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The rise of an ideal: Tracing changing discourses of wellbeing

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Publication details

JournalThe Sociological Review
DatePublished - May 2005
Issue number2
Number of pages20
Pages (from-to)255-274
Original languageEnglish


Wellbeing is a quality in demand in today's society. Wellbeing is virtue that is much desired, much promoted, and much debated. Yet, as an ideal, wellbeing is not a concept set in stone. Rather, conceptualisations and experiences of wellbeing are produced in and through wider social perceptions and practices. This article outlines and analyses contemporary conceptualisations of wellbeing and suggests that ideas of wellbeing capture and reproduce important social norms. Indeed, the increasing popularity of the ideal of wellbeing appears to reflect shifts in perceptions and experiences of individual agency and responsibility. In particular, dominant discourses of wellbeing relate to changes in subjectivity; they manifest a move from subjects as citizens to subjects as consumers. In a consumer society, wellbeing emerges as a normative obligation chosen and sought after by individual agents. This article is informed by social theories of subjectivity and critical analyses of selected newspaper reports from 1985 to 2003.

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