Widespread conceptualisations of wellbeing draw upon disciplines ranging from psychology and philosophy to health promotion, economics, welfare studies and political science. Due to overlaps in terminology used within these different disciplines (e.g., socio-emotional skills, quality of life, mental health, happiness), wellbeing is conceptually ambiguous. This project will engage with this challenge – a challenge that is even greater when conceptualizing young people’s wellbeing – as most theoretical models are based on research on adults and do not fit with young people’s experiences. To respond to these challenges, the project will develop a concise conceptual framework on wellbeing contextualized in schooling.
Educational research typically construes wellbeing as a condition for academic achievement and strong performance in national and international comparisons. By contrast, our research is based on the hypothesis that the policy specification of wellbeing as a mandatory objective ‘curriculizes’ wellbeing; in other words, the formalization transforms wellbeing into an object of educational practices and wellbeing becomes something students need to learn, in line with other curriculum subjects. Rather than resting on the taken-for-granted assumption that such an emphasis increases the quality of education and student outcomes, we treat this as an open question and ask How is wellbeing framed in educational policies, guidelines and measurement frameworks, and how do these framings affect the dynamics of everyday school life and students’ experiences of schooling?
Conceptually, we treat the formalization of wellbeing as a political intervention and examine its consequences by elucidating what the concept of wellbeing does in affecting educational practices, normalizing particular conceptions of ‘well’ and ‘unwell’ ways of being in schools and regulating the circumstances in which learning occurs and students’ subjectivities take shape. In addition to contributing to scholarship by advancing the theoretical understanding of wellbeing contextualized in education, the project offers new ways of thinking about wellbeing with a potentially significant social impact.