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Happiness and capability: measurement, theory and policy

Workshop at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands, 22nd August 2008




What is well-being? The list of answers—all potentially correct—may be daunting, ask any social scientist or humanities researcher working on the topic. Few other concepts lie at this juncture between the social sciences and humanities. The challenging task of answering what it is notwithstanding, well-being, across all disciplines, has never before been such a popular topic in academia. Indeed, the number of publications and specialist journals speaks for itself.

Though attempts to define well-being have been numerous and ambitious, they are often marred by contradiction, politics and scepticism, while the concept remains vague, primitive and easily captured by cultural relativism. Furthermore, as the theoretical debate unfolds, real-life applications of well-being constructs appear to enter the policy debate only scarcely. The aim of this workshop organized by the Chair in Economic Theory and Policy at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands, is to provide a platform to debate this urgent set of issues. The workshop, which will be held in the former Augustinian convent Soeterbeeck (Ravenstein), brings together experts—economists, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, and policy makers—working on the frontier of the theoretical and empirical characteristics of well-being.

The focus of the workshop is on two approaches to well-being, namely, the happiness approach and the capability approach. While the happiness literature has moved ever closer to 'objectifying' its theoretical and measurement construct, the capability theory of well-being emerges from the concern that subjective well-being, no matter how objective, is not sufficient as an account of well-being; from the capability perspective, in fact, the combination of subjective and objective factors is necessary. Which brings to the forth substantive issues such as how far are capability and happiness reconcilable? Whether some notion of human flourishing underlies and connects both constructs? Or can the happiness approach be integrated into a more general capability theory? And finally, to what extent would a happiness regime prove sufficient to single-handedly feed the policy debate?

Call for papers

Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to submit a proposal no longer than 500 words. Submissions for sessions are strongly encouraged. Sessions would consist of three to four papers or a roundtable discussion with 3-4 speakers. A session proposal should contain, in addition, title and description of the theme of the session in up to 500 words, and the name and contact information of the session organizer. 

All submissions will be considered for a planned edited volume.


  • January 31, 2008: proposal submission
  • February 28, 2008: notice of acceptance or rejection
  • June 30, 2008: completed paper

Please submit your proposal in pdf or word format to [email protected].

Some possible themes

Measurement issues:

  • What are the measurement problems and desiderata in happiness and capability research?
  • What are the implications of measurement issues on theory?

Happiness and capability theory:

  • How compatible are the happiness and capability approaches to well-being?
  • How culturally specific are theories of happiness and capability?

Policy dimensions:

  • How can happiness and capability research help to shape and appraise policy?
  • Do happiness and the capability approach call for different institutional arrangements?

Keynote speakers


The local organizing committee consists of



Radboud University Nijmegen

Radboud University Nijmegen is situated in the oldest city in the Netherlands. It has seven faculties and enrols over 17,500 students. Our personal style of teaching ensures that there is plenty of opportunity to work closely with instructors and fellow students in small seminars. One of the...

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