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Wellbeing and Welfare: A Psychosocial Analysis of Being Well and Doing Well Enough

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 April 2011

Faculty of Health and Social Science, University of Brighton, Mayfield House, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9PH email:


Wellbeing is increasingly supplanting welfare as a central political goal for social and public policy. In academic social policy, some writers have suggested that a focus on wellbeing allows us to consider a ‘fully rounded humanity’ whereas welfare focuses on economic utility. This article avoids this polarisation and proposes a generative and relational view of wellbeing and welfare as mutually constitutive. It adopts a trans-disciplinary critical psychosocial perspective to reveal highly normative views of wellbeing and agency employed in these political and academic discourses. It proposes a view of agency for wellbeing which is contextual, includes non-rational action and is oriented to being well enough with others. Instead of a concern with outcome measures such as happiness, it proposes a view of wellbeing as a process which varies according to context. Drawing on the notion of ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ needs, the specific content of wellbeing is seen as generated through ‘close’ and ‘distant’ relationships. This approach challenges contemporary policy responses to wellbeing which are individualised and market-led and suggests that a question for social policy is: which relationships and contexts are generative of individual wellbeing and welfare?

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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