Broadening the Public and Policy Discourse
Edited by Timo J. Hämäläinen and Juliet Michaelson
Chapter 4: Well-being and well-becoming: reauthorizing the subject in incoherent times
Writing this chapter has been an interesting challenge. This is partly because as authors we are separated by 6000 miles and eight time zones. But mainly it has been a conceptual challenge created by the same conditions of incoherence and complexity that we hope to highlight in what follows. Initiatives to make enhancement of human well-being the explicit focus of social policy rather than a hoped-for side effect to economic success are a welcome shift in emphasis. To do it well and to avoid unwanted consequences requires some reflection on deeper meta-theoretical and contextual issues that influence how we think and act to forward that agenda. Our aim is to consider the question of well-being against a larger story of cultural transition in which many of the conceptual and institutional assumptions that have underpinned Western culture for nearly 400 years are losing their coherence and explanatory power, with no new coherence having emerged to replace it. Contemporary conversations about human well-being, variously defined, straddle a gap between a culture that promotes a way of life that is no longer sustainable and the possibility of a new cultural story that supports a transformed relationship between humanity and our home planet. In the words of California state senator John Vasconcellos, we are called to be simultaneously 'hospice workers for a dying culture and midwives for the new' (quoted in Leicester and O'Hara, 2009).
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