New paper on well-being

Last week a paper I co-authored with Donggen Wang at Hong Kong Baptist University has appeared in the Annals of American Geographers. In this paper we argue that the Day Reconstruction Method devised by Daniel Kahneman and colleagues can be usefully linked to time-geography. One benefit of doing this is that what Mei-Po Kwan calls the Uncertain Geographical Context Problem (UGCoP) — spatiotemporal uncertainty in the actual areas or places that exert influence on the behaviour and experiences of individuals — that has characterised past studies of the geographical context on individuals’ subjectively experienced well-being. Another benefit is that the effect of spending time together with others (family members or friends) on one’s subjectively experienced well-being can be measured and examined more precisely.

Using data from Hong Kong we found that the influence of the actual location where people spend time for daily activities other than paid work is very limited (at least as far as we were able to measure characteristics of that location); the effect of where individuals live on their overall life satisfaction was much stronger. Further work is therefore required to better measure and examine how the places where people spend time affects their subjective experience of well-being.

We did find that doing things together with others makes them happier than doing the same things alone, and it also appears that the relationship between the duration of a daily activity and people’s subjectively experienced well-being depends on with how they have undertaken that activity. One implication of this finding is that the relationships between social capital and subjectively experienced well-being cannot be examined or understood properly without due attention for individuals’ everyday life — i.e. their actual time-use and space-time path.

A limited number of free copies of the article is now available from here.

Social capital and mobility

Since one and a half week or so a student from the University of Concepcion in Chile, Diego Solsona, has been with us — my colleague Karen Lucas and myself — at the Transport Studies Unit. Diego will be with us for three months in the context of the project ‘Transport and Social Exclusion: New Directions and National Comparisons’ (Transendance), in which we collaborate with the University of Concepcion, Chile (Juan-Antonio Carrasco) and Ghent University, Belgium (Tijs Neutens) and which is financed by the Marie Curie International Research Exchange Scheme under the Seventh Framework Programme of the EU.

Diego is the first student to come to us and he is working on a literature review about the concept of social capital. He is currently focusing on the question how social capital is conceptualised, understood and defined across a range of disciplines, including geography, social, public health and urban studies. The idea behind this exercise is that the concept is used (and abused?) in a wide variety of ways, and that this has made the concept even more fuzzy and elusive — in much the same way as has happened with wellbeing. It may seem, then, that people are talking about one and the same thing but in practice are talking about a range of different things. This obviously has significant ramifications for researchers interested in mobilities and transport who want to understand who mobility is related to social capital. The overarching goal of the work Diego is currently undertaking, therefore, is to arrive to at:

  • A robust definition or set of definitions of social capital (which goes beyond the obvious ones propounded by Bourdieu, Coleman and Putnam); and
  • A deeper understanding of, and a series of hypotheses regarding, how social capital is related to the everyday mobility of people across geographical space.

After just a week’s work we already see some interesting patterns in how the concept of social capital is used and developed within human geography. I am sure Diego’s work will result in many very interesting insights and I will report on these on this blog in due course.