Wellbeing: Critical Social Perspectives Research Cluster

Wellbeing has become a buzzword nationally and internationally, including amongst policymakers concerned with health, ageing, young people and work. However, critical social and cultural perspectives on wellbeing remain limited. It is this gap that our small group of researchers is currently exploring, while also contributing to larger debates on the indicators and contributing factors for wellbeing.

This research cluster is exploring the promotion of wellbeing for policymakers and a wide range of stakeholders concerned with health, ageing, young people and work. The cluster brings together academics from Sociology, Human Geography, Legal Studies, Aboriginal Studies, English, Rural Health and History.

Our team is interested in responding to the popularity of the concept of wellbeing in three key ways: (i) examining indicators of wellbeing and assessing what they are actually measuring in diverse social contexts, e.g. ageing, youth, health, work; (ii) analysing the impact of wellbeing discourses and measurements on social and political inequalities, i.e. what does the concept of wellbeing ‘do’ in policy and practice; and, (iii) analysing how ‘wellbeing’ is mobilised differently across various socio-cultural settings.

In short, developing more critical angles on the use and promotion of wellbeing is urgently needed and this is our key focus.

For further information, please contact Dr Tarryn Phillips.

Past Events

We need to talk about wellbeing and education: Critical perspectives and new opportunities

In this timely discussion, Associate Professor Katie Wright discusses the increasing focus on wellbeing in education with Professor Venka Simovska (Aarhus University, Denmark) and Professor Julie McLeod (The University of Melbourne).

Our expert speakers explore how wellbeing became a key focus in educational settings, and consider the implications of this turn. Does the emphasis on wellbeing point to a shift away from instrumental forms of schooling and present a unique opportunity for educational transformation? Or does it bring about a new set of problems that could ultimately undermine the very goals that the focus on wellbeing is intended to achieve?

This event was held on 5 November 2020. It was supported by the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Wellbeing worthy of COVID times - the need for a relational approach

Speakers: Sarah C. White and Shreya Jha (Relational Wellbeing Collaborative)

Chair: Dan Bendrups (Graduate Research School, La Trobe University)

On 29 October 2020, we were delighted to welcome Professor Sarah White and Dr Shreya Jha to La Trobe University. In an online seminar, they made the case that the COVID crisis demands a new, relational approach to wellbeing, one that reflects what people in practice can do and be, as well as how they think and feel. Putting relationships at the centre means recognising that people are in relationship with others, and this critically affects the opportunities they face and the choices they make. The discussion will address the challenge such an approach to wellbeing poses to our policy and institutions, and how it might be advanced in practice.

From Welfare to Wellbeing – the politics of Finnish education

We were very pleased to welcome Professor Kristiina Brunila (University of Helskini) to La Trobe University for a special seminar in October 2019. Here is a summary of Professor Brunila's presentation:

The penetration of psychological and therapeutic models into Nordic welfare state policies and their implementations have followed the emergence of an influential set of policy rationales stressing the economic imperatives. This trend is marked out by a more general shift of policy agendas where the former stress on welfare regimes is replaced for a stress on individual wellbeing. In my talk, I present an analysis of how the Finnish government positions the issue of wellbeing, and its related packages from other policy fields and their outcomes in education.

Kristiina Brunila holds a professorship in Education and Social Justice in the University of Helsinki where she directs AGORA for the Study of Social Justice and Equality Research Centre. She has published widely about knowledge formations in education politics, psy-knowledge, therapeutic ethos, vulnerability, marketizing and privatizing policies, governmentality, inequalities, and global/local network governance.