Dr Susan Oman was a PhD researcher, based at the University of Manchester, supervised by Prof. Andy Miles and Prof. Jackie Stacey. She completed her PhD in 2017. Susan work focused on looking at the politics of well-being and cultural participation and contributing to UEP’s histories and data work.
My thesis, All being well: cultures of participation and the cult of measurement considers everyday and elite narratives of well-being and the role of politics and participation in these. I have taken the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Measuring National Well-being: What Matters to You national debate as my primary focus, publishing a chapter on the debate, and my reanalysis of ONS data with Palgrave Macmillan in 2015. In Spring 2014, I also undertook a programme of focus groups in settings as varied as prisons and public houses, from Brighton to Powys, and Aberdeen to Derry. In listening to how people describe what matters, and what well-being means to them, I am reconsidering what constitutes well-being in a way which is more inclusive and representative of everyday perspectives, practices and experiences. I suggest that there are key differences between these narratives of well-being, and the narratives which drive the agenda to measure well-being in national and international political fora, and that this has implications for policy-making.
These differences are particularly relevant for the Understanding Everyday Participation – Articulating Cultural Values (UEP) project. Many responses to the question ‘what matters to you?’ describe the importance of spare time, both how and where it is spent, as fundamental to what people understand as their own well-being, or important to the happiness of others. Through secondary analysis of data from the ONS, I hope to demonstrate how survey data is an appropriate approach to understanding well-being in ways beyond those that become social indicators. Furthermore, through this reanalysis of survey data, and through my own fieldwork, I hope to highlight new directions for policy interventions, or how current policies might be ineffective or misdirected. Following the premise of the UEP project, I suggest that cultural policy in particular is too concerned with participation in formal (as funded) activities, such as museum or theatre attendance. Responses to the ‘What Matters to You?’ debate indicated that any all cultural activity contributes to well-being, and that most of it sits outside current cultural policy frames.
Also imperative to my research is a greater understanding of the extent to which what is thought to be ‘the good life’, as explicit (or implicit) in the development of well-being indicators, is an ideological expression of ‘a norm’. I am investigating how this political, moral and philosophical idea of the ‘normative’ affects the ways in which ‘the science’ is constructed to make ‘evidence’ from choices of how and what to measure. Furthermore, how the relationships to ‘the normative’, ‘progress’ and ‘evidence’ differ between those living everyday experience and the elite technicians in charge of ‘progress’ (Lefebvre 1961).
Following an Art History BA at the Courtauld, Susan initially worked as a curator before moving into research collaboration and partnerships management at Royal Central School of Speech & Drama. Prior to her PhD, she completed an MA in Cultural Policy at City University and held a fellowship at the Centre of Excellence in Training for Theatre. Susan also holds membership to the Arts and Health South West; the ESRC Politics of Well-being group; the BSA Happiness Study Group and the Creative Industries Federation.
Susan teaches cultural policy and politics and research approaches on the MA Applied Theatre: Drama in the Community and Drama Education or Drama and the Criminal Justice System course at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. For Susan’s institutional profile, publications and conference papers, please click here
Susan’s blog UEP contributions include:
Conversation as an everyday method of participation at the UEP methods conference (right)
The Politics of Cultural Measurement – a review
Breaking the Temple of the Culture – Well-being Relationship – keynote at Tate Liverpool