cursor over the Circle below to see the four domains, each with seven subdomains.

Domain & Subdomain

On the Profile Circle assessment is conducted on a nine-point scale. Click on the Circle to change the values.

The scale ranges from ‘critical sustainability’, the first step, to ‘vibrant sustainability’, the ninth step. When the figure is presented in colour it is based on a traffic-light range with critical sustainability marked in red and vibrant sustainability marked in green. The centre step, basic sustainability, is coloured amber.


The ecological is defined as the practices, discourses, and material expressions that occur across the intersection between the social and the natural realms, including the important dimension of human engagement with and within nature, ranging from the built-environment to the ‘wilderness’.

  1. Materials and Energy
  2. Water and Air
  3. Flora and Fauna
  4. Habitat and Settlements
  5. Built-Form and Transport
  6. Embodiment and Sustenance
  7. Emission and Waste


The economic is defined as a social domain that emphasizes the practices, discourses, and material expressions associated with the production, use, and management of resources.

  1. Production and Resourcing
  2. Exchange and Transfer
  3. Accounting and Regulation
  4. Consumption and Use
  5. Labour and Welfare
  6. Technology and Infrastructure
  7. Wealth and Distribution


The political is defined as a social domain that emphasizes practices and meanings associated with basic issues of social power as they pertain to the organization, authorization, legitimation and regulation of a social life held-in-common.

  1. Organization and Governance
  2. Law and Justice
  3. Communication and Critique
  4. Representation and Negotiation
  5. Security and Accord
  6. Dialogue and Reconciliation
  7. Ethics and Accountability


The cultural is defined as a social domain that emphasizes the practices, discourses, and material expressions, which, over time, express the continuities and discontinuities of social meaning of a life held-in-common.

  1. Identity and Engagement
  2. Creativity and Recreation
  3. Memory and Projection
  4. Beliefs and Ideas
  5. Gender and Generations
  6. Enquiry and Learning
  7. Wellbeing and Health

Defining Social Domains

Defining such fundamental terms as ecology, economics, politics and culture is extraordinarily difficult. It is not just because they are essentially contested concepts such as ‘democracy’, ‘justice’ or ‘aesthetics’. This contestation is largely confined to academic debates. It is also paradoxically because for most people they have become taken for granted as the fields across which we walk, the basis of our understanding of our world. Everybody assumes that they know what is meant by economy or culture, and we are rarely called upon to define them. It is increasingly rare for even academics to actually try to define these basic terms. The classic text by Raymond Williams, Keywords, for example, only explores one of these four concepts. We still hear the phrase ‘It is the economy, stupid’ as if the economy is completely self-evident as a domain of activity.

In summary then, the approach to understanding sustainability presented here begins with the social. If positive sustainability is defined as practices and meanings of human engagement that project an ongoing life-world of natural and social flourishing, then sustainability is a social phenomenon long before it is an economic or even just an ecological phenomenon. It is analytically possible to divide ‘the social’ into any number of domains. Social domains are dimensions of social life understood in the broadest possible sense. In this case we have chosen the minimal number of domains that are useful for giving a complex sense of the whole of social life: namely, ecology, economics, politics and culture. Each of the subdomains constitutes a placeholder. The particular words that we use to name each of the domains are less important than the social space that the combinations of those words evoke. The ‘social domains’, as we name and define them here, are analytically derived by considering the human condition broadly across time, across different places, and across different ways of life. In practice, the four domains remain mutually constitutive.

Comments are closed