Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

After Happiness: The Politics of Dis-content

Grant Duncan.

Modern political theory has frequently used the term ‘happiness’ to represent teleologically a general goal of good government – in contrast to many other accounts that base the origins and structures of societies on pain, violence or discontent. In what sense, then, was ‘happiness’ a political goal? What strategic and discursive purposes has it served? And what is its significance now? Political thought since Aristotle considers happiness (as the common translation of eudaimonia); and happiness represents a long-standing principle of modern government. I will illustrate how notions of happiness operate in political, economic and ethical thought, and as a desired private state for which an individual may strive. Hence, happiness represents a constellation of ideas and practices around which an ideal self may be formed and a self-governing subject’s ethical principles may be organised, as well as an over-arching political goal upon which ‘good government’ may set its sights. Psychoanalytically, ‘happiness’ reveals a neurotic collective project for the organisation of enjoyment. The ‘enjoyment’ of rights and liberties and the ‘satisfaction’ of wants and needs derive from a more archaic fantasy of unrestrained pleasure. Interrogating the politics of happiness thus leads us to reconsider founding assumptions of the liberal-democratic order.


Grant Duncan  (New Zealand)
Senior Lecturer in Social Policy
School of Social and Cultural Studies
Massey University Albany

Grant Duncan completed a PhD at the University of Auckland in 1989. He was appointed to a lectureship at Massey University as one of the Albany campus’s foundation staff in 1993. His teaching career there has included the following subjects: management in the state sector; social policy; political economy and public policy. His research activities have focused on: accident compensation law and policy; work-capacity technologies and chronic-pain disability; the new public management; and social policy. His theoretical interests range from governmentality to psychoanalysis.

  • Happiness
  • Politics
  • Governmentality
  • Psychoanalysis

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)