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Quality in the Balance

On the Adaptive and Mimetic Nature of Subjective Well-Being

Thierry Kochuyt

‘Quality’ and ‘well-being’ are topical issues and part of their success is based on the suggestion that we have here hard and solid notions on which one can built a new and better society. As normative standards, they anticipate an ideal state from which the actual reality of things can be evaluated as deficient. In this light poverty appears as a sore phenomenon, an infringement of what the quality of life and well-being are all about. In an attempt to qualify this quality of life, the present article focuses on western poverty and its (lacking) sense of well-being. Turning these notions into norms, one should check if ‘quality’ and ‘well-being’ are transparent i.e., referring to unambiguous evaluations that can be assessed objectively. While common and moral sense supposes so, science has to doubt this assumption. The following is based on empirical research in different fields and some theoretical reflections. Bringing these together we try to identify the subjective mechanisms that trouble the notions of quality and well-being. Indeed, there are distorting forces at work, which create and abort the subjective experiences of quality and well-being and thereby nullify their evaluative potential.

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Single mothers in Osh

Well-being and coping strategies of women in the aftermath of the 2010 conflict in Kyrgyzstan

Aksana Ismailbekova

After the 2010 intercommunal violence in Kyrgyzstan, women in the city of Osh were exposed to many difficulties. Conflict eroded people's contentment, and satisfactory living conditions were supplanted by increased challenges—such as deteriorating health and education systems, declining communication and economic opportunities, and the loss of property. Men's deaths during the conflict and the increased labor migration of men after the conflict also resulted in increased numbers of single mothers. This article presents trends among women, examines their coping mechanisms, and explores the well-being of single mothers by considering what makes women's lives meaningful in a postconflict situation.

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Andrea Butcher

In Ladakh, north-west India, a popular narrative of the region’s inhabitants as spiritually and ecologically enlightened combines with national sustainable and participatory development policies to produce a distinctive character that underpins the local administration’s development strategies. These strategies emphasise ‘traditional’ values of cooperation, simplicity, and ecological and spiritual harmony as the way to achieve culturally sustainable development and emotional well-being. However, obstacles to development appear when normative principles of sustainability and ecological wisdom encounter local cosmology, hierarchy and perceptions of expertise in society. In this article, I refl ect upon my fieldwork and previous regional ethnographies to consider possible frameworks for evaluating well-being as an indicator of culturally sustainable development that include concepts of cosmology and expert protection.

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Anthony Glendinning, Ol'ga Pak and Iurii V. Popkov

The study looks at young people's situations in small communities in Siberia against a backdrop of socioeconomic and rural-urban divides in post-Soviet Russia. Focusing on the end of compulsory schooling, the study looks at the fit between young people's accounts of their circumstances, aspirations for the future and feelings about themselves, as well as implications for mental well-being. A mixed-methods approach is adopted, including preliminary fieldwork, a large-scale survey (n approximately 700) and in-depth interviews (n approximately 90). Situations and well-being in rural areas and small towns in Novosibirskaia oblast' are compared with life in the city of Novosibirsk. There is stark segmentation by locality. In small communities, the household 'copes' along with the young person in shared goals and understandings and in aspiring to get 'an education' as a means to secure employment and a 'comfortable' life beyond subsistence. Most households locally share the same situations. Almost all imagine continuing their education and leaving their home communities, dependent on family resources and networks. Horizons are limited to towns in the region, or perhaps the city, seen as a place of possibilities but also risks. Beyond the rural household, the collectivity of peers represents another key resource in negotiating and maintaining self-worth. Neither individualism nor the reach of 'global' culture is evident. Young people are embedded in the 'local', but despite their situations and poor prospects, these do not affect their sense of themselves. If anything, profiles of mental well-being and, certainly, self-worth are better in rural communities compared to the city.

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Jhan Van de Kerckhove

The current prevention policy continues to be reactive. It is even negative and demotivating. This atmosphere is destroying the working conditions we need in our new social-economic environment. Quality of work has become top of the agenda together with creativity, personal development and involvement. The human being is transformed from a potential source of disturbance into an essential success factor. A new approach to prevention policy is imposing itself in this context. Caring for safety, health and well-being of the employees at the same time means caring for the well-being and the future of the organization. The great challenge now becomes the development of the human potential. In that perspective a real proactive prevention policy is needed. Proactivity implies prevention but goes much further. Real proactivity refers to the dreams and positive objectives people wish to see realised. Well-being, participation and empowerment of all participants are important targets while the expected implications for culture are commitment, trust and open communication. This approach is very close to the conditional factors of social quality as described in the report of the European Foundation on the European Network Indicators of Social Quality.

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Sandra S. Butler and Adrienne L. Cohen

This article presents two independent studies examining the experiences of older adults aging in rural environments in the United States. In face-to-face interviews, study participants (n = 66 in study 1 and n = 8 in study 2) were asked what they like about aging in a rural area and what they found challenging. Interview transcripts were analyzed for recurring themes in each study and striking similarities were found with regard to the importance of nature or “aesthetic capital” to the well-being of the study participants. Primary themes emerging from study 1 data included peace, safety, beauty, space, and interacting with nature. The themes emerging from the second study included the world outside the window, traveling around by car, and longing for natural beauty. A negative theme that emerged from both studies related to the dearth of health and social services in rural areas. Implications of the studies' findings with regard to the value of nature in the lives of elders are discussed in relation to practice, policy, and planning.

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Erasmus Masitera

There has been much debate on the question of rights in African communitarian thinking. Some scholars have averred that duties are prior to rights in African communitarian society, and that to prioritise rights is foreign to the non-Western perspective. Yet, there are others who argue that in non-Western societies rights are prior to duties. I share this view. I present my position by arguing that economic rights in African communitarianism affirms autonomy of the individual, though the same rights are expressed through the ideas of consensus and human well-being. In my argument I state that human well-being is well expressed as a communal effort climaxed through consensus where all these are premised on individual autonomy. By arguing in this way, I respond to the accusation that says African philosophers who argue for the priority of rights have failed to demonstrate how rights are considered prior to duties in African societies.

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Aging Away

Immigrant Families, Elderly Care, Ethnography and Policy

Rita Henderson

This article considers how immigrant retention relates to family obligations, drawing a complex portrait of a common family dilemma involving the care of aging kin. The ethnographic life-history approach offers an important perspective on how health and well-being are not simply structured by formal access to institutions of care, but by the socio-cultural, economic and geographic flexibility of families to accommodate their needs. Analysis draws on the interdependant migration histories of a family of six adult sisters originating in Tanzania. In the case of this family, the dilemma surrounding the care of aging parents is not so much caused by migration's disruption of traditional filial obligations. Instead, it is the effect of social pressures stirred in both sending and receiving countries, which frame opportunities for eventual social integration, relocation or sometimes reluctant repatriation. A reflexive approach argues for the active presence of ethnographers in policy debates.

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Daniel Lord Smail

The Better Angels of Our Nature makes a bold contribution to the deep history of human violence. By laying out a framework for understanding this history, Steven Pinker has provided an important point of departure for all future scholarship in this area. Pinker’s depiction of violence in medieval Europe, however, includes serious misrepresentations of the historical reality of this period; his handling of the scholarship on medieval Europe raises doubts about his treatment of other periods. This article also offers a brief review of recent psychological literature that suggests that subjective well-being is historically invariant. In light of this review, I argue that Better Angels is best understood not as a work of history but as a study in moral and historical theology, and recommend that the history of violence should feature the cognitive experiences of victims rather than aggressors.

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William W. Darrow

Public health in the United States has lost its edge. It made a significant impact on human well-being, capacities, and potential in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Now it takes a backseat to biomedical research and therapeutic medicine. Population health with its traditional emphasis on preventing harm has been displaced by an exorbitantly expensive and continually expanding medical care system devoted almost exclusively to restoring or rehabilitating the health of patients – no matter the cost. The failure to control the spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the United States can be attributed to adherence to an inadequate biomedical model that ignores the social. Social quality theory, designed to further social justice, solidarity, equal value, and human dignity, can contribute to identifying and correcting deficiencies in biomedical approaches to HIV prevention and other public health problems that continue to plague the people of the United States.