Amartya K. Sen, Developments as Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Amartya K. Sen, The Idea of Justice (Cambridge: The Belknap Press, 2009).
Elisabetta Addis, Paloma de Villota, Florence Degavre, John Eriksen (eds), Gender and Well-being: the Role of Institutions (Farnham, Surrey; Burlington: Ashgate, 2011), pp. xx + 267. ISBN 9781409407058 (hb); 9781409407065 (ebk). Alison E. Woodward, Jean-Michel Bonvin, Mercè Renom (eds), Transforming Gendered Well-being in Europe: the Impact of Social Movements (Farnham, Surrey; Burlington: Ashgate, 2011), pp. xxiv + 281. ISBN 9781409402831 (hb); 9781409402848 (ebk).
Article first published online: 25 MAR 2013
© 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Gender & History
Volume 25, Issue 1, pages 201–204, April 2013
How to Cite
SCHIEVENIN, P. (2013), Elisabetta Addis, Paloma de Villota, Florence Degavre, John Eriksen (eds), Gender and Well-being: the Role of Institutions (Farnham, Surrey; Burlington: Ashgate, 2011), pp. xx + 267. ISBN 9781409407058 (hb); 9781409407065 (ebk). Alison E. Woodward, Jean-Michel Bonvin, Mercè Renom (eds), Transforming Gendered Well-being in Europe: the Impact of Social Movements (Farnham, Surrey; Burlington: Ashgate, 2011), pp. xxiv + 281. ISBN 9781409402831 (hb); 9781409402848 (ebk). . Gender & History, 25: 201–204. doi: 10.1111/gend.12008_7
- Issue published online: 25 MAR 2013
- Article first published online: 25 MAR 2013
These two books are part of a four-volume series, stemming from a number of international symposia organised by the European Union-funded COST Action A 34 on ‘Gender and well-being: work, family and public policies’ between 2005 and 2009. Addis et al. is based on papers presented at a symposium held in Madrid in 2008, while Woodward et al. brings together papers from a conference held at the International Institute of Social History Conference in Amsterdam in 2009. The main objective of the Action, a network of academics based in twenty-four different countries across Europe, was to develop a new concept of well-being from a gender perspective. The need for welfare reform in Europe is becoming increasingly urgent due to economic and demographic changes such as economic liberalisation, the ageing of Europe's population and, consequently, the need for elderly care, and changes in the labour market with the feminisation of the workforce just to name a few. The Action sought to contribute to this ongoing debate by suggesting a general redefinition of human well-being based on a multidimensional concept and on a focus on the ‘lived experiences of women and men’ (Woodward et al., 2). In order to do so, the study drew on the ‘capabilities approach’ proposed by Amartya Sen1 and Martha Nussbaum.2 Gendered well-being is understood and measured not only through traditional welfare indicators (such as incomes and wages), but also through new criteria that take into consideration a multiple set of capabilities that enable men and women to live a life they consider good. Drawing on this innovative conceptual framework, these two books examine processes and strategies of generating and accessing individual and social well-being, paying special attention to gender differences in the conceptualisation and perception of well-being itself. Papers are from different disciplines (history, economics, sociology, political science, gender studies) and cover different European countries, some of them being comparative studies. Addis et al. examines the role of institutions in facilitating well-being and studies the interplay among different institutions and their impact on people's welfare from a gender perspective. After an introductory chapter, the book is divided into three parts. Each part is dedicated to one of the main kinds of institutions that provide welfare services and care: Part I presents case studies related to the institutions of the welfare state, Part II covers the familiar household, while Part III deals with the market. This division is clearly inspired by the influential categorisation of welfare regimes proposed by Gøsta Esping-Andersen.3 However, contributions also draw on the extensive critiques of Esping-Andersen's analysis, in particular feminist research, which advocates the inclusion of unpaid work (care and domestic labour) into welfare analysis. Contributions range over a great many topics, but they share an all-encompassing theme, namely the centrality of care in women's lives. One of the most important conclusions of this work regards the centrality of time allocation to women's well-being: ‘while the patterns of paid work have changed considerably, the patterns of unpaid work have not’ (18). Women still carry a double burden and this results in time shortages for them, thus diminishing their opportunities to develop all their capacities. Overall, the book provides great insight into a number of topical questions, for example local experiments of gender budgeting (Chapter 5), migrants and their capability of caring at distance (Chapter 7), the provision of care credits in the pension system (Chapter 8). Equally noteworthy is the attention paid to southern Europe, including countries like Greece and Portugal, which in the past have remained at the margin of comparative welfare studies. Although some general conclusive remarks are sketched in the very informative introduction and the chapters speak to each other, the book would have profited from a concluding chapter that pulled the material together, as well as an introduction for each section that would have helped maintain cohesion and more direct cross-references, as it is in the case of Woodward et al.
This book examines how gender makes a difference in the claims and actions of social movements and explores the hypothesis that social movements have made a difference in gender relations. In particular, it identifies three different impacts of social movements in shaping well-being. Women bring into movements different concerns than men and their specific agenda-setting impacts on political and material well-being (Part I). The women's movement and, more recently, gay and transgender movements have brought issues of the private sphere to the fore, thereby gendering what we define by well-being (Part II). Finally, gendered social movements increasingly network across countries, transforming forms and locations of political action (Part III). A rich variety of case studies from different historical times and areas is presented showing ‘the transformation of what is valued and what well-being is for different groups over time’ (270). Particular emphasis is put on the increasingly global dimension of these processes: ‘well-being today is not confined to the most local or individual but is connected in a chain that is global’ (271). An immediate example is the so-called ‘global care chain’, whereby women in richer countries rely on poor migrant women to provide care for their households, who in turn leave their household to be cared for by others. Care is now a transnational phenomenon and feminist organisations are starting to address its shortcomings by working across boundaries (Chapter 15). In the conclusions, the authors call for a more participatory and inclusive democratic process of promoting well-being, by which the variety of claims coming from gendered social movements can be accommodated.
These works clearly have important policy implications. At the same time, the books constitute a much-needed collection of academic studies from different disciplines, nations and perspectives on an emerging field of studies. These books have several merits. First of all, they succeed in talking across the disciplines (an increasingly common approach in the field of welfare studies), and thus in outlining a possible multidimensional concept of well-being. Secondly, they rightly place emphasis on the transnational dimension of these processes and the interplay between supranational (i.e. European) and national policies. Finally, they analyse a wide range of European states, including southern Europe (Addis et al.) and central and eastern Europe (Woodward et al.), which only recently have become objects of welfare studies.
These books provide a number of stimulating case studies, but this new approach could be applied to other national or transnational examples. As the authors themselves acknowledge in both books, these works show the broad potential for new research in the field of producing and accessing welfare in a gender perspective. The challenge is now to produce multidisciplinary comparable research, covering different countries and time periods.
Martha Nussbaum, Women and Human Development: the Capabilities Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 2000).
Gøsta Esping-Andersen, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (Cambridge: Polity Press and Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).