'Well-being' as a focus for public health? A critique and defence

S. Carlisle, P. Hanlon

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    20 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    The concept of well-being has long attracted attention from multiple academic disciplines and interest has now spilled over into public and political domains in the UK. Yet a number of critical arguments might be made in relation to its utility for public health. For example, subjective well-being is broad and ill-defined, and is associated with contestable, morally laden ideas about happiness and 'the good life'. Well-being has highly individualistic connotations and buys uncritically into the consumer culture of Western economies. The focus on well-being reinforces personal responsibility whilst intensifying the penetration of the individual's lifeworld by a range of experts or therapies. As a concern of the worried well of wealthy nations, well-being could exacerbate existing inequalities. Well-being may thus present a distraction from efforts to address enduring structural inequalities in health. Nevertheless, arguments can be made in its defence, not least the burgeoning science on the topic, and the suggestion that well-being may be an appropriate measure of what people value in life, and therefore relevant to public health. In this paper, we present a synthesis of favourable and critical perspectives on the topic. This provides the foundation for a critique of the diagnoses and prescriptions found in both positions. More broadly, we highlight doubts about the sustainability of the current, modernist paradigm which has failed to substantially reduce health or other inequalities yet to which contemporary public health efforts apparently remain tied. We suggest that a re-think in public health policy and practice may be required.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)263-270
    Number of pages8
    JournalCritical Public Health
    Volume18
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 29 Sep 2008

    Fingerprint

    Public Health
    Public Health Practice
    Value of Life
    Happiness
    Public Sector
    Health
    Public Policy
    Health Policy
    Prescriptions
    Therapeutics

    Keywords

    • well-being
    • inequalities
    • consumption

    Cite this

    'Well-being' as a focus for public health? A critique and defence. / Carlisle, S.; Hanlon, P.

    In: Critical Public Health, Vol. 18, No. 3, 29.09.2008, p. 263-270.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Carlisle, S. ; Hanlon, P. / 'Well-being' as a focus for public health? A critique and defence. In: Critical Public Health. 2008 ; Vol. 18, No. 3. pp. 263-270.
    @article{1a8baa06a41c4530b55aff4ac3741b80,
    title = "'Well-being' as a focus for public health?: A critique and defence",
    abstract = "The concept of well-being has long attracted attention from multiple academic disciplines and interest has now spilled over into public and political domains in the UK. Yet a number of critical arguments might be made in relation to its utility for public health. For example, subjective well-being is broad and ill-defined, and is associated with contestable, morally laden ideas about happiness and 'the good life'. Well-being has highly individualistic connotations and buys uncritically into the consumer culture of Western economies. The focus on well-being reinforces personal responsibility whilst intensifying the penetration of the individual's lifeworld by a range of experts or therapies. As a concern of the worried well of wealthy nations, well-being could exacerbate existing inequalities. Well-being may thus present a distraction from efforts to address enduring structural inequalities in health. Nevertheless, arguments can be made in its defence, not least the burgeoning science on the topic, and the suggestion that well-being may be an appropriate measure of what people value in life, and therefore relevant to public health. In this paper, we present a synthesis of favourable and critical perspectives on the topic. This provides the foundation for a critique of the diagnoses and prescriptions found in both positions. More broadly, we highlight doubts about the sustainability of the current, modernist paradigm which has failed to substantially reduce health or other inequalities yet to which contemporary public health efforts apparently remain tied. We suggest that a re-think in public health policy and practice may be required.",
    keywords = "well-being, inequalities, consumption",
    author = "S. Carlisle and P. Hanlon",
    note = "Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.",
    year = "2008",
    month = "9",
    day = "29",
    doi = "10.1080/09581590802277358",
    language = "English",
    volume = "18",
    pages = "263--270",
    journal = "Critical Public Health",
    issn = "0958-1596",
    publisher = "Routledge",
    number = "3",

    }

    TY - JOUR

    T1 - 'Well-being' as a focus for public health?

    T2 - A critique and defence

    AU - Carlisle, S.

    AU - Hanlon, P.

    N1 - Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

    PY - 2008/9/29

    Y1 - 2008/9/29

    N2 - The concept of well-being has long attracted attention from multiple academic disciplines and interest has now spilled over into public and political domains in the UK. Yet a number of critical arguments might be made in relation to its utility for public health. For example, subjective well-being is broad and ill-defined, and is associated with contestable, morally laden ideas about happiness and 'the good life'. Well-being has highly individualistic connotations and buys uncritically into the consumer culture of Western economies. The focus on well-being reinforces personal responsibility whilst intensifying the penetration of the individual's lifeworld by a range of experts or therapies. As a concern of the worried well of wealthy nations, well-being could exacerbate existing inequalities. Well-being may thus present a distraction from efforts to address enduring structural inequalities in health. Nevertheless, arguments can be made in its defence, not least the burgeoning science on the topic, and the suggestion that well-being may be an appropriate measure of what people value in life, and therefore relevant to public health. In this paper, we present a synthesis of favourable and critical perspectives on the topic. This provides the foundation for a critique of the diagnoses and prescriptions found in both positions. More broadly, we highlight doubts about the sustainability of the current, modernist paradigm which has failed to substantially reduce health or other inequalities yet to which contemporary public health efforts apparently remain tied. We suggest that a re-think in public health policy and practice may be required.

    AB - The concept of well-being has long attracted attention from multiple academic disciplines and interest has now spilled over into public and political domains in the UK. Yet a number of critical arguments might be made in relation to its utility for public health. For example, subjective well-being is broad and ill-defined, and is associated with contestable, morally laden ideas about happiness and 'the good life'. Well-being has highly individualistic connotations and buys uncritically into the consumer culture of Western economies. The focus on well-being reinforces personal responsibility whilst intensifying the penetration of the individual's lifeworld by a range of experts or therapies. As a concern of the worried well of wealthy nations, well-being could exacerbate existing inequalities. Well-being may thus present a distraction from efforts to address enduring structural inequalities in health. Nevertheless, arguments can be made in its defence, not least the burgeoning science on the topic, and the suggestion that well-being may be an appropriate measure of what people value in life, and therefore relevant to public health. In this paper, we present a synthesis of favourable and critical perspectives on the topic. This provides the foundation for a critique of the diagnoses and prescriptions found in both positions. More broadly, we highlight doubts about the sustainability of the current, modernist paradigm which has failed to substantially reduce health or other inequalities yet to which contemporary public health efforts apparently remain tied. We suggest that a re-think in public health policy and practice may be required.

    KW - well-being

    KW - inequalities

    KW - consumption

    UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=53249142271&partnerID=8YFLogxK

    U2 - 10.1080/09581590802277358

    DO - 10.1080/09581590802277358

    M3 - Article

    AN - SCOPUS:53249142271

    VL - 18

    SP - 263

    EP - 270

    JO - Critical Public Health

    JF - Critical Public Health

    SN - 0958-1596

    IS - 3

    ER -