Open Access Article

Title: Reasons to be cautious about 'well-being' in economic development (and elsewhere)

Authors: Matt Jenkins

Addresses: Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies, University of Newcastle, NE1 7RU, UK

Abstract: 'Well-being' is currently in vogue in policy-making circles in the Global North as a way of reconceptualising 'development'. This paper argues that its appearances are misleading. While the normative force of 'well-being' is accepted, what is being offered is a technocratic and reductionist programme which collapses 'well-being' into the statistical relation of a closed set of metrics. It is argued that 'well-being' as defined is a chaotic conception; not a concrete object but an evaluative state, and so such programmes necessarily fail to measure it. Further, it is argued that 'well-being' is already considered within economic development policy and that previous development initiatives would not have changed had well-being frameworks existed alongside them. It is suggested from this that 'well-being' merely provides a new way of describing economic development policy, without altering its fundamental logic or its inherent power relations.

Keywords: economic development; statistical measurement; metrics; wellbeing; Global South; reductionism; chaotic conception; universalism; power relations; structural inequalities; well-being.

DOI: 10.1504/IJHD.2016.079592

International Journal of Happiness and Development, 2016 Vol.3 No.2, pp.108 - 124

Received: 22 Jul 2015
Accepted: 28 Mar 2016

Published online: 04 Oct 2016 *