Human well-being: concepts and conceptualizations

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Economic measures of income have ignored large areas of human well-being
and are poor measures of well-being in the areas to which they attend. Despite
increased recognition of those distortions, ‘GNP per capita continues to be regarded as
the quintessential indicator of a country’s living standard’ (Partha Dasgupta). Wellbeing seems to have intuitive plausibility as a concept, but in practice we encounter a
bewilderingly diverse family of concepts and approaches, partly reflecting different
contexts, purposes, and foci of attention. Is there a unifying framework that yet
respects the complexity and diversity of well-being? This paper presents an imperfect
comparative and integrative framework, that builds on the contributions by Sen and
We move toward the framework gradually, since well-being concepts are
complex conceptions which reflect pictures of personhood and of science. Insight
grows through surveying a wide range of relevant experience and views, before
risking blinkering one's vision in a framework. The paper then uses the framework to
examine conceptualizations of human well-being, by Dasgupta, Sen, Nussbaum,
Doyal & Gough, and Alkire.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDen Haag
PublisherInternational Institute of Social Studies (ISS)
Number of pages50
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2004

Publication series

SeriesISS working papers. General series


  • ISS Working Paper-General Series


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