Discourses on Wellbeing

Home/ Discourses on Wellbeing
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSHS3DP2072

Semester and Year Offered: Semester 3

Course Coordinator and Team: Dr Imran Amin and Deepti Sachdev

Email of course coordinator:


Course Objectives/Description:

The aim of the course is to explore and understand what well-being and human flourishing/happiness means in the context of life in rural India. Beginning with a historical overview of the development of the concept of ‘well-being’, the course would highlight, explore, and critique how well-being has been treated in the mainstream, as well as in critical renditions of Economics and Psychology. The course advances the idea that the humanization project of social science (through attention to subjective well-being) may have been appropriated by the mainstream so that societies and individuals are now subjected to increasing levels of surveillance and have to continually work upon themselves to meet ever-stretching standards set by the somebody in the West. In the search for a culturally and contextually situated understanding of well-being, the course would turn to narratives of happiness and well-being found in non-Western and non-mainstream traditions; as also local/subaltern philosophies of life’s crests and troughs. Further, the course would attempt to examine whether the ‘objective lists approach’, the positive psychology approach and the Indian psychology approach can adequately capture the complex vicissitudes of the human predicament in rural India and of her many layered, even contradictory, subjectivities. A dialogue of the three main approaches to well-being would be initiated with psychoanalysis and with ‘spiritual traditions’ to explore the possibility of arriving at a more nuanced understanding of individual and collective well-being in development practice. The difficult relation between the practitioners’ well-being and the community’s well-being shall also be explored in the context of transference conditions.

Course Outcomes:

On successful completion of this course students will be able to:

  1. Have an in-depth understanding of the theories, policies, and practices that constitute the contested discourses of wellbeing. The student shall be aware of the multi-layered, contingent and dynamic nature of the concept of wellbeing, its dominant and hegemonic material dimension, the psychological and emergent subjective dimension, and the often ignored and marginal relational dimension.
  2. Work through the mutually reinforcing inter-linkages across material-subjective-relational dimensions for any critical and reflective ethics of the practice for/of wellbeing.
  3. Transform communities in directions that are in tune with social justice and well-being considerations

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Module 1: The concept of Wellbeing: Given the fact that every policy prescription is legitimized in the name of wellbeing of its Subject, in some way or the other, students of development practice need a critical and reflexive understanding of the discursive assemblage of the concept of wellbeing. Keeping this in mind, the first module of the course deconstructs the discourse of wellbeing to its constituent dimension in order to equip students with conceptual tool reconstruct a radical praxis of wellbeing. Such a reconstructed praxis has to be contingent and historically contingent to the location, subjectivities and relationality within the site of students’ immersion.

Module 2: Material Wellbeing: Having de-constructed the discursive assemblage of wellbeing of its constitutive dimensions, the course takes up the dominant and hegemonic dimension of material wellbeing. With its genealogical roots in the modern, rational and utility maximizing individual, wellbeing was rooted in the material conditions of life, liberty and property. The pursuit of these conditions has been the basis of policy prescription and its theoretical justification. However with the emergence of global ecological crisis, a robust critique has emerged of the consumerist material conception of wellbeing. The second module takes a deep dive into these debates to build a critical understanding of the material dimension of wellbeing and it role and relations with other dimension of wellbeing.

Module 3: Subjective Wellbeing: Along with the dominant materialistic conception of wellbeing, there is also the genealogical heritage of a medicalized notion of wellbeing. This subjective dimension conception of wellbeing is rooted in discourses of health across the mind body divide. Emerging from ideas of wellbeing of the individual’s biological body, the dimension of the discursive assemblage of wellbeing has shifted its focus to experience of the ‘being’ of a person through feelings of happiness, satisfaction, life meaning among others. By engaging with these dimensions of the discourse of wellbeing, the third module brings the self of the individual as the Subject of its enquiry and understanding of wellbeing.

Module 4: Relational Wellbeing: With the last module, the course turns to an often implied yet under-theorized dimension of a collective based relational dimension of wellbeing. Herein, the students are altered to the larger assumptions that allow for the material and subjective wellbeing of individuals to appear logical and legitimate. From a critical and reflexive social constructivist perspective, wellbeing is conceptualized as cultural judgment about conditions of everyday life rooted the lifeworld of the collective that individuals are a part of. This relational dimension of wellbeing places the praxis of this cultural construction at the heart of its Subject of enquiry. Thus, moving beyond the outcomes and indicators of individualistic wellbeing, the forth module argues for an ecologically critical and culturally reflexive understanding of wellbeing.

Assessment Details with weights:

  1. Review paper: Genealogy of Well Being
  2. Reflective paper: Well Being in Practice (from village immersions)

Reading List:

  • Nandy, A. (2002). The Beautiful, Expanding Future of Poverty: Popular Economics as a Psychological Defense. Blackwell Publishing Inc.
  • Rapley, Mark. (2003). Quality of Life Research: A Critical Introduction. Sage Publications.
  • Foucault, M. The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language. Translated from French by A.M. Sheridan Smith. Pantheon Books, New York.
  • Nussbaum, Martha., Sen, Amartya. (1993). The Quality of Life. A study prepared for the World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) of the United Nations University. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
  • Deneulin, S. & Mcgregor, J.A. (2009). The Capability Approach and the Politics of the Social Conception of Well Being.
  • Lear, Jonathan. (1993). Happiness. The Tanner Lectures on Human Values. Delivered at Clare Hall, Cambridge.
  • Eeva Sonitu, 2005, The rise of an ideal: Tracing changing discourses of well being, in The Sociological Review, 53(2), pp 255-74
  • Placa et al., Discourses of Well Being in Research and Practice, International Journal of Well Being, 3(1), pp. 116-25
  • A Ahuvia and E I Biglin, Well being in Consumer society, Oxford Handbook of Well Being, pp. 482-97
  • Michael Jackson, 2011, Life within Limits: Well being in a world of wants
  • Gordon Mathew, 2012, Happiness, culture and context, International Journal of Well Being
  • Neil Thin 2012, Social Happiness: Theory into policy and practice.
  • Saphire et al., Close relationship and Happiness, in Oxford Handbook of Well Being,

Additional Readings

  • Norman J Jackson, 2013 Exploring Subjective Well being
  • Ereaut and Whiting, What do we mean by well being, Research Report DCSF RW073
  • Bill Jordon, 2008, Welfare and Well being, Chp 1, 3.
  • B S Frey and A Stutzer, , Economics and the study of Individual Happiness, in Oxford Handbook of Well Being, pp 431-47
  • William Pavot and Ed Diener, Happiness experience: The science of subjective well being, Oxford Handbook of Well Being, 134-54
  • F F Miao et al., Subjective Well being, Oxford Handbook of Well Being, 174-84
  • R Veenhoven, 2008, Subjective measures of well being
  • P Ferssizidio et al., Positive psychological experience and psychopathology: a self regulatory perspective, Oxford Handbook of Well Being, pp 101-118
  • A C Junenez 2008, Well being in Anthropological balance: Remarks on proportionality as political imagination, Chp 1, 9
  • Sarah White and Jethno Pettit, 2008 Participatory approaches and measurement of human well being, Oxford Handbook of Well Being, pp 240-58
  • Gordon Mathew, 2010, Pursuit of Happiness, Chp 1, 2, 6, conclusion
  • Susan Harkness 2008 Socio-political indicators of Human well being, pp 88-112