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Problematising ‘happiness’: A critical explanation of the UK’s happiness agenda

Knight, Laura Jane (2017) Problematising ‘happiness’: A critical explanation of the UK’s happiness agenda. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

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Issues of ‘wellbeing’ and ‘happiness’ are becoming more and more prevalent in discussions of social policy and in the provision of healthcare services. In recent years, the maximisation of a nation’s ‘happiness’ has emerged as both a key policy objective and as a central focus within social, political and economic research, with public policy makers around the world having demonstrated a growing interest in national accounts of ‘wellbeing’. In the UK context, this growing interest is comprised of a perceived need to ‘know’ ‘happiness’ and ‘wellbeing’ better, so that they might be maximised. Such attitudes and beliefs made possible the introduction of four new questions to the Annual Population Survey that were specifically designed to measure the UK’s “subjective wellbeing” (now referred to as “individual life satisfaction” following revisions in subsequent years). In addition to this, in 2010 a non-profit organisation named Action for Happiness (AfH) was founded which sought to maximise the ‘happiness’ of society by offering individual members help and training towards living a ‘happier’ life - an endeavour which is understood to be necessitated by the stagnation of ‘happiness’ in modern Western societies. This thesis seeks to critically account for the emergence of such social and political practices – or ‘happiness agenda’ - and does so from a poststructuralist, post-Marxist standpoint. This is achieved by utilising the specific methodological strategy developed by Glynos & Howarth (2007) which constitutes a retroductive, deconstructive, approach to accounting for socio-political phenomena. In doing so, three types of logics underpinning these practices are identified, presenting an explanation as to what, how and why these practices are. Accounting for the emergence of such a ‘happiness agenda’ enables it (and its emergence) to be critiqued – specifically, the notion contained within it that maximised individual ‘happiness’ constitutes social progression. Indeed, central to the critique of the ‘happiness agenda’ that this thesis presents is an acknowledgement of the need of a socio-political equality agenda, where ‘social progression’ is instead conceptualised as maximised social equality.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: happiness, wellbeing, post-structuralist discourse analysis
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Divisions: Faculty of Science and Health > Health and Social Care, School of
Depositing User: Laura Knight
Date Deposited: 06 Jul 2017 21:56
Last Modified: 06 Jul 2017 21:56

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