SAGE Journal Articles

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Journal Article 1: Cieslik, M. (2014). “Not smiling but frowning”: Sociology and the “problem of happiness”. Sociology. doi:10.1177/0038038514543297

Mainstream British sociology has curiously neglected happiness studies despite growing interest in wellbeing in recent years. Sociologists often view happiness as a problematic, subjective phenomenon, linked to problems of modernity such as consumerism, alienation and anomie. This construction of ‘happiness as a problem’ has a long history from Marx and Durkheim to contemporary writers such as Ahmed and Furedi. Using qualitative interview data, I illustrate how lay accounts of happiness suggest it is experienced in far more ‘social’ ways than these traditional subjective constructions. We should therefore be wary of using crude representations of happiness as vehicles for our traditional depictions of modernity. Such ‘thin’ accounts of happiness have inhibited a serious sociological engagement with the things that really matter to ordinary people, such as our efforts to balance suffering and flourishing in our daily lives.

Journal Article 2: West, E. (2010). A taste for greeting cards: Distinction within a denigrated cultural form. Journal of Consumer Culture, 10, 362–382. doi:10.1177/1469540510376908

Greeting cards are a denigrated product category in the USA, and yet consumers use them at high rates across taste formations. Consumers with relatively high cultural capital place a premium on originality in their self-expression, hence greeting cards present a consumption problem because they are a mode of expressing the self through mass-produced means. Based on interviews with 46 women, I show that consumers with higher cultural capital are more likely to prioritize card design over sentiment; select smaller, simpler designs and sentiments; prefer cards that are handmade, look handmade, or remind them of fine art; and are more likely to use cards ironically. In this way, consumers perform exclusivity through their taste, even through a form of mass culture. However, the social embeddedness of greeting card communication means that many consumers balance considerations of taste with the requirements of effective interpersonal communication. The ability to self-consciously modulate signifiers of taste is itself an indication of cultural knowledge and therefore of cultural capital.