Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 105–138 | Cite as

Autonomy or Dependence – or Both?: Perspectives from Bangladesh

  • Joe Devine
  • Laura Camfield
  • Ian GoughEmail author


The idea of personal autonomy is central to many accounts of eudaimonic well-being. Yet it is often criticized as a Western concept celebrating individualism and independence over group obligations and interdependence or dependence. This paper rejects this view and argues that coherent accounts of autonomy must always recognize the interdependence of people in groups, and that autonomy can coexist with substantial relationships of dependence. It illustrates this drawing on evidence from Bangladesh, a poor country usually absent from cross-cultural studies and one where personal relationships of hierarchy and dependence are endemic. Argument and evidence are presented showing the coexistence of personal autonomy and dependence, and the relationship between collective action and autonomy. We also address some of the specific problems encountered in researching autonomy in a social context where it is mainly expressed in relational forms. We conclude that autonomy can be directed toward both personal and social goals, and can be enacted individually, or by participation in groups. Autonomy is a universal psychological need but its expression is always contextual.


autonomy Bangladesh eudaimonic wellbeing individualism and collectivism relationships 


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We are grateful to Des Gasper, Severine Deneulin, Ed Deci, and an anonymous reviewer for insightful comments on earlier drafts. Thanks also to the leaders of the QoL research in Bangladesh (Kaneta Choudhury and Mohammed Tapan), and the Bangladesh Country team. The support of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is gratefully acknowledged. The work was part of the programme of the ESRC.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wellbeing in Developing Countries, ESRC Research Group (WeD)Univrsity of BathBath, BanesUK

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