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

  • Stephen Webb


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.


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.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of NewcastleNewcastleAustralia

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