RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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152 Geographies of Happiness (1)
Affiliation Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group
Convenor(s) Jessica Pykett (University of Birmingham, UK)
Maria Jesus Alfaro (University of Birmingham, UK)
Chair(s) Jessica Pykett (University of Birmingham, UK)
Timetable Thursday 30 August 2018, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Bute Building - Lecture Theatre 0.14
Session abstract This session invites papers which consider landscapes of happiness and ‘subjective’ wellbeing, alongside those which are interested in quality of life and ‘objective’ wellbeing indicators, and experiential or embodied approaches to researching happiness and emotions more broadly.

New ways of measuring, mapping and managing happiness and subjective wellbeing are re-shaping how emotions are defined at a range of scales. Global happiness economics indexes provide an alternative to GDP as a measure of a nation’s progress (Helliwell et al. 2017), with countries increasingly investing in measures to move upwards in these league tables. Happy cities experiments and innovations are setting out new forms of public, private and community partnership to gauge the emotional ‘pulse’ of a city (Hiscock et al. 2016), and mobile and biosensing technologies are being used to elicit real-time and spatially referenced data on embodied and self-reported happiness (MacKerron and Mourato, 2013; Resch et al, 2015).

Questions remain as to how particular conceptualisations of happiness have come to dominate public policy, international and commercial discourses, and how alternative approaches to wellbeing inequalities, community development and place-based wellbeing infrastructures might be useful in rethinking the spatial politics of happiness (Atkinson, 2013; Scott, 2015; White, 2017; Smith and Reid, 2017). We are particularly interested, therefore, in the links between political geographies of emotions, behavioural public policy, and geographies of health and wellbeing.

Linked Sessions Geographies of Happiness (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
Mapping emotions as indicators of intersecting inequalities
Maria Rodo de Zarate (Open University of Catalonia, Spain)
Intersectionality has arisen as a framework to deal with the complex interaction of different social categories such as gender, race, class, ethnicity, or age, among others. Despite it has been highlighted as a fruitful venue for research, it has been also widely pointed out that the development of research methods is needed within intersectionality. Moreover, indicators on homophobia, sexism, Islamophobia and their intersections with other discriminations are difficult to find. Emotions such as feeling fearful, humiliated, excluded or surveilled may point at such inequalities and serve as indicators. At the same time, feeling safe, respected, happy or free may be signs of lack of discrimination. Here I want to present the Relief Maps as a visual method, a way of collecting, analysing and displaying intersectional data from an emotional perspective. They are a visual and symbolic depiction of a spatial distribution of lived experiences in base of power structures. By mapping the narratives of the interviewed in a spatially organized picture, they make possible the visualization of complex geographical and intersectional data while relating emotions (the psychological dimension), power structures (the social dimension) and places (the geographical dimension). Even if in its initial conception they were thought for being drawn by hand by the participants of a research, they are now a digital tool in the form of as a website and App that aims to take the power of visualization and the opportunities of the digital to the study of complex relations of power through emotional and geographic perspectives.
Children and young people picturing happiness and mapping happy places
Maria Jesus Alfaro (University of Birmingham, UK)
Happiness is an elusive concept that ultimately may be conceptualized as a “stable positive affective trait that links and merges life –satisfaction and subjective well-being. (Callaway 2009, as cited in Holder and Klassen, 2009)

“Wellbeing’ is a key concept in the study of children’s lives over time, given its potential to link the objective, subjective, and inter-subjective dimensions of their experiences in ways that are holistic, contextualized and longitudinal.” (Crivello et al., 2008: 51). Additionally, as it is an ambiguous concept, studying children’s happiness must include individual life course changes, as well as, socio cultural and geographical context.

As concepts of children’s happiness can differ from those in adults, the environmental and geographical determinants for children’s wellbeing within their communities find a complete different range of nuances that may skip the adult way of thinking.

The presentation intends to first, picture children’s understandings of happiness informed by their own cultural context and experiences, and second, map children’s experiences of usage of public space, as related to their own happiness and positive well-being.

The current research takes place in Lima, Peru, Latin America, and aims to display a wide contrasting spectrum of happiness concepts and places, as a result of asking children and young people from different socio economical urban contexts to describe a “happy person”, as well as letting them identify and map their personal interpretation of a “happy place” within their own neighbourhood’s public spaces.

Habitus and happiness: the structuring of subjective wellbeing across the life course
Mark Cieslik (Northumbria University, UK)
This paper discusses findings from a recent research project (Cieslik 2017) that examined the everyday experiences of happiness of a diverse group of individuals in the UK. Using biographical/narrative methods I illustrate the ways that happiness can be understood as a social practice rooted in the networks and life histories of ordinary people. In contrast to popular quantitative and policy research into subjective wellbeing I document how patterns of subjective wellbeing emerge from the ways that wellbeing is embedded in social networks and the life histories of individuals. I discuss how ‘living well’ is inherently an emotional and interpretative practice yet is also structured by the resources and opportunities that frame people’s networks and social backgrounds. Hence, I explore how concepts such as habitus, practice and field can help us understand the ways class and gender relations influence the experiences of wellbeing across the life course. This approach to wellbeing/happiness contrasts with popular critiques of the ‘happiness industry’ that tends to neglect the everyday lived experiences of wellbeing. This distinctive focus on the everyday processes of living well also differs from much of the existing wellbeing literature and its concern with measurement, correlations and generalisations about the sources of happiness. The paper calls for a greater appreciation of the phenomenological features of wellbeing and the need for further qualitative and critical research in happiness studies.


Cieslik, M. (2017) The Happiness Riddle and the Quest for a Good Life. London: Palgrave.
Measuring What Matters: Happy City’s Index of Thriving Places
Sam Wren-Lewis (Happy City Organization, UK)
Liz Zeidler (Happy City Organization, UK)
Ruth Townsley (Happy City Organization, UK)
When Happy City was founded in 2010, we recognised that a new measure of progress was urgently needed on the ground, where innovation was happening, and decisions could be made more swiftly and with more immediate effects on people’s lives. We searched for a place-based measure that encompassed far more of what really matters and failed to find one.

Since then, others have joined this endeavour. Some good recent examples are from big retailers1 or accountancy firms2, others from richly funded ‘think tanks’3, or from individual cities or places4. These are welcome moves. However, they are largely focused on what economic growth is delivering, with a focus on concepts such as ‘inclusive growth’, ‘green growth’, ‘sustainable growth’, etc. This is important, but only part of the wider question.

Too little is asked about the fundamental assumption behind this model – that growth is the goal, regardless of the context or needs of the place that is aiming to ‘grow’. As the economist Kate Raworth says: “We need to move from an economy that grows whether or not we thrive, to an economy where we thrive whether or not it grows.” (Raworth, 2017)

Happy City’s Index of Thriving Places is designed to ask this more fundamental question: What is it all FOR? What is politics, economics, business, education, health services, community, civil society for – what are we all trying to achieve? Our answer to that big question is that all that collective endeavour and investment (of time, money, resources and wisdom) is to support everyone to thrive – now and in the future.

This talk will look at the results from the first national-scale pilot of the Index and discuss how these findings can be used to promote quitable, sustainable wellbeing on a local scale.

1 E.g. Sainbury’s Living Well Index
2 E.g. Grant Thornton’s Vibrant Economy Index
3 E.g. Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index
4 E.g. Santa Monica in California and a group of London boroughs forming the ‘London Prosperity Board’