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Durham University

Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details

Atkinson, S., Bagnall, A-M., Corcoran, R., South, J. & Curtis, S. Being well together: individual subjective and community wellbeing. Journal of Happiness Studies. 2020;21:1903-1921.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper explores the ways in which community wellbeing is, and could be, related to individual subjective wellbeing by mapping current practice, teasing out the assumptions underlying a dominant approach and flagging neglected issues. The notion of community is widely understood as about something more than the sum of the parts. Capturing subjective aspects of local life that are not simply individual but reflect the ways in which people feel and are well together is a challenging undertaking. Most existing frameworks for assessing community wellbeing are premised on a theory of the self as an autonomous, rational and independently acting or feeling individual, and the primary interest is on how community aspects of life impact on individual subjective wellbeing. This dominant approach consistently neglects spatial and social inequalities, multiple settings and scales and temporal choices and legacies, all of which constitute important political dimensions to community wellbeing. Social theories of the self as relational put relations as prior to subjectivity and as such afford ways to conceptualise community wellbeing in terms of being well together. A relational approach can also offer routes to tackling the complex interactions of inequality, scale and time. Such an approach is not, however, easily translated into quantitative measures or simple policy interventions. The approach taken to community wellbeing is not a technological issue but a political choice.