Spatialising happiness economics: global metrics, urban politics, and embodied technologies

Jessica Pykett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Happiness has become a high-profile goal for national governments, city authorities, and technology developers finding new ways to map and measure emotions through happiness economics, urban management, and digital emotion-sensing. This paper advances critical geographical analysis of the neglected rationales, mechanisms, and implications of promoting the emotion of happiness. Researchers, policy-makers, and publics alike are intrigued and troubled by how a growing concern with mapping and monitoring human happiness can co-occur with increasing levels of social inequality, human suffering, anxiety, and sadness. The paper outlines the intersection between three key trajectories (economisation, spatialisation, and technologisation) in order to demonstrate how particular assumptions about space, time, scale, and subjectivity are implied in the framing of happiness as an objective scientific construct to be measured, and as a problem of government. These trajectories combine to create what I term a new spatial science of emotions, which is yet to be defined, empirically documented, and critically analysed. It considers what kind of economic futures and contested knowledge practices are laid out by this new spatial science of emotions. By bringing together insights from critical economic geographies of neuroscientific and behavioural forms of governance, geographies of well-being, and social theories of embodied technologies, the paper challenges researchers to shift attention from subjective well-being to public well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)635-650
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Issue number3
Early online date21 Jan 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thank you to seminar participants at the Universities of Cardiff, Frankfurt, and Southampton for fruitful discussions on earlier versions of this paper, and to the anonymous reviewers and Colin McFarlane for editorial guidance. I gratefully acknowledge funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, Grant Award number: ES/L000296/1.

Publisher Copyright:
The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). © 2022 The Authors. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers)


  • cities
  • digital
  • emotions
  • governance
  • happiness economics
  • well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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