Authors: Roselyne Wangui Wachira (University of Nairobi), Hannah Bruhn (University of Cologne), Pierre Karamountzos (TU Delft), Yassine Tahiri (University Mohammed V Rabat), Rhoda Deers (University of Western Cape), Md Abdus Salam Chowdhury (University of Birmingham)
What is well-being to you? Have you ever taken a moment to consider this question? Maybe your answer is in line with some of the people we talked to in Kenya, Germany, Morocco, South Africa and the Netherlands who told us about their work, well-being and their education. Did you think of health as central for our well-being, then you’re in line with a German office worker in her 50ies, who talked about not being in pain was important to her. Or is well-being for you about having a home, a stable place to live, like one woman in Kenya and an international student told us, or is it the freedom of mobility as it was for another student? Is well-being for you about work-life balance? It was for two participants in South Africa. Do you even believe well-being can be achieved? Or do you think after reaching one goal, there will always be the next thing that keeps you unsatisfied. This was the perspective of a Moroccan woman in her mid-twenties as well. Is well-being even something that has to be achieved for you?
The multidimensionality of well-being
Your idea of well-being might very well be a mixture of all those reasons or something completely different. The understandings of well-being we encountered are individually varied and embedded in visions of a good life. The perspectives on well-being are influenced by personal history, as in the case of students who have been moving around since their childhood and who are now either struggling to build a fixed and stable home or to stay mobile or in history as for Women risking their personal well-being to break the glass ceiling in post-Apartheid South-Africa. Socio-economic factors influencing job security for a man in Kenya who is not able to secure a well-paying job, because he could not afford to get a more expensive qualifications and structural problems in the workplace such as the chronically overworked nurses in the underfunded and understaffed German health care system also shaped understandings of well-being. In Morocco the language also posted a problem, since there is no encompassing term for well-being, causing people to rather talk about concepts like happiness or self-realization. All these factors personal, historical, socio-economic, structural and linguistic exist side by side and intertwined. Socioeconomic factors are as much an issue in Morocco as in Kenya, historical factors influence work experiences in South Africa as well as Germany. All these individual and structural factors intertwine and encourage an intersectional perspective on well-being.
The common thread
But is there a common thread between the different places, people, and conceptions of well-being? After all our research was conducted in six countries on two continents, spanning a distance of over 9000 km at the greatest distance, can there even be something connecting all these people? Maybe. What we noticed is that well-being was often a goal, something to long for. Being in pain you long for health, being financially unstable you long for a well-paying job and being overworked you long for free time and these are the things we were often told about during our research. In the background, there is also always this conception of what a good life should be. Should you be successful in your job, financially stable or care for a family? And what do you need for this? A high degree, a well-paying job or simply more family time? Can you reach this ideal and if not what does one do? Are we here in the territory of people being raised on conceptions and ideals of living that are not archivable for most people in the world we live in? And how does one find happiness or contentment in this world?
Our methods and reflections on research
Our research was conducted in February and March 2023 an admittedly short amount of time. We conducted semi-structured interviews and informal conversations with our participants asking them about their education, work and well-being. All of us are young researchers starting out from different academic backgrounds and from different places in the world. We worked together using online meetings, WhatsApp and Google Docs, but coming together was difficult some of the time, since we all have responsibilities outside this program, such as work, university and family. We all also struggled with different aspects of the research starting with the Language. How does one conduct research on a multifaceted concept like well-being if there is no equivalent term in the research language and how can we combine research conducted in many languages and keep the voices of the research participants distinct? In the process of interviewing, we also encountered struggles like how to decide on questions and are interviews comparable when the questions are asked differently. Another important question for us was how to ask about intersectionality without previously categorizing the participants. We developed different strategies, such as explaining the concept first and asking them or keeping our inquiries more open.
We have not found solutions for all the problems we encountered, instead our collaboration efforts allow for a reflective process and an attempt to open up spaces to explore the entanglements within intersectionality regionally as well as globally. This project leaves a lasting impact on all involved and we hope that our attempt will prompt others to question their understanding and pursuit of Well-being.
We attempted to think about intersectionality as both theory and methodology grappling with the complexity to think globally yet acknowledge the individualized lived experiences of participants. In the end, we chose to include a space which allows each region to tell their narratives from their perspectives.
We invite you to take a closer look and explore each region, please click below:
About the authors
Roselyne Wangui Wachira, a Master of Development Studies’ student at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. I am passionate about development and finding solutions to the challenges that affect human beings, particularly in the Global South.
Hannah Bruhn, a Master student in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Cologne, Germany.
Pierre Karamountzos, a Bachelor student in Civil Engineering at Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands, with great interest in sustainable resource management, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South America.
Yassine Tahiri, PhD research student majoring in Sociology, Mohammed V University, Rabat, Morocco
Rhoda Deers, Anthropology master’s student at the University of Western Cape (UWC), South Africa. I have an academic background in Natural Medicine specializing as a clinical Unani Tibb Doctor. I am passionate about critical medical anthropology and exploring Global South perspectives through multidisciplinary collaborations.
Md Abdus Salam Chowdhury, Master’s student, Public Administration (Finance), School of Government, University of Birmingham, UK