Wellbeing at the American Association of Geographers, New York 2012

The annual conference of the American Association of Geographers has become a major forum for theoretical and applied social science engagements with notions of space and place. The 2012 AAG in New York continued the tradition, attracting around 9,000 delegates from all parts of the world and from many disciplines, not just human geography.

This year featured three sessions on the Geographies of Wellbeing, having direct interest to the Durham Centre for Medical Humanities and our central concern with medicine and flourishing. The sessions focussed on: ‘Conceptualisations of Wellbeing’; ‘The benefits of nature, green space and resources’; and ‘The importance of everyday life and mobility’

All the papers in the session on conceptualisations of wellbeing involved identifying dominant ways in which wellbeing is defined within current policy frameworks. The session offered a range of critical geographies that tackled a static, individualised mobilisation of wellbeing including explorations of how a stable wellbeing may be destabilised and enhanced, how the connections between place and individual wellbeing can be researched and understood, how we might conceptualise and research a notion of collective wellbeing, comparative engagement with wellbeing across European urban settings and the positioning of not just wellbeing but also responsibility within current policy directives.

The processes through which nature, and especially green and blue landscapes, effect benefits for wellbeing furnished the theme for the second session. These were examined both through the settings of everyday life and through the settings of time-out, holidays or leisure spaces. Research approaches to this known effect included group interviews, surveys, ethnographic approaches and analyses of documents and other related texts. The range of topics, settings and approaches, as well as the specifics of all papers, foreground the tension between treatments of nature as a universally relevant resource and those that emphasise the situated cultural and the symbolic relations of nature.

The third session mostly focussed on aspects of mobility for wellbeing.  One paper also focussed on the everyday activity of smoking by mounting a challenge to the unproblematised assumption that smoking is necessarily always and only bad for wellbeing. The mobility papers addressed daily activities in everyday lives including the specific challenges to mobility for the older population and specifically how these play out for women and the issues for the wellbeing of pedestrians. Exceptional mobility and the benefits of holiday travel also teased out the range of motives and meanings that mediate travel mobility benefits. Similar to the second session, here we see explorations of wellbeing within the everyday activities and settings and across more extraordinary settings of stepping out from the everyday through leisure and holiday.

Geographies of Wellbeing I: Conceptualisations of Wellbeing

  • Sarah Atkinson, Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University, UK.
    Destabilisation and improvisation: embodying wellbeing
  • Sebastien Fleuret and Jerome Prugneau, University of Angers, France.
    Assessing students wellbeing in a spatial dimension
  • Rebecca Schaaf, Bath Spa University, UK.
    Well-being of places? Using complexity to explore collective well-being
  • Marco Santangelo, Politecnico di Torino, Italy.
    Urban representation of health and wellbeing: cases from ten European cities.
  • Karen Scott, University of Newcastle, UK.
    Localism and UK national wellbeing discourses

Geographies of Wellbeing II: the benefits of nature, green space and resources

  • Elizabeth Dinnie, The James Hutton Institute, Scotland.
    Understanding the relationship between well-being and engagement with green urban space.
  • Katherine E. Foo Clark University, USA.
    The urban ecologies of well-being: a neighbourhood approach
  • Jo Little, University of Exeter, UK.
    Wellbeing and the transformational self
  • Cheryl A. Willis, University of Exeter, UK.
    Harnessing nature’s benefits for human well-being: recognising the wider values of our coastal landscapes.
  • Jacqueline Ann Goldin, University of the Western Cape, South Africa.
    Lost in translation: emotions as proxies for institutional adequacy

Geographies of Wellbeing III: the importance of everyday life and mobility

  • Qian Hui Tan, National University of Singapore, Singapore.
    Smoking spaces and wellbeing
  • Donggen Wang, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong.
    Subjective wellbeing, place, and daily activity undertaking
  • Susanne Norbakke, Institute of Transport Economics, Norway.
    Capabilities for mobility among older women
  • Dick Ettema, Utrecht University, the Netherlands.
    Studying pedestrians’ well-being in urban contexts: a comparison of three self-documentation platforms
  • Tamara Ratz, University of Applied Sciences, Hungary.
    Leisure mobility and well-being in Hungary
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