Positive Sociology and Appreciative Empathy: History and Prospects

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This paper explores the contributions of sociology (and overlapping disciplines such as anthropology, social policy, and cultural studies) to happiness scholarship from the Enlightenment through to the present day. Pre-20th century thinkers whose work led to the formation of social science tended to take the theme of happiness seriously as a central challenge of social scholarship. Over the past century, sociologists have made important contributions to understanding happiness, although its absence from textbooks, encyclopedias, and conferences suggests that happiness has never been a major theme in mainstream sociology. The discipline's role in happiness scholarship could be greatly strengthened through more systematic and explicit approaches, especially in qualitative research. These will doubtless be developed soon, as sociology catches up with the other social sciences (most notably psychology and economics) that have already made great progress in convincing general publics and politicians that something so elusive as happiness can be analysed and assessed in robust and illuminating ways. A 'happiness lens' is recommended as a way of making sociology more transparent regarding its contributions to understanding and promoting good societies and good lives. This lens complements pathologism with positivity; insists on empathic effort to respect first-person subjectivity; and promotes holism and lifecourse perspectives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number2
Early online date1 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2014


  • Happiness
  • Well-Being
  • Social Progress
  • Empathy
  • Subjectivity
  • Positivity


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