'Wellbeing': a collateral casualty of modernity?

Sandra Carlisle, Gregor Henderson, Phil Hanlon

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    89 Citations (Scopus)


    In the now vast empirical and theoretical literature on wellbeing knowledge of the subject is provided mainly by psychology and economics, where understanding of the concept are framed in very different ways. We briefly rehearse these, before turning to some important critical points which can be made about this burgeoning research industry, including the tight connections between the meanings of the concept with the moral value systems of particular 'modern' societies. We then argue that both the 'science' of wellbeing and its critique are, despite their diversity, re-connected by and subsumed within the emerging environmental critique of modern consumer society. This places concerns for individual and social wellbeing within the broader context of global human problems and planetary wellbeing. A growing number of thinkers now suggest that Western society and culture are dominated by materialistic and individualistic values, made manifest at the political and social levels through the unending pursuit of economic growth, and at the individual level by the seemingly endless quest for consumer goods, regardless of global implications such as broader environmental harms. The escalating growth of such values is associated with a growing sense of individual alienation, social fragmentation and civic disengagement and with the decline of more spiritual, moral and ethical aspects of life. Taken together, these multiple discourses suggest that wellbeing can be understood as a collateral casualty of the economic, social and cultural changes associated with late modernity. However, increasing concerns for the environment have the potential to counter some of these trends, and in so doing could also contribute to our wellbeing as individuals and as social beings in a finite world.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1556-1560
    Number of pages5
    JournalSocial Science & Medicine
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009


    • late modernity
    • consumer culture
    • mental and emotional well-being
    • environmental critique


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