Politics and “The Good Life”

Panel Organizers: Gabriela Elisa Morales (Yale University) and Caroline Merrifield (Yale University)
Due: March 20th

Recent calls for the study of well-being in anthropology (cf. Ortner 2016; Robbins 2013) have emphasized how people carve out spaces for the good in their lives through practices of ethics, aspiration, empathy, and care. Many studies in this vein have examined projects of the self, as well as the self’s relationships with others, within particular cultural contexts (cf. Fischer 2014; Mathews and Izquierdo 2009; Corsin Jimenez 2008). We seek papers that connect these projects and relationships to contemporary political formations and imaginaries, particularly those related to the state (cf. Chua 2014). Bringing the state into analyses of how people understand, experience, and strive to create ‘the good’ allows us to explore a crucial juncture between private lives and the realm of civic action. We are particularly interested in papers that explore how people’s ideas of the state, and of political practice, figure into their efforts to build a ‘good’ life. Do they seek to reform or remake the state? Or do they conceive of the good life in opposition to the state and its avenues for political engagement? How have claims for a qualified life been articulated in diverse political contexts? How (and when) do states invest in shaping particular visions of qualified life for their people? We argue that the (shifting) language of “the good life” has become increasingly important for individuals and collectives engaging with, or contesting, late capitalist state formations. We envision the discussions generated by this panel as a counterweight (cf. Ahmed 2010) to approaches to “happiness studies” in various disciplines that focus on the individual to the exclusion of the collective, the social, and the political.

Possible topics might include (but are by no means limited to):

  • Notions of “the good life” in indigenous movements and politics
  • Intentional communities, including settlements or living arrangements motivated by religion
  • “Alternative” consumption campaigns (e.g. local food)
  • Projects of space-claiming (e.g. squatting, informal settlements, protests, and occupations)
  • “Moral economy” appeals to states or state actors
  • State campaigns related to citizens’ “quality of life”

We are also interested in papers that explore forms of striving to “live well” through everyday practices and social formations, beyond the context of a coherent movement or community.

Please send a paper title and abstract of 250 words to gabriela.morales@yale.edu by March 20, 2017.


Ahmed, Sara. (2010) The Promise of Happiness. Durham: Duke University Press.

Chua, Jocelyn Lim. (2014) In Pursuit of the Good Life: Aspiration and Suicide in Globalizing South India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Corsin Jimenez, Alberto, ed. (2008) Culture and Well-Being: Anthropological Approaches to Freedom and Political Ethics. Ann Arbor: Pluto Press.

Fischer, Edward. (2014) The Good Life: Aspiration, Dignity, and the Anthropology of Wellbeing. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Mathews, Gordon, and Izquierdo, Carolina, eds. (2009) Pursuits of Happiness: Well-Being in Anthropological Perspective. New York: Berghahn Books.

Ortner, Sherry. (2016) Dark Anthropology and its Others: Theory Since the Eighties. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6(1): 47-73.

Robbins, Joel. (2013) Beyond the Suffering Subject: Toward an Anthropology of the Good. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19: 447-462