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Karen Wistoft

Distinction of Two Discourses on Well-being: Conceptual and Theoretical Reflections

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Behind the WHO official definition of well-being (WHO, 2014) there are different ways of talking about well-being, entailing different concepts and ideas concerning the way in which it can be realized. These ways of talking about well-being can be designated as ‘discourses of well-being’, and the article presents two dominant discourses: the public health discourse of well-being and the learning-oriented discourse of well-being. While the former focuses on risk aspects, prevention and behavior-directed interventions, the latter focuses on learning and pedagogical interventions. The distinction between these two discourses can be summarized in two overall questions. The first question asks whether well-being should be measured as the lack of failure to thrive, or as the presence of positive aspects of well-being that can be promoted through pedagogical activities. The answer to this question determines whether we should attempt to reduce children and young people’s failure to thrive in order to ‘protect’ them, or attempt to support their competences, so they can learn to thrive and create mutual well-being. The second question asks whether well-being should be understood as a matter of causal logic or reflection, which links to whether we understand well-being as an ontological or an expectation-based concept. The article offers a new contribution to the existing discussion in defining the difference between a public health discourse and a pedagogical discourse, and the difference between a causal logical and a reflectivity paradigm. If efforts to promote well-being can be seen as a cross-professional responsibility, it is crucial that the relevant professionals meet across these well-being discourses, that children and young people’s well-being or failure to thrive is viewed as a complex matter and challenge, and that professionals are challenged on their understanding, and capable of meeting different expectations, of well-being.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Wellbeing
Publication statusSubmitted - 25 Nov 2019

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