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Happiness on your doorstep: disputing the boundaries of wellbeing and localism


  • The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).


This paper is a critical review and analysis of the recent emergence of wellbeing discourses in UK national politics and their relationship with localism agendas. In 2011 the UK Coalition Government initiated a national programme to measure wellbeing. Despite a stated desire to consult the public as widely as possible on what matters for wellbeing, policy discourse is currently dominated by particular framings of wellbeing, predominantly within the arenas of subjective wellbeing research, positive psychology and individual behaviour change, where community participation and volunteerism narratives feature heavily. Ideas of wellbeing are enmeshed within narratives of reducing bureaucracy and creating the Big Society. This argument is backed up by a discourse analysis of government documentation on wellbeing and localism, which illustrates how discursive boundaries are being created around the concept of wellbeing which in turn demarcates clear boundaries of responsibility. The explicit desire on the part of the UK Coalition Government to devolve more responsibilities to the ‘local community’ is justified by appeals to particular ideas of wellbeing which are evidenced by particular sorts of research, limiting room for other, more progressive, accounts.