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Values of Happiness: Ethnographic Perspectives on Living Well

Values of happiness banner by Skye HohmannDate: 10th and 11th January 2013
Venue: Seligman Library (OLD 6.05), Old Building, LSE
Conveners: Harry Walker and Iza Kavedžija

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The question of what makes people happy is increasingly prominent in recent public and academic discourse; happiness is now often promoted as a key policy goal. Yet attempts to measure and quantify happiness have tended to suffer from a lack of adequate contextualisation, while potentially excluding the other factors that may make up a meaningful, satisfying life – including the importance of social justice and the common good for individual well-being. This arguably reflects a broader shift towards an understanding of happiness as a subjective or psychological state, rather than as an evaluation of a life as a meaningful whole. Anthropology has not yet made a substantial contribution to these public debates, but is particularly well positioned to do so for a number of reasons, including its ability to widen the terms of discussion beyond ethnocentric assumptions, and its long-standing interest and expertise in relating the life experiences of individuals to the wider social and moral orders.

This workshop will examine the conditions and possibilities of human flourishing in a cross-cultural perspective. Contributors will offer grounded ethnographic perspectives on individual life satisfaction and its relation to shared values and forms of association, as well as social or systemic barriers to its pursuit or realization. They will be invited to engage current public debates by critically examining concepts of “happiness” and “subjective well-being”, rethinking their relationship to the common good, and to collaborate in developing a theoretical framework for future anthropological engagements and interventions.

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Photographs by Skye Hohmann