Music, kindness, and a government that listens to its people

This is my dissertation, which I wrote for my masters in Gender and Social Policy at the LSE, about 18 months ago.

Why I’m posting it

I’m publishing it here because it’s the thing I’ve made that I’m most proud of. Doing my masters alongside doing paid work was the most challenging and fulfilling project of my life so far. I get such a buzz from that kind of work (oh yes) and when this essay fell into place it was such a rush (really). It was also the most successful piece of academic work I’ve ever done in that (as I’m sure I’ll have told you if we have met) I got an outstanding distinction. 85! But more importantly than that, I feel it’s a piece that’s distinctively ‘me’. Close analysis of current government policy, using feminist political theory, tracing big concepts through to the nitty gritty of indicators/measurement.

I’m also publishing it because it makes me sad that this is a type of writing that doesn’t get read other than by students and teachers. Note that it’s written in a particular style which is not how I write outside academic work. Some parts make me cringe – both what I say and how I say it.

In both the dissertation and publishing it I was inspired by Sara Ahmed. Her work on happiness got me thinking about the topic. And now she blogs about complex subjects like that, I thought I would have a go too.

What it says, in the closest I can get to non-specialist language this afternoon

In summary, this is an analysis of the Office for National Statistics programme for Measuring National Wellbeing, using feminist political theory. I supported the ONS’s ambition to measure the success of countries/policy outside economic indicators, but I found their methodology lacking. I argued that the programme conceptualises national well-being as measurable, aggregative and individualistic. At the point I wrote my dissertation, the ONS basically collected together existing quantitative indicators of well-being. This ensured that the well-being of most citizens was incorporated in the programme, but obscured the complexity of the topic.

It particularly obscured interconnections and unpaid caring relationships between people, echoing the economic indicators of wellbeing that the programme places itself in opposition to. In my view, the programme’s inadequate acknowledgement of care and relationships as intrinsic to well-being invalidated its concept of well-being.  I then challenged the programme’s insistence that well-being must be measured quantitatively, because it relied on the assumption that individuals know and transparently express their emotional states.

When you add that all together, I argued, from a gender perspective, the programme could not be said to meet its aim of measuring national well-being.

Rebecca Kemp Wellbeing Dissertation (PDF)

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