Progress in Europe: Sustainable wellbeing, beyond GDP & the Steady State Economy

  • E Pleeging

Student thesis: Master's Thesis: Humanistic Studies


In this thesis, we study the European Commission’s declared intention to measure societal progress from a perspective that goes Beyond GDP. Wellbeing is a central concept in this respect, since it defines what we, as a society, value as a good human life. In this study, we assume that this term has no single, static definition, but ‘comes into being’ through its use in language and practice. We use critical discourse analysis to study the role and meaning of the concept in key literary works from the European Commission’s Beyond GDP (BGDP) project. This ‘discourse’ is compared with works from the academic Steady State Economy (SSE) approach, whose paradigmatic proposition is that human wellbeing without economic growth is possible. As such, we try to answer the question “How could the Steady State Economy approach to wellbeing contribute to the declared intention of the European Commission to go ‘beyond GDP’?” Findings suggest that the BGDP project adheres to a plural, objective understanding of wellbeing, valuing individual freedom and cultural diversity, and aiming for political consensus. The SSE approach combines a eudaimonic approach, with a Kantian moral system which prioritises ethical considerations. Public policy aimed at sustainable progress is about making trade-offs, and is thus a normative process, a point which seems problematic in the ‘objective’ BGDP approach. We conclude that the SSE approach could contribute to the BGDP project by exemplifying a structured approach to the moral dilemmas of sustainable progress.
Date of Award1 Jan 2015
Original languageAmerican English
SupervisorF. Suárez Müller (Supervisor) & I. de Groot (Supervisor)

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