Positive Sociology and Appreciative Empathy: History and Prospects
by Neil Thin
University of Edinburgh, School of Social and Political Science
Sociological Research Online, 19 (2) 5
Received: 19 Apr 2013 Accepted: 15 Oct 2013 Published: 31 May 2014
This paper explores the contributions of sociology (and overlapping disciplines such as anthropology, social policy, and cultural studies) to happiness scholarship from the Enlightenment through to the present day. Pre-20th century thinkers whose work led to the formation of social science tended to take the theme of happiness seriously as a central challenge of social scholarship. Over the past century, sociologists have made important contributions to understanding happiness, although its absence from textbooks, encyclopedias, and conferences suggests that happiness has never been a major theme in mainstream sociology. The discipline's role in happiness scholarship could be greatly strengthened through more systematic and explicit approaches, especially in qualitative research. These will doubtless be developed soon, as sociology catches up with the other social sciences (most notably psychology and economics) that have already made great progress in convincing general publics and politicians that something so elusive as happiness can be analysed and assessed in robust and illuminating ways. A 'happiness lens' is recommended as a way of making sociology more transparent regarding its contributions to understanding and promoting good societies and good lives. This lens complements pathologism with positivity; insists on empathic effort to respect first-person subjectivity; and promotes holism and lifecourse perspectives.
Keywords: Happiness, Well-Being, Social Progress, Empathy, Subjectivity, Positivity
Introduction: positivity, social goods, and social happiness1.1 Among scholars interested in social dimensions of happiness, it has become conventional over the past few years to declare how remarkably little contribution sociologists have made to the study of happiness (Schuessler and Fisher 1985; Abbott 2006; Haller and Hadler 2006; Kosaka 2006; Veenhoven 2008; Stebbins 2009; Kroll 2011; Bartram 2012). These complaints are understandable but not entirely plausible without further qualification. Sociology in general has certainly seemed reluctant to make happiness (or related concepts such as well-being, flourishing and quality of life) a major cross-cutting theme or even a specialist field. Compared with psychology, economics and philosophy the other social sciences have had limited engagement with the rapidly growing public interest in happiness science. Qualitative sociology (broadly construed to include sociocultural anthropology and cultural studies) has been particularly silent on the subject of happiness.
1.2 In the first systematic analysis of anthropology's contributions to happiness studies, I argued (Thin 2005) that romanticism and partisan moral relativism (anti-modern or anti-western but pro-everyone else) had inhibited the development of any kind of systematic happiness lens in twentieth-century anthropology. In a subsequent flurry of interest, four anthropological collections on happiness appeared recently in quick succession (Corsin Jimenez 2008; Mathews and Izquierdo 2008; Berthon 2009; Selin and Davey 2012), but as in sociology there is still a long way to go before systematic attention to positive life experience becomes normal.
1.3 Shortly afterwards, Veenhoven (2006) proposed that this same critique could be also be applied to sociology. Anthropology might reasonably be expected to have more to say about happiness than sociology: though both emerged from declinist critiques of the ills of modernity, many anthropologists were more positively motivated to explore happiness in nonwestern pre-industrial settings. Yet serious anthropological attention to happiness never emerged in the 20th century, and despite his critique of the dearth of happiness sociology, Veenhoven has also argued that 'quality of life research has benefited greatly from the discipline of sociology', noting its prominence in social indicators research and in studies of successful aging, psychology of wellbeing, and health (Veenhoven 2007:54). The key contrast seems to be between quantitative sociology on the one hand (which made many explicit contributions to happiness and quality of life scholarship throughout the 20th century) and qualitative (ethnographic, narrative, interpretive, or analytical) sociology and anthropology on the other, whose contributions were much more sporadic and less explicit. Since the 1930s quantitative sociologists have been at the centre of the social indicators movement, which despite some initial pathological bias has been central to the contemporary boom in happiness science.
1.4 Sociologists would all, presumably, hope that the discipline contributes towards happiness and social progress. Despite ongoing debates about Weberian promotion of 'value-free' social science, sociologists are expected to have values and to be socially progressive. According to a recent definition, 'for the humanistic sociologist, sociology is the study of how to make a better world. The key commitment is that people matter' (Du Bois and Wright 2002:5). The core value to which sociology should orient its efforts, these authors argued (p. 32), is 'human welfare . . . what is good for people'. Even sociologists who don't like to think of their work as 'humanistic' would surely agree that it is important for sociology to make some kinds of contribution to the understanding and promotion of progress. And if 'people matter,' they clearly matter not only as objects of concern but also as subjective experiencers and evaluators of their own conditions. Yet happiness, or well-being more generally, seems to be treated in most sociological writing on policy implications as a 'commonsense' issue that doesn't receive the carefully critical attention of other issues (Bartram 2012:16-17).
1.5 Most sociologists would also, I trust, agree that the culture of modern sociology has hitherto been predominantly pathological. (If you doubt this, go back and look at a few introductory texts, faculty research summaries, and reading lists, and notice not only the preponderance of obviously pathological themes like crime, poverty, and social exclusion, but also the way in which even potentially positive themes like power, gender, education, health, mental health, and family life tend to be treated in pathological ways.) The default way of being 'progressive' as a sociologist is to highlight suffering and social harms with a view to alleviating them. Social pathologism is of course vitally important and well-intentioned, and it can pave the way for helping people to live adequately well in minimally decent societies. But there are important differences between minimal standards and really good social quality, and if we are to develop better societies we need to learn from good examples not just from bad ones. As Orwell put it in his essay 'Why socialists don't believe in fun' (1943), 'the inability of mankind to imagine happiness except in the form of relief, either from effort or pain, presents Socialists with a serious problem'.
1.6 To support strongly positive or nonminimalist objectives, 'positive' social research attends to social goods and to the social construction of happiness. Systematic attention to the understanding and promotion of social goods (i.e. desirable qualities of a really good society) remains rare in sociology and in applied social policy and social work. Sociological research that is not neutrally descriptive or analytical has tended to be devoted to researching and analyzing how social processes and institutions inhibit happiness. Sociology, social policy, social work, and socio-cultural anthropology have all been reluctant to develop systematic studies of how society makes happiness possible (Thin 2012:8-9). Social policy-making and planning have proceeded worldwide largely without systematic positive criteria of social progress, and consequently without a transparent set of criteria for setting objectives, justifying plans, or evaluating success (Herrmann 2007; Thin 2002).
1.7 Since the 1990s, the rapidly growing 'positive psychology' movement and the closely linked growth of happiness scholarship have largely been confined to the disciplines of psychology, economics, and (to a lesser extent) business studies and organizational scholarship. Given the rapid rise of attention to wellbeing and to positive social goods in the media and in public policy and national accounting, it is inevitable that the other social sciences must develop their own ways of paying 'positive' attention to the social facilitation of wellbeing.
1.8 Publication of this special issue is therefore a welcome departure for the British Sociological Association. The BSA web site tells us in the first sentence of its 'What is Sociology?' section that 'Sociology is the study of how society is organized and how we experience life' (emphasis added). This sounds promisingly like promotion of humanistic empathy. However, within the first few lines the text mentions poverty, crime, moral panics, deviance, and anti-social behaviour as indicative examples of the social phenemena attended to. This looks like worry rather than appreciative and open-minded empathy. The American Sociological Association, by contrast, has a 'What is Sociology?' page which studiously avoids all mention of social pathologies, and its strapline tells us that the ASA mission is 'serving the public good'. This sounds promisingly like positivity. However, the ASA description has no mention of any interest in how people feel or how they evaluate their lives and their societies. This confirms the views of many sociologists that emotional experience has been left untheorised in sociology (Hochschild 1964:280; Williams and Bendelow 1998: xv). What hope is there for understanding public goods if we don't systematically explore people's feelings and evaluations?
1.9 Understanding these two tendencies - the dominance of pathologism and the surprising neglect of people's own views on their experiences - provides the key to understanding why so few sociologists take an explicit academic interest in happiness. We must explore the ways in which, without losing the important benefits of the pathological gaze and of sociological objectivity, sociologists could also embrace positivity and appreciative empathy.
Positive sociology and social happiness2.1 So what would count as 'positive sociology'? There have been two very different kinds of proposition for a new 'positive sociology' in recent years. First, Liu invited the discipline to become more positive in the 'positivist' sense of being optimistic about the discipline's confidence in making scientific explanations and predictions (Liu 1996). Predating the formal announcements of the 'positive psychology' movement, Liu makes no mention of directing this revitalized positivist science towards the study of happiness, but uses 'positive' in the sense of being confident about factual contributions to knowledge, as in Comte's Positive Philosophy (1853/2000). In short, she advocates a return to the sense of 'positive' for which Comte is remembered, and not to the interest in 'bonheur' (happiness) which Comte argued was to be the end point of that positive science.
2.2 In 2009, Stebbins launched a plea for positive sociology from within the sociology of leisure, drawing explicitly on the inspiration of the positive psychology movement and defining his proposed new sub-discipline as 'the study of what people do to organize their lives such that those lives become, in combination, substantially rewarding, satisfying, and fulfilling' (2009:xi). This newer, post-1900 sense of 'positive' refers to 'goods': capabilities, social processes, or things that are good for us. Happiness is not the only good. There may well be intrinsic value in some 'irreducibly social goods' such as justice, peace, collective wisdom, and solidarity (Taylor 1990/1995). If positive sociology catches on, we may well see more systematic research on substantive social goods that doesn't reduce these to their instrumental role in facilitating happiness. But all of these do contribute to happiness, and the study of the social facilitation of happiness is a good place to start promoting positive sociology. Stebbins explicitly launches his pioneering effort as a complement to 'predominantly problem-centred' approach of 'mainstream' sociology (2009:xi).
2.3 I will argue here that although sociology's explicit contributions to happiness and social quality scholarship happen to have so far been mainly 'positivist' (based on numerical self-reports from surveys of happiness, life satisfaction, and domain satisfaction), it will be imperative for a new positive sociology to promote qualitative and interpretive approaches to positivity. Positive sociology pays particular emphasis to either social goods (i.e. good social qualities) or happiness, or both. Sociology focused on harms doesn't qualify as 'positive' in this definition, although this doesn't of course imply that research on social pathologies isn't vitally important for facilitating social progress.
2.4 This paper focuses on sociological research into happiness. To define this, we need to combine two parts: a 'sociological lens' and a 'happiness lens'. The 'sociological lens' requires attention to sociocultural contexts - to how institutions, relationships, cultural scripts, and social learning influence happiness or facilitate the experience or understanding of happiness. This is the minimal requirement, and in this sense you don't need to be a 'sociologist' to adopt a sociological perspective. A more demanding definition would be to insist on the explicit application of sociological theory, for example employing Durkheimian concepts of solidarity, or Marxian concepts of class or alienation in the analysis of the social factors affecting happiness.
2.5 'Happiness' has since the 20th century acquired a core 'psychological' meaning of subjective well-being, including the experience of good feelings as well as more reflective or 'cognitive' self-evaluation of one's life as a whole. Many happiness researchers also insist that their research focuses more broadly on the goodness of life, of which positive psychological experiences and self-evaluations form a part. For this broader meaning, 'well-being' or 'flourishing' are less likely to cause confusion. It is useful to distinguish four aspects of the 'happiness lens': positivity, respect for subjectivity, holism, and a lifecourse perspective (these four together resulting ideally in a fifth quality, namely 'ethical transparency') (Thin 2012). Of these, the first two are the basic minimal requirements, and the second two could be seen as more demanding additions. All these aspects of happiness are in some sense socially constructed and hence proper subjects for social inquiry (Baltatescu 1998). Even feelings which are experienced as private and 'raw' are understood and communicated in ways learned from other people and from cultural repertoires.
2.6 The matrix below is recommended as a simple analytical tool for those interested in developing a sense of the variety of engagements and intersections between sociology and happiness studies. Not all 'positive sociology' focuses on happiness, because it is possible to explore social goods without paying attention to subjectivity. And there is plenty of sociological research on subjectivity that is mainly pathological, with a strong bias towards noticing bad experiences. Happiness sociology looks at the subjective experience of social goods. For example, simple survey research on social aspects of work satisfaction would exemplify the most modest variety of happiness sociology, since it would involve exploring positive subjectivity with reference to sociocultural context. A fully 'maximal' approach would entail more sophisticated research, perhaps applying sociological theories of class, alienation, and social identity to explore work satisfaction in relation to other life domains (family life, leisure) and in relation to the role of cultural scripts in facilitating meaningful life narratives. For some research purposes the modest approach may suffice, but the full potential of positive sociology will only be revealed by combining all features of the happiness lens with sophisticated application of sociological theory.
2.7 I take 'happiness' to refer not to a substantial reality (our self-evaluations are far too elusive and ambiguous for that), but rather to the conversations we have about the goodness of life - not only the enjoyment of good feelings, but also the justification, anticipation, and sharing of our evaluations of how good people's lives are prudentially (i.e., for their sake). Happiness conversations facilitate what might be called appreciative empathy: they make us 'appreciative' by directing our attention towards positivity (taking a systematic interest in social goods and social progress) and 'empathic' by insisting that we pay attention to other people's first-person subjectivity (Thin 2012:xiv).
2.8 In social research, happiness matters descriptively (it is a core theme in people's everyday understanding of how people and experiences differ). Analytically, it matters because happiness and the pursuit of it are important causes and outcomes of social processes. And it matters evaluatively, because it is central (if not always explicitly so) to the justification of ways of doing things and to the assessment of how well things are going. If social research is inadequate without happiness analysis, the inverse is also true: happiness scholars from other disciplines need to explore how happiness is socially constructed. Happiness is facilitated, expressed, pursued, and inhibited in particular sociocultural contexts. Happiness scholarship requires participation of the full range of social scientists. In short, sociology and happiness scholarship need each other.
2.9 Systematic studies of the social facilitation of happiness would seem to be an obviously key role for sociology. All humans depend heavily on society for the achievement of happiness: from the early days of survey-based happiness research, good social connections have consistently been most prominent among factors correlating with self-reported happiness (Maddox 1982:78; Ferriss 2010:xiv). Moreover, our experience and understanding of happiness is socially constructed. We can't conceive of happiness, let alone consider whether or not we are happy, without the culturally transmitted happiness narratives and social relationships that allow us to express happiness and experience it intersubjectively.
2.10 It is easy to devise plausible commonsense explanations of how society facilitates human flourishing. In practice, however, we also allow ourselves to be guided by often implicit folk theories about society and happiness that need to be corrected on the basis of empirical research. Twentieth-century sociology and anthropology were developed to combat triumphalist folk theories about the goodness of western modernity. Today it seems that modern societies, particularly those that facilitate freedom, peace, democracy, and respect for individual preferences, have actually performed astonishingly well at facilitating happiness, at least according to measured self-reports (Helliwell and Want 2012; Diener et al 2013). Pessimistic sociology and romantic anthropology are therefore ill-prepared for the current global tide of enthusiastic self-reports from modernizing societies: 'Durkheim thought that de-modernization would restore happiness. Yet the data rather suggest that people are happier in modern society' (Glatzer 2000:504). Acknowledgement of social progress, let alone systematic analysis of it, has not been prominent in sociology since the 19th century (Best 2001; Thin 2002).
Social positivity before the 20th century3.1 None of the 19th-century foundational texts of sociology failed to put happiness in centre stage. In 1924, William Thompson set the ball rolling by publishing An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness. In this seminal socialist critique of capitalism which paved the way for Marx's labour theory of value, Thompson proposed that 'friends of the Industrious Classes' should develop a 'new science and art of creating bliss', explicitly declaring himself a devotee of Mill and Bentham's utilitarian philosophy. Auguste Comte, coiner of the terms 'sociology' and of 'positivism', intended positivism to be the kind of science that would promote happiness - a fact that has been more or less written out of the history of social science (Plé 2000:427-8).
3.2 From the early years of the Enlightenment there had been theoretical speculation about the quantifiability of happiness. This would eventually lead to today's public dominance of numerophilic happiness scholarship. Francis Hutcheson in 1726 blazed a trail for utilitarian philosophy with his bold claim that morality must be about the 'greatest happiness of the greatest number'. Bayes, the theologically-minded mathematician remembered today as a key founder of modern statistics, then published in 1731 his treatise Divine Benevolence, or, an attempt to prove that the principal end of the divine providence and government is the happiness of his creatures. By the 1790s, John Sinclair had published his 21-volume Statistical Account of Scotland, in which he coined the modern term 'statistics' and founded a new system of accounting for national governance. The purpose of statistics, he said, was to ascertain 'the quantum of happiness' of a nation with a view to further improvement (Sinclair 1798, vol 20, p.xiii).
3.3 Both he and Malthus, who was interested in how population growth affected happiness (Malthus 1798/1826), used the term mainly to refer to living conditions rather than psychology. Marx, however, developed a more socio-psychological approach. He frequently discussed both happiness and unhappiness in most of his works, settling on the rather abstract idea of happiness as humanity's potential realization of its 'species-being' from which social institutions often alienate us. Religion, for example, offered its followers only 'illusory happiness' which must be opposed with a 'demand for their real happiness' (1844a, Introduction). Crucially, he argued that 'free, conscious activity is the species-character of human beings,' and that 'conscious life activity distinguishes man from the life activity of animals' (1844b:31). Here, Marx anticipates the 'human potential' and 'self-actualization' movement that emerged from psychology in the 1960s and led to the positive psychology movement.
3.4 Spencer's Social Statics (1851) mentioned The Conditions Essential to Human Happiness in its sub-title, and made over 100 references to happiness. Later, and more optimistic than either Marx or Spencer about social engineering, Lester Ward's groundbreaking text Dynamic Sociology (1883/1911) was based entirely on utilitarian principles and promoted the social facilitation of happiness as the core purpose of the discipline. Particularly crucial was his recognition that natural evolution is purposeless and therefore far less relevant to human happiness than purposeful, intelligent social planning.
Durkheim and the advent of social pessimism
4.1 It has often been noted that happiness was prominent in the work of Durkheim (Challenger 1995:165; Vowinckel 2000; Neves 2003). In all of his key texts, Durkheim explored the relations between social forces and happiness. The first chapter in book two of The Division of Labour (1893/1984) was titled: 'The progress of the division of labour and of happiness'. He argued forcefully against post-Enlightenment optimism: increased productivity and better living conditions would not translate automatically into social and psychological progress. He developed a line of anti-modernist scepticism that was to dominate 20th-century sociology. For him, any new pleasures gifted to us by modernity were likely outweighed by new forms of suffering. Looking for hard evidence of the 'average happiness' of populations, he made the simple blunder of assuming that this could be read off as a social fact from the suicide rate (1893/1984:192-3).
4.2 Durkheim's social pessimism strengthened in Suicide (1897), and the seeds were sown for the long-term association between sociology and anti-modernist skepticism and declinism in Europe and North America. Still, he did recognize as a social fact that most people in the world appear to be content with their lives no matter what their living conditions. By joining the likes of Rousseau and Waitz in admiring the happiness of 'primitive' peoples, he contributed to the anthropological tradition of searching for and naïvely celebrating the varieties of happiness that civilization was deemed to have lost.
4.3 By the 1940s, Wright Mills had already suggested the label 'Social Pathologists' for USA sociologists: the point of sociology was to study 'problems' construed as deviations from some vaguely idealized stable and rural normality (1943:165, 180). Later, in his celebrated introduction to The Sociological Imagination, Mills argued that sociological thinking was all about linking personal biographies with higher-level social issues, paying due attention to changing historical context. Yet at the close of the 'you've-never-had-it-so-good' decade he claimed that the most relevant psychological trend was bafflement at the pace of social and cultural change (1959:8). 'Well-being', he argued, happens when people experience no threats to their values, and this was unlikely in this 'time of uneasiness and indifference' (Mills 1959:11-12). Mills ridiculed the idea of empirical sociological studies of happiness as proposed by Lazarsfeld: sociologists should interpret the 'advent of the alienated man' and if they noticed any happiness they were to worry about whether social forces had turned them into 'cheerful and willing robots' (Mills 1959:60,171). Cultural pessimism was also promoted by Fromm's Sane Society, which countered the new optimism of post-war Europe by asserting dogmatically that 'the world in the middle of the twentieth century is mentally sicker than it was in the 19th century' (1955:102).
4.4 Still today, even when supposedly focused on social goods, flourishing, and the 'good society', social scientists tend to see themselves as 'critical social theorists' who study social harms so that they might 'transform the social arrangements that impede human flourishing' (Cooke 2006:7, 9). Of course, no-one in their right mind would defend the idea that society is in general bad for us. Indeed, a key flaw in social science has been implicit optimism about the default goodness of cultural values and social relations. If pathological social science adopts a 'social hygiene' approach (assuming that happiness derives from the removal of social harms), the other side of the coin is the pervasive assumption (among romantic adaptivists, functionalists, and Marxists alike) that evil derives from the loss or absence of cultural values rather from the dark side of cultural and social processes (Edgerton 1992; Alexander 2003:114-115). If modern society has promoted alienation or anomie, for example, these concepts also imply that the source of harm is not society itself but the loss of traditional meanings and attachments, and the consequent disengagement of the individual from society. Indeed, when the positive sociologist Corey Keyes devised a set of indicators of 'social wellbeing' he assumed that optimism about the condition of society was a sign of mental health, regardless of whether the society in question is actually benign (1998:123). Similarly, countless studies of the benefits of 'social capital' and 'social support' have simply assumed these vague concepts to serve as rubrics for good society, when in fact many kinds of social connection, including apparently 'supportive' relationships, are clearly damaging to health and wellbeing (Putzel 1997; Pahl 2003).
4.5 This kind of polarization between default goodness and default badness seems analogous to the ambiguity of environmentalists, for whom 'environmental issues' are by default pathologies in search of a remedy, but who also treat 'the environment' (like 'nature') as something that is by default good - something that humans should generally avoid disturbing. Similarly, social scientists' and social campaigners' attention is dominated by the challenge of understanding social pathologies with a view to removing them. But once social fragmentation and disengagement are identified as the problems, it is all too easy to resort to naïve expectations about the benefits of replacing social goods that have been lost or disturbed - such as community solidarity, social capital, traditional culture, or family values.
4.6 Clearly what we need is some kind of criteria that would allow us to be balanced and transparent in our evaluation of social harms and goods. As Bulmahn has argued, 'in Durkheim and Weber's day, talking about the ambivalence of modernity meant demonstrating its darker sides; today we must remind ourselves of its successes' (Bulmahn 2000:392). What happens, in practice, is that social goods are left to take care of themselves while scholarly and practical attention is devoted the understanding and removal of harms. Weirdly, even those sociologists choosing to use positive-sounding rubrics like 'pleasure', 'well-being', 'mental health', and 'happiness', tend to write mainly about pathologies and to make little or no attempt to engage with contemporary happiness scholarship. Ferguson's The Science of Pleasure (1990) includes three chapters that are ostensibly on 'happiness,' none of which has any analysis of the concept of happiness, and none of which engages with happiness scholarship except for a few quotations from pre-20th-century philosophers. The promised 'sociological' approach seems to take the form of occasional references to the 'capitalist' and 'modern' contexts in which the philosophers produced their texts. The other sections of the book are organized, intriguingly, under the rubrics of 'fun', 'pleasure', and 'excitement,' but reader is left to guess wildly at what these might mean and how they might relate to happiness.
4.7 Aneshensel and Phelan's Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health is, despite the title, 'about people who suffer', and is so focused throughout on social analysis of 'psychopathology' that even its revised edition ignores recent trends towards 'positive' approaches to mental health (1999/2013:xiii, ix). The same is true of Rogers and Pilgrim's A Sociology of Mental Health and Illness (2005), despite their apparent interest in distinguishing positive from negative approaches to mental conditions. Bradshaw's policy-oriented collection The Well-being of Children in the UK (Bradshaw 2002) is almost exclusively focused on poverty, injustice, and suffering, despite its title and the cover photo of grinning children (the 2011 edition, however, reflects the spirit of the age by adding a new chapter on happiness). Hermalin's The Well-Being of the Elderly in Asia (2002) has no references to happiness in over 600 pages. Even Kosaka's A Sociology of Happiness (2006) focuses mainly on such themes as suffering, disadvantage, violence, and intrusive state surveillance. Sara Ahmed's The Promise of Happiness is an almost comical parody of anti-happiness skepticism, the declared mission of which is 'to kill joy . . . to make room for life' (2010:20). And Ehrenreich's Smile or Die (2009), a tragicomic and semi-autobiographical critique of North American cultural optimism, epitomizes the pessimistic tradition in sociology and remains probably the most widely-cited critique of positive psychology.
First-person sociology: interpretive humanism versus positivist quantification
5.1 Cultural pessimism is not conducive to the positive study of social happiness, but Mills and Fromm did at least champion the idea, inherited from Weber, that sociologists should take a systematic interest in first-person experience and in the social facilitation of meaning-making. They adopted Durkheim's pessimism but resisted his antipathy to psychologism and subjectivity. Despite the evident interest in personal feelings that he showed in Suicide and in Elementary Forms, established in Rules of the Sociological Method (1895/1982), Durkheim developed an obsessive and utterly unrealistic distinction between society and individual minds. For much of the twentieth century, the 'view from within' was to be left to psychologists.
5.2 Strangely, similar anti-psychologism prevailed in British social anthropology despite Malinowski's strong interest in psychology and his exhortations at the start of his foundational text Argonauts of the Western Pacific, that anthropologists should try to understand happiness and motivations (1922:25). Appreciative crosscultural empathy has, in theory, been at the heart of the anthropology. There can be few students of anthropology or sociology in any country who haven't been advised repeatedly to try to make connections between their studies and their own life experiences. Yet the explicit analysis of people's experiences and life evaluations is so rare in both disciplines that this approach has to be specified as something like 'the anthropology of experience' or 'phenomenological sociology' or 'positive sociology', as if these were specialist sub-disciplines or quirkily innovative approaches.
5.3 Weber's interest in interpretive humanistic approaches to subjective experience constitutes another important source of inspiration for social scientists who reject Durkheim's unrealistic belief in the separability of sociology and psychology. He paid much less explicit attention to happiness than did the other founding fathers of sociology, and his influences on prospects for a sociology of happiness were ambiguous. He helped ensure that sociologists attended to the ways in which social and cultural are interiorized in personal experience, and to the importance of this interior meaning-making in the development of institutions and behaviour. He is, therefore, a key figure in the social analysis of values and meaning-in-life and in that sense can be seen as a founding father of happiness sociology. On the other hand, by insisting that sociology itself should be 'value-free', he doubtless dissuaded many sociologists from even attempting something so obviously value-laden as the consideration of the socio-cultural construction of happiness. He rejected the idea that social science should be done for the sake of promoting social progress and happiness (Allen 2004:135), and he left a strong legacy of cultural pessimism regarding the effects of modernity (Seidman 1983).
5.4 Twentieth-century sociology took a humanist and biographical turn with the publication of Thomas and Znaniecki's The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1918/1927). These authors, concerned to explore the experience of society through life narratives of individuals, complained in their introduction about the woeful lack of systematic research on happiness (p.84). Yet in their book, despite scores of passing references to happiness in the excerpts from personal letters, there is no attempt to develop a systematic analysis of happiness. Throughout the rest of the century, although biographical research flourished in both sociology and anthropology, the default assumption was that narratives of suffering and struggle are more interesting than happiness narratives (Bertaux and Kohli 1984; Grima 1992).
5.5 The sociology of first-person emotional experience took off with Hochschild's pathbreaking work on emotion management of flight attendants heralded a new era of the sociology of emotion (1983). But the persistence of pathologism is clear in her work. She drew our attention not to the personal and social benefits and satisfactions of emotion management, but instead to the unfair patriarchal and commercial exploitation of female emotion. Sociologists and anthropologists alike have a habit of using 'subjectivity' as a synonym for 'suffering'. Sociological and anthropological texts on 'emotion' and 'subjectivity' rarely attempt balanced portrayals of personal experiences and inside-out evaluations in general; they tend to be about bad experiences and negative evaluations (Barbalet 1998, 2002; Biehl et al 2007).
5.6 Most explicit and systematic social research on happiness came in the form of quantitative survey-based studies. Although empirical happiness research has only recently grabbed the attention of media and governments, empirical social research on happiness goes back to the 1920s and 30s, when research on job satisfaction (Mayo 1933/2003) and marital happiness (Burgess and Cottrell 1939) began paving the way for future research on life satisfaction. Ward's theoretical ideas on happiness were given prominent coverage in the form of a summary chapter in Park and Burgess's Introduction to the Science of Sociology (1921) even though at that time the idea of measuring domain satisfactions had barely been attempted, let alone measuring happiness. Burgess's work inspired further research on marital happiness by Lazarsfeld and Rosenberg in the 1940s and 50s, and gave them the confidence to announce that it was quite possible to come up with reliable measures of happiness (Lazarsfeld and Rosenberg 1955:270-274).
5.7 Though happiness sociology consisted only of occasional studies of marital or workplace satisfactions until the 1960s, it could well be claimed that on both sides of the Atlantic it was sociologists rather psychologists or economists who did most to establish happiness science from the 1960s to the 1990s. In the USA, Cantril's Pattern of Human Concerns (1965) became an inspirational text for the new science of happiness measurement, and was followed by the founding of the journal Social Indicators by Alex Michalos in 1974, by Campbell, Converse and Rogers' The Quality of American Life (1976) and Andrews and Withey's (1976) Social Indicators of Well-Being which confirmed the credibility of an already mature science of happiness measurement. Happiness and domain satisfactions became key themes in the 'social indicators' movement (Carley 1981; Johnson and Carley 1981), lending a degree of positivity to an otherwise predominantly pathological set of concerns. Also in the 1970s, sociological studies were exploring issues such as class, race, marriage, and work in terms of happiness and life satisfaction (Glenn and Weaver 1979, 1981; Witt et al 1980; Thomas and Hughes 1986). In Europe, two sociological monographs on happiness came out in the1980s: Maddox's Happiness, Lifestyle and Environment (1982) and Veenhoven's Conditions of Happiness (1984). Neither of these reached a wide audience at the time, although Veenhoven went on to become the leading champion of happiness research in Europe. Shortly afterwards, the Institute for Happiness Research was founded in Vallendar, Germany, by the sociologist Alfred Bellebaum who doubtless is a crucial influence behind the numerous German-speaking happiness scholars in sociology and economics (Bellebaum 1994, 2002, 2010).
5.8 Positivist sociological research has continued as part of empirical happiness science (Yang 2008; Schnittker 2008; Firebaugh and Schroeder 2009), yet has not become a significant part of mainstream sociology. These empirical studies certainly qualify as 'happiness sociology' in that they are both positive and to some extent respectful of subjectivity. However, asking for reductionist numerical self-reports is hardly the empathic breakthrough that we are looking for. Self-reports of happiness or unhappiness tell us about anticipations (what people expect, wish for, pursue, or fear), current experiences, and memories. Empathy is our route to appreciating other people's subjective experience. Self-reports don't, however, give direct access to subjective experience: they are unavoidably intersubjective and situational (Davidson 2001: chs1-3). In future, social happiness research will need to enrich our understanding of self-reports by exploring the moral and epistemological importance of 'second-person', intersubjective engagements through which people - including sociological researchers - try to achieve empathic accuracy by imagining what is happening inside other people's minds.
5.9 Internalism - recognition of the reality and importance of phenomenal consciousness, and taking a systematic, both introspective and other-directed empathic interest the self and in 'first-person' experience - has long been one of the key themes of modernity, but oddly has not always been recognized as a necessarily central aspect of the study of social and mental realities (Lauer 1958; Zahavi 2005; Farkas 2010). Indeed, the very idea of the autonomous human 'subject' has for several decades been controversial in sociology and in overlapping disciplines and movements such as cultural studies, feminism, and postmodernism. Many sociological thinkers have in various ways tried to 'deny' the existence or importance of the subject, while also inevitably falling back on some kind of recognition of the subjective experience (Boyne 2001, ch.1). Indeed, ironically the birth and growth of contemporary happiness studies has coincided with a time when abstract phenomenologists and postmodernists (particularly those of an ivory-tower intellectualist persuasion) have been proudly declaring a new era of 'post-individualism' or 'post-subjectivity' (Dallmayr 1981; Terada 2001) or even 'postemotional culture' (Mestrovic 1997; Vester 1999).
5.10 In part, these arguments have been about theorizing agency and the relations between individual minds and social processes and structures. They have also been about the wish of sociologists to distinguish their approaches from psychologism. The sociological downplaying or denial of subjectivity may therefore be due to a belief that sociologists should avoid first-person perspectives. Yet as one phenomenological sociologist argued, 'the phenomenological approach is not psychologistic,' and in any case 'in real life, the psychological and the social are inseparable' (Wagner 1983:3). Furthermore, making an effort to appreciate and understand subjective experience is itself complex and intersubjective, offering no privileged 'just-take-a-look' access to actual first-person experience (Varela and Shear 1999:2). Even if our experiences seem to occur inside our brains, they are actually constituted externally too - not only in other parts of our bodies but in interpersonal encounters, and in sociocultural contexts.
5.11 In other words, to appreciate how social processes and individual minds interact, sociologists and psychologists alike require phenomenological approaches that use empathy to try to get as close as we can to understanding how reality is experienced from various perspectives. It might further be argued that empathy is not just a crucial research capability, but is also an important way in which social research contributes to social quality and to personal happiness. If we are striving to promote love and understanding in the 'empathic civilization' (Rifkin 2010), we may be greatly helped by research that spreads awareness of the diverse ways in which the same external realities are internally experienced. As individuals, we can learn to 'live better' both in a moral sense (being more compassionate) and in a prudential sense (empathy benefits the empathiser, because through empathic attention and associated prosocial acts we can enjoy allowing our own selves to merge to some extent with those of others) (Hodges et al 2011). Conversely, an overemphasis on 'objective,' measurable external realities such as health, property, class, material wealth, and rights can inhibit empathetic understanding by allowing objective wellbeing to substitute for subjective wellbeing.
5.12 Today, happiness has a core psychological meaning of subjectivity, including pleasureable experience and a variety of other mental values such as the sense of purpose, self-worth, and meaning. Whereas in the past (and still today in the Anglophone bureaucracy of Bhutan, for example) the term was often used to mean the broader set of objective life conditions that we now call 'wellbeing' and 'quality of life', today in normal conversation most English-speakers have no need to specify that by 'happiness' we mean primarily 'subjective happiness'. Philosophers have long argued over how much we should value psychological happiness, and most accept that it isn't the only good we value. Conversely it ought to be obvious that it is such an important value that no account of well-being or life quality comes anywhere near moral or even descriptive adequacy without paying very substantial attention to subjectivity. This means trying to empathise with people by eliciting their sense of enjoyment and of how well their lives are going.
Conclusions: Transparent moral compasses6.1 Abraham Maslow, a key source of inspiration for positive psychology, tells us that his psychological humanism was inspired by the anthropologist/sociologist Ruth Benedict's theory of how society 'synergizes' happiness and virtue by making prosocial behaviour personally rewarding (Maslow 1971/1993:xxi,135,191). Social facilitation is arguably the most important theme in happiness research, yet this work proceeds with minimal input from sociologists. Today only a tiny minority of those who profess to specialize in the study of happiness are sociologists or social anthropologists. In the latest mega-compendium of articles on happiness, out of over 100 authors just two (Veenhoven and Keyes) are sociologists, and neither of these contributes to the sections on 'society' and 'relationships' (David et al 2013). That collection was edited by psychologists, but even when the sociologist Keyes compiled his recent collection on Mental Well-being - a text expressly intended to promote social-epidemiological approaches - he chose 25 psychologists and health researchers but no sociologists (Keyes 2013). Nor is it simply a matter of happiness sociology being hidden under other rubrics: two major literature reviews on 'quality of life' found that despite the key roles of USA sociologists in the development of social surveys, the academic discipline of sociology has remained largely uninterested in the concept of quality of life (Schuessler and Fisher 1985; Ferriss 2004).
6.2 It is still possible today to complete a multi-year undergraduate program in sociology, social policy, or anthropology, without ever having to read a text or write an essay on either happiness or social progress. Few encyclopedias, handbooks, or introductory textbooks in either discipline pays more than a passing glance towards either of these topics. In short, humanity's most central concern has been marginalised in both disciplines, and this renders social research less morally transparent than it ought to be. As Du Bois and Wright argue, humanistic psychology has since the 1960s been searching largely in vain for a companion humanistic sociology that would explore systematically how society allows humans to flourish. Instead, 'sociology today still focuses upon social problems rather than the healthy society or social solutions' (Du Bois and Wright 2002:10). Even the promisingly upbeat concept of 'social capital', first introduced by USA social reformer Hanifan nearly a century ago (1916) and revived by sociologist Coleman in the 1980s (Coleman 1988), has proved far less popular among sociologists than among economists and political scientists (Svendsen 2009:4).
6.3 In their personal lives, most social scholars are no doubt intensely interested in happiness and in helping to bring about social progress but this is far from evident in their academic work. Systematic interest in social progress has been developing since the 1990s with the development of 'social quality' and 'social well-being' research (Bach and Rioux 1996; Beck et al 1997; Thin 2002; Lin et al 2001; Gasper 2011; Abbott 2012; Yee and Chang 2012). In policy and in public and corporate practice the concept of 'social value' has become highly influential in some countries such as UK and USA (Jordan 2008; Cox, Bowen and Kempton 2012). Few academic researchers or teachers engage with this work.
6.4 Happiness, arguably humanity's most important and fascinating capability, emerges from particular social and cultural contexts (Haller and Hadler 2006:171). We also get to know about it through cultural repertoires and social interactions. Like the self and the mind more generally, happiness is experienced as if it were happening momentarily in our heads, but this is an egocentric illusion because the real action is distributed across space and time, and between multiple actors. As is the case with sensory perception and cognition, so too our emotions, our evaluative dispositions, and our values are distributed and interactive. Happiness is culturally imagined, socially constructed, interactively discussed, compared, and narrated, and highly contagious. We can measure self-reports, but we can't measure happiness directly because it just isn't that kind of factual entity. Nor is happiness just a property of the self-reporter's brain: life appreciation may seem to be built psychologically, from the 'inside out', but we develop these abilities and dispositions interactively. Our sense that we are happy (or not) and that our lives are good (or bad) emerges through complex interactions between brains, bodies, sociocultural contexts, and physical environments.
6.5 Folk wisdom and positive psychologists alike may treat happiness as a thing that exists in individuals' minds, and which can therefore be 'expressed' fairly directly through self-reports. But it is very important for social scientists to insist on a complementary account of happiness as a distributed and emergent, socio-ecological phenomenon. So far, happiness scholarship and its treatment in the media and in politics have been dominated by an essentialist metaphor of happiness as a measurable entity. Surveys and survey-based analysis tend to treat self-reports as relatively unproblematic evidence of what is happening inside people's heads, suitably extracted by experts. Emotion studies, similarly, use the concept of 'expression' as if emotional experience happened in people's heads before being reported publicly. The barometric metaphor of happiness as a kind of level of wellbeing in people's brains, and the derivative metaphors of extraction and expression, are just one way of talking about happiness. Other important approaches are quite different, approaching happiness as a matter of conversations and narratives that are socially and culturally embedded and can only be understood via interactions and qualitative analysis.
6.6 Happiness scholarship will therefore remain significantly handicapped until sociologists and anthropologists bring their methods, their analytical approaches, and their knowledge to bear on the cultural and social construction of happiness. Conversely, sociology and anthropology will remain embarrassingly biased and unempathetic if they persist in ignoring the need for systematic study of how people achieve and experience really good lives in really good societies.
6.7 The strongest argument for developing new kinds of explicit attention to happiness in sociology and in social policy, however, is that by doing so we can be more transparent - to ourselves and to others - about what it is that guides our moral compass. Sociology has always been a moralizing discipline, concerned not just to describe social processes and institutions but to criticize their shortcomings with a view to making them better. So far, those critiques have been based on deontological rather than consequential rationales. That is to say, inequalities and harms are assumed to be wrong simply because we know them to be wrong, rather than because we have evidence showing that they lead to more suffering and less happiness than might be the case in a better-organised society.
6.8 A final question worth considering carefully is whether we need specific sub-disciplines of 'happiness sociology' and 'happiness anthropology'. In this new age of abundant and free-flowing information, transdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge exchange gets ever easier. Any sociologist or anthropologist can readily engage with happiness scholars from other disciplines if they want to, so why should they worry about whether their home disciplines take happiness scholarship seriously? I would argue that given the enormous variety of methods and themes in happiness scholarship, all varieties of happiness scholar require twin strategies: pursuing transdisciplinarity on the one hand, while on the other hand trying to ensure that their home discipline doesn't continue to make itself look silly and isolated by ignoring happiness scholarship. The latter task is challenging for both sociologists and anthropologists, but both these disciplines have much to gain from showing other disciplines that they have, after all, important contributions to make to the understanding of happiness.
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