Relational happiness through recognition and redistribution: Emotion and inequality

Mary Holmes, Jordan McKenzie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article develops a model of relational happiness that challenges popular individualized definitions and emphasizes how it can enhance the sociological analysis of inequality. Many studies of happiness suggest that social inequalities are closely associated with distributions of happiness at the national level, but happiness research continues to favour individual-level analyses. Limited attention has been given to the intersubjective aspects of happiness and the correlations between it and higher social equality. Conversely, key theoretical debates about inequalities, such as Axel Honneth and Nancy Fraser’s exchanges, have only indirectly touched on happiness. A relational approach to happiness is not new, but what this article offers is a new combination of a relational understanding of happiness as an intersubjectively, culturally experienced complex of emotions with discussions about recognition of marginalized groups and redistribution of material resources. This combined approach can further debates about understanding and remedying social inequalities. It argues that theories and measurements of happiness must consider how it can be achieved collectively through working at mutual respect as well as greater material equality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-457
Number of pages19
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Theory
Issue number4
Early online date25 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • happiness
  • inequiality
  • redistribution
  • recognition
  • Honneth
  • Fraser


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