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The University of Southampton
Economic, Social and Political Sciences

What exactly are we talking about? What do our definitions mean?

Published: 14 May 2008 Origin:  Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology

The measurement and definition of such concepts as welfare, well-being and the standard of living lies at the heart of many social-science debates.

In the past, economists and other ‘social investigators’ often appeared to define well-being in purely material terms but critics argued that these approaches failed to take sufficient account of non-economic contributions to well-being, or of inequalities in the distribution of resources within the family. In addition, economists such as Amartya Sen have advocated a much broader conception of well-being, based on the idea of ‘functionings’ and ‘capabilities’. The feminist philosopher, Martha Nussbaum, has used Sen’s framework to develop a list of ten ‘central human capabilities’ which can be applied to both men and women in all parts of the world.

In Southampton, Professor Bernard Harris has a long-standing interest in issues relating to both gender and well-being, and has published articles on both the measurement of poverty and the relationship between gender and health, together with many other publications on different aspects of the history of social policy.

Professor Harris is currently collaborating with Professor Lina Gálvez (Pablo de Olavide University, Spain) and Professor Helena Machado (University of Minho, Portugal) on the preparation of a collection of edited essays (Gender and well-being in Europe: historical and contemporary perspective) for publication by Ashgate in 2009.

The book builds on the ideas outlined by writers such as Sen and Nussbaum and seeks to develop new perspectives on the relationship between gender and well-being in both past and present societies. It includes papers on a wide range of issues including comparisons of male and female wage-rates, changes in the relative value of female and male heights, household strategies for the transmission of well-being across generations in the Pyrenees, female trade unionism in Finland, the development of ‘non-androcentric’ welfare indicators, attitudes to infertility in contemporary Portugal, gender-differences in time-use, and the relationship between social and environmental indicators of well-being.

The book is based on the proceedings of a symposium which took place at the University of Modena, Italy, in 2006. This was the first of a series of symposia organised under the auspices of COST Action A34: Gender and well-being – work, family and public policies . The Action is also supporting the publication of a series of books on the theme of gender and well-being, coedited by Professor Harris and Professor Cristina Borderias (University of Barcelona, Spain).

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