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Policy & Politics • vol 45 • no 2 • 121–36 • © Policy Press 2017 • #PPjnl @policy_politics Print ISSN 0305 5736 • Online ISSN 1470 8442 • https://doi.org/10.1332/030557317X14866576265970 This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http:// creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits adaptation, alteration, reproduction and distribution without further permission provided the original work is attributed. The derivative works do not need to be licensed on the same terms. Accepted for publication 06 February 2017 • First published online 20 March 2017

article Relational wellbeing: re-centring the politics of happiness, policy and the self

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Sarah C White, [email protected] University of Bath, UK The ubiquity of references to happiness and wellbeing indicates widespread anxiety that all may not be well, reflecting the erosion of the social in late capitalist modernity. The paper finds that, rather than helping to solve this problem, individualist formulations of wellbeing in policy mimic or deepen the underlying pathology. Drawing on empirical research in Zambia and India, it advocates an alternative approach, relational wellbeing, which is grounded in a relational ontology that can challenge dominant ideologies of the self, places central the generative quality of relationality which is critical to societal change and engenders a socially inclusive political vision. key words wellbeing • happiness • relationality • self To cite this article: White, SC (2017) Relational wellbeing: re-centring the politics of happiness, policy and the self, Policy & Politics, vol 45, no 2, 121–36, DOI: 10.1332/030557317X14866576265970

Introduction Whether they appear in the exhortation to eat well and exercise regularly, the promise of inner harmony and enhanced personal effectiveness, or the evaluation of facilities or services, the extraordinary explosion of references to happiness and wellbeing in self-help, commercial, health, academic and policy discourses is widely remarked (for example, Atkinson, 2013; Haybron, 2008; Scott, 2012). Advocates assert that this represents new opportunities for human fulfilment, more (cost) effective policy impact through ‘behaviour change’, and more ‘people-centred’ policy (Helliwell et al, 2016; OECD, 2013; Seligman, 2011). Cynics dismiss it as a smokescreen for austerity or simple marketing ploy. Critics focus on pressures to perform a ‘happy self ’, intense self-monitoring, and the potential to de-politicise by shifting attention from the level and quality of welfare provision to emotions and the self (Ahmed, 2010; Davies, 2015; Ehrenreich, 2009; Held, 2002; Sointu, 2005).While acknowledging such concerns, this paper takes a different approach. The fabled variety in understandings and usage of happiness and wellbeing notwithstanding, their ubiquity can be read as marking a widespread cultural anxiety – a critical sense that something is missing, the 121

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uneasy feeling that at some deep level, all may not be well. The fact that the current preoccupation with happiness and wellbeing crosses discourses of the self and social policy suggests that its root may be common to both. This paper argues that the grounds of anxiety about wellbeing lie in the erosion of the social and relational that has occurred with the development of late capitalist, globalised modernity.The first part of the paper substantiates this case. It describes how institutionally the erosion of the social and relational is evident in the compression of space for civil society, which has been steadily colonised and displaced by the state and – increasingly – the market. Socially and culturally it appears in changing constructions of the self, as a global economy of ‘flexible accumulation’ requires the emergence of individuals whose freedom from the ties of geography or custom facilitates their maximum exploitation by capital (Craib, 1994). The second section raises the main question of the paper: the extent to which discourses of wellbeing are part of the problem, or may offer any degree of a ‘solution’. It therefore provides a brief review of the main interests that policy discourses have identified in wellbeing and the main approaches to wellbeing that have been offered in response. While individualist formulations of wellbeing mimic the underlying pathology, it is argued that a relational approach to wellbeing offers a more hopeful prospect.The third part of the paper outlines some key elements of a relational approach.

The decline of the social Intrinsic to the development of capitalism is the ‘freeing’ of customary ties. While specific experiences vary by time and place, there is nonetheless considerable similarity in general trends. Processes of privatisation or enclosure destroy ancestral links between people and land, creating a reservoir of ‘free’ labour which has historically been required for industrial production, but may now remain as permanent excess in the penumbra of the informal economy (Ferguson, 2015; Li, 2014). Functions formerly fulfilled by social institutions based on kinship, religion or ethnic identity are taken over by the state or the market. The space for civil society contracts and its organisations increasingly mimic other domains, either bureaucratic (for example, formalised voluntary associations) or commercial (for example, ‘mega churches’). The rapid pace of change in late capitalism requires subjects which are increasingly flexible, and able to adapt themselves to meet industry’s changing needs. In advanced economies, state surveillance increases, with the growth of abstract systems and the standardisation of experience, and the self is experienced increasingly in relation to ‘the system’, rather than as depending on known others (Craib, 1994). In post-colonial and other non-metropolitan contexts, however, the livelihoods of those excluded from the formal system may, by contrast, critically rely on their ability to make claims for support from ‘insiders’, on the basis of personal relationship (Ferguson, 2015). Shifts in the structure of polity and economy also reverberate in familial and personal relations. With the erosion of the social fabric that secured persons in communities of belonging and constraint, mechanisms of social control diversify and conventions governing the management of reproduction and the body become matters of style and personal statement rather than being perceived as simply ‘given’ by nature, culture or society. Rites of passage become more individualised, a celebration of particular rather than general achievement. A powerful example of this is marriage, which anthropological studies show is changing on a global scale, from a structural 122

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contract among kin to an emphasis on the couple and the individual, with heightened expectations of intimacy and emotional satisfaction (for example, Hirsch and Wardlow, 2006). People’s accounts of their lives echo this, as they emphasise current choice and agency against past adaptation and constraint, although critical observers question whether there is any real expansion of room for manoeuvre (Collier, 1997). In charting the decline of the social it is important to recognise that the contemporary emphasis on the individual is not a simple representation of how (modern) people are, but an ideology. Critically, it obscures the extent to which people are the objects of agency, disciplined and enticed by forces in the state and market to make certain kinds of ‘choice’ and deliver not only certain kinds of behaviour, but a certain kind of self (Craib, 1994). Bringing together his practical experience as a psychotherapist with his academic role as social theorist, Craib (1994) argues that there is a conundrum in late modern society in its denial of the inevitability of ‘disappointment’ – the costs, limitations, ambivalence, griefs and trade-offs of life – while it contains in itself the conditions that increase the likelihood of such experiences. Central to this is the ideology of continual self-improvement which induces an instrumental relationship within the self, treating it as a kind of project which – with just the right combination of expert tutoring or therapy or consumption or self-discipline – will eventually be capable of perfection. For Craib, this ‘fantasy of infantile omnipotence’ reflects a ‘false self ’ which hides and denies the experiences of insecurity, fragmentation and loss that accompany accelerated and globalised processes of social change as it conforms to demands to ‘emphasise the positive’ and subordinates different aspects of the conduct of personal life (such as mourning or parenting) to discrete, abstract systems of professional expertise.While all societies involve some social control, including how people think, Craib (1994, 164–5) suggests that the ascendancy of psychotherapy and counselling in late modernity indicates an unusual attempt to control in addition how people feel. Williams (2003) makes an allied argument from his somewhat different vantage point as churchman and social philosopher.1 Like Craib, he criticises the cultural emphasis on the self and its satisfactions, drawing attention to the evasions and distortions in contemporary ideologies and policy and commercial practices. Thus advertisers, Williams says, treat people as children, who can make choices without incurring any cost, whereas ‘real choice both expresses and curtails freedom’ (Williams, 2003, 38). He thus criticises the pre-eminence of choice in discussion of public services in the UK. Since no-one would choose a worse school or poorer healthcare, Williams argues, talk of parental or patient choice serves to legitimate the advancement of one’s own interests against others’, and a refusal to consider how the loss implied in any choice is distributed. This emphasis on the social dimensions of policy is grounded in Williams’ insistence that one becomes human in and through relationship and particularly through recognition and conversation. This reflects an understanding ‘that I am because I am seen at a certain depth, or that I require a faithful presence to hear my narrative, or that I have no reality as a subject that is not also a reality for and in another subject’ (Williams, 2003, 203). What is at stake here is not, then, a communitarian nostalgia for a lost world of social harmony and solidarity. As Ahmed (2010) among many others points out, mythic forms of ‘the happy family’ or ‘the happy community’ have distinctly unhappy histories in terms of the forms of suppression and violence which they have sustained.What is noteworthy about both Craib and Williams is their insistence on the provisional and unfinished character of human living, its indeterminacy as practised in and over time 123

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and through relations with others. Both authors explicitly recognise, and reject, the master narrative available to them, of psychoanalysis on the one hand and religious dogma on the other.This is, in Craib’s terms, distinctly disappointing, because it refuses any neat resolution, any settled narrative, or even the prospect of one, insisting on human being as happening, as always becoming, and so always incomplete.

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Wellbeing in policy It is clear that the current fascination with wellbeing forms part of the complex identified in the previous section. In most forms it is strongly individualist, centred on the self and its entitlements, and easily amenable to forming part of a disciplinary ‘regime of the self ’ (Rose, 1998), especially with respect to an ideology of selfimprovement. Nevertheless, it is important to recognise that there are several different approaches to wellbeing which intersect with this complex in rather different ways. This section introduces three main types.These are not chronological developments of the concept but all exist together and to some extent borrow from and flow into one another.The first,‘comprehensive’, approach, directs attention to a broad range of ‘quality of life’ factors, questioning the primacy often given to income or economic growth.The second, subjective wellbeing (SWB), uses measures of individual happiness or satisfaction to evaluate a policy or political project.The third,‘personal wellbeing’, aims to get individuals to take action to promote their own health and happiness.

Comprehensive wellbeing From the 1960s to the end of the twentieth century the measurement of wellbeing in public policy was dominated by ‘social’ or ‘quality of life’ indicators. The current short-hand for this comprehensive approach to wellbeing is ‘Beyond GDP’ (gross domestic product). In its more radical form this calls for a major re-orientation of economic policy towards ‘de-growth’ (for example, Martinez-Alier et al, 2010). More mainstream approaches advocate more broad-based evaluation of existing policies, with perhaps some adjustments of emphasis in a ‘people-centred’ direction. Comprehensive wellbeing comprises three key elements. The first is breadth, the need for a broad range of indicators ‘not just economic growth’ to measure societal progress. The second is relevance, the claim that statistics should reflect ‘what really matters to people’.2 The third is the increasing use of subjective indicators alongside the conventional ‘objective’ measures of life expectancy, education, employment and so on.An influential example is the ‘Report of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress’, better known as the Stiglitz report, which was presented to President Sarkozy of France in 2009 (Stiglitz et al, 2009). Amartya Sen’s capability approach constitutes the most significant conceptual contribution to comprehensive accounts of wellbeing.This began with Sen’s rejection of the existing formulations of standards of living, which considered either what people have (commodities) or the pleasure they derive from these (utility). Instead, Sen argued that the focus should be on the person him- or herself, and ‘the ability to do various things by using that good or those characteristics’ (Sen, 1983, 160). Capability designates the scope people have to achieve ‘valued functionings’ – to use Sen’s terms – which range from the basic needs for human life, such as being adequately nourished, to more psychological and relational factors, such as ‘achieving 124

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self-respect or being socially integrated’ (Sen, 1993, 31). Sen also identifies agency and freedom as pre-eminent values. In his view, acting and choosing freely both promote wellbeing directly and may prioritise goals such as political struggle, which are larger than, and indeed may compromise, the individual’s own wellbeing. Although the capability approach ultimately relates wellbeing to an individualised subject, the sovereign rights-holder of liberal-democratic discourse, it has some elements in common with the openness of Craib and Williams’ approaches described above. Capabilities are potentialities, which may or may not be exercised in practice. Beyond this, for Sen there is no fixed list of capabilities, rather ‘what people value and have reason to value’ has to be argued and discerned through processes of public reasoning. This places considerable faith in the power of rationality and its ability to transcend entrenched social inequalities in who gets to speak and whose views are seen to have value. Ahmed (2010, 12), for example, sounds a caution that notions of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ forms of wellbeing are vulnerable to class, ethnicity and gender bias, such that ‘hierarchies of happiness may correspond to social hierarchies’.What the appeal to public reasoning does, however, is break down the dominant identification of the public as consumers exercising private rights of individual choice. Instead it begins to re-centre the idea of civil society as an arena of deliberation, where people come together to confront the difficult decisions their societies and communities face, where those who stand to gain and those who stand to lose can face one another around the table.

Subjective wellbeing Subjective wellbeing (SWB) was nurtured by research on social indicators and quality of life but it has come to be something of a cuckoo in the nest, to a degree displacing – and often failing to acknowledge – these earlier bodies of work (Michalos, 2011). SWB constructs consist of measures of life satisfaction and/or measures of emotional experience (‘affect’). In economics SWB research mushroomed after Easterlin (1974) questioned the equation between income and happiness (Graham, 2011). In psychology, it expanded particularly with the 1998 launch of ‘positive psychology’ in the USA, which advocates focusing on good mental health and personal strengths rather than mental illness and dysfunction. Since this merges into personal wellbeing, I concentrate here on the economics dimension. The excitement around SWB is that it seems to offer a direct measure of utility, the happiness or satisfaction that has been seen as the ultimate goal of public policy, at least since Bentham’s classic utilitarian formula pronounced the good to be ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. Since philosophers doubted the possibility of measuring happiness directly or comparing its levels between different people (Collard, 2006), economists adopted proxies to provide ‘objective’ measures of utility such as ‘revealed preferences’, or the choices people actually make. At their simplest, such proxies assume that utility can be measured in terms of what people are willing to pay for particular goods or services. Crudely speaking, the higher the prices paid, the greater the utility that is deemed to be derived. This is why Easterlin’s (1974) paper was so shocking and exciting. In showing that levels of happiness in the United States had not risen in line with GDP per capita, it broke open this identification of income and utility and raised the possibility that economic growth might not, after all, hold the secret to human happiness. 125

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The past 20 years have seen an explosion of SWB research and advocacy for its use as a direct measure of the ultimate impact of policies and programmes (for example, OECD, 2013). It is easy and cheap to administer: a single question, or perhaps a short scale, provides a metric for how happy or satisfied people are in their own terms. The question of how they define that happiness or satisfaction is left aside. There are, however, good reasons to be sceptical of claims that SWB measures can provide fine-grained policy guidance. High levels of satisfaction can indicate low expectations, internalised oppression, or simply the wish to look good, rather than a genuinely positive experience. Expectations shift over time, complicating any simple comparison between before and after scores. Consistent findings are broad-brush and confirm what is already known, such as the negative impact of unemployment. Results are also sensitive to the instruments which generate them. Deaton (2012) for example, found that the effect of economic crisis on the SWB of Americans between 2008 and 2010 was ‘dwarfed’ by the effect of changes in the survey question order.3 And the more politically significant happiness data is seen to be, the greater the danger of political distortion, both by citizens wishing to register approval or protest and by governments seeking to prove their worth (Frey and Gallus, 2013). The slimness and apparent innocence of SWB belies the fact that it provides quite a dense ideological vector. What is so obvious that it goes almost entirely unremarked, is its affinity with market research. SWB measures position respondents as consumers, who are rating satisfaction with their lives. Since happiness has come to stand as a marker for what we all desire (Ahmed, 2010, 1), in measuring happiness we are effectively rating the subjective success of our lives. It is difficult to imagine a context more likely to produce a ‘false self ’. White and Jha (2014) describe the difficulty that villagers in Zambia and India found in answering standardised questions that required them first to abstract from their lived experience and then to make a generalised judgement across the whole of their lives. This raises questions about the normalisation of such schema and how they have become part of the everyday battery of techniques whereby people routinely represent themselves in terms easily assimilated by abstract systems.

Personal wellbeing Personal wellbeing takes the emphasis on happiness and satisfaction of SWB and expands it in more substantive terms: what matters is not just feeling good, but also doing well. Policies aim to motivate individuals with a positive and proactive approach to take more responsibility for their own health or state of mind. The core emphasis is ‘behaviour change’. The New Economic Foundation’s (NEF) widely cited ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ is a well-known example.This was developed with UK government funding ‘to devise a set of actions that enhance an individual’s personal well-being’ explicitly ruling out ‘actions oriented at the societal or governmental level’ (Thompson et al, 2008, 3–4).The recommendations (Connect, Be Active,Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give) thus all target individual behaviour. Psychological wellbeing is a core dimension of personal wellbeing.This comprises not just feeling happy, but optimal psychological functioning (for example, Ryff, 1989) or the ability to meet core psychological needs (Ryan and Deci, 2001). Over time, indeed, a primary focus on happiness tends to shift to a broader wellbeing agenda. Thus Seligman, one of the progenitors of positive psychology, identified in 2002 126

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‘authentic happiness’ as comprised of positive emotion, engagement and meaning. In 2011, however, his emphasis shifted to ‘flourishing’, in which he also includes relationships and accomplishment. The difference, Seligman (2011, 25) claims, is that wellbeing ‘cannot exist just in your own head’ but brings in objective as well as subjective dimensions. Interestingly, for both Richard Layard, the most high-profile advocate of happiness scholarship in the UK, and the later Seligman, the promotion of personal wellbeing is cast as a social, not simply individual, project. However, the strong undertow of individualism in their core disciplines of economics and psychology means that the social is conceived primarily as instrumental to individual wellbeing or (also) as the sum of individual wellbeings.The individual remains the unit of analysis. Personal wellbeing approaches have a quite ambivalent relationship with the complex outlined in the previous section.They provide the most intense example of self-monitoring and the ideology of the self as perfectible project. Mindfulness phone apps, fit-watches and other wearables make ‘technologies of the self ’ into tangible consumer items rather than figures of sociological metaphor.The cultural pressure to perform a positive self has been vigorously criticised, as the ‘tyranny of the positive’ (Held, 2002) or the urge to ‘Smile! You’ve got cancer’ (Ehrenreich, 2009). Narratives of personal wellbeing can be deeply implicated in the medicalisation of daily life, whereby everyday practices of reflection and nurture are increasingly rendered within the clinical gaze.This contributes to the fragmentation of the self, generating demand for the ‘repair services, garages for the personality’ offered by the health service and independent professionals (Craib, 1994, 103). The growth of ‘nudge economics’ (Thaler and Sunstein, 2009) modelling policy instruments on marketing techniques to promote ‘the right’ decisions, potentially raises the commitment to ‘fix’ people to a new institutional level. While this presents itself in benign form, Craib (1994, 78) warns that the urge to correct and re-shape those who appear different has potentially totalitarian social implications. The World Bank’s 2015 World Development Report, ‘Mind, Society and Behavior’, (World Bank, 2015) provides a troubling example of how this might be generalised on a global scale with its claim that poor people require empowered others to shape their decisions since ‘poverty impedes cognition’. The implication that global development problems may be solved by poor people making ‘better’ decisions is also – at best – disingenuous. More positively, however, what the personal wellbeing agenda clearly does, in a way that can complement the capability approach, is to ask what is good, what does promote wellbeing.And that potentially opens space for other voices, for the conversations that Williams (2003) urges should be held. For example, running as counterpoint through Haybron’s (2008) philosophical discussion of ‘the elusive psychology of wellbeing’ is his childhood experience holidaying on an island off the coast of North Carolina where people still followed their traditional ways of life. This makes him sceptical whether more choice necessarily means more happiness and to pay much greater attention to place and context than any of the approaches we have considered so far. Haybron (2008, 255) concludes: ‘[T]he successful pursuit of happiness may be less an individual affair, and more a matter of living in the right social and physical context, than the modern tradition has normally assumed.’ In policy terms it is clear that the personal wellbeing questions do need to be asked. In the UK the promise of the National Health Service to provide care ‘from cradle to grave’ can be sustained only if we move as a population to a more positive health regime. Some of this is about individual responsibility and decision making, putting 127

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off bad habits and cultivating good ones. It is also about working ‘beyond the silos’ of conventional bureaucratic practice to meet individual needs in a more integrated manner. But it critically depends on unmasking the food, alcohol, tobacco, technology, transport and pharmaceutical industries’ complicity in keeping populations unhealthy; re-structuring the mal-distribution of work, which leaves some with no work and others with no life outside it; engaging in discussion about the society we want and the type of education required to achieve it; re-calibrating the relationship between environment and economy; and making the political changes that will curb the power of big business to set our agendas from behind a two-way mirror.

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Relationships and wellbeing While the approaches reviewed above focus on individual wellbeing, they nonetheless recognise the importance of relationships. For SWB scholars, relationships feature primarily as social determinants. For example, surveys commonly find an association between being married and reporting higher levels of SWB. Personal and comprehensive approaches often see relationships as both a means to increase wellbeing and a component of wellbeing. The first of NEF’s fabled ‘five ways to wellbeing’ is ‘Connect’ (NEF, 2016).The OECD’s ‘Better Life Index’ includes ‘community’ (‘quality of your social support’) and ‘civic engagement’ (‘your involvement in democracy’) as two of its 11 domains (OECD, 2016). One of Ryff ’s six domains of psychological wellbeing is ‘positive relations with others’ (Ryff, 1989). One of the three basic psychological needs identified by Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is relatedness (Ryan and Deci, 2001).4 While these approaches differ from one another, they all assume an individualist ontology: positive relationships with (external) others contribute to the individual’s wellbeing. Even Greenfield and Marks (2006), who explore the impact of adult children’s problems on their parents’ SWB and ‘relational wellbeing’ (quality of family relationships) as ‘linked lives’, ultimately identify both forms of wellbeing as belonging to the individual. Prilleltensky (2005) takes a significant further step as he identifies three sites of wellbeing, personal, relational and collective. Collective wellbeing refers to endowments and deprivation at the community level, relational wellbeing the terms and quality of relationships and personal wellbeing the level at which wellbeing is thought, felt and experienced. The sites are both distinct and inter-dependent: ‘None can be subsumed under the others, nor can they exist in isolation’ (Prilleltensky, 2005, 54). This approach resonates strongly with my own scholarly tradition, which spans development studies, social anthropology, sociology and human geography, and identifies people as subjects formed within a specific social and cultural context (for example, Abeyasekera, 2014; Atkinson et al, 2012; Gough and McGregor, 2007; Jimenez, 2008; Thin, 2012; White with Blackmore, 2015). Wellbeing is understood as arising from the common life, the shared enterprise of living in community – in whatever sense – with others. Relationships thus form a central focus, as both the means through which (psychological, symbolic, social and material) goods are distributed and needs are met, and as intrinsic to the constitution and experience of wellbeing. Subjective perceptions are anchored in material and relational contexts, producing a sense, as Jackson (2011) terms it in the context of Sierra Leone, of ‘life within limits’. 128

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If the importance of relationships to wellbeing is so widely acknowledged, what is the need for a specific focus on relational wellbeing? There are, I think, three strong reasons. The first is to ground wellbeing in a relational ontology that can challenge discourses that result either in the fragmentation of the self or in fantasies of its omnipotence.The second is that relationality is generative (Donati and Archer, 2015). The growth of ecological models, relational, affect and complexity theories across the social and natural sciences indicates increasing recognition that it is the interplay and interaction of different variables, in often unpredictable ways, that generates stasis, degeneration, reproduction and/or transformation.The third reason concerns politics. At a time of resurgent nationalism, where suspicion of those perceived as ‘other’ is becoming a dominant ethic and intensified border controls and gated communities embody the defence of privilege against ‘outsider’ threat, it is vital that narratives of wellbeing generate an expanded and socially inclusive vision and practice.

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Relational wellbeing A fully relational approach to wellbeing must employ a relational ontology.This regards relationality not as an external ‘social determinant’ or ‘social support’ (or constraint) to individual subjects, but as fundamentally constitutive of subjectivity. In the wellbeing literature this issue has primarily been approached through the notion of ‘culture’, and the contrast, which is central to cross-cultural psychology, between so-called ‘collectivist’ and ‘individualist’ societies. Having undertaken all my research in societies that would be classified as collectivist (Bangladesh, rural India and rural Zambia) I am deeply uneasy with this binary and the geographical imaginary it conjures.5 As argued above, the autonomous individual is a cultural myth. The person as a simple component of the collective is similarly a fantasy. Instead, as the broad tradition of sociology and anthropology testifies, one of the puzzles that all human societies have to grapple with is the relationship between individual and collective, the self and other(s). Different societies certainly settle this at different points of the spectrum, and establish the settlement in material, institutional and ideological forms. But within all societies there is variability (for example, adult males are often constructed as more individualised than others), complexity, inconsistency and contradiction. Within all persons there is conflict and ambivalence between belonging and autonomy. And collectivities are neither simply the sum of individuals, nor some kind of superindividual in themselves, but develop emergent properties according to the relations which compose them. Two works that contribute significantly towards theorising relational wellbeing are Atkinson (2013) and Gergen (2009).Atkinson (2013, 138) builds on theories of affect to argue for a situated and relational framing of wellbeing, which views wellbeing as an effect ‘of mutually constitutive interactions among the material, organic and emotional dynamics of places’. This might seem to render wellbeing ultimately insubstantial, simply a flow – or confluence – of feeling(s). Atkinson (2013, 142) argues to the contrary that this approach has political implications: to direct attention to ‘the social, material and spatially situated relationships through which individual and collective wellbeing are effected’. Gergen (2009) discusses relational wellbeing in the context of developing a relational ontology which challenges the dominant ideology of autonomous, bounded beings. This flips the switch, as it were, from seeing individuals as forging relationships, 129

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to viewing (multiple) relationships as forging individuals. Gergen celebrates the plural, disjunctive and contradictory dimensions of the self as providing the basis for discovering common grounds even with those who seem radically other. He draws attention to the ‘choreography’ of relational dynamics, such that hostilities often escalate, and indicates how a relational focus enables ‘transformative dialogue’ that initiates other kinds of trajectory. Critically, he also discusses how relationships can themselves form new kinds of bonded being – us against the world – which both corrode from within and define an identity in opposition to others. Echoing Craib and Williams’ emphases on disappointment and recognition, Gergen argues what is required is to let go settled notions of identity and cultivate instead appreciative curiosity and other forms of practice which extend the potential for relationship. Gergen (2009, 403) concludes: ‘When relational well-being is the center (sic) of our concern we approach a life-giving future.’ How do such theoretical expositions relate to social practice? To consider this I draw on my recent research in rural India and Zambia.6 While the villagers would not recognise the radical multiplicity and generativity of Gergen’s relational being, the fundamental ontology in both research sites was one of relational selves, with wellbeing understood in collective rather than individual terms. There were of course idiosyncrasies of individual personality and experience, but the sense of being in relationship dominated how villagers described their personal histories and geographies, what had frustrated them or brought them joy. Subjective, material and relational merged together as questions about love received answers about provision, or ‘having enough’ meant being able to share with others. Most remarkable, perhaps, was the way relationality structured action. In Zambia, in particular, people explained what they did in terms of an extensive web of (typically kin-based) relations. The logic behind a specific act of support lay in a broader network of reciprocity, where who would next need and who would next give was unknown, what was important was to sustain relationship, to maintain the flow. The second theme which emerges from our research is the importance of societal structures.This offers an important corrective to the tendency common in relational theorising to over-emphasise openness, flow and flexibility and under-emphasise what Ahmed (2004) terms the ‘stickiness’ of established structures of power. Structures sometimes appear on the surface of the narrative, as people reflect on ‘the lot of women’, the domination of elites, or the impact of government policy. But they are also revealed through analysis, which draws out the underlying social, bureaucratic, political, spatial, economic and cultural structures and processes. Knowingly or unknowingly, it is through these that personal stories are patterned. But these structures also have their own proper level in the collective institutions of market, society and state which are responsible for the production and distribution of wealth and poverty, belonging and exclusion, justice and entitlement. The third theme is the natural environment. This recalls Atkinson’s emphasis on place, and again provides a corrective to the tendency in relational theorising to underplay the physical, losing materiality in the fascination with emotional and affective dynamics. As rural communities, the importance of the environment to the wellbeing of people in Zambia and India was very clear.Their livelihoods depended not just on what they could farm, but also their access to the common resources of water, forest products, grasslands and so on. Traditionally this was recognised in collective rituals which acknowledged the communities’ dependence on and 130

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responsibility to care for nature to sustain the cosmic balance.As an Indian villager put it:‘If we don’t look after the garden, then God won’t send the rain.’ In urban contexts these connections may not be so evident, so UK refuse sites remind people to ‘think before you throw’. But there are multiple studies demonstrating the impact of the built environment and green space on individual wellbeing (for example, Atkinson et al, 2012).The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment demonstrates forcefully the material interdependence of human wellbeing and environment at the global level (MEA, 2005). Nonetheless, it is important to resist an overly anthropocentric view.The natural world has its own processes, flows and constraints, rhythms and tipping points which respond to human action but are also significantly beyond human control. The specifics of the constellation of wellbeing in the research communities in India and Zambia differed from one another. They will clearly differ even more in urban contexts and other countries. However, I believe that these themes of relational selves, societal structures and the natural environment are relevant across contexts, and complement the stress on the personal which is the signature emphasis of wellbeing. Each of these dimensions has some relative autonomy with its own structures and processes, as well as being interdependent and in tension with each other. Wellbeing emerges through their dynamic interplay, an unstable settlement being made and re-made continuously, an outcome of accommodation or balance moulded by the ‘stickiness’ of established formations and the qualities of material in play.

Policy and politics There is not space for a detailed discussion of implications for policy and politics, but some brief points may be made.The first is that the emphasis on societal structures is important politically, as it resists the tendency to shift responsibility from the collective to the individual (Sointu, 2005). It is also likely to make policy more effective.Thomas (2014, 166) relates how a programme in Wales to encourage people to manage their own weight failed because it had ignored the significance of their poverty. Brangan (2015) found professional constructions of ‘health behaviour’ ignored the meanings and practicalities of physical activity in a South African township. Brangan (2015, 115) advises: ‘Those interested in promoting health and preventing non-communicable diseases need to look upstream and beyond the sphere of health to consider how to create conditions conducive to the broader wellbeing within which health will more easily flourish.’ Second, the emphasis on local context and inclusive conversation should promote broad-ranging debate.Those who have worked on local level evaluation of wellbeing in the UK and international development celebrate such discussion as one of the most positive outcomes (Atkinson, 2013; Scott, 2012; Spencer et al, 2014; Thomas, 2014). This also helps to resist the capture of the wellbeing agenda by experts in advanced statistics, eager to authorise standard indicators and to mine ‘big data’. It may also have greater real impact. Scott (2012, 19) points out that while there is a hunger for measures and quantitative evidence, policy processes are littered with an elephants’ graveyard of indicators which are never used. If people are motivated to identify what they want to change they may also generate indicators with the energy behind them that makes them work. Prioritising relational wellbeing should also foster a different kind of engagement, which seeks common ground rather than competition, mutual interest rather than oppositional politics (Gergen, 2009). Scott 131

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(2012, 79) does however sound a warning, that ‘over-emphasis on local wellbeing projects may distract from debates about wider and deeper issues by making local residents responsible for delivering their own wellbeing’. A third application of relational wellbeing might be to provide a more encompassing political vision.The obvious contemporary examples are in Ecuador and Bolivia, where indigenous cosmologies of buen vivir (‘living well together’)7 have been recognised formally and incorporated in new state constitutions. This has brought into national politics not just the rights of marginalised peoples but also the claims of the natural world. The complexities involved should not be underestimated, however. In both Ecuador and Bolivia the realpolitik in achieving the headline commitment to buen vivir and delivering on it in practice are fraught. The radical and progressive rhetoric masks significant issues regarding the terms of political mobilisation and conflicts of interest and is increasingly co-opted for more conventional development ends. Both economies remain heavily dependent on mining, oil or gas extraction, with high environmental costs (Radcliffe, 2011; Fabricant, 2013). And for any country the scope to implement a radically different economic model is clearly constrained by the power of global economic structures and relationships. Fourth, if the decline of the social is at the root of anxieties about wellbeing, it follows that policies need to re-build social relations and deepen social recognition. Donati and Archer’s (2015) work on ‘the relational subject’ provides some thoughtprovoking ideas about what this might involve. They argue that the current accommodation between the market representing the value of freedom and the state representing equality must be tempered by a strong civil society upholding the values of subsidiarity and solidarity (Donati and Archer, 2015, 227). A critical feature of civil society, they maintain, is that it is an arena which can generate ‘relational goods’ – positive outcomes which ‘belong’ to the relationship itself, rather than to any particular party within it. These are distinguished from private goods, where some people secure their interests in opposition to others, and public goods, where people can secure their interests apart from others (Donati and Archer, 2015, 214). Relational goods can only be produced through collaboration, and in conditions that permit real engagement with one’s partners and reflexivity concerning this engagement (Donati and Archer, 2015, 221). Scale is thus a key issue.The state should provide the underlying structures (such as devolution) which promote the kinds of interaction that can produce relational goods. Finally, a relational wellbeing approach should encourage a more inclusive social vision. Ferguson (2015) offers some examples based on his long experience as an anthropologist of southern Africa. Given the global context of increasing numbers of people whose labour is simply excess to capital, he suggests the need to re-focus policy from production to distribution, with the notion of a ‘rightful share’.This is grounded not in the idea that people ‘have’ rights on the basis of which they receive a ‘share’, but that the share is itself rightful – that is, something that should be done ‘because it is right’ (Ferguson, 2015, 50). One practical example is the way shares have been given to all legal residents in Alaska in return for the oil being mined from their land. Another might be that workers laid off to increase profitability should receive shares in the company as compensation. Perhaps of widest application is the idea of a basic income grant, provided to all citizens, or even all residents, regardless of employment status. This is radical not just in its universal commitment to guarantee a minimum

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threshold of resources to all, but in its social recognition of all as belonging to a shared community, simply by virtue of sharing a common place (Ferguson, 2015, 215).

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Conclusion This paper suggests that the frequency of references to wellbeing in contemporary western society indicates a cultural anxiety that all is not well, which is linked to the erosion of the social in the development of globalised capitalist modernity. This is evident institutionally in the contraction of civil society and the expansion of the state and especially market, and societally in the increased atomisation and fragmentation of individuals ‘freed’ from customary ties to people and place. Drawing particularly on Craib (1994) and Williams (2003) it is suggested that understandings of wellbeing need to be grounded in the provisional and necessarily ‘disappointing’ character of human living, which happens over time, in and through relations with others.A review of the three main approaches to wellbeing in policy shows that these include some elements that point in this direction. Overall, however, they reinforce the dominant cultural complex, as on the one hand they fracture lives into distinct domains and render people legible through abstract systems, and on the other they reproduce the ideology of individual self-creation. The paper recommends an alternative approach, relational wellbeing.This provides an account of subjectivity that can challenge dominant ideologies of the self; places central the generative quality of relationality which is critical to societal change; and engenders a socially inclusive political vision. Relational wellbeing is grounded in a relational ontology that views relationality as logically prior to individuals, rather than vice versa. It celebrates multiplicity and resists fixity, seeking always to extend possibilities for relationship. Research in rural India and Zambia provides empirical examples of the cultural construction of relational selves. It also suggests two themes of societal structure and physical environment which correct tendencies in relational theorising to over-emphasise fluidity and underplay materiality. Rather than dividing ‘subjective’ from ‘objective’, subjective, material and relational dimensions of wellbeing are revealed as co-constitutive.Wellbeing is emergent, the outcome of accommodation and interaction that happens in and over time through the dynamic interplay of personal, societal and environmental structures and processes, interacting at a range of scales, in ways that are both reinforcing and in tension.The paper closes by suggesting some practical implications of pursuing this model in policy and politics. Notes 1 Williams was Archbishop of Canterbury, 2002–12. 2 The by-line of ONS 2010–11 project ‘Measuring national wellbeing’, was ‘Measuring what matters’, see Oman (2015). 3 Specifically, the effect of shifting questions about politics to just before questions about life evaluation. 4 Ryff ’s other domains are: self-acceptance, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life and personal growth. SDT’s two other basic psychological needs are for autonomy and competence. 5 Miller (2002) gives a powerful critique of this binary from psychology and Hall (1992) a more general critique of such ‘west and the rest’ framings.

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6

Our research team spent two periods of four months in each location, undertaking a survey and open-ended interviews on poverty and wellbeing, 2010–13; 350–400 people were surveyed in each round, and around 80 qualitative interviews undertaken. For more information see www.wellbeingpathways.org/. 7 Buen vivir is Spanish. Indigenous terms include suma qamaña (Aymara) and sumac kawsay (Quechua).

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Acknowledgements My thanks to Séverine Deneulin, Joe Devine, Shreya Jha, Daniel Wroe and two anonymous reviewers for thoughtful reading and helpful comments. Research for this paper was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council/Department for International Development Joint Scheme for Research on International Development (Poverty Alleviation) grant number RES-167-25-0507 ES/H033769/1; and by British Academy/Leverhulme Senior Research Fellowship SF150070. References Abeyasekera,A, 2014,A social justice approach to wellbeing: the PADHI psychosocial framework’, in SC White with A Abeyasekera (eds) Wellbeing and quality of life assessment: A practical guide, pp 37–54. Rugby: Practical Action Publishing. Ahmed, S, 2004, Affective economies, Social Text 79, 2, 117–39 Ahmed, S, 2010, The promise of happiness, Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press Atkinson, S, 2013, Beyond components of wellbeing: The effects of relational and situated assemblage, Topoi 32, 137–44 Atkinson, S, Fuller, S, Painter, J (eds), 2012, Wellbeing and place, London: Ashgate Brangan, E, 2015, Staying well in a South African township: stories from public health and sociology, in SC White with C Blackmore (ed) Cultures of wellbeing: Method, place, policy, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 95–117 Collard, D, 2006, Research on well-being: Some advice from Jeremy Bentham, Philosophy of the Social Sciences 36, 3, 330–54 Collier, J, 1997, From duty to desire: Remaking families in a Spanish village, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press Craib, I, 1994, The importance of disappointment, London: Routledge Davies,W, 2015, The happiness industry: How government and big business sold us wellbeing, London:Verso Deaton,A, 2012,The financial crisis and the well-being of Americans, Oxford Economic Papers 64, 1, 1–26 Donati, P, Archer, M, 2015, The relational subject, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Easterlin, R, 1974, Does economic growth improve the human lot?, in PA David, MW Reder (eds) Nations and households in economic growth: Essays in honor of Moses Abramovitz, pp 88–125, New York: Academic Press Ehrenreich, B, 2009, Smile or die: How positive thinking fooled America and the world, London: Granta Publications Fabricant, N, 2013, Good living for whom? Bolivia’s climate justice movement and the limitations of indigenous cosmovisions, Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies 8, 2, 159–78

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Relational wellbeing - IngentaConnect

Policy & Politics • vol 45 • no 2 • 121–36 • © Policy Press 2017 • #PPjnl @policy_politics Print ISSN 0305 5736 • Online ISSN 1470 8442 • https://doi...

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