Theorizing Social Wellbeing: Subjective Mental States, Preference Satisfaction or Mitsein?

Chapter

Abstract

This chapter addresses three interrelated elements in theorizing wellbeing. The first element is diagnostic, namely, how far have different formulations of wellbeing take us in providing an adequate theorization that is supported by reliable methods and empirical data. In developing this position, it is argued that the two central perspectives that attempt to explain subjective wellbeing as either (i) a construct of mental states or (ii) a case of preference satisfaction are one-sided and should be treated with caution. Against both the psychometric approach of social indicator research and the measurement-theoretic of economic science, a more grounded sociological approach is advanced that draws on phenomenology. It is for this reason that wellbeing is prefaced with the adjective “social” in the title of this chapter. The second element is analytical, namely, what does the cultural turn in wellbeing research and policy tell us about the changing nature of social values in advanced modern societies? In sketching out this analytical terrain, two very different variants of postmodernism are set against each other; these are those of Ronald Inglehart and Jean Baudrillard. If we take the significance of the cultural dimension as a given for such societies, this permits the juxtaposition of two potentially tense perspectives of wellbeing, namely, the postmaterialist cultural values of Inglehart against the postmodern cultural semiotic approach of Baudrillard. In setting up this tension, important insights can be gleaned about mutually reinforcing elements of academic research and popular culture. The third and final element is reconstructive; that is, in identifying theoretic and methodological weakness, especially those associated with the subjective wellbeing paradigm, an alternative mode of thinking is offered. This reconstructive exercise produces the argument for a “social turn” in wellbeing studies against the prevailing cultural preoccupations. Concomitant to this is a principled foregrounding of “we-relationships”, or Mitsein, for any adequate articulation of social wellbeing. From this vantage point, it is claimed that ontologically, social wellbeing is simultaneously both singular and plural. The chapter serves as a strong conceptual conclusion to the last section of this Handbook.

Keywords

Life Satisfaction Subjective Wellbeing World Value Survey Social Indicator Research Consumer Society 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

References

  1. Adorno, T. (2001). The culture industry. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Angner, E. (2005a). Subjective measures of well-being: A philosophical examination. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.Google Scholar
  3. Angner, E. (2005b). Is it possible to measure happiness? The measurement-theoretic argument against subjective measures of wellbeing. University of Alabama: Birmingham. Available at http://homepage.uab.edu/angner/pdf/WelfareMeasurement.pdf Google Scholar
  4. Bachelard, G. (1969). The poetics of space. Massachusetts: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  5. Baudrillard, J. (1981). For a critique of the political economy of the sign (C. Levin, Trans.). St. Louis, MO: Telos Press.Google Scholar
  6. Baudrillard, J. (1988). America (C. Turner, Trans.). London ; New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  7. Baudrillard, J. (1990). Cool memories (C. Turner, Trans.). London; New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  8. Baudrillard, J. (1998). The consumer society: Myths and structures. London: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  9. Baudrillard, J. (2000). The vital illusion (J. Witwer, Ed. & Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Butler, J. (1999). Subjects of desire. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Brickman, P., & Campbell, D. T. (1981). Hedonic relativism and planning the good society. In M. Appley (Ed.), Adaptation-level theory (pp. 287–305). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  12. Butovsky, J. (2002). The salience of post-materialism in Canadian politics. The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 39, 471-484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Casey, E. S. (1993). Getting back into place: Toward a renewed understanding of the place-world. Blooming, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Caygill, H. (1997). The shared world: Philosophy, violence, freedom. In D. Sheppard, S. Sparkes, & C. Thomas (Eds.), On Jean Luc Nancy: The sense of philosophy (pp. 22–33). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Costabile, L. (Ed.). (2008). Institutions for social well-being: Alternative for Europe. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  16. Dant, T. (2003). Critical social theory: Culture, society and critique. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  17. Diener, E., Suh, E., Lucas, E., & Smith, H. (1999). Subjective wellbeing: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 276–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dreyfus, H., & Dreyfus, S. (1991). Towards a phenomenology of ethical expertise. Human Studies, 14, 229–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Easterlin, R. (Ed.). (2002). Happiness in economics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  20. Easterlin, R.A. (2005). Feeding the illusion of growth and happiness: A reply to Hagerty and Veenhoven. Social Indicators Research, 75, 429–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gadamer, H. G. (1999). Friendship and self-knowledge. In H. G. Gadamer, Hermeneutics, religion and ethics ( J. Weinsheimer, Trans.). New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time. New York: Harper One.Google Scholar
  23. Herodotus. (1998). The histories (R. Waterfield, Trans.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Inglehart, R. F. (1990). Culture shift in advanced industrial society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Inglehart, R. F. (1997). Modernization and postmodernization: Culture, economic, and political change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Inglehart, R., Foa, R., Peterson, C., & Welzel, C. (2008). Development, freedom, and rising happiness: A global perspective (1981–2007). Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 264–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Inglehart, R. F., & Welzel, C. (2005). Modernization, cultural change and democracy: The human development sequence. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Johns, H., & Ormerod, P. (2008). The unhappy thing about happiness studies. real-world economics review, 46, 139–146. Available at http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue46/JohnsOrmerod46.pdf.Google Scholar
  29. Kahneman, D., Krueger, A. B., Schkade, D. A., Schwartz, N., & Stone, A. A. (2004). A survey method for characterizing daily life experience: The day reconstruction method. Science, 3, 1776–1780.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Klein, M. (1995). Wieviel Platz bleibt im Prokustesbett? Wertewandel in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland zwischen 1973 und 1992 gemessen anhand des Inglehart-Index. Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 47, 207–230.Google Scholar
  31. Lasch, C. (1979). The culture of narcissism: American life in an age of diminishing expectations. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  32. Löwith, K. (1989). From Hegel to Nietzsche: The revolution in nineteenth century thought. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Marx, K. (1844). On the Jewish question. Available at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/jewish-question/.
  34. Nancy, J. L. (1991). The inoperative community. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  35. Nancy, J. L. (1993). The experience of freedom. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Nancy, J. L. (2000). Being singular plural. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Neva, G., Nelson, J. A., Ackerman F., & Weisskopf, T. (2007). Consumption and well-being. In C. J. Cleveland (Ed.), Encyclopedia of earth (August 21, 2007; Last revised October 9, 2007). Retrieved 5 April 2009 from http://www.eoearth.org/article/Consumption_and_well-being
  38. Noakes, M., & Clifton, P. (2005). The CSIRO total wellbeing diet. Camberwell, Victoria: Penguin.Google Scholar
  39. Noddings, N. (2003). Happiness and education. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Norris, P. (Ed.). (1999). Global support for democratic governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Ryan-Revel, A. (2006). The goddess guide to chakra vitality. Margaret River, WA: goddess.com.au.Google Scholar
  42. Rojas, M. (2007). The complexity of well-being: A life-satisfaction conception and a domains-of-life approach. In I. Gough & A. McGregor (Eds.), Researching well-being in developing countries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Schwarz, N., & Strack, F. (1999). Reports of subjective well-being: Judgmental processes and their methodological implications. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz, (Eds.). Wellbeing: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 61–84). New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  44. Schwarzmantel, J. (2007). Community as communication: Jean-Luc Nancy and ‘Being-in-Common’. In Political Studies, 55, 459–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sen, A. (1999). Development as freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Sorial, S. (2005). Heidegger and the problem of individuation: Mitsein (being-with), ethics and responsibility. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of New South Wales, Australia.Google Scholar
  47. Strathern, M. (1991). Partial connections (ASAO Special Publication). Savage, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  48. Taylor, C. (1991). Malaise of modernity. Toronto: House of Anansi Press.Google Scholar
  49. Tranter, B., & Western, M. (2004). Question ordering effects in Inglehart’s postmaterial index. Paper presented at the Australasian Political Studies Association Conference. University of Adelaide, 29 September -1 October. Available at http://www.adelaide.edu.au/apsa/docs_papers/Others/Tranter%20&%20Western_apsa%20paper.pdf
  50. Vessey, D. (2005). Gadamer’s account of friendship as an alternative to an account of intersubjectivity. Philosophy Today, 49, 61–67.Google Scholar
  51. Webb, S. A. (2009). Against difference and diversity in social work: The case of human right. International Journal of Social Welfare, 18,307–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wolin, R. (2001). Heidegger’s children. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Žižek, S. (2002). Happiness after 9/11. In Žižek, S., Welcome to the desert of the real! (pp. 58–82). London, New York: Verso.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of NewcastleNewcastleAustralia

Personalised recommendations